Oklahoma State claims narrow lead

WAGONER, Okla. - Post-spawn bass on the move are notoriously hard for an angler to pattern. Add a lake’s rapidly falling water to the mix and solving the bass fishing equation becomes a mind-boggling equation.

Oklahoma State University’s Zack Birge and Blake Flurry aren’t math majors, yet they found a common denominator in locating bass dispersing from backwater spawning areas into the wide-open waters of Fort Gibson Lake.

Today that was the situation unfolding at the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Midwest Super Regional on the Oklahoma fishery, where OSU’s Birge and Flurry took the lead with 16 pounds 9 ounces.

There was no breathing room at the top of the leader board. Close behind OSU was Northeastern State University’s Cale Fulps and Cody Plunkett with 15-10. In third place were Arkansas Tech’s Aaron Sarna and Evan Barnes with 14-9, followed by the 14-7 catch of Tyler Hetzel and Austin Twite of Kansas State.

“Our pattern has changed every day, all the way from practice until today,” said Blake Flurry, an OSU senior majoring in crop and soil science. “I mean even today it’s changed all day long and we’ve had to adjust along the way.”

“Right now we’ve got post-spawn bass moving from spawning areas out into the creek mouths,” continued Flurry. “On top of the water dropping over a foot overnight.”

He added, “This time of year nothing stays the same here on a day-to-day basis.”

That’s likely because Fort Gibson’s narrow layout keeps the bass on the move when spring rains make the water level rise. In turn, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers releases the water as part of its flood control efforts. Fluctuating water levels make bass tough to pinpoint and those conditions are prevailing now.

“From our first cast this morning until the last of the day the water changed and we did too,” noted Birge, an OSU senior majoring in wind turbine technology. “The fish are moving out into the mouths of the creeks.”

He continued, “It’s kind of weird that you’ll catch some in the creeks and others out farther. There’s no real solid pattern to it.”

Flurry said they were constantly on the go trying to intercept fish in transition. That required using a variety of fast-moving coverage baits until a hookup with a keeper. Such a catch indicated the presence of a staging area potentially holding other keepers. Accordingly, they switched to slower tactics and baits capable of thoroughly working the strike zone.

Knowing the migration routes of these nomadic fish is a plus for teams with local roots. Beside OSU that edge goes to the team of Fulps and Plunkett of Northeastern State. The campus is a short drive away from Fort Gibson in the city of Tahlequah.

“It’s a post-spawn bite so it could all change tomorrow,” said Fulps. “There are a couple of factors that could make them (Flurry and Birge) either go boom or bust. Same thing for us.”

Tomorrow is indeed setting up to be even more of a gamble. A steady rain is in the overnight forecast. It’s also Saturday and a big day for weekend bass tournaments on the popular fishery. Both factors will certainly influence the outcome for the teams in contention.

The biggest bass of the event earns the Carhartt Big Bass Award. Today’s top catch was a 5-10 largemouth caught by Arkansas Tech’s Jordan Mullenix. Ironically, his partner Evan Smith won the award last month for catching a 9-pound largemouth at Lake Guntersville.

The collegiate event sanctioned by B.A.S.S. ends tomorrow with twofold goals. First, school bragging rights to the overall winner’s trophy are on the line for the 16 universities in the competition. Next, berths are on the line for the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship. From there, the top angler earns the collegiate champion berth at the 2012 Bassmaster Classic.

The Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Midwest Super Regional concludes tomorrow on Fort Gibson. Teams launch at 6 a.m. with return times beginning at 2 p.m. Taylor Ferry North Recreation Area is the site for the launch and weigh-in.