Grand Lake has a history of being feast or famine, and it was a lot more famine this past week for the FLW Tour’s fourth stop of the 2019 season, presented by Mercury.
Falling water and inconsistent weather made just catching a limit a herculean task, as nearly as many pros didn’t weigh in a fish as brought in a limit every day of the event.
That said, plenty of pros did find enough bass to feast on, particularly winner Jeremey Lawyer. He was the only pro to bring in a limit all four days — and he needed every ounce of it — winning via tiebreaker over Michael Matthee.
Here’s how the rest of the top pros figured out a fickle Grand Lake.
2. Matthee slings a blade but makes key adjustments every day
South Africa’s Michael Matthee may still be learning how to fish American lakes, but he certainly knows how to throw a spinnerbait.
“That’s something I grew up doing,” Matthee admits. “So, when I figured out they were biting that the first day of the tournament, it fit me just dandy.”
Hunkering down in Horse Creek, Matthee used a white-and-chartreuse spinnerbait with a Keitech Swing Impact FAT 3.8-inch trailer to constantly adjust and find his fish every day as they repositioned with the falling water. On day one, Matthee says he caught all of his fish on timber. Day two, it was docks. It was all about chunk rock on day three.
He saved his best for last, though, as Matthee nearly pulled off the victory when he figured out his fish had moved super shallow with the bright sunshine.
“I had to wait for the sun to come up, but once it did, I caught a lot of fish,” says Matthee, who mentioned one of the biggest keys for him was making sure to fish his spinnerbait slower than everyone else.
3. Burghoff covers as much water as possible
It’s amazing what a kicker can do.
On day one, Miles Burghoff only had six keeper bites. The first five went about 14 pounds, which he would have otherwise been thrilled with, as he still would’ve been sitting in the top 20. Then, around 2 o’clock, he got his sixth bite – an 8-pounder that took Big Bass honors.
“I’d keyed in on a certain retrieve and was running new spots to try it out,” Burghoff explains. “I went into this pocket I’d never fished, saw this textbook spot – a pole underneath a dock with shade. When I hooked her, I thought I’d rolled a carp.”
Throughout the week, Burghoff targeted staging areas between floating docks with a Z-Man SlingBladeZ spinnerbait – slow-rolling it was key – and a Z-Man MinnowZ swimbait. He said there was no real consistency to where or when he would get bit, and a lot of it was just a matter of covering as much new water as he could every day. On the final day, he nearly pulled off the victory once the sun came up, which really turned on the bite for him.
4. Cox stays shallow in Duck Creek
If there’s a shallow bite, you can count on John Cox finding it.
While the vast majority of anglers were fishing docks, Cox committed himself to a massive backwater expanse in the back of Duck Creek. Actually, it set up almost like three backwaters, sectioned off by a bridge and then pilings from a long-gone bridge. Each was slightly different, offering flooded bushes (that eventually went dry), to rock banks to a shallow flats with isolated pieces of timber.
For three days, Cox did the majority of his damage with a black-and-blue Z-Man ChatterBait with a Berkley PowerBait Power Swimmer trailer.He also mixed in a discontinued spinnerbait with a Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Flatnose Minnow trailer. Unfortunately, day three may have cost him, as he missed a number of bites because his hands were too cold to feel them.
On the final day, Cox nearly pulled off a massive comeback by making a key bait switch.
“The guys from Berkley had given me a SquareBull crankbait to try,” Cox says. “I’m not much for cranking, but I tied it on today to try something different, and it got fun.”
5. Beavers fishes painfully slow in Elk River
There’s fishing slow, and then there’s what Bradford Beavers was doing.
To make his second-straight top 10, Beavers hunkered down in a mile-long stretch of the Elk River, where he was making repeated casts to isolated pieces of wood – as many as 50 casts to the same pieces, in fact.
“It’s so boring it makes me want to quit doing it,” Beavers admits. “But one of the days I made 70 casts to a piece of wood, pulled up my Power-Poles to move, made one last cast, and I caught a 4-pounder.”
To fish so slowly, Beavers used either a finesse worm on a shaky head, 1/8- to 3/-8 ounces depending on the depth, or a wacky-rigged stickbait (when the bite got really tough due to the falling water).
While he says he had 20 or so pieces of wood he was hitting, there were some high-percentage ones, too. One piece in particular garnered two bites each day.
