Eastern Oklahoma’s Tenkiller Lake is the playing field for the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship presented by Bass Pro Shops and the best college anglers in the country this week as they attempt to out fish them all. Located in the Cookson Hills of the Ozark Mountains, Tenkiller’s clear water and beautiful shorelines will provide picturesque views and productive fishing for the college competitors.
With a surface area of nearly 13,000 acres, as well as 130 miles of shoreline, and a plethora of offshore nooks and crannies Tenkiller Lake will allow college anglers to fish their strengths. All three scpecies of bass – largemouth, spotted bass and smallmouth bass – are abundant in Tenkiller’s waters. Whether anglers prefer fishing shallow stained water or they’d rather target bass in deep, clear water, they’ll have the opportunity to fish in their comfort zone this week.
To get a better idea of what competitors will face I jumped in the boat with Caleb Gibson and Tyler Winn. Gibson and Winn fish for Northeastern State University (NSU), the hosting school whose campus will serve as the daily weigh-in location this week. Fellow NSU anglers Carson Smith and Taylor Hamburger have also qualified for competition on Tenkiller. Both Winn and Gibson are marketing majors who begin their sophomore year at NSU this fall. But first, they’ve got a National Championship title to contend for.
Gibson and Winn qualified for the National Championship on their home waters after winning the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Western Tour event on Clear Lake. After failing to qualify at Lake Cherokee, Gibson and Winn weren’t willing to let an opportunity to fish a National Championship event on Tenkiller pass them by. Even though they had never been to California, and knew nothing about Clear Lake, they decided to make the 28-hour drive from Talequah to compete in the Western Tour tournament.
The odds were certainly stacked against them, as only the top two teams from the Western Tour would qualify for the National Championship. But by having an open mind, working hard in practice and sticking to their game plan that included a technique they knew almost nothing about (drop shot) the two Oklahoma anglers pulled off the improbable. An impressive feat for anglers at any level.
Tenkiller has been offlimits the past month but Gibson and Winn have spent a lot of time on Tenkiller and graciously gave us their thoughts on what competitors should expect this week. While they were hoping for a slugfest to show off just how good Tenkiller Lake can be, both Tyler and Caleb agree the fishing will likely be tough.
“If this tournament was held in March or April the weights would be huge,” Winn said. “But in mid July the fish will mostly be out deep and will have seen a lot of fishing pressure already this summer.”
Catching bass shouldn’t be too difficult, but catching five bass that exceed the 16-inch minimum keeper size will be a taller task.
“I expect this tournament to be won out deep, in 20-plus feet of water,” Gibson said. “Shallow fish could still play a role, especially in the morning, but teams who can figure out how to consistently catch five solid keepers offshore each day will keep themselves in the hunt for the win.”