PATTERN INSIDE THE PATTERN: Birge’s Eufaula win came on ‘forgotten’ cover near takeoff  - Major League Fishing

PATTERN INSIDE THE PATTERN: Birge’s Eufaula win came on ‘forgotten’ cover near takeoff 

Image for PATTERN INSIDE THE PATTERN: Birge’s Eufaula win came on ‘forgotten’ cover near takeoff 
Capitalizing on some overlooked flooded cover with bladed jigs and frogs was the key to Zack Birge's success at Stage Four. Photo by Phoenix Moore. Angler: Zack Birge.
May 10, 2024 • Dave Landahl • Bass Pro Tour

The dreaded “locals’ curse” proved to be a myth for Mercury pro Zack Birge at MillerTech Stage Four Presented by REDCON1 at Lake Eufaula, Oklahoma. Birge captured his first tour-level victory on a lake he’s fished plenty over the years.

Birge separated himself from the rest of the field by exploiting flooded cover close to takeoff on the final day, chunking and winding bladed jigs and frogs to stack up a 15-pound win.

“I guess you really do win when you don’t expect it,” Birge said of his modest expectations for Eufaula. “Every fish I lost, I’d follow up by catching a good one. Every time I’d make a move, it seemed to work out for the better. When it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. But it didn’t start that way in practice for me.”

Starting in survival mode

The weather and the fishing were equally challenging on Oklahoma’s Lake Eufaula. Photo by Phoenix Moore

With rising water and some capricious weather challenging the field throughout practice, Birge wasn’t brimming with confidence during the two days of qualifying. 

“On the first day of practice, I went from the Oak Ridge Recreation Area ramp (midlake) down to the dirty end of the lake,” Birge said. “I wanted to run stuff I generally don’t fish and explore places I’ve not gone before. Trying to keep an open mind and add to my normal game plan. The problem was that the new water coming in was going to dirty stuff up, but I still needed to look.”

Birge switched gears on the final day of practice to spend his time looking for areas with cleaner water. 

“Everywhere I went I generally had no bites or only a few – it made me pretty nervous,” Birge said.

“I ran back to dirtier water, and the dirty water was like chocolate milk with logjams. I wrote that whole section of the lake off.”

With little confidence as the event began, Birge opted to fish the area he considered the most dependable.

“I decided to fish close to the ramp where we took off,” he said. “On the first day, I really wanted to survive. I fished for what I could catch. I got seven bites and caught five of them. Fortunately, I did alright. I knew water level issues were making it tough all over the lake, and I had to get fish in the boat.”

On the second day of qualifying and during the Knockout Round, Birge opted to run cleaner water since conditions started to stabilize. He fished fast and covered as much water as possible, trying to maximize his time and put his bait in front of as many bass as he could.

“I pulled into an area looking for real small, subtle pockets in cleaner water,” Birge said. “I’d hit it real quick to cover a ton of water. Every second or third pocket, I could get a bite. One spot got me about two or three bites every time. I ran that pattern on Days 2 and 3 and caught just enough to scrape by. I didn’t feel that would win on the last day because I’d be sharing the area with other finalists. Luckily, I squeaked into the Championship Round.”

Championship Round charge

Knowledge truly was power during the Championship Round. Photo by Joel Shangle

Birge’s intimate knowledge of Eufaula paid off big on the final day. A forgotten piece of structure – along with some unique cover around it and birds tipping him off about a potential shad spawn – were the keys for him to start the day with a bang.

“I intended to head out and fish for bedding bass,” Birge said. “Everybody started taking off and passing where I had started. I noticed a couple birds and figured a shad spawn might be going on, so I figured I might as well start in there close to takeoff. I Power-Poled down and, shoot, when lines in started, it was hot and heavy. I caught more weight in the first period than I had any other competition day. Ultimately, the entire stretch (near the ramp) ended up being good.

Once Birge remembered a key piece of structure and the adjacent cover, everything really started to click.

“The most important cover in the area was something I forgot was there; I’d been by it an endless amount of times,” Birge said. “This structure is like a concrete guardrail that I saw on my mapping. I caught a few fish up and down it during the week, but then noticed small, isolated bushes the size of a basketball on top of twig-size branches. 

“Those bushes were barely under water when the tournament started, then just out of the water on the last day. I fished there and followed the shad spawn. The back of that pocket had some willows and bushes on the last day as the water cleaned up, and fish moved in there as well. Later in the day, I slid to the very back creek and caught several 3- and 4-pounders and a 5-pounder.”

Birge admitted after the event that his confidence level entering Eufaula was a 5 out of 10; even starting the Championship Round, that level didn’t raise above a 7 until he started to fully exploit the area near takeoff. His assessment of his first major win is, like Birge, very straightforward: “It was meant to be.”