By Rob Newell - February 5, 2019
With Lake Murray and Lake Texoma checked off the list for the Elimination and Sudden Death Rounds of the Major League Fishing Summit Select out of Ardmore, Okla., the last venue left to be unveiled is the location of the Championship Round.
Traditionally, MLF strives to save the best lake in a given area for the last day of Championship Round fishing. For the Summit Select, that
Lake of the Arbuckles is a small municipal water supply lake for the towns of Ardmore, Davis, Wynnewood and Sulphur. The lake was formed in 1967 by a dam at the confluence of three creeks: Rock, Buckhorn and Guy Sandy. When completed, Arbuckle encompassed some 2,300 acres with 36 miles of shoreline and water depths reaching down to 82 feet.
Lake of the Arbuckles – or just Arbuckle to the locals – has made fishing headlines across the country for its big bass potential over the last decade. Florida strain bass, which were stocked in the lake many years ago, have done pretty well in reaching the 8- to 12-pound mark. Several years ago there were a couple of 40-pound plus limits that came from Arbuckle in local tournaments.
None of the Championship Round finalists are more familiar with Arbuckle’s big bass potential than Brandon Palaniuk.
Palaniuk has spent multiple days quietly angling among the Arbuckles in search of big bass. When doing so, he never imagined he would be fishing the big bass factory on the Championship day of an MLF event.
“I love this place,” Palaniuk said while looking out across the lake’s calm, crystal waters at dawn. “It is literally one of my favorite lakes in the whole country. I’ve had some amazing big bass encounters here.”
One of Palaniuk’s good friends, former Elite Series pro Kevin Ledoux, lives near Oklahoma City. As Palaniuk shuttles back and forth across the country, he breaks his trips up with stops in Oklahoma City. While there, he and Ledoux will often fish Lake of the Arbuckles. Palaniuk says the lake reminds him of a western desert impoundment – like a Havasu or a Lake Travis in Texas. Steep rock bluffs and clear water make Arbuckle a rather scenic fishery that is known for producing big double-digit bass. For that reason, Arbuckle has become Palaniuk’s sort of secret swimbait test facility.
“Here’s the funny part of this whole scenario right now,” Palaniuk revealed. “I’ve never come here just to go fishing for keepers. When I come here, I pretty much throw one thing: giant swimbaits for giant bass.”
The irony, of course, is that the MLF format favors numbers of smaller fish over a few big fish.
“I normally fish here earlier in the year when the big ones are up and it’s usually just fishing for big fish,” he explained. “I’ve probably been here more days and not caught a bass than days where I’ve caught a bass. I have caught maybe 10 or so over 8 pounds here. It’s a really great place for big bass when it’s cold, but in terms of catching numbers of bass in the summer, that’s something I’ve never done. And that’s probably going to ruin me today. These other guys are more prone to go to the bank and just fish for what bites. But I know what lives in here and that’s all I’m going to think about all day.”
The other competitors who have never been to Arbuckle don’t have much to say on the final morning of the Championship Round.
Mark Rose only hoped Arbuckle proved to be better than Murray, where he survived elimination with a paltry 8 pounds, 3 ounces.
Fletcher Shryock sided with Rose, hoping Arbuckle offered more that his rounds at Murray and Texoma.
Jordon Lee said he was hoping to get away from the summer weekend boat traffic, which was already starting to pour into the ramp.
Wesley Strader, who won his Elimination Round and posted the highest weight in his Sudden Death Round, certainly has the momentum going into the final day. He offered some humorous insight by saying, “It’s a small lake. We probably won’t run out of gas today.”
Also of note for the Championship Round is that five competitors will be fishing, instead of six. Chris Lane, who earned a ticket to the Championship Round, honorably declined his qualification due to a previous commitment for his namesake 2018 Fish Camp, a popular annual event that Lane hosts in the town of Guntersville, Ala., each May.