There was no question prespawn patterns were in play for the second stop of the Toyota Series Presented by A.R.E. Plains Division event on Grand Lake. Many thought the fish would lock on beds at any point throughout the tournament leading to some Grand megabags. Unfortunately, falling water and inconsistent weather kept that from coming to fruition, although the top pros still put an impressive number of good fish on the scale.
The event, which was presented by Fenwick, was won by Andy Newcomb who targeted “chunky gravel” halfway back in pockets for staging fish the first day, but milked a stretch of bluff bank up the Elk River to bring home his first Toyota Series title.
The rest of the top pros also went all-in on prespawners, focusing heavily on the mid-lake section of Grand.
Chris Jones has one Toyota Series win on Grand already under his belt, but he couldn’t make lightning strike twice, despite a valiant effort.
“Dang, I knew it was going to be close,” Jones says of coming up short on the final day. “It’s all ounces. I didn’t lose any fish, I fished clean all week.”
With different weather conditions every day of the event, making the right adjustments were crucial for a good finish. Jones was one of the few who knew what he needed to do, no matter what Mother Nature threw at him.
“I started out and caught ‘em behind docks square-billing and spinnerbaiting,” he says. “But today, that north front come in and I didn’t even have a fish bump my spinnerbait for two hours. I had an area (in Horse Creek) that I knew had some fish on and it’s an area I’ve caught them on before. I just went through there and slowly picked it apart and caught a bunch of keepers. I just never caught a big one.”
A qualifier for the Bassmaster Classic this year, Jones is one of the best in Oklahoma, so it’s no surprise to see him excel again.
“Experience always helps,” says Jones. “I knew what was in an area without having to idle in and look at it, I knew what was there to fish. And I was getting my spinnerbait behind docks nobody else was. There’d be people going in front of me and I’d know none of them fished the good stuff.”
In terms of where Jones focused his efforts, it was mostly pockets throughout the mid-lake region.
“Those fish pull in pockets a lot earlier than people think,” he says. “A lot of times they winter under the docks in pockets and then just slide up the bank behind them to spawn. The last spot before they move up to spawn is the floats in the back corners and that’s what I keyed on.”
Jones threw a BOOYAH Covert Spinnerbait and a BOOYAH Flex 2 squarebill almost entirely throughout the event. On the final day, he did flip a tube, but that was the only day all week he had to slow down. His rod and reel combos were SixGill setups spooled with 20-pound Vicious fluorocarbon.
Making his second Toyota Series Top 10, Minnesota’s Kyle Minke rode the biggest comeback of the event to nearly win the tournament.
Sitting tied for 98th on Day 1 with just 11 pounds, 10 ounces, Minke caught the biggest bag of the tournament on Day 2 – 23-9 – to jump to fifth. Saturday, his quality bites were still there, but his bite was fading and he could only muster up 16-12 for a $12,000 payday.
The key to Minke’s bite was working a Z-Man ChatterBait Jack Hammer with a Z-Man RaZor ShadZ trailer or a 13 Fishing Jabber Jaw (truffle butter) squarebill along the bottom in shallow water. The bigger the ChatterBait, the bigger the bites. Minke used 13 Fishing Envy Black 2 rods for his ChatterBait and crankbait and threw both on 13 Fishing Concept Z SLIDE reels. For line on his ChatterBaits, he opted for 17- or 20-pound fluorocarbon.
“I think it was more of speed thing and a weight thing with the ChatterBait,” says Minke. “I was throwing a ½-ounce when I was really shallow – like 2 feet or less – and then I would throw a ¾-ounce one when I was deeper than that.
“It had to be hitting the bottom I think to imitate a crawfish and the bigger profile got bigger bites. The smaller ChatterBait would get smaller bites, like the bucks. But the females would just inhale that ¾ ounce one.”
Minke’s fish were certainly staging to spawn in the backs of pockets or on points outside of pockets, but he can’t stress how shallow the fish would be. Heavy winds on Days 1 and 3 hindered his bite, but he made the best of it for a solid finish.
“I think most guys were staying out too far, but I was fishing 2 to 4 feet of water. I wish it would have stayed sunny and calm, because I think those fish would have kept coming and it could have been really ridiculous.”
Joey Cantrell had one of the more consistent weeks on Grand, weighing bags of 16-1, 19-7 and 16-0 for his fourth-place showing. While many of his competitors locked a soft plastic or spinnerbait in their hand, Cantrell was all about the crankbait bite.
“I started out throwing a red crankbait in practice and I room with Jeff Kriet and he called and asked if I was still getting bit on it Tuesday, and I wasn’t,” Cantrell says. “He told me he was catching them on a gold crankbait, so I picked up a yellow crankbait and caught them on it immediately.
“I was throwing red in the morning and then I’d pick that yellow up once the sun got up.”
His crankbaits were a Strike King KVD 1.5 (delta red), a 2.5-style squarebill or a balsa flat-sided crankbait, which he used on the final day.
“[Saturday] they weren’t biting the baits I was throwing earlier in the week, so I picked up that flat side and immediately starting catching them and rode it all day.”
Fishing channel swings, Cantrell stuck to the mid-portion of Grand, trying to keep things simple.
“I didn’t want to get too spread out, so I picked a few big areas, recycled through it and ran it again.”
Another pro with solid history on Grand, TJ Martin had been keeping tabs on the bass in Grand for a few weeks leading up to the event. Instead of focusing on the bank where fish should be moving toward, Martin found the opposite.
“It’d been good the last few weeks here, like 20 to 25 pounds a day,” Martin says. “Sunday and Monday the water was up and I was finding some fish on beds. That kind of fizzled and I think they were part of the wave of fish that moved up during the last full moon, so they were leaving (the bank) as this tournament started.
