You have no idea how excited I was to get out of Minnesota and head down to one of my favorite bodies of water, Grand Lake, in Northeastern Oklahoma. Joining me for this trip was my Dad Kenny, who made the even longer trip out from the mountains in Colorado. Being that my Dad just opened his new bar “The Vintage Moose” in the small tourist town of Idaho Springs, he was in dire need of a get away.
Researching for this trip I had mixed emotions. I was really hoping for cooler water temps and staging fish, mainly because this is what I had so much success targeting on Grand in years past. Though I had never been to Grand this late in the year, I was still thinking that I had a good chance. When I started to see reports that the main lake’s water temp was already heaving into the high 60’s and the backs of the coves hitting the low 70’s, I knew the odds of catching them the way I was hoping was diminishing fast. Then when I saw the extended forecast called for sun and temps in the mid 80’s all week, I started scraping my game plan and leaning toward a spawn bite.
When I arrived on Tuesday evening, I decided to hit the water and run all the way to the back of a major creek arm that offered a giant shallow flat in search of bedding fish. There’s not many shallow flats in Grand Lake, mostly everything falls from zero to 8 ft. to 20 ft. and then off to 60 plus. It’s a deep reservoir with no vegetation, which is one of the many reasons I like the lakes in this area. Being that I have much experience in our weed choked lakes up north, Grand offers something totally different and since I’m always trying to up my game to be a better tournament angler, it’s essential that I learn how to fish these types of waters.
When I arrived in the back of the creek, I noticed the water was much more dirty than it was mid way when I launched. I started by working a jig and a texas rigged beaver along a riprap bank that had a nice laydown every 15 feet or so, not a bite. I starting fan casting a Super K Swim Jig and a Biovex Stangun Spinnerbait across the flat,again nothing. It was starting to get close to dark and I decided it was time to head back to load up and check into our resort. When I pulled up to the ramp I noticed a nice deep water staging area, very similar to what I’ve done so well on in years past. I made no more than 5 casts with a 1/2 oz. Tru Tungsten Jig (Fall Craw) with a 2.75″ YUM Chunk (Green Pumpkin), when suddenly I noticed my line start cutting back toward the boat, I set the hook and up came my first bass, weighing 5.2 pounds! Man was I stoked, this had me thinking that I could run my old water that I’ve gotten so much confidence on in the past and whack myself a 20 pound limit.
The next morning we launched way down by the dam as I wanted to spend all day checking these proven staging areas and pull on fish so that I could start heading back north looking for new water and to leave these fish alone days before the actual tournament. My first couple spots produced not even a bite and when I was just about to get discouraged I caught another bass on the Tru Tungsten Jig going all of 4 pounds! I remembering saying to my Dad that this is fine, if I can just get 5 to 10 bites all day, they’ll be the right ones. Anyone who knows me knows that my confidence level is through the roof when I have a jig tied on, I have zero problem taking my time and milking these areas, cause when I get bit, it’s a good one.
After a few quick day dreams of me bringing a giant 20+ pound sack to the scales a few hours went by and I was quickly brought back down to reality, after my first two fish being good ones, I went the next 7 hours without a bite and I was fishing all my best water. As night starting to close in, I decided to work my way out of the cove I was in. I tied on a Megabass Ito Vision 110 Jerkbait (Wakasagi), since the water was much cleaner down by the dam, I figured it would be a good choice. I did manage to catch fish, but no real keepers, maybe one or two of them would of bumped the 14″ mark but they weren’t the fish I was looking for. I finally loaded my boat and on the way back to the cabin knew it was time for a new game plan.
The next morning I was on the water while it was still dark and had all the motivation in the world to crack Grand Lake. I picked one of the major creek arms and decided I would fish my backside off until I found a solid pattern, then go from there. I started by fishing that spot where I popped that 5 pounder, nothing. I moved to the back of a creek that still had some deep water in it, I pitched jigs, tossed jerkbaits, spinnerbaits, swim jigs, crankbaits, nothing. I powered up my Humminbird and starting scanning nice ledges and secondary points, I threw a prototype Biovex Deep Crankbait, a Picasso Football Jig and a Carolina Rig, nothing. Though on another note, I did find some awesome ledges that will be popping once the summer bite comes around.
Now starting to feel like an out of place yankee, I ran back to the resort that we where staying in to grab my paper map and make a quick sandwich. I pulled my boat into the resort marina and as I ran up the plank that connects the slips with the land I noticed I spooked a nice largemouth. She was literally on the bank, on it, like in six inches of water. This was the shot of adrenaline that I needed! I knew the bass had to be bedding but wasn’t finding the beds, now it was obvious that I was searching all the wrong areas. I’m accustomed to searching the backs of shallow weedy flats up here in Minnesota, but they just weren’t back there, instead they where on the rocky banks that lined the coves.
This quickly gave me mixed emotions, I felt awesome that I had found the fish but was really discouraged in catching them. Being from Minnesota, I don’t have a lot of experience with bedding largemouths, Minnesota protects the spawn. The little experience I do have is nothing to be confident about. In fact, I had never successfully caught a largemouth off a bed by visually sight fishing it. I just have always written it off as a weak point in my repertoire. I always seemed to spook the fish or just never had the patience to actually annoy the fish into biting. Being that I want to be the best of the best though, I was up for the challenge. There’s no better time than now to become a better angler.
I pulled out the fairy wand (spinning rod) and tied up a shakey head using a straight tail 5″ Amp Lures Mimi Worm (Green Pumpkin) with a Picasso Shakedown Jig. I starting slowly creeping up down the banks, casting the worm literally on the bank and pulling off the rocks and before I knew it I had managed to catch a few limits, nothing giant but plenty of 14″ to 16″ fish.
The next morning and final day of practice, I headed down toward the dam again and picked two of my best coves and started searching, as the afternoon wore on I starting coming across more and more beds. Knowing that I didn’t want to stick these fish the day before the tournament, I instead kept my rods in the rod locker and just cruised the banks with my trolling motor on 100. Whenever I saw a bass on a bed, I would just save a waypoint and move on. My plan was to fish these areas and try to pick these bass off by long casting my shakey worm without actually seeing the fish, this way I’d avoid spooking them.
That night I had confidence that I could catch 10 to 12 pounds, but knew I was going to need to pop a couple big ones to end up in the high teens and since I hadn’t caught a good one since the first day of practice, I was a bit concerned. I knew that most the fish I had been seeing on the beds where the males and was yet to see a pair, all I could do was hope that tomorrow the big girls would move up and put me in contention for a win. I was happy though with my practice and knew that no matter what, I had learned a ton and would leave this place a better overall fisherman. All I can do now is stick with my game plan and hope my areas could hold up against a 92 boat field of locals. Bring it on boys!