For the second year, the Bassmaster Elite Series schedule takes the world's top bass anglers to Oklahoma's Grand Lake of the Cherokees. Located in the far northeast corner of the state, Grand Lake draws in visitors, vacationers as well as full- and part-time residents from several states. But in addition to being a popular spot for the pleasure boaters, anglers flock to Grand Lake for some the state's best fishing.
Through it took nearly 20 pounds a day for Mike McClelland to win last year's event on Grand Lake, this year could be even better. Oklahoma saw its drought officially come to an end this spring with record rainfall totals. The result is a Grand Lake more than four feet above full pool with plenty of shallow bass to go along with the typical off-shore summertime patterns.
With so many variables going into the Sooner Run on Grand Lake, we caught up with three of the top Berkley pros to ask them how they will approach the season's seventh tournament.
Last Time Out: Smith Mountain Lake — 52nd Place
Current Angler of the Year Point Standing: 61st Place
Grand Lake Experience: A native Oklahoman, Cook has been on Grand plenty of times in his life, including his eighth-place finish there last year. However, since the lake is about 300 miles from home, his visits have come only during tournaments.
"It's going to be an interesting tournament because right now (one week before tournament) the lake is four feet above full pool, which is a lot for that lake. It's going to be in the bushes and boat docks and everything. It will probably still be high when we start but it will probably start to fall. I'm just guessing but I would think they will try to drop it down some. I think what we will see is a lot of fish shallow in shoreline bushes. Also some fish offshore in typical summertime places. If they drop the lake, the shoreline fishing might be worse and the offshore fishing might be better. If it's falling like I think, the bushes might still hold some fish as long as there's water there.
"I fished Grand for the first time in 1980. But I never fished it recreationally, just in tournaments and I've fish quite a few events up there. I always liked it up there because it always seemed to suit my style. You can find muddy water if you want to, clear water, and there's quite a few patterns that work up there. And it's a good fishery, so anytime you can catch fish doing things you like to do, you're going to have fun.
"The last few years, this part of the country has been in the midst of a drought, and last year when we went there some of the bushes were barely in the water. Now this year, with all this water, I think knowing what bushes and places on the shoreline last year that produced fish will be a good starting point. But I think the offshore places that produced fish will be pretty much the same, but I think there will be even more places on the shoreline that will produce fish this year.
"Grand is fortunate in that it has a very high fertility. There's a good standing crop of forage. This time of year it's going to be shad and crawfish. Shad will spawn in bushes in the high water. Bait selection has to do with where you are fishing. If the water is in the bushes, I might use things like a Berkley Gulp! Jerk Shad or spinnerbait — shad imitators. But the craws are still there, too, so I might use a tube or a jig with a Berkley PowerBait Chigger Craw on the back. If I fish offshore structure, deep diving crankbaits will work in some places where there are shad and a football-head jig that I designed with a Chigger Craw on the back will work where there are crawfish. It's a perfect crawfish imitation.
"I'll use crawfish-type colors, maybe some contrasting colors between the Chigger Craw and the jig and skirt. The darker the water, the more contrasting colors I will use. If the water gets clear, I will go back to more natural crawfish colors. I'll the jig with the Chigger Craw on a 7-foot medium-heavy Fenwick Techna AV and Abu Garcia STX REVO and 12- or 15-pound Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon depending on water clarity. I'll use a ½- or a ¾-once jig head, just depending on what the fish tell me. The fish react differently to different sizes. Sometimes they want it dragged on bottom so I will use a ¾-ounce jig, but if they want it hopped I will use a ½ ounce to trigger a reaction bite.
"It's going to take a lot of weight to win. I bet 75 to 80 pounds. Check weight will probably be in the 30-pound range. The fishing has been really good up there, but the water is a lot higher than it was last year so I don't know for sure. But it will take a lot of weight to win."
Last Time Out: Smith Mountain Lake — 6th Place
Current Angler of the Year Point Standing: 44th Place
Grand Lake Experience: None. Duckett's only exposure to the lake has been through map study and reading results of past tournaments.
