By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Following the longest in-season break in Bassmaster Elite Series history, the 2018 campaign will finally resume this week at Oklahoma's Grand Lake. Anglers who didn't qualify for this year's Bassmaster Classic and haven't made a cast in competition in more than 2 1/2 months should be able to shake off the rust quickly, as Grand is chock-full of keeper-size fish that are willing to bite.
The region is warming up after an abnormally cool spring and the brunt of the annual reproduction ritual is about to occur. Competitors will find fish in all three stages of the spawn this week, with the majority either on beds or rapidly headed toward them.
The hiatus between derbies was long (6 weeks) to begin with, and it's been hastened by the postponement of the Sabine River event from early April until June due to high water. One thing's for sure: Grand will be an easier place for the field to get back into the swing of things than the always-stingy Sabine would've been.
Limits in the 10- to 12 1/2-pound range will be relatively easy to come by. Bags exceeding 20 pounds will be brought to the weigh-in stage, but will be difficult to duplicate because a lot of the 4- and 5-pounders are in the transition stage.
Before delving deeper into the bite, here's some intel on the fishery itself:
BassFan Lake Profile
> Lake name: Grand Lake O' the Cherokees (Grand)
> Type of water: Lowland impoundment
> Surface acres: 46,500
> Primary structure/cover: Points, ledges, some laydowns, riprap banks, tons of docks and brush piles
> Primary forage: Gizzard and threadfin shad, crawfish, bluegill, crappie
> Average depth: 35 feet
> Species: Largemouths, smallmouths and spotted bass
> Minimum length: 14 inches
> Reputation: A super lake for numbers with potential for 20-pound-plus bags, but big bites can be hard to pattern
> Weather: A little cloudy and chilly to start, but getting sunnier and warmer throughout the tournament. Winds shouldn't be a factor.
> Water Temp: High 50s to low 60s
> Water visibility/color: Varies from slightly stained to muddy, depending upon location
> Water level: Normal for springtime (about 2 feet shy of full pool)
> Fish in: 2 to 25 feet
> Fish phase: Pre-spawn/spawn with a small population of post-spawners
> Primary patterns: Crankbaits, jigs, spinnerbaits, vibrating jigs, jerkbaits, shaky-heads, wacky-rigs
> Winning weight: 72 pounds
> Cut weight (top 51 after 2 days): 27 pounds
> Fishing quality (1=poor, 5=great): 4 for Grand
> Biggest factor: The impending spawn – will a bunch of big females move up this week?
> Biggest decision: Whether to camp near cleaner water or run around and try to pick off fish from dirtier water
> Wildcard: The lower end – it's typically where the big ones live, but it's also the furthest behind in the spawning progression
Here's an up-close look at the lake courtesy of Navionics:
They're Comin' Fast
Hal Sisco, who owns and operates South Grand Bass Guide Service, said that in terms of the spawn, the lake has been behind schedule due to extended cold weather. It appears as if it might be starting to catch up.
"I went into one pocket (Wednesday) morning and fish were just lined up on the banks and biting on the first throw," he said. "If they're biting like that, it shows they haven't been there very long. If it's that way down here, there's some already guarding fry on the upper end."
The pocket that Sisco was in contained relatively clear water with several feet of visibility. It's not that way all over the lake – there are some coves where visibility is still only about half a foot. Generally, the north end is clearer than the southern, but the lower portion has more bedding grounds along with a higher percentage of big fish.
Edwin Evers had one of the greatest days in the history of bass fishing the last time he competed at Grand Lake.
"You can catch a bunch of 1 1/2- to 2 3/4-pounders just about anywhere you go, but getting on the bigger fish and staying on them will be the issue," Sisco said. "The ones that aren't on the beds are darn sure thinking about it."
He said the coves likely won't be the only option, as a lot of main-lake points are still holding a lot of fish – at least, that was true at the start of the week. Just about anyplace where the water depth is shy of a dozen feet could be productive.
"I think it's all going to happen in 12 feet or less. Some guys who are power-fishing with crankbaits or big jigs should end up being really happy."
Following are some practice notes from a few of the anglers who'll compete this week.
"I really thought I was could catch them a lot better than what I've been able to just because they should be a lot further along than they are. I don't really know what they're doing. I know we've got a full moon and it should be a spawn moon, but they don't act like they're there just yet. So far I've been putting my bait where they're not at, but I'm willing to bet that before the week's over they're going to be where I'm fishing.
