GROVE, Okla. — One thing is certain. This year's Sooner Run won't be won the same way it was last year.
A year ago, Mike McClelland took his career to a new plateau by winning this Bassmaster Elite Series event on Grand Lake in a rout. He led from start to finish. It marked his first Elite Series victory, and he did it by fishing a jig in deep brushpiles.
But Grand Lake is about two feet higher now than it was then, and only a week ago it was eight feet deeper.
"The brushpiles are pretty much out," said McClelland as he prepared for Thursday's opening day takeoff. "The fish I'm catching are shallower than they were last year."
McClelland, who lives only about an hour's drive from Grand Lake in Bella Vista, Ark., honed many of his bass fishing techniques on this lake. After winning last year, he noted, "This is where I learned to flip willow trees, and this is where I learned to fish boat docks."
It's the flooded willow trees that have almost everyone's attention this week. McClelland hopes he has an advantage from all his experience on this lake.
"I'm going to spend a fair amount of time, maybe a couple of hours, in and around willow trees," McClelland said. "They are positioned a little different, I think, than a lot of people are used to catching them.
"It's something I've learned in the past and was able to back it up (in practice) this week."
But there's one angler who isn't planning to do much different than he did last year here. Dean Rojas finished fifth in the 2006 Sooner Run by concentrating on his specialty, throwing a Spro Dean Rojas Signature Series Frog on 65-pound test braided line.
"I'm going to do it all day," said Rojas, as he made a quick cast from the takeoff dock Thursday to check a particular topwater frog. "The bites I've been getting are good quality."
What's different is that Rojas had the shallow water almost all to himself last year.
"Maybe 10 percent of the field was fishing shallow, if that," Rojas said. "A lot of these guys were fishing out deep. I didn't have any pressure there last year, so it could be a different ballgame. But I can slug it out with the best of them."
After cloudy skies early in the week, there were few clouds Thursday morning. But Rojas will stick with the frog rain or shine.
"I tend to go to darker colors when it's overcast and lighter ones when the sun is out," Rojas said. "All it does is position the fish. When the sun is out, they really get up under the canopy. When it's cloudy, they tend to get out and roam a little bit more."
Rojas thinks there's almost too much frog-fishable water this year on Grand Lake. He thinks he's got enough good spots that he can save a few places for Saturday and Sunday, if he makes those cuts, first to the top 50 for Saturday and then to the top 12 for Sunday.
"It's hard to say what's going to happen on the first day," Rojas said. "This is kind of a feeling out process on how it's going to progress. Today will tell a lot about where you're at and how many other guys are in your areas."
McClelland finished with a few ounces under 80 pounds last year in winning by more than 15 pounds. He thinks it will take about that much weight to win again, but expects a more tightly bunched leaderboard.
After suffering some down years due to the Largemouth Bass Virus, Grand Lake caught some Elite Series pros by surprise last year.
"I was fortunate in that I think a lot of guys came here last year and got comfortable catching 12 and 13 pounds a day during practice," McClelland said. "They thought that was going to be strong based on tournament results from the last couple of years.
"I'd looked at some of the local tournament results. They were catching some big bags. I wasn't satisfied catching 12 and 13 pounds in practice. I kept pushing to catch some bigger fish."
There remain a lot of good-size bass in Grand Lake. McClelland thinks he knows where quite a few of them are hanging out. But, most of all, he's certain he won't catch them where he did one year ago.
The weigh-in begins at 3:30 p.m. at the North Beach Development.