Fort Gibson’s state of mind

WAGONER, Okla. — Tommy Biffle in contention to win a tournament on Fort Gibson Lake is no surprise. Even so, his chances of winning are insecure due to unstable conditions faced by everyone at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open presented by Allstate.

Biffle fished from a borrowed boat, understandably, to shield himself from prying eyes. There is more to the stealth approach than meets the eye.

“I lost a lot of sleep last night,” he said. “I knew it would be tough even for me and it was today.”

“Every single bite will count for me to win this tournament,” he added.

We’ve heard that before.

Biffle’s claim is made factual after reviewing the eastern Oklahoma weather in recent months. Historic rainfall and epic flooding impacted the area in mid-April, causing the lake level to rise 28 feet above normal.

Life ashore eventually returned to normal but not so on Fort Gibson. The Grand River Dam Authority manages flood control on the 19,000-acre lake and keeping it under control proved a challenge. Another round of rain came in mid-June from Tropical Storm Bill.

Fort Gibson’s remoteness and lack of shoreline development mean the lake takes more than its share from Grand Lake. The impoundment by comparison is more densely populated and highly developed with real estate.

“It’s our legacy here, to be kind of a catch-all for Grand’s high water,” said Ryan Wilbanks, a local tournament angler from Wagoner. “We’ve learned to live with it because some kind of weather event affects us just about every year.”

Living with it has been particularly tough this fishing season.

The bass spawn began in late April during the heavy rains. That event coincided with the GRDA’s efforts to lower the lake in anticipation of spring rains. Wilbanks believes about half of the bass population spawned on Fort Gibson.

“They spawned until the beds came out of water,” he said. “There was no other choice but the timing couldn’t have been more off.”

Coincidentally, the shad spawn occurred in May with the lake more than 10 feet high. Inundated shoreline cover allowed the young baitfish to proliferate and avoid predation by the bass. With plenty to eat the bass are unusually difficult to catch.

“The lake has only fished normal now for about the past seven weeks,” he added. “It’s still high now and we’ve not had a normal tournament season, either.”

The new normal seems to be instability as noted by Biffle. There is more to come.

Earlier this week a weather front delivered several inches of rain across eastern Oklahoma. Fort Gibson is receiving the inflow and another cold front is forecast for Friday. More rain, higher water. On top of it all the temperature is forecast to drop by 20 degrees.

How much water will be released from Fort Gibson is equally as unpredictable as the weather. The lake likely will rise based on the recent past. That means another restless night for Tommy Biffle.