After competing on Grand Lake O’ The Cherokees so many times before, I felt my chances were strong going into this event, especially since it was spring.
The lake offers plenty of prime spawning habitat; including pea gravel and chunk rock banks within protected pockets. Visual targets include laydowns, willows, docks, bridges and all forms of rock transitions.
Boasting more than 450 miles of shoreline, Grand Lake is a bank-beater’s dream.
Arriving a day early, I drove around several coves to check the conditions. To my surprise, the water was extremely low — essentially at winter pool. I knew then that the willows were out of play. With that in mind, I prepared my tackle accordingly.
My selection included two key crankbaits, a big spinnerbait, chatterbait, pitching and wobble-headed jigs, a suspending jerkbait and a couple of different topwaters.
On the first morning of practice, I went to the very same area where I had fished the 2015 Bassmaster Classic — a protected bay with a bridge and riprap, littered with docks and laydowns. Although it looked ideal, it took more than an hour before I got my first bite, which came slow-rolling a ¾-ounce Hildebrandt Tin Roller spinnerbait. The fish weighed better than 5 pounds and was full of eggs.
I moved to another part of the bay and caught two other pre-spawn females, at which point I decided to leave and look for other areas like it. By day’s end, I had a handful of bites — all of which came from a depth of 6-7 feet.
On day 2, I continued the search, focusing on that specific depth range. It was tougher, and I found very little to add to my game plan. I even spent some time looking shallow; to make sure I wasn’t missing some spawning activity. In all, the day was a bust.
On day 3, things came together quickly. Backing out on flatter, sloping banks, I cranked a No.7 Shad Rap and Luhr-Jensen Speed Trap and found what I was looking for. In two key areas, I scored big pre-spawn females — one of which was 6 pounds. I felt I was ready.
The first morning of competition, it was overcast and cool. I felt good … anxious, but good.
Having a late draw, I watched as my fellow competitors fanned out away from take-off. When my number was called, I raced directly to the flat bank where I had found the cranking fish the day before.
Others were on the same shore, but they were focused on the docks. The rest was vacant.
In minutes I had my first fish, then another. By mid-morning, I was on my way to a solid limit. Then the bite suddenly quit.
Continuing along, I noticed the guys fishing docks were beginning to cull. My confidence in the cranking pattern quickly waned. I wondered if the fish were moving tighter to manmade structures instead.
Reaching a fresh row of docks, I worked their deepest perimeters with a wobble-headed jig. In minutes I finished my limit. Everything I caught from that point on were bare keepers which led me to believe the bigger females were still in deeper water.
Again, I tried cranking away from the bank but I was never was able to relocate those fish. By weigh-in time I was a couple of pounds off the pace.
On day 2 I returned to the same shoreline and began cranking, but this time I couldn’t get them going. My deeper pattern had disappeared. Realizing the change, I moved immediately to the docks, yet those, too, were seemingly nonproductive. I barely managed a couple of small, keeper males.
Moving to another area, I tried the same approach with no success. At that point I was in scramble mode.
Realizing the wind was picking up, I decided to abandon the area and run some points with the big spinnerbait. On the first I came to, I scored a largemouth weighing nearly 4 pounds. I told my marshal we were back on track. But I was wrong. That was my final bite of the day.
Dejected, I returned to check-in, weighed my fish and loaded the boat for the long trip to Kentucky lake — site of our next event.