OSAGE BEACH, Mo. – It may be October, but don’t tell that to the fish in Lake of the Ozarks.
With water temperatures in the high 70s and low 80s during the Toyota Series Presented by Phoenix Boats Plains Division finale, the fish were definitely confused about whether to make the fall transition or not.
That had the anglers equally confused, as typical fall patterns simply didn’t happen as usual. Yet, plenty of pros managed to scramble and find ways to get just enough of the right bites each day to separate themselves from the rest.
Here’s a look at the lures and patterns that helped the top finishers.
1. It was a wild week for Travis Harriman between bringing in the biggest bags each of the first two days, then feeling he blew the tournament by bringing in a single fish the final day, only to still hang on for the win. Dramatics aside, the Arkansas pro found victory by targeting a key area of docks up the Niangua arm of the lake that had a significant amount of bait on them. Around deeper docks, he used a 3/4-ounce Jewel Football Jig (green pumpkin purple flash) and a Strike King Rage Scounbug trailer. Up shallow, it was a 1/2-ounce Jewel J-Lock Flip’N’ Jig in the same color with the same trailer. Both were tossed on 7-foot VIRTUS|Jewel Red Diamond rods, going with the flip/pitch model for the football jig and the Titan model for the J-Lock. He said the rod choice was key to skipping his jig “where the sun don’t ever shine.” To get his fish out from the darkest recesses, he used 25-pound Strike King Tour Grade Fluorocarbon.
2. Cody Huff is a fast learner. After fishing shallow produced a mediocre finish for him in the Bassmaster Open a week prior, Huff opted to dedicate himself out deep for this event. While many fished brush around docks, he targeted brush that was truly offshore on points and humps in the Grand Glaize area with a Missile Baits Magic Worm (morning dawn) on a drop-shot.
3. When you need a good tournament, it helps to fish a lake you guide on. That’s the scenario Joe Grafeman had, and he capitalized to lock up a spot in the Toyota Series Championship. Hanging around Grand Glaize, he did the majority of his damage in the mornings by skipping a Razor Custom Tackle Jr Flipping Jig with a Strike King Rage Craw trailer around some key brush piles under docks. Once the sun got up, he went shallow with a Megabass Kanata to offer the fish a bigger profile than most jerkbaits.
4. Think you can’t compete anymore without the best equipment and electronics? Don’t tell that to Jim Stamper. Despite fishing from a decades-old boat with equally ancient electronics and even older fishing tackle, the local nearly managed to pull off the win by making a long run every day almost to the Truman Dam. Up there, he hit nearly 75 docks a day, looking for ones with about 4 feet of water at the ends where he could skip a 1/2-ounce Crock-O-Gator jig that he cut some of the lead off of.
5. It was a simple formula for Kirk Smith – no bait equals no bass. Hence, he only fished docks in pockets where he could see shad flickering on the surface when he pulled into the area. When he saw that, he’d then use forward-facing sonar to spy bait balls under docks and ideally also see bass under the bait. If the dock was shallow, he’d toss a finesse jig with a Strike King Rodent trailer on its head to try and get a reaction bite. Otherwise, he’d burn a Strike King 8.0 Magnum Squarebill by them.
6. Most anglers either stayed up shallow or hung out deep. Adam Boehle did both, jumping between the two constantly while looking for new water anywhere from Grand Glaize to the dam. He also kept switching up his offerings, alternating between a 3/4-ounce Crock-O-Gator Reaction Jig with a Strike King Rage Bug trailer and a 5/16-ounce Crock-O-Gator Shaker Pro Head with a Zoom Mag Finesse Worm.
7. So many things had to go right for Drew Gill. From a top angler’s boat breaking down on Day 2 which allowed him to make it to Day 3, to Brad Jelinek having a bad final day, to Gill catching a few crucial keepers late. Yet, it all happened, and it’s how he took home the Plains Division Angler of the Year title. Of course, Gill never would’ve been there to begin with had he not figured out a suspended-fish pattern. He targeted points in 25 to 35 feet and would scan around with forward-facing sonar to spy individual fish he could cast to with a Neko-rigged Yamamoto Kut Tail Worm.
8. Considering he sunk roughly 200 pieces of brush specifically for this event, it’s safe to say Corey Cook had plenty of places to fish. And had the water been a little colder, there’s a good chance he’d have won himself another Toyota Series trophy from said brush. Yet, the warm water temperatures meant the fish weren’t using the brush as much as they did when he won in 2020. Still, he wasn’t complaining, as he found enough fish in the brush that would eat his Jewel Football Jig and Zoom Brush Hog trailer to secure another Top 10.
9. Considering his wife’s due date is Oct. 3, no one could blame Michael Harlin for being a little scrambled this week. Fortunately, he used it to his advantage. While he originally tried to make a deep bite go with a Roboworm on a drop-shot, he eventually ditched it and scrambled all over the lake to flip a Crock-O-Gator Zapper HD Jig with a Crock-O-Gator F Bomb trailer thrown on an FX Custom rod.
10. Normally, making back-to-back Top 10s in consecutive weeks would be cause for celebration. Unfortunately for Brad Jelinek, a bad final day meant the second Top 10 was not quite enough to hang on to the Angler of the Year title. Still, it was another solid effort from Jelinek, as he milked the same area near Grand Glaize that he did in the Bassmaster Open, hitting key docks with either a 1/2-ounce Motion Fishing Flipping Brush Jig with a 6th Sense Stroker Craw trailer or a 6th Sense Divine Shakey Worm on a 3/8-ounce shaky head.