Blissfully unaware is a fitting description of Toby Hartsell’s impression of Grand Lake — the currently difficult body of water on which the Oklahoma pro’s first-day limit of 19 pounds, 4 ounces leads the Costa FLW Series Southwestern Division event hosted by the City of Grove and presented by Ranger.
Edging second-place pro Kevin Ledoux by 5 ounces, Hartsell says a physical limitation became his advantage on this Grand River impoundment, where recent fluctuations in water level and temperature have stalled the prespawn movement. Personally untainted by the reality of Grand’s conditions, he simply went fishing.
“I didn’t get any practice because I’ve been having some back problems,” Hartsell says. “I think that was a good thing, really, because I’ve heard everyone saying it’s been bad the past couple of weeks. I think that gave me an edge by not thinking it was going to be that bad. I caught a big one [a 6-14 that took Big Bass honors] and really didn’t expect to have 19, but I’ll take it.”
Hartsell says he fished all over the lake. He started near the Pensacola Dam, ran up to the Elk River and fished several spots in between.
“There wasn’t any rhyme or reason to any of it,” he says. “I caught them on four different baits. There wasn’t any pattern; it was just fishing.”
Targeting traditional prespawn staging areas, Hartsell says his fish were on the outer edge of this seasonal zone, which kept them in a replicable target area.
“I know the fish are close to moving up, but I don’t want them to move up all the way; halfway up is when I can catch them really good,” he says.
On the river end, Hartsell mostly targeted flats. He switched to channel swings and bluff ends down the lake.
He caught his fish on a mix of spinnerbaits, crankbaits, bladed jigs and 5/16-ounce flipping jigs. To the latter, he added an old-school Zoom Chunk.
“Fast-moving baits are what I caught the majority of my fish on, but I love throwing a jig, so I have to keep them honest,” Hartsell says.
While most of his river work took place in typical shallow habitat, Hartsell says that getting bit on the lower end was a more precise deal.
“It seemed like you had to have some deep water really close, especially down toward the dam,” he says. “Because it was a little cloudy this morning, I thought I’d take a chance and run down there by the dam, because that’s where the better quality fish are.”
Clearly indicative of the lake’s current instability, Hartsell says his bites were noticeably non-aggressive.
“There wasn’t hardly a bite,” he says. “Even on a spinnerbait, they don’t really knock it; they just load up.”
1. Toby Hartsell – Afton, Okla. – 19-4 (5)
2. Kevin Ledoux – Choctaw, Okla. – 18-15 (5)
3. Colby Miller – Elmer, La. – 18-10 (5)
4. Jeff Reynolds – Calera, Okla. – 16-8 (5)
5. Nick Lebrun – Bossier City, La. – 16-3 (5)
6. Darrel Robertson – Jay, Okla. – 15-3 (4)
7. John Pilcher – Kansas, Okla. – 15-2 (5)
8. Jordan Osborne – Longview, Texas – 14-0 (5)
9. Troy O’Rourke – Natchitoches, La. – 13-15 (5)
10. Chad Warren – Sand Springs, Okla. – 13-13 (5)
Doing something different is the inherent mandate for co-anglers, but Kennith George took that beyond the relationship between front and back deck. It was his focus on outthinking his fellow co-anglers that landed him atop his division with 13 pounds, 12 ounces.
“Being a co-angler forces you to fish a different way, and that played into my hand,” George says. “By doing something that was different than my boater, that lead me to the fish I found.”
George opted to keep the details thin, but he says he fished slower baits and targeted “less obvious” spots in 10 to 15 feet of water.
“Most of the quality fish I caught were on targets people normally wouldn’t hit,” he says. “I definitely slowed down my retrieves.”
Notably, George had only three keepers today, so he was around quality fish. He had four bites and lost one big fish.
1. Kennith George – Edmond, Okla. – 13-12 (3)
2. Steven Meador – Bentonville, Ark. – 12-15 (5)
3. Rick Blosser – Tulsa, Okla. – 12-9 (5)
4. Frank Divis Sr. – Farmington, Ark. – 11-10 (3)
5. James Callaghan – De Berry, Texas – 11-5 (3)
6. Shane Patrick – Springdale, Ark. – 10-9 (2)
7. Ben Wickham – Ponca City, Okla. – 10-4 (2)
8. Jordan Burks – Joplin, Mo. – 9-4 (5)
9. Jason Clark – Bixby, Okla. – 7-10 (2)
9. Rich Dalbey – Greenville, Texas – 7-10 (2)