UPCOMING EVENT: YETI FLW COLLEGE FISHING - 2019 - Sam Rayburn Reservoir

FISHING LEAGUE WORLDWIDE

Grand Setting Up Great

Zack Birge loads up for a cast around a dock.

Saying Zack Birge is partial to Grand Lake is like saying Donald Trump is fond of Tweeting.

Why not? Birge has fished 10 FLW events at the east Oklahoma impoundment – seven T-H Marine FLW Bass Fishing League tournaments and three Costa FLW Series tournaments – and has cashed a check in all but one of them. That tally includes the Costa FLW Series event he placed first in last year and a BFL he won in 2015. This year, he has a crack at a repeat as the Costa FLW Series Southwestern Division makes a stop at Grand this weekend.

“I love Grand; it’s probably my favorite lake,” confesses the Okie pro. “It suits my style of fishing, which is to make a lot of casts and cover a lot of water, but there are also a lot of other things a fisherman can do. It has a lot of 5-pounders in it and is just a phenomenal tournament fishery.”

Considering the competition he faces, Birge can’t be considered the runaway favorite, but he’s way up there after virtually putting his brand on Grand last year. Destiny seemed to be in Birge’s corner, as he started in 47th place after day one, weighed a 21-pound limit in the second round and rocketed to eighth, then finished with 18-3 to claim his second Costa FLW Series victory overall with 51-13.

Grand Lake giveth to anglers such as Birge, but it also taketh away. As seemingly fated as Birge’s meteoric rise in the standings was, it was matched by the precipitous drop of a couple of other guys who seemed to have had a handle on things going into the tournament. Nick Aber of Piedmont, Okla., took the lead on day one with a 21-4 limit, and Drew Barnes of Bella Vista, Ark., was right behind him at 21-3. Their bigger fish were nowhere to be found on day two, however. Aber could manage just three dinks that totaled 5-6, and Barnes had two for 4-6. Aber and Barnes finished 30th and 31st, respectively, in the tournament.

Birge says that’s standard operating procedure for Grand: One day the big ones are biting, and the next they’re not. It happened to him in 2016, although in reverse order. Using bluegill-colored 6th Sense Crush 50X and Crush Mini 25X crankbaits, he fished the same stretches of Wolf Creek all three days, except the good kickers were nowhere to be found in the opening round. Instead of scrambling and piecing something else together, Birge went back to the same areas and cranked up hefty limits the following two days.

“It didn’t surprise me; that’s the way Grand is,” observes Birge. “I can’t explain it, but Grand has always been known for that sort of feast-or-famine fishing. If I’m sure about an area or something I found in practice, I just put my head down and cover water.”

Putting one’s head down and covering water might be especially good advice this year, as the field anticipates a lunkerfest of shallow bass. A warmer-than-usual spring has put Grand bass in a spawning mood, and fishing the bedding areas is likely to be more productive than usual. Still, that’s not to say it’s going to be the dominant pattern as recent rain – with more to come – will make sight-fishing more difficult.

“It looks like the fish are going to be in all three stages: prespawn, spawn and postspawn,” says FLW Tour pro Darrel Robertson, who’s fishing the tournament. “We had a full moon a week ago [April 11], and some fish moved up then, but not in a big wave, and I don’t know that there’s going to be any kind of major bedding going on when the tournament comes to town. For sure, though, the fish are moving, and everything’s happening in the shallow areas.” 

Aber seconds Robertson’s observation, at least the part about the fish being shallow. He thinks the majority of fish are going to be caught by anglers roaming down the shoreline throwing such baits as unweighted soft plastics. It’s likely that thunderstorms and pop-up showers forecast for the region will dirty the Neosho, Spring and Elk river feeders arms of the 46,500-acre lake, but the big coves southwest of Grove and near the dam should stay fairly clear come what may. The water temperature is in the high 60s.

“Ninety-nine percent of the bigger bags will be caught in water 5 feet deep or less,” predicts Aber. “The only thing that’s going to change that in some areas of the lake is if we get a lot of rain and run-off between now and when the tournament starts and how that affects lure selection based on the water color.”

Toby Hartsell, who was runner-up last year with 14 bass that totaled 50-5, is betting that a number of patterns will be in play. He thinks the lake is setting up to produce big stringers like those of 2015 when Brad Hallman won a Central Division tournament at Grand with 65-15. By comparison, Birge’s winning stringer in 2016 would have earned ninth place in the 2015 event. Hallman averaged almost 22 pounds per day by sight-fishing and pitching Zoom Ultra Vibe Speed Craws under and around docks in the first two rounds, then adding a Heddon One Knocker Spook to the mix on the rainy last day.

“If things keep going the way they have been, we’re going to see fish in all three phases of the spawn and a variety of baits producing in different areas,” says Hartsell. “Flipping boat docks, fishing secondary points, starting halfway back in pockets and fishing all the way back, wacky-worm fishing, finesse fishing, fishing dirty water with spinnerbaits – there’s just no telling.”

About the only trademark Grand pattern that’s iffy right now is flipping jigs into flooded willows and other shoreline cover. That might change for the better soon, however, because of the precipitation forecast for this weekend.

“For the willows, we like it [the lake elevation] at about 746 feet, and it’s about 744 and rising now, with a few more days of rain coming,” says Hallman. “Flipping jigs could be really good. The water is already stained, so I don’t think the tournament’s going to be won by anybody just looking at the fish.”

Spinnerbaits, square-bills, soft plastics, jigs and topwaters – regardless of the potential winning lure, most veteran Okie anglers are predicting that the tournament is going to land on Grand at the best time of the year to catch big stringers of bass on a variety of baits.

“It’s going to take a load of fish to make it to the third day,” Hartsell predicts. “It very easily could take 17 or 18 pounds a day to make the 10-man cut. And the guy that wins will likely need at least a couple of good kickers that come off beds. It will be a great tournament.”

 

Tournament details

Format: All boaters and co-anglers will compete for two days. The top 10 boaters and co-anglers based on cumulative weight after two days of competition will advance to the third and final round, with the winner in each category determined by the heaviest cumulative three-day weight.

Takeoff time: 6:30 a.m. CT

Takeoff location: Wolf Creek Park, 963 N 16th Street, Grove, OK

Weigh-in time: 2:30 p.m. CT

Weigh-in location days 1 and 2: Wolf Creek Park

Weigh-in location day 3: Walmart, 2115 S Main Street, Grove, OK

Tags: grand-lake  flw-series  colin-moore  pre-tournament  2017-04-20-grand-lake 

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