It’s crunch time, and the move from stingy Fort Gibson to Tenkiller Lake has Chad Morgenthaler breathing a little easier.
The Reeds Springs, Mo., angler stands inside the cut to fish the Toyota Bassmasgter Angler of the Year Championship, and he desperately wants to move up a few notches to qualify for his seventh Bassmaster Classic. So it’s do-or-die for him and others on the bubble as they head to Oklahoma for the Cherokee Casino Bassmaster Elite at Tenkiller Lake, Sept. 19-22.
“I was mowing the yard yesterday, and I was thinking about this whole situation on Tenkiller and the point spread,” Morgenthaler said. “I don’t think there’s going to be a tremendous amount of moving around. Even though 90 percent of the anglers haven’t been on the lake before, it doesn’t matter. The Elite anglers catch them every single time we put our boats on the water.”
The event will finalize the field of 50 who advance to Lake St. Clair, Sept. 29-Oct. 1, where the AOY title will be decided as well as berths to the 50th Bassmaster Classic on Lake Guntersville. Morgenthaler is 47th with 461 points, just six points inside the cut to advance, a scary place to sit.
Many Elites were pointing to Fort Gibson as a real wild card event, where a top 10 was as likely as a bomb. The tournament was moved to Tenkiller Lake last week due to an issue with the dam, and high water — B.A.S.S. wanted to prevent a potential last-second cancellation by lake managers.
The move sits well with Morgenthaler.
“It made me more calm,” he said. “I could have been one of the guys who double zeroed and fell out of the AOY Championship. Now I feel I have a really good shot at catching enough to at least stay even. I feel I’m going to put more pressure on other people to knock me out. I may not be able to advance enough to get into the Classic cut, but I’m going to be harder to knock out of the AOY cut.”
Before the switch, Morgenthaler said he targeted making the top 35 in the final regular-season event to advance to St. Clair. The high water and hot conditions in Oklahoma had many of the Elites saying it would be tough to even fill limits. Tenkiller has a greater fish population, including largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass, and now anglers don’t expect wild swings in the standings.
“Now, because everybody is going to catch fish, I feel like where I need to finish probably got extended 20 places,” he said. “I can probably finish in the top 50, 55 and stay in the AOY.”
Although he’s never fished on Tenkiller, Morgenthaler said his initial thought was that now he’ll almost certainly get bites. After talking with fellow Elite and neighbor Brian Snowden, he discovered the lake, about three hours from home, will fish much like Table Rock. Tenkiller is clear for Oklahoma, deep and is set up similarly.
“I feel pretty comfortable. I’ve been on Table Rock every day for about a week and half now. I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on what could be going on down there,” he said. “I’m trying to keep my options and eyes open, that’s why I’ve been on the water so much.”
Not keeping an open mind hurt Morgenthaler earlier this season. On Day 1 of the season at the St. Johns River, he struggled and didn’t have a fish at 12:30 p.m. A change in strategy allowed him to bring in four fish, although he lost two 5-pounders. With 26 pounds on Day 3, he climbed back to finish 13th. He knew it could have been better, or way worse.
“I got locked into a pattern and location in practice, and I couldn’t shake that,” he said. “The first day I struggled with nothing at noon, then I shot from the hip. I needed to get out of there, and I was rewarded. I came from nearly finishing dead last, so that was learning experience to trust my gut and don’t get locked into anything.”