"The deal at Grand to me is finding an area of the lake and just going fishing. You hear guys talk about 'pattern lakes' and this is one where you can really put a pattern together. It keeps me optimistic about it after not having a very good practice. I feel like I'm pointed in the right direction."
"It's been kind of a hard practice for me – I haven't figured it out yet. I've caught a few decent fish – when I get a bit it's a pretty good one – but getting bites has been hard. I'm sure some guys are catching them, but for me it's been a grind.
"The local guys might really show us something in this one if things don't change. I kind of think a lot of the fish are holding a little deeper than where everybody's fishing. Not having a good practice could be a good thing – I might just go out and crank myself to death and maybe catch five."
"It's changing a lot, it seems like. I don't know, but the fish seem to be kind of moving. I got very few bites (Monday) and then a lot more (Tuesday).
"I haven't caught most of my bites – I've shook them off – so I don't know about the quality. Some of them have felt okay but I haven't boated a big fish at all."
"It's fishing kind of weird. We've got the full moon coming up and these fish are wanting to spawn. I've seen some beds, but the with water color the way it is, the fish are hard to see.
"Guys are going to catch fish doing the typical stuff that they always do here. There's just too many of them that live here. I think if everything stays pretty stable it'll transition over to a spawn deal by the weekend."
"I've never felt like Grand sets up that great for me – I've never really understood it. I did well here a long time ago when Christie won the FLW Tour event, but it was flooded then. This time I've just been running all over and doing a bunch of stuff and I don't have anything dialed in. I'll have a lot of rods on my deck because I'm not sure what's going to go down.
Tommy Biffle will try to turn around his recent struggles on a lake he knows well.
"It's the end of April and there's a full moon and these fish have not spawned. They have to be coming, but in a lot of places the water's so dirty that you can't see them."
Top 10 to Watch
Here, in no particular order, are BassFan's recommendations for the top 10 to watch in this event.
1. Jason Christie – He knows where the bigger fish hang out on this lake in every stage of the spawn, and he knows how to catch them. This is a good opportunity to wipe away some of the sting from the final day of the Bassmaster Classic.
2. Takahiro Omori – The winner at Lake Martin can beat the banks with the best of them. Look for him to continue to crank up hefty bags.
3. Kevin VanDam – He's won at Grand before and with fish scattered all over the place, the scenario is ideally suited for his frenetic style. He needs a good finish to counteract his 76th-place bomb at Martin.
4. Edwin Evers – He knows the lake well and had one of the greatest days in the history of competitive bass fishing the last time he competed on it, when he caught a day-3 stringer to win the 2016 Classic. He'll be fishing with confidence.
5. Mike McClelland – He's a stud on any body of water in this part of the country and comes in with momentum after a runner-up finish at the Table Rock FLW Series.
6. James Elam – Now in his 6th Elite campaign, the resident of nearby Tulsa just gets better and better. His first top-level win is coming and few would be surprised if it happened at this event.
7. Aaron Martens – He's a superb tactician under any circumstance and is particularly dangerous when the fish are in various phases. He'll catch a bunch throughout the week and quite a few of them should be in the 4-pound class.
8. Shinichi Fukae – Shaky-heads and jigs are always in play at Grand and the veteran from Japan is a master at those techniques. His initial Elite season got off to a strong start at Martin and that trend will likely continue here.
9. Tommy Biffle – He has only two top-50 finishes in his last 11 regular-season outings, but maybe he can use this event in his back yard to turn around his fortunes. He's familiar with just about every bank on the lake and should know where to get some right-size bites.
10. Jared Lintner – When the Californian starts a season well, as he did this year with a 4th at Martin, he usually carries the momentum through several derbies. Shallow water is his forte' and he'll be able to stay in it throughout the tournament.
The field will launch at 6:15 a.m. CDT each day from Wolf Creek Park in Grove, Okla. Daily weigh-ins will begin at 3:15 p.m. in the same location.
> Luke Clausen has opted to take a medical hardship for the remainder of the 2018 season due to multiple injuries he suffered in a recent fall (more on that is available by clicking here). With Mark Davis and Jesse Tacoronte also out on medical exemptions, the field now stands at 108.
> Thurs., April 26 – Mostly Cloudy - 69°/47°
- Wind: From the NNW at 4 mph
> Fri., April 27 – Sunny - 69°/46°
- Wind: From the NNW at 8 mph
> Sat., April 28 – Sunny - 75°/50°
- Wind: From the WSW at 4 mph
> Sun., April 29 – Mostly Sunny - 77°/57°
- Wind: From the S at 11 mph