GROVE, Okla. – Spring has officially sprung in Oklahoma. The grass is green, trees are blooming, and the wind is blowing. Grand Lake’s bass are there for the taking, but the bite is just as predictable as the weather. The anglers who are able to adapt to the winds of change in this second event of the season for the Toyota Series Presented by A.R.E. Plains Division are going to be most likely to come out on top.
With fish setting up across different stages of the spawn, every spring staple is on the table. Rounding out a limit of squeakers shouldn’t be a problem, but finding those elusive big bites is going to be essential for making the cut.
Grand Lake was created in 1940 when the Pensacola Dam was completed. The 46,500-acre reservoir is about an hour drive from Tulsa and is the largest impoundment on the Neosho River.
Though technically in the Ozarks, Grand Lake is a bit of a combo between an Ozark impoundment and a typical prairie lake. It’s flatter and shallower than Beaver Lake and Table Rock, but you can still mistake large sections of it for the Ozarks very easily.
Rock is the predominant feature, but docks and other wood structure can be found in many key areas. Laydowns, flooded bushes, and brush piles are common and could certainly come into play, especially as fish move up to spawn.
The split nature of the lake is shared by its tributaries to an extent. Flowing from Kansas in the north, the Neosho River is the primary tributary. The part of the lake fed primarily by the Neosho is notably dirtier, and the upper reaches of it feature a lot of permanently shallow water strewn with laydowns. Meeting up with it near the top of the lake, the Spring River also flows from Kansas and the western edge of Missouri. Entering the lake to the north of Sailboat Bridge, the Elk River is the clearest-running large tributary of Grand and flows from the east out of the Missouri Ozarks.
Grand Lake is currently about 3 feet under full pool, due to recent drawdowns on the reservoir. It has resulted in some very-shallow conditions for bedding bass, as well as mixed water clarity throughout the lake.
“You can find just about any level of water clarity depending on where you go,” said Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit pro Casey Scanlon. “There’s everything from near zero-visibility to clear water. A lot of different tactics are going to be in play.”
Recent changes in water levels won’t only have the anglers scrambling, but some of the fish as well. Many beds that were previously in prime locations are now just ankle-deep.
“In practice, I’m catching most of my fish in less than a foot of water,” said Michael Matthee. “I think it’s going to be all over the place though. There’s so many different water conditions and temperatures, there’s going to be a bunch of patterns.”
In typical spring fashion, the one constant in the weather forecast is change. Cool nights, warm afternoons, and the chance of rain across all three days will certainly be an important factor.
“It’s going to be a tournament of adjustments,” said Scanlon. “The last few days of practice have been nice and sunny, I think the guys who make the right adjustments and play the conditions will have a better event.”
With multiple stages of the spawn in full swing, it will truly be “dealer’s choice” across the first few days of the tournament. Scanlon suspects many anglers will stick to Grand Lake staples.
“It’s a great power-fishing lake,” he said. “Spinnerbaits, square-bills, and diving cranks will definitely be tied on to a lot of rods. I also wouldn’t rule out a swimbait or two in clear water.”
Soft plastics and a black and blue jigs are also considered standard issue this time of year, although the conditions could make bed fishing a tough proposition.
“The water I’m fishing is so dirty that I have to trigger that reaction bite.” Matthee said. “I know they’re coming up to spawn, but it’s those transition fish I’m really trying to target.”
While the bite may be a bit tougher than usual for this time of year, Scanlon knows there’s always someone who gets it done.
“Some guys will fish out deep for prespawns, some guys will chunk-and-reel on the bank,” he said. “There’s going to be a wide range of tactics, but someone is going to stumble into them – and they might be surprised when they do.”
While most anglers agreed that Grand Lake is being a bit fickle, they still expect the winner to break the 50-pound mark over three days.
“I think it’s going to take 18 pounds a day to win,” said local angler TJ Martin. “The winner will likely bring 54 pounds to the scales, and it could take 50 pounds just to crack the Top 10.”
Matthee agrees, knowing that it’s going to take three consistent days to get it done.
“To win one of these events everything has to line up,” he says. “I don’t get too excited until the fat lady sings!”