"I've never fish Grand Lake before so it will be a new venue for me. But I have studied it. This time of year they catch them shallow, off of points, deep, off of boat docks. But you can probably throw all that out because as of yesterday the lake was 4.4 6/10 feet above full pool. It's high and muddy. So it's a different lake than it usually is. So you'll see me in the backs of creeks throwing spinnerbaits or in the flooded trees flipping a jig. And everyone of us is going to have to learn new patterns.
"I don't know how much they drop the lake but it's been up since about April. So it's been up for two months. For three or four years they struggled in the summer to keep it at full pool. With the power-generating dam, I don't think they will want to let that water go because it's worth money. They'll want to hang onto it for the summer and use the power as needed.
"Normally, when a reservoir is high, the baitfish stay on the bank and the bass will stay up there, as well. So, what I am figuring is an early morning topwater bite then it will probably fall back to — depending on how muddy the water is — it could be good spinnerbait water. Or I'll pitch a 10-inch Berkley PowerBait Power Worm or a jig. The 10-inch Power Worm I fish on a 7-foot heavy action rod on a high-sped Abu Garcia REVO STX on 20-pound Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon. I don't like to fish a worm on braid. A worm weight will get hung a lot easier on braid than it will with fluorocarbon, I guess you need a little stretch to keep it from hanging up. I rig it on a 3/8-ounce tungsten weight and a 5/0 Owner hook. Since I am fishing that worm near the thickest cover around the banks, I need that heavier line to get around that cover. Black with Red Fleck, Junebug, Black Grape, those dark colors should work well.
"I don't know how to guess what the winning weight will be with the water up, but based on local tournaments and past Bassmaster tournaments, I kind of have a formula figured out but it doesn't take into account the water being high and stained. But I figure it will take 17-18 pounds a day to win it. And I like having done that research and knowing what I need to be fishing for. Because nothing is more disheartening that coming to the stage with a five-fish limit that weight 14 or 15 pounds and thinking you have a shot at the deal only to find out later that you're in 38th place."
Last Time Out: Smith Mountain Lake — 6th Place
Current Angler of the Year Point Standing: 15th Place
Grand Lake Experience: Just a couple of previous visits to Grand for Jordon, who finished 67th there last year.
"I know last year was a drought and this year they have a really wet year and it's rained almost every day. That's going to change things a little bit, but for the better. And it was already great. There will be just as much if not more water in the willows and more stain in the water. I think the high water will keep the fish shallow, like last year, even though we are there later in the year than we were last year. It's going to be wide open. I think it will be interesting to see what tactic wins the thing. I think it will be won with a combination of fishing shallow and deep.
"I know that Grand is a big vacation lake in Oklahoma and there's a lot of people who spend their weekends on the lake or live there. Last year, we were there during Memorial Day weekend, so the boat traffic was thick. It made it hard to get around to some areas and to get anywhere very fast. I don't think it will be anywhere like that this year, since it's not a holiday weekend, but it's something you have to take into consideration and plan for just in case.
"I think a buzz bait is going to play a pretty big part, running it outside the edges of the willows. Spinnerbaits should work well in the stained water. And with the water way up in the willows, there will be some flipping. I'll flip a jig on 20-pound Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon and maybe even some Spiderwire. Further out offshore I'll be throwing a Carolina rig or using a jig. Plus, I'll do some deep cranking and some throw some swimbaits. I'm going to be throwing everything at them. I'll be hitting drops, rock piles, and brush piles, things like that offshore. But a big deal will be a dock pattern. That's a fun way to catch fish, flipping a jig into a tight area with my Abu Garcia REVO reel. It's so smooth and easy to cast, it makes dissecting those docks a lot easier.
"Grand will fish differently than last year because it's higher and more color to it and more years removed from the largemouth bass virus they had there in the past. It's taking a lot of weight to win some of the tournaments they've been having up there and Grand is just an awesome fishery and I expect it to be just as good as last year if not better.
"It took nearly 80 pounds to win it last year and I figure that it will take that or more to win it this year. At the very least it will take 75 pounds. I don't have a clue what it will take to cash a check, maybe 24-26 pounds, maybe higher if the fishing is as good as it can be with the water high."