Since starting to fish Costa FLW Series events in 2016, Kyle Cortiana has banked over $100,000 with FLW and finished in the top 10 of the Southwestern Division three times. On the FLW Tour, he’s been a bit less successful, with no top 10s and no FLW Cup qualifications … yet. This year, he’s sitting 35th in the points, with a good chance to go to the Cup, and the FLW Tour presented by Mercury on Grand Lake finally gives him a shot at a Tour event with home field advantage.
Eager to see what the day had in store, I was happy to hop in the boat to watch the Oklahoma pro break down a lake he’s intimately familiar with.
Launching mid-lake on Grand, Cortiana puts the boat in the water in the half-dark, and then pauses to rig his GoPro (he has a very active YouTube channel) and make a few tackle tweaks. He says he spent most of day one down near the dam in cleaner water, and thus it’s time to tackle up for what is likely going to be a pretty dirty morning.
After idling out of the marina, Cortiana puts his Ranger on plane, rolling down the lake to the back of a creek. He talks most of the way, explaining a particularly tricky area to run, or just what he’s thinking at any particular time. Though we aren’t running flat out by any means, it doesn’t take too long to get where we’re going.
Setting the boat down, Cortiana pulls out a crankbait for a few casts and then picks up his jig. It takes maybe a cast or two and he’s set the hook on a quality fish. Theoretically, Grand Lake is really tough right now, but Cortiana just made it look as easy as pie.
“I can’t tell you how happy I am to get a jig bite,” says Cortiana. “Now the rest of the day I have the confidence to keep chasing that bite.”
As Cortiana continues along, he alternates between his jig, a worm and a small crankbait on a spinning rod. I ask him what it’s like to have the opportunity to fish a Tour event near home.
“I wish it was a different lake,” admits Cortiana. “Out of all the Oklahoma lakes I fish a lot, this is the meanest lake we’ve got. It can make you look like an absolute idiot.”
As proof, Cortiana offers up the fact that he zeroed on day two of last year’s Costa FLW Series tournament. Though that one was pretty tough overall, he says it’s no coincidence the only time he’s ever blanked a tournament day came on Grand.
Cortiana decides to swing on his next bite, and Grand continues to make him look good.
“I need one more sniff, just one more,” Cortiana says of this area. “If they’re here, they could be really here. This will be a lights-out area eventually, maybe this week, or maybe in a week or two. Then, ones like that will be little ones.”
Cortiana keeps plugging, sometimes skimming over stretches of shoreline that he thinks could be productive in the tournament, but not getting any more bites. Eventually, still fishing very methodically, he gets another bite and shakes it off. After a few more casts, it’s time to go somewhere else.
Our next stop is a rocky bank out near the main lake. Adding a Biffle Bug into the mix, Cortiana goes to work as the sun finally breaks through the clouds and the breeze begins to freshen. A few minutes later, he hooks up on his small crankbait, bringing a non-keeper aboard stealthily as one of his competitors drives past.
All morning, we’ve been running slightly behind the schedule Cortiana has in mind for the day. It’s by no means a bad thing, as fishing slowly in the spring on Grand is basically a tradition, but the detour he now beings isn’t going to help get him back on schedule. Instead of picking up after fishing the sweet stretch of bank, Cortiana continues along the windblown shoreline with his little crankbait, reveling in his ability to cast it with the wind, but getting no more bites.
Cortiana pretty much arrived at the ramp with a stable of Kistler rods and Ardent reels that totally encompassed what he was going to use for the day on deck. Other than his morning modifications, he hasn’t changed much so far. He really hasn’t even picked up that many rods, sticking to the staples that Grand Lake dictates in the early spring.
After fishing out his bit of windy bank, Cortiana pulls the plug. Snacking on a little jerky before taking off into the chilly breeze, the next stop is a very dirty pocket off the main lake.
Pulling out a spinnerbait to start, Cortiana methodically gets to work again, fishing his way into every nook and cranny of this particular creek. We arrived at about 10:30 a.m., and it’s not until nearly 11:20 that Cortiana gets bit on a jig. It’s an exciting bite, too, causing him to exclaim “oh my God,” before swinging and missing the fish.
Shortly thereafter, Cortiana calls to check up on Chad Warren. The two have known each other for years, and are sort of sharing information this week. Warren shares that his day has been a lot slower than the first day, and the two both agree that it’s gonna be a tough one.
If you want more from Warren’s first day of practice, you can peep yesterday’s story.
Continuing his way through the cove, but now finally on the opposite bank from where he started, Cortiana remembers to try his crankbait. Shockingly quickly, he gets a bite on it, which has him a bit excited and kicking himself for not trying it earlier.
Before taking me back to the ramp, Cortiana fishes another 50 yards or so, just to make sure of his creek. En route, he changes crankbaits to find one that runs a bit more true, and manages to hook and lose two more fish on it. All in all, it hasn’t been a bad morning.
As we idle out of the no-wake zone to clear the creek and run back, Cortiana busts out some bass balls, a peanut butter and oatmeal combination that I can report is delicious. Then, Cortiana rolls me back across a chilly Grand to the ramp so that he can spend the afternoon unencumbered on the hunt for the winning fish.