Widely regarded as Oklahoma’s premier bass fishery, Grand Lake will present plenty of opportunity for anglers fishing this week’s Costa FLW Series Southwestern Division event presented by Ranger and hosted by the City of Grove. The bounty is definitely there, but given current conditions, it won’t come easily.
The tournament kicked off this morning out of Wolf Creek Park, as 169 pros compete for a top prize that includes a five-figure payday and a new Ranger Z518C boat with a 200-hp Evinrude outboard. Co-anglers will cast for a Ranger Z175 boat with a 90-hp Evinrude outboard and an additional $5,000 if Ranger Cup qualified.
Let’s first look at the Grand Lake stat sheet: Situated in the Ozark foothills, this 46,500-surface-acre reservoir was created in 1940 by the completion of the Pensacola Dam on the Grand River.
Administered by the Grand River Dam Authority (GRDA), this is a deep and mostly rocky lake with 460 miles of shoreline. The average depth for Grand Lake is 36.3 feet, and it’s current elevation of 742.01 feet is just over the conservation pool level of 742. A month ago, the water level was about 5 feet higher, but a steady drawdown brought it back to its current level.
Grand Lake habitat includes points, riprap, natural rock banks, docks and the occasional laydown. Major arms include the Elk River, Neosho River, Wolf Creek, Honey Creek, Horse Creek and Drowning Creek.
Oklahoma pro Jeff Reynolds, who won the division’s Lake Texoma event last year, says recent rains have left the upper half of Grand stained, while the areas down toward the dam are typically cleaner. The varying water clarities will likely influence location decisions.
“They got a lot of rain a couple weeks ago, and the lake came up about 5 feet, but they dropped it back down,” Reynolds says. “For me, the stained water really has the fish scattered.”
FLW Tour pro Andrew Upshaw says water temperatures have also been fluctuating. A recent cold spell dropped water temps from the mid-50s to the low 50s, and even lower in some areas. The cool-down clearly stalled any prespawn migrations. However, a current warming trend forecast to last the next few days should restore things closer to normal.
Upshaw says he expects Grand to be wide open for whatever an angler wants to do. The thing to consider, though, is that a mid-week warming trend will last through the weekend, thereby rendering practice largely irrelevant. That means savvy anglers will have to stay on the go.
“I think it will be extremely hard to win in one area,” he says. “These fish are going to move non-stop, so anything you found in practice, by day one, it may not even exist; things are changing so fast.”
Reynolds says he believes Grand is in that weird transition time when the field might be split between late cold-weather patterns and early prespawn.
“You’re going to see some guys run to the clear water and do the typical things – throwing a jerkbait, an Alabama Rig, a football head or a finesse jig,” Reynolds says. “The guys in the dirtier water will be fishing shallower with square-bill crankbaits, spinnerbaits and flipping baits.
“It’s really setting up for people to do what they want to do, but figuring out a pattern is really the hard thing right now. It’s hard to get enough bites to put something together. It’s more like one here, one there. There will be some guys who go down to the clean water, catching them out in 10 to 15 feet. That could be how this tournament gets won. The only problem I see is that it’s going to be warming up and the fish are wanting to move shallow, so I think that bite’s more or less going away.”
1. Low numbers – Despite Grand’s diversity, Upshaw says he’s not foreseeing high productivity. Bites will probably be few and far between for most of the field, so he stresses the importance of fishing clean and boating what bites.
2. The warming trend – “Probably the biggest thing will be figuring out what these fish are going to do with it warming up so much,” Reynolds says. “If the fish do decide to start biting like they should, then it’s going to be a matter of who figures out what they want to do first.
“I think the warming weather will push more fish up shallow, as they’re getting closer to the spawn. They’re by no means about to start spawning, but if this warmer weather gets them up there thinking about it and they start eating, this is going to be a good tournament.”
Reynolds and Upshaw both believe the 27- to 28-pound range will make the top-10 cut after two days, with 47 to 50 pounds in three days being enough to win.
A 20-pound bag is very likely to show up at least one of the three days, but duplicating that would be quite a feat in Grand’s current mood.
“This lake has a lot of fish in it, and you can catch them from the Elk River all the way to the dam; every creek here has fish in it,” Reynolds says. “It’s just trying to figure out how to get them to bite.”
Dates: March 22-24, 2018
Format: All boaters and co-anglers will compete for two days. The top 10 boaters and co-anglers based on cumulative weight after two days of competition will advance to the third and final round, with the winner in each category determined by the heaviest cumulative three-day weight.
Takeoff Time: 7:30 a.m. CT
Takeoff Location: Wolf Creek Park, 963 N 16th Street, Grove, OK
Weigh-in Time: Days 1 and 2: 3:30 p.m. CT
Weigh-in Location: Days 1 and 2 Wolf Creek Park
Weigh-in Time: Day 3: 4:30 p.m. CT
Weigh-in Location: Day 3: Cabela’s, 2300 Promenade Blvd., Rogers AR