Harlin off to a big start on Grand Lake - Major League Fishing

Harlin off to a big start on Grand Lake

Image for Harlin off to a big start on Grand Lake
Michael Harlin set the pace on a big first day at Grand Lake. Photo by Phoenix Moore. Angler: Michael Harlin.
April 11, 2024 • Jody White • Toyota Series

GROVE, Okla. – Pretty much as expected, the fishing was really good on Day 1 of the Toyota Series Presented by Phoenix Boats Plains Division event on Grand Lake. Cracking 23 pounds, 3 ounces, Michael Harlin took the lead, and he’s followed closely by Cole Breeden with 22-12 and Joshua Teply, who also crossed the 22-pound mark with 22-4. The entire Top 10 on the pro side caught more than 19 pounds, and considering that the weather should be perfect for sight-fishing on Day 2, things might stay good.

On the Strike King co-angler side, Matt Krekovich blasted 22-4 from the back of the boat to take the lead. Though he has a 3-pound lead, this is looking like a pretty heavy co-angler event, as more than 20 co-anglers weighed 12 pounds or better on Day 1.

Blind fishing produces for Harlin

A staple in the Top 10 anywhere near the Ozarks, it’s no surprise to see Harlin sacking them up early on. After all, one of his best finishes on Grand came sight-fishing in the 2022 Toyota Series event here. However, had you asked Harlin about his day around noon, you wouldn’t have got a rosy answer.

“I had a pretty tough morning, honestly,” he said. “I had three; one of them was a 3-pounder, and the other ones were rats. I didn’t catch any of those big fish until 12:30, 1 o’clock. I caught two 3-pounders sight-fishing, and I blind-flipped three of those big ones, all within like 45 minutes of each other, just flipping. Then, I knew I just needed one more big one. I was drifting with the wind, and I was like ‘There she is, I found her.’ I made one pitch to her and she nosed down and ate it, and was a 4 ¾.”

To cap his power hour, which saw most of his damage come flipping in likely spawning areas behind docks, Harlin wrangled one bite that was extremely improbable.

“I was basically done, I had one 3-pounder left,” he said to start the tale. “You know how Grand Lake has a bunch of those braces coming off the backs of docks? I was standing on the trolling motor, one hand on the brace, with my rod dangling in the water, trying to control the boat, so I could look behind it. A fish bit it, I’m talking like a foot of line, maybe 18 inches. I’m like ‘There’s one!’ literally with my rod just dangling in the water. I pull up on it, and it was a 5-pounder. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life – I never even turned the reel handle. I just pulled up on it, it came up shaking its head, and I boat flipped it. I couldn’t believe it.”

Today, Harlin did most of his damage in an area he typically doesn’t fish. He rolled in to look at some community docks — the long ones with tons of boats on them — and struck out. But, just fishing around, he caught a big one, and then stayed to milk the area.

Tomorrow, with the wind flattening out, he’s planning on going with a sight-fishing game plan.

“I’m going to do more sight-fishing tomorrow because it’s not going to be windy,” he said. “That south side of the lake, by the dam, it’s got a bunch of fish on beds that nobody could fish for today because of the wind. So, I’m going looking tomorrow, hopefully catch a big bag sight-fishing, and then Saturday I’ll be doing a lot more blind flipping, because the wind is supposed to gas.”

That sort of flexible mindset could serve Harlin well, as it sounds like fish are moving by the minute on Grand.

“Two years ago, when there was a sight-fishing tournament, I felt better; I had more big ones on bed in that tournament,” Harlin explained. “Going into this one, I didn’t have many big ones. But they’ve been pulling up – in practice, I wasn’t able to mark a load of fish, but they were pulling up every day. This one is going to be about going and finding them while you’re fishing I think.”

Cole Breeden nearly always does well on Grand, and he’s looking good again this week. Photo by Phoenix Moore.

Breeden ‘Scopes shallow

With Drew Gill off being big-time on the Bass Pro Tour, Breeden is taking his chance to shine with the shallow ‘Scope game. Back in 2021, Breeden and former Drury University teammate Cameron Smith won the Abu Garcia College Fishing National Championship on Grand, and now he’s on the hunt for a win that will pay even better.

“It was a pretty good day; I had ‘em all before 10 o’clock,” Breeden said. “In practice, I had seven or eight areas, or stretches, that had a bunch of fish, and I went to my best one. It was basically just pitching to pieces of cover. I was fishing fast and shaking them off in practice. I went in today, in probably 5- to 8-feet of water, and I figured out that several of them were on beds.

“I like to shallow ‘Scope, and I usually get overshined by Drew,” he said. “The way they’re on spots, I think most of them are on beds. Some are staging, but I’m looking at them for sure. It was really windy today, so I’m sure it would be real hard to see them with your eyes.”

Though he’s using new-school technology (which is really the standard now), Breeden is throwing old-school stuff – a Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Creature Hawg on a Texas rig and a Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Hit Worm Magnum on a Neko.

“I was throwing a Texas rig with the Creature Hawg,” he said. “I caught some on a Hit Worm too, but definitely the three biggest ones I caught were on a Creature Hawg.”

Top 10 pros

1. Michael Harlin – 23 – 03 (5)               

2. Cole Breeden – 22 – 12 (5)

3. Joshua Teply – 22 – 04 (5)   $500

4. Jackson Ryley – 20 – 15 (5)                 

5. Toby Hartsell – 20 – 13 (5) 

6. Matteo Turano – 20 – 11 (5)                

7. Doug Johnson – 20 – 10 (5)                

8. Brad Cook – 20 – 03 (5)        

9. Jason Bonds – 19 – 08 (5)  

10. Brad Jelinek – 19 – 06 (5)

Complete results

Fishing Clash AOY

Toyota Series Plains Division pros are competing for the Fishing Clash Angler of the Year award and a $5,000 payday. Fishing Clash – an interactive 3D fishing simulation game that’s been downloaded by more than 80 million people worldwide – will reward the pro AOYs in all divisions of the Toyota Series, and is the official AOY sponsor of the Bass Pro Tour, Tackle Warehouse Invitationals, Toyota Series and Phoenix Bass Fishing League. 

Download Fishing Clash for free in the App Store and on Google Play or log on to www.fishingclash.game for more information.