Photo by Josh Gassmann
By Rob Newell - January 3, 2019
With each passing Major League Fishing event, it becomes increasingly harder for the MLF site selection committee to find parts of the U.S. that touring bass pros have never visited.
Ardmore, Okla., however, is a beacon of hope when it comes to a host of obscure lakes that stay hidden in the shadows of the Sooner State’s more notable bass destinations like Grand Lake or Lake Texoma.
Within an hour’s drive of Ardmore are a handful of small recreational reservoirs and city lakes that few touring bass pros have ever seen.
One such lake is Lake Murray, which happens to be where the 2019 MLF Summit Select is kicking off its fishing-packed week.
When most bass anglers hear the words “Lake Murray,” they think of the large impoundment near Columbia, S.C. Oklahoma’s Lake Murray, however, is a small, remote 5700-acre lake nestled in Lake Murray State Park, located just south of Ardmore. The miniature reservoir was formed in the late 1930’s by the damming up of Anadarche and Fourche Maline Creeks, giving it the classic look of an impoundment with two major feeder branches.
For such a compact lake, Murray offers a dizzying array of diversity. The flat, silty northern end looks like a Louisiana bayou, complete with ample amounts of vegetation; while the southern end has steep rocky bluffs that plummet down to depths of 100 feet. The water clarity runs the gamut of 1 to 2 feet of visibility in the upper end to 5 to 7 feet in the lake’s deeper end. Adding to the complexity is a large population of smallmouth bass that thrive in the clearer, rocky waters of the lower end. Though the smallies tend to run on the small side, with 1- to 2-pounders being most common, Murray has also been previously stocked with Florida strain bass, which has produced some double-digit specimens in recent years.
Now toss in the seasonal factors of it being late May, with water temperatures ranging from 79 to 81 degrees, and we have a recipe for a venue that is sure to have the heads of pro anglers spinning with possibilities.
Fred Roumbanis of Russellville, Ark., is one of the first Select pros to receive his lake map and to begin processing his location. Roumbanis lived in Bixby, Okla., near Tulsa for nearly 10 years, but says he never ventured far enough to the south to ever visit Lake Murray.
“Well I saw a sign for Lake Murray, but I know we’re not in South Carolina, so it’s a new Lake Murray to me,” Roumbanis said. “But I can tell you this, it does not look anything like what I was expecting; it doesn’t look like a typical Oklahoma lake at all. It actually looks like Lake Havasu out west. Looking at the mapping, this lake is really deep – and probably clear, but I think I see a bunch of vegetation out there, too.”
“See that!” Roumbanis suddenly whispered, pointing to the lake as dawn broke. “Are those lily pads and reeds?”
With that, Roumbanis started pulling out rods and digging through his tackleboxes with a bit of haste.
“Oh man, I’ve got to get busy redoing some tackle,” he explained. “In fact, I need to actually spool another rod with braid.
“That’s why you can never make judgments about where we’re fishing based solely on the region of the country they take us to. You might think you know what it’s going to be like, but you don’t know. I lived in Oklahoma for nine years and this is new to me. Up where I lived, lakes are mostly shallow and muddy – not deep and clear like this. I’m glad I brought a lot of tackle. I’m going to have to change things up already.”
“We’ve got clouds and a little breeze this morning – it’s just perfect,” Roumbanis continued. “Seeing that vegetation out there, man, it just fires me up!”
MLF Select pro Gary Clouse was also pretty fired up with anticipation for Lake Murray.
“This is my favorite part of MLF right here,” Clouse said. “I love it when we first get to a lake, especially one most of us have never seen before. Seeing it for the first time gets my adrenaline flowing.”
While going to the same tournament lakes year after year with other circuits and tours can become mundane and predictable, Clouse says fishing new lakes on the MLF Selects brings back that excitement for fishing he had 25 years ago.
“When you go to a lake you’ve been to several times over, there are so many preconceived ideas in your head about what to do and where to start,” he said. “But when you see a new lake for the first time, it’s just a different feeling. You see potential patterns and possibilities that don’t come to mind when fishing a place you’ve fished a dozen times. It’s refreshing to come to a lake and know nothing about it. Your mind is free to just put the trolling motor down and fish.”
Since Clouse has never been to Oklahoma’s Lake Murray, he is starting with the facts.
“I don’t know anything about this place,” he said. “But here’s what I do know: It’s May, and in many parts of the country May means the tail end of the bass spawn. So, could there still be a bass or two on bed here? Possibly. May also means the shad spawns and bluegill spawns should be happening by now. So chances are I’ll be starting with a topwater, swim jig or spinnerbait to see if I can locate some kind of bass forage spawning somewhere.”
Another angler fired up for day one of the Summit Select is Zack Birge, and for good reason: Birge is from Blanchard, Okla., which is only about an hour and a half from Lake Murray.
“This is the most excited I’ve ever been for an MLF event,” Birge said. “I grew up fishing these lakes around here and I’ve fished this lake several times. I know how it lays out; I know it has smallmouth in it – a lot of smallmouth – not big ones, but enough to rack up some quick numbers if I can get on a pile of them. I know some of the better points and breaks to look where they might be ganged up.”
Birge says he normally fishes Murray with a five-fish limit mentality – fishing for the lake’s heftier largemouth to catch the best five. But given MLF’s every-fish-counts scoring system, and his knowledge of Murray, he’ll probably be starting on smallmouth to play the numbers game.
“This is the first time I feel like I have a starting advantage at MLF,” he added. “If I could get on some scoreable smallmouth quick, run the SCORETRACKER up and build a lead it would give me some breathing room, so that’s the strategy I’m leaning towards.”