OSAGE BEACH, Mo. – Back in the day, it was pretty common for the old Central Division to finish the season at Lake of the Ozarks. However, since the 2020 inception of the Plains Division of the Toyota Series Presented by Phoenix Boats, the division has only been to the Osage River impoundment once in the fall, back in October of 2020. Now, the division is returning to the once-traditional finish with a Lake of the Ozarks showdown presented by FVP.
With the Northern Division Angler of the Year race literally coming down to a tiebreaker on Day 2 of the last event, this one has a chance to be even more dramatic. In the Plains Division, the top three pros are separated by six points, and they’re all perfectly suited to make the Top 25 and fish on Day 3. Leading the way, Brad Jelinek has 509 points thanks to finishes of third and 10th so far this season. One point behind him, Drew Gill has a third and an 11th. Behind them, 2021 College Fishing National Championship winner Cole Breeden has 503 points and has finished 13th and sixth.
Last week, Ben McCann rocketed up from eighth in the points to miss out on AOY to Alec Morrison by the total weight tiebreaker. Going into the Potomac event, he was 43 points behind leader Brett Carnright and 36 points behind Morrison. If we use the gap between McCann and Morrison as the standard for a comeback, it puts the Plains Division pros as far down as fifth in contention – and if you add one point, it puts two more anglers in the hunt.
Still, while Nathen Luce, Cody Spetz, Jordan Hartman and Drew Tabor are undoubtedly good anglers, this isn’t the same as a bunch of New Yorkers taking on the Potomac. Jelinek and Gill have already cashed at LOZ this year, and Breeden fishes there quite a bit – it’s going to be tough to break into the top three in this one.
For his part, Jelinek is trying not to stress too much.
“Honestly, I’m going to try to pull the ol’ Brandon Palaniuk, go catch what I can catch and see what happens,” he said. “Honestly, the worst thing I can do is be a hero. I need to just do my thing and see what happens.”
Lake of the Ozarks bass aren’t known for being dumb, but they should be at the top of their game right now. After a Phoenix Bass Fishing League Presented by T-H Marine Super Tournament and a Bassmaster Open back-to-back weekends, they’re about to be under assault from 160+ Toyota Series anglers. Luckily, according to Jelinek, who finished sixth in the Open, things are mixed up enough that the pressure doesn’t seem to be torching the fishing.
“I was amazed at how good the weights were in the Open,” he said. “If you had 31 pounds, I thought for sure you would be in the Top 10, and I weighed more than 16 pounds on Day 1 and was barely in the Top 20. It’s either them boys are really good, or they’re biting a lot better than I thought they’d bite. Really, I think it’s a combination. There are a lot of fish that aren’t shallow still, and normally, those are getting picked off. If they aren’t up there, you can catch them off the bank grouped up.
“It’s a little bit of everything,” Jelinek said. “I caught some fish out of brush, some random suspended fish, and some on a hard bottom. If you see a suspended fish, you can catch it. If you see a good brush pile, there’s probably a bass in it. Same with the hard bottom. This September is different, there are fish doing all kinds of things.”
While deeper fishing was the dominant deal in the Open, Jelinek thinks being on the leading edge of the shallow bite might be the way to win this one.
“It’s September and those bass are just constantly moving,” he said. “Each day at takeoff I didn’t know where I was going to go. I tried to make it happen in the morning the first two days, and it just wasn’t happening, trying to catch them shallow.
“You would think more shad would be coming up, especially with the forecast,” he said. “If I can find some shallow fish, I think that’s going to be the way to win. The topwater deal was just not working for me, but I guarantee somebody is going to catch them doing it. It might be me, it might be Roger (Fitzpatrick), it might be Dennis (Berhorst), Marcus (Sykora), one of the local guys that have the knowledge to go throw it.”
Even if the patterns in play aren’t set in stone, it’s a good bet to be a fun tournament. The Ozarks region has one of the best fishing traditions of any part of the country, with the Hibdons and a cadre of other unstoppable locals. So, stay tuned for a good one, and maybe the beginning of the fall feed.