6. McCaghren targets steep rocks behind docks
Billy McCaghren hates fishing docks, but he sure did pretty well fishing them this week.
McCaghren spent the majority of his time crossing paths with Lawyer in the lower end, as the two were on similar patterns. A key difference was McCaghren was targeting docks that had steep ledge rock behind them, and he’d often catch his fish in between the docks as opposed to behind them.
He did plenty of damage with a Talon Custom Lures 3/4-ounce spinnerbait with a Zoom Swimmin Super Fluke trailer, as well as tossing a 1/2-ounce Talon Custom Lures Billy Mac jig of his own design with a Zoom Big Salty Chunk trailer. His ace in the hole was a homemade flat-sided balsa crankbait in an orange craw color.
“Balsa crankbaits don’t like being thrown around docks,” McCaghren joked. “They get busted up quick.”
On the final day, McCaghren was certainly on the fish to win, as he brought in three nearly 4-pounders. Unfortunately, he fell two fish short of a limit, and it cost him a chance at the victory.
7. Thrift falters on the final day
Bryan Thrift’s record-setting consecutive-limits streak ended last tournament. He’ll have to start all over again after Grand, too.
To be fair, Thrift was never really on a solid pattern. He caught fish at random throughout the lower section of the lake. A perfect example was on day three when he weighed in a limit consisting of two fish he caught on bare banks, one off a dock, one off a tree and one off a rock.
Ultimately, he did most of his damage in Honey Creek throwing a Z-Man Chatterbait and a Damiki TOT spinnerbait the first few days.
Finding a key bite the final day is what really tripped up Thrift, though.
“The fish lied to me [on day four],” Thrift quips. “I got a big bite skipping a dock right off the bat, and I thought I’d be able to run docks the rest of the day and catch them.”
Instead, he only got two more bites the rest of the day and only brought that lone 4-plus-pounder to the weigh-in stage.
8. Latimer stays hot
Brian Latimer joked that after he won at Seminole, he was more than happy sitting back and enjoying his trophy the rest of the season. Turns out, his hot streak isn’t over yet.
Predominantly fishing in Horse and Honey Creeks, Latimer said he fished “whatever looked good” with a Z-Man SlingBladeZ spinnerbait – which he modified with different blades – a Bill Lewis MR-6 crankbait and a homemade balsa crankbait.
“Rocks on flatter banks seemed to be the best for me,” Latimer says. “Particularly big chunk rock.”
That paid off big time on day two, when he brought in the day’s biggest bag (21-6). It buoyed him throughout the rest of the event.
9. Horton milks two pieces of wood
If there’s an award for resilience, Jamie Horton earned it at Grand. The Alabama pro had boat troubles nearly every day, and it cost him valuable fishing time.
“It’s a fuse issue,” Horton says. “They thought they had it fixed, but you know how those go.”
Despite his mechanical issues, Horton found an area that fished similar to back home in Alabama and was loaded with horizontal wood on 45-degree banks.
For the majority of the tournament, Horton targeted the laydowns with a 1/2-ounce Nichols Lures Pulsator spinnerbait with a red kicker blade and a gold Colorado blade. Two particular laydowns actually produced eight of his fish the first three days.
Yet, he had his best showing on day two thanks to another taste from home.
“I got bit today, and the way the fish bit told me I should try something I do a lot back home,” Horton says. “As soon as I made the switch to a Nichols Lures swim jig, it got silly. I mean, they were choking it like they’d never seen it before.”
Unfortunately, the bite was short-lived, as he never got another bite on it after Friday.
10. Collings banks on local knowledge to make top 10
In tough tournaments, locals and their extensive knowledge often have a distinct advantage. There were a number of Grand Lake local sticks in the field, yet, when all was said and done, only Sheldon Collings and Bradley Hallman were able to capitalize.
Collings made his second of back-to-back top 10s by targeting transition banks leading into spawning pockets. His main tools were a chartreuse 3/4-ounce spinnerbait with gold Colorado blades and a JaKKed Baits SKKatterbait with an orange blade.
While he never had a banner day, Collings did enough the first three days to grind out limits. On the final day, he swung for the fences and struck out, not catching a fish.
“I wouldn’t change a thing this week,” Collings admits. “I ran all the stuff I needed to run. It just didn’t happen.”