GROVE, Okla. — You'd think the anglers were giving away money, there are so many boats following Elite Series pros like Kevin VanDam and Mike McClelland on Grand Lake."I really have never seen this many spectator boats, especially this early in the week, except at a Bassmaster Classic," VanDam said.
And it should be emphasized that the vast majority are highly courteous, giving the pros plenty of room to fish. McClelland noted that the spectator boats can be an advantage at times, forming a protective shell around you, keeping some of the big cruising boats from getting close enough to disturb the water you're fishing.
But there's not an angler alive who wouldn't rather be all to himself, especially when you have an encounter like McClelland did at Grand Lake on Friday."I pulled up on the spot where I'd caught my two biggest ones (Thursday)," McClelland said. "Jason Quinn had just left. I was going to let it cool off a couple of minutes. I shut it down, and I started to fish. I made a couple of casts, and here comes this v-bottom boat trolling.
"I thought well, I'll just wait, and he'll troll on around the point and just keep trolling. He comes right up to me, and he starts yelling at me, 'You can't fish here. We were here before you. If you keep throwing, I'm going to cut your baits off.'
"I'm like, 'Sir, you know I'm fishing for a $100,000. This is how I make my living.' He said, 'I don't give a damn. If you read the bylaws of Grand Lake, you can't pay money to fish a tournament.'"I went ahead and left. You can't get into a feud with somebody like that."
Dialing for dollars
Rocky lake bottom. Main lake points. In the wind. Where big gizzard shad have schooled up.
You could state those four conditions, and almost every contending angler would nod his head in agreement.
After early week practice and two days of competition, the pros have pretty much dialed in a formula for success on Grand Lake this week.Maybe the biggest of those four keys is the gizzard shad."Timing is so important," McClelland said. "The fish are on these points. They are holding outside the visible cover that's still in the water. That's a key. The fish aren't leaving. It's when the big gizzard shad show up that they start feeding."The question is, which pro angler has found the tiny details in this pattern that can put him over the top?Jeff Kriet from Ardmore, Okla., who is in eighth place with 35 pounds, 2 ounces, thinks it's his on-the-road roommate for the last two years, McClelland, who is in fifth place with 36-10. McClelland ran away with this tournament last year with a four-day total of just under 80 pounds.
"McClelland's going to call them up," Kriet said. "He's really dialed in. He had a really bad practice, until the third day. Then he started dialing them in."But it's hard to believe anyone has fish pinpointed better than VanDam, the three-time BASS Angler of the Year."This lake is set up for the way I like to fish," VanDam said.And Scott Rook doesn't see many openings for anyone else."He's on 'em, and he's catching 'em," Rook said. "You know how he is. Once he gets the lead like that, he's hard to beat. And he's got it going on."
However, VanDam leads rookie Marty Robinson by only 2-15, and the top 19 anglers are within 10 pounds of VanDam. With everyone believing a 25-pound day is possible, there are still plenty of contenders in this tournament.
McClelland won last year's event by almost 16 pounds, but that's practically unheard of on this extremely competitive circuit."That's a rarity," said Edwin Evers, who is 5-6 behind VanDam. "You won't see that happen but once a year or once every two years among these guys."
The "cut" formula
The 50-man, two-day cut ended up going almost according to formula. That formula is as follows: Take the first day 50th place weight, double it and subtract two pounds.Skeet Reese and Byron Velvick were tied for 49th place after Thursday with 14-4 each. Doubling that and subtracting two pounds gives you 26-8.
Russ Lane took the 50th spot Friday with 27-3.Alton Jones was worried he might not make the cut after being 36th Thursday with 15-0."I didn't know how high the bar was going to be set," Jones said. "I was expecting some people to catch 'em, but not everybody."I figured I had to get some bigger bites (Friday)."And he did. Jones added 18-1 to his 15-0, giving him 33-1 and moving him up to 21st place.
Editor's note: ESPNOutdoors.com invited the University of Oklahoma bass fishing team to join coverage of the Sooner Run. The collegiate anglers will post a regular blog and appear on Hooked Up, the live Internet shows that air at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. ET on Sunday in advance of the live weigh-in. Bob Cobb, creator of Bassmaster Magazine and Bassmaster television, will be the special guest on Hooked Up.
Daily live weigh-ins and a realtime leaderboard will be at 4 p.m. ET. Please feel free to post comments to this blog via the ESPN Conversation feature at the bottom of this and every news page on this site.