Photo by Josh Gassmann

For Jordan Lee, the first time is the charm. The two-time Bassmaster Classic champion turned his first Major League Fishing experience into yet another winner’s trophy at the 2019 Summit Select out of Ardmore, Okla.

En route to winning the event, Lee slipped past his Elimination Round with a third place showing at a stingy Lake Murray. Once in Sudden Death at Lake Texoma, he was the first man to reach the 22-pound cut weight, thanks in large part to a 6-pound kicker that sprung him out in the second period. However, it was Lee’s impressive performance in the Championship Round at Lake of the Arbuckles that proved to be the winning move of the week.

Lee had never fished the Arbuckles previously. And even before he made a cast on the 2300-acre lake, he began breaking down the water just by looking at the lake map. The primary characteristic of Arbuckle that piqued Lee’s interest was how the creeks entered the lake.

“The lake had some winding feeder creeks, which caught my eye,” Lee detailed. “From the looks of the twists and turns in the creeks, they appeared to have some decent depth to them. The creeks created big flats from siltation where they entered the lake, which is pretty typical of a creek with some flow.”

With that, Lee saw the potential to employ a classic summer-time pattern that has produced many wins in the annals of tournament fishing history. It’s a pattern Lee learned long ago while fishing Alabama reservoirs in the heat of summer.

“Wherever you have a flowing creek entering a reservoir, that’s a good place to look for fish in the summertime, especially if the main lake itself doesn’t have much current,” he said. “The creeks on Arbuckle just had the right look for that situation.”

What Lee didn’t know about the creeks was if they were accessible or even fishable. Sometimes the silted in sand bars in front of the creeks are too shallow, making them impassible. If the creeks can be reached, there is still no guarantee that they will hold fish. Some creeks might be “blown out” with muddy water from too much rain. Other creeks might not have any flow at all, making the water stagnant and putrid.

“The right creeks have depth and at least some kind of flow,” Lee detailed. “I like to see at least 8 to 10 feet of water in the creeks; if I see water moving, that’s a good sign, too.”

Another thing Lee watches for when exploring creeks is a water temperature drop.

“It was late May, and it had been hot in Oklahoma,” Lee said. “The main lake water temperature was getting to the mid 80’s and that’s usually when that pattern will work. If you can find a little inflow creek that’s 5 or 10 degrees cooler, chances are it will have fish.”

Another function that makes this pattern so effective in the summer is that many reservoirs are made for either water supply or power supply and summer is when power and water demand is high. The more folks that run the AC and water the lawns, the more water has to be pulled through the supply lakes, which in turn creates more flow in the tributaries.

With that said, Lake of the Arbuckles is a water supply lake and with the heat of summer cranking up, the lake’s water stores were being pulled.

Even though Lee had eyeballed Arbuckles’ inflow creeks on the map, he did not head straight for them in the first period of the Championship Round. Instead, he wanted to make sure the main lake had nothing else to offer before committing to a creek.

“During the ride through I learned that the back ends of the creeks were all idle zones so I didn’t want to commit to that right off the bat,” Lee explained. “I wanted to keep the main lake honest; maybe catch a couple of early morning topwater fish. But if nothing happened out there, I had already decided I was headed to a creek in the second period.”

As it turned out, Lee wasn’t the only pro who had backwater creeks on the mind. Veteran pro Wesley Strader is a master at ferreting out “little ditches” that offer fresh flow into a stagnant lake as well. In fact, Strader was the first pro in the Championship Round to sample a creek end and the pattern got him started with the lead in round one.

“Anytime you can find current, shade, cooler water and bait back in a creek or ditch like that during the heat of summer, there’s usually going to be some fish back there somewhere,” Strader said. “It’s the first place I went during the Championship Round and it paid off with a good start.”

Lee caught a caught a few fish out deep during the first period, but it was not enough to keep his interest. Once the second period started, Lee knew exactly which creek he was headed to.

“There were three main creeks that fed the lake,” Lee said. “When we took off after the break, I saw Wesley go up one arm, so I just ran to the other big arm up the north side of the lake. Once I idled through the no wake zone and got passed the silted-in flat, I noticed the water got deeper and the water temperature dropped a few degrees and I felt like I had made a really good decision.”

As Lee ventured up the creek farther, he finally found some detectable current and his climb to the top began.

“I normally like to flip wood in that situation, but there wasn’t a lot of wood cover in that creek,” Lee said. “So I mostly threw a topwater under any shade and a squarebill on isolated rock and wood. I also threw a shaky head in the deeper bends.”

In the last minute of period two, Lee caught a 4-pound, 13-ounce largemouth on a topwater that helped him close the gap on Strader’s lead.

Strader and Lee entered the final period neck and neck and the last two hours of the event turned into a back-of-the-creek duel between the two as they left the rest of the field in the dust. As the shoot-out unfolded, MLF viewers got a front-row seat to how two of the best pros in the business decipher creeks in the summertime. In the end, Lee held Strader off by 1-pound, 6 ounces for victory.

“Arbuckle just happen to set up just right for that back of that creek deal,” Lee added. “It was pretty cool to battle it out against Wesley with both of us fishing that way. It certainly seemed to be the most dominant pattern going at the time.”