EUFAULA, Okla. — A giant playing field awaits anglers competing in the St. Croix Bassmaster Open at Lake Eufaula, Okla., and Elite Series pro and local stick Luke Palmer believes every inch of the lake could produce a winning bag of bass.
“It is a neat lake because it can be won out of any section of the lake,” the 2023 Santee Cooper Lakes Elite champion said. “It is just a good fishery. It has a lot of 2 1/2- to 3-pound bass in it. An angler can do what he wants.”
Tournament days are scheduled for June 15-17, with takeoffs beginning daily at 6 a.m. CT from Nichols Point. Anglers will return for weigh-in beginning at 2 p.m. Following the Day 2 weigh-in, the field will be cut to the Top 10 and the winner will punch their ticket to the 2024 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota in Tulsa.
This is the first time the Bassmaster Tournament Trail has visited the more northwest version of Lake Eufaula since 2014. Covering over 105,000 acres with 800 miles of shoreline, Eufaula is Oklahoma’s largest reservoir and is one of the largest playing fields the Opens anglers will fish this season.
Palmer, who lives close by in Coalgate, Okla., has won several big events on Eufaula, including a 400-boat tournament last fall. While he would prefer this tournament to be a couple of weeks earlier, he believes competitors will be able to fish to their strengths.
“It has a little bit of everything,” he said. “We are putting in at the dead center of the lake, so you can run 35 or 40 miles one way or you can stay close. You will have a variety of water colors, too.
“It will be pretty clean toward the dam, and I think the midlake (area) is clearing up as well. You can fish deep if you want to, and then there will be some guys who will be in the dirt the whole time.”
All three species of bass live in Eufaula. Largemouth tend to be the bigger, more consistent player. With several major floods, Palmer has seen smallmouth fishing become less productive in recent years.
For anglers fishing for points or needing a solid keeper to fill out a good bag, spotted bass can also come into play. While they used to be more of a nuisance in tournaments, Palmer has seen the spotted bass size improve, with many of those spots measuring in the 2 to 2 1/2-pound range in recent years.
While Eufaula has a great bass population, it doesn’t necessarily hold groups of quality fish like a Tennessee River reservoir. It also doesn’t reload as quickly. An angler can catch 20 pounds one day and return to the same area the next day and only land 10 pounds. Palmer anticipates the winner will catch over 20 pounds at least one day and back it up with around 15 or 16 pounds the other two days.
“Whoever wins this event is going to have to use multiple areas to do it,” Palmer said. “We have a good population of fish, but there is only so much structure for them to be on. It isn’t like Guntersville where you roll up on a point and catch 25 pounds in six casts. If you catch two off a point in Oklahoma, that is a good spot and you better leave it alone. They are more scattered out.”
Temperatures across the country have been on the rise and full summertime patterns are beginning to emerge. During the tournament days, the forecast calls for high temperatures in the mid-90s with lows only dropping into the 70s. Shad and crawfish will be the main forage, while some anglers may find some hanging around late-spawning bream.
With the water level close to full pool and out of the bushes that line the banks, Palmer said the reservoir mostly consists of rock. Midlake down, standing timber starts to factor in, and that is where Palmer believes newbies will have the most opportunity to do something unique.
“I think that will play more than it does in local derbies. I think guys will really look at it differently,” he said. “They are going to do stuff differently than the local anglers. This tournament will probably be won out of something none of us (locals) would ever fish. Something off the wall.”
While something off the wall may win, Palmer anticipates a few Oklahoma staples will catch bass as well, including a jig, spinnerbait, squarebill and some type of topwater walking bait. A shaky head is also a popular choice on Eufaula.
John Garrett of Union City, Tenn., leads the Opens Elite Qualifiers points race after four events with 755 points. Japanese angler Kenta Kimura is second with 725 points, followed by Illinois youngster Trey McKinney in third with 722, Georgia’s Matt Henry in fourth with 706 and South Carolina’s JT Thompkins in fifth with 706.
At the conclusion of the season, the top nine anglers from the EQ field will receive invitations to fish the 2024 Bassmaster Elite Series. Full standings for the EQ division can be found at Bassmaster.com.
You can follow all the action from the St. Croix Bassmaster Open at Lake Eufaula on Bassmaster.com.
The tournament is being hosted by the Eufaula Area Chamber of Commerce.
2023 Bassmaster Opens Series Title Sponsor: St. Croix
2023 Bassmaster Opens Series Platinum Sponsor: Toyota
2023 Bassmaster Opens Series Premier Sponsors: Bass Pro Shops, Dakota Lithium, Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota, Nitro Boats, Power-Pole, Progressive Insurance, Ranger Boats, Rapala, Skeeter Boats, Yamaha
2023 Bassmaster Opens Series Supporting Sponsors: AFTCO, Daiwa, Garmin, Lew’s, Marathon, Triton Boats, VMC