“I had to back out with the falling water and fish the last little ditch or channel in a creek. That seemed to be the deal. The fish were in the very back of the pockets in practice, but some of them had pulled out and were making their way back out to the lake.”
Fishing from Shangri-La to Horse Creek, Martin caught some fish on a spinnerbait, but a 5/16-ounce Jewel Finesse Jig with a Zoom Ultravibe Speed Craw fished on 17-pound fluorocarbon was his primary player.
Brent Algeo is one heck of an angler but admits he can be his own worst enemy. This week, he’s proud to have played things loose and trusted his gut.
“I told myself all week, which I normally can’t do this, but I said, ‘don’t have an itinerary.’ My biggest problem is my own head when I think I want to be somewhere else. I didn’t worry about timing and all that, so that’s what I did.
“[Saturday] I had a premonition to run to a bridge and caught like six off it. Then I had a premonition to run to an old boat ramp back in a place with a blow out in front of it and caught two on back-to-back casts to cull up.”
Keying on changes in rock, Algeo spent his time from Honey Creek to Horse Creek.
“I found them on steeper banks than I think a lot of guys did,” he adds. “Basically, it was rock changes or anything that looked out of the ordinary. A little indent, a little point, some gravel kicking into some clay with some big rock, anything like that.
“Paying attention to shad was also a big key because you could get keyed into whether a place was alive or not pretty quick and know whether to spend some more time in there.”
Throwing a Strike King KVD 1.5 (blue craw) or a 2.5 with a craw carmel-colored Crank Wrap on it, Algeo was able to cover water with ease. He threw everything on Lew’s rods and reels with 12-pound Sufix monofilament on the 1.5 and 15-pound mono on the 2.5.
“I fished a lot of coves and pockets,” Watson says of his pattern. “Some of them had bites and some didn’t. If you could get one or two bites in a cove, you needed to really dig in and pitch every 5 feet or pitch to every target you came to.
“Everything just went good this week. I went through some areas again, but I had to run new water as the week went on and some of it was history.”
Watson fished as far down as Horse Creek and ventured up the rivers on the final day . He says the only mistake he made all week was missing a chance at a fish he saw on a bed Saturday.
“I screwed a bed fish up in the last hour (on Saturday),” he says. “I was working her and I could barely see her swim off and my line move so I set the hook and I had her in the tail. I had to throw her back, otherwise I would have had a big bag. Todd Castledine and Robbie Dodson are going to murder me for that one.”
Watson’s one-two punch consisted of a a ¾-ounce Trophy Bass Company spinnerbait on 20-pound MAXIMA Ultragreen monofilament and a Tackle HD Brush Buster with a ½-ounce weight on 20-pound MAXIMA fluorocarbon. He threw both on Cashion ICON rods and Quantum Smoke reels.
After catching 21-12 to lead on Day 1, Eric Olliverson never connected with multiple big bites as the event went on. Still, he got his second Top 10 in a row and is firmly in contention for the Angler of the Year title he has his sights on.
Windy, sunny conditions on Day 1 made Olliverson’s moving-bait bite fire. Though he had to adjust each day of the event, he still caught them the way he loves to.
“The bite was awesome,” Olliverson says of Grand. “Anytime I can throw a moving bait I’m in my wheelhouse. I really was hoping that buzzbait bite would transform into something. It kind of led me astray, but it also was a pot of gold the first day because I had two fish on it that weighed 12 pounds.”
While the buzzbait produced his kickers on Day 1, Day 2 he’d have to change to a squarebill. On the final day he’d adjust again to throwing a vibrating jig.
For Olliverson’s prespawn fish, transition banks were gold.
“I was keying in on transitions banks with some sort of rock and a little bit of depth and a turn,” he says.
His buzzbait was a ½-ounce War Eagle model and the square-bill of choice was a 6th Sense Crush 100 (lava treuse). He threw both on 6th Sense Sensory rods with Lew’s Custom Pro reels. For the buzzbait, he threw 40-pound Vicious No-Fade Braid and on the crankbait he opted for 12-pound Vicious fluorocarbon.
Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit pro Kyle Weisenburger bucked the trend of using moving baits to catch Grand Lake bass en route to his Top 10 finish. Instead, he leaned on soft plastics and fishing slow to entice bites.
“Everything pretty much revolved around the pea gravel transition into the little bit bigger rock in creek arms from the bank out to about 5 foot of water,” Weisenburger says. “As the week went on it seemed like the fish kind of pulled out off the bank, so I had to flip and pitch and even cast along those banks at a 45-degree angle. You’d do it for a little while and your line would just jump and you’d have a bite.
“Targeting the right size on the rock on the bank was the whole pattern.”
His best bites came from the last big creeks near the dam, yet the majority of bites came from the mid-lake area for the Ohio pro.
A Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver pitched on either a 3/8- or ½-ounce Strike King tungsten weight did the bulk of the work. He pitched it on 16-pound Gamma fluorocarbon and a 7-foot, 3-inch heavy G-Mac rod. When things got tough, Weisenburger did have to employ a Yamamoto Senko (black with red flake).
Toby Hartsell made his fifth Grand Lake Top 10 in Toyota Series competition last week and did it mostly from fishing history.
With limited practice, Hartsell locked some moving baits in his hand and went to work.
“I didn’t get a lot of practice time, and the time I did, I didn’t catch what everybody else was catching,” Hartsell says. “I was hearing all these stories and was kind of lost. So, I just went to old stuff I’ve caught ‘em on before and I figured out just a little way to catch ‘em.”
“The Evoke crankbait is a square-bill, but it’s a little tighter action than most of ‘em, which works really well this time of year,” he adds.