By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Grand Lake finally warmed up last week after a long winter and chilly spring, and 108 Bassmaster Elite Series anglers were there to take advantage of the increased activity level of the bass in the big Oklahoma impoundment. The delayed spawn got under way in earnest as the water temperature continued to rise, going from the mid-50s when practice began to nearly 70 in some locations by the time the circuit's second event of 2018 concluded.
Sight-fishing was only a minor factor due to the color of the water – it was too dingy in most locales to see more than a foot or so below the surface. Competitors primarily blind-casted to places where the fish were spawning or preparing to spawn, and some post-spawners were showing up in the bags of those who advanced to the weekend.
Following are some pattern details for the four competitors who finished in the immediate wake of winner Kevin VanDam.
2nd: Tommy Biffle
> Day 1: 5, 16-09
> Day 2: 5, 18-09
> Day 3: 5, 22-01
> Day 4: 5, 20-15
> Total = 20, 78-02
Tommy Biffle had been anticipating this event near his home since the schedule was announced last year, thinking he could win it on a Gene Larew Biffle Hardhead with a Biffle Bug attached. His 3 days of official practice suggested otherwise.
"Practice wasn't very good," he said. "I could get bites on the Hardhead, but not the big ones."
He started the tournament throwing a tube, thinking the fish wanted something that moved extremely slow. He used it to catch a decent limit on day 1, then made a couple of upgrades with a jig.
"I never took out the Bug on the first day and that never happened before. I just had it in my head that they wouldn't bite it good."
He caught a 6 1/2-pounder and lost another good one on the jig on day 2. He finally pulled out the bug late in the day and boxed a 5 1/2 and a 4 and enticed several others 3. It was his primary offering the rest of the way and the 43 pounds he caught over the weekend was tops among the field.
He stayed in the mid-lake region, fishing creeks from about three-fourths of the way in back out to the mouth.
"Grand's got a lot of covers and pockets with no-wake zones for a long way and that keeps some people out of there. Those worked for me for a day of two, then I started fishing the shorter ones where I could run in and out."
He focused on steeper banks for the first 2 days, catching fish at depths from 4 to 7 feet. He keyed on flatter stuff on the final 2, much of it on secondary points leading to the backs of the pockets.
> Hardhead gear: 7'6" heavy-action Quantum Smoke flipping stick, Quantum Smoke casting reel (7.3:1 ratio), 20-pound Sunline Shooter fluorocarbon line, 7/16-ounce Gene Larew Biffle Hardhead jig, Larew Biffle Bug (Sooner run).
> Tube gear: 6'10" medium-heavy Quantum rod, same reel and line, 1/8-ounce Elite Tungsten weight, 4/0 Eagle Claw hook with wire keeper, 4 1/2" Larew Fat Tail Tube (watermelon green with tentacles dyed chartreuse).
> Jig gear: Same rod, reel and line as tube, 3/8-ounce River2Sea Tommy Biffle Junkyard Jig (green-pumpkin/orange/black scale), unnamed chunk trailer (green-pumpkin/purple).
Main factor in his success – "Staying on those flatter pockets the last 2 days."
Performance edge – "The Junkyard Jig, the Bug and the Hardhead."
Roy Hawk turned in his second top-3 finish in as many events.
3rd: Roy Hawk
> Day 1: 5, 16-15
> Day 2: 5, 19-14
> Day 3: 5, 24-12
> Day 4: 5, 15-07
> Total = 20, 77-00
Roy Hawk, who's finished among the top 3 in both Elite events he's fished, spent more time in deeper water than the majority of the field. His target was pre-spawners, although he eventually began seeing post-spawn fish as well.
"It's the way I like to fish and I thought it was my best chance to do well," he said. "If I'd had to fish (shallower) I would have, but from what I saw in practice, I didn't have to."
Five to 12 feet was his key depth range, although some of his fish were a bit shallower. The fish were relating to various types of cover that included rocks, wood, docks and brush piles.
"I was mainly in Wolf Creek and some of the other creeks in that area. I worked Elk Creek pretty hard the first day, but I ended up phasing that out as time went on."
A spinnerbait produced the bulk of his best specimens. He flipped a jig to catch a few others that he took to the scale.
"The first couple days I didn't feel totally strong about the spinnerbait so I was still running inside and flipping and going back and forth. But when I looked back at it, all the ones I caught that were 4 pounds or bigger were on the spinnerbait.
> Spinnerbait gear – 7'4" heavy-action Taipan Roy Hawk Signature Series rod, Quantum Tour S3 casting reel (7.3:1 ratio), 20-pound Yamamoto Sugoi flurocarbon line, 3/4-ounce Pepper Custom Baits spinnerbait (young gill).
> The spinnerbait was a double willow-leaf model (silver up front and gold in the rear).
> Flipping gear: 7'6" heavy-action Taipan flipping stick, Quantum Smoke S3 casting reel (8:1 ratio), same line, 1/2-ounce Pepper Custom Baits jig (green-pumpkin), Yamamoto Cowboy trailer (green-pumpkin).
Main factor in his success – "Keying on places where the fish were coming to me."
Performance edge – "The mapping on the Lowrance HDS-12 was critical, especially for a lake I wasn't familiar with."
Bradley Roy caught spawning fish from shelves protruding from the banks.
4th: Bradley Roy
> Day 1: 5, 18-12
> Day 2: 5, 19-09
> Day 3: 5, 16-04
> Day 4: 5, 20-10
> Total = 20, 75-03
Bradley Roy pursued fish that were actively partaking in the annual reproduction ritual, but were not visible to him.
"I didn't have a great practice, but I got enough bites on the last day to dial in where they were spawning," he said. "I was keying on the last little turns in pockets and creek arms where there was a little shelf coming off the walls. They were spawning on those shelves.
"I could see where the shelves came off and I'd stay back and pitch to where I thought the beds would be. A lot of times I'd catch the male first and then I'd make repetitive casts back in there to try to catch the female.
"The reason I think they were spawning there is that when the water's down, they're more comfortable there and they can easily slide off into deeper water. The creek channel wasn't far away and it might be 10 feet deep if it was in the back of a pocket and 15 or 20 feet on a main creek arm."
His bites came from water that ranged from 2 to 6 feet in depth. About 80 percent of his fish were enticed by a Texas-rigged creature bait and the others fell for a spinnerbait.
> Pitching gear: 7'6" heavy-action MHX Elite Pro Series rod, unnamed casting reel (7:1 ratio), 17-pound Seaguar AbrazX fluorocarbon line, unnamed 1/4-ounce bullet weight, unnamed 4/0 straight-shank hook, Cabin Creek Express Bug (green-pumpkin/blue).
> Spinnerbait gear: 7'3" medium-heavy MHX rod, unnamed casting reel (6.4:1 ratio), 15-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon, unnamed 3/8-ounce spinnerbait (shad with No. 5 willow-leaf blades).
Main factor in his success – "Fishing new water every day and not just running the same water over and over again."
Performance edge – "Having a rod with the right action and good sensitivity. A lot of the fish weren't biting the bait that hard – they'd just pick it up or swim off with it a little. The sensitivity would clue me in that there were fish there that I couldn't see."
Seth Feider notched a top-5 finish despite finding nothing other than half a dozen bedding fish during practice.
5th: Seth Feider
> Day 1: 5, 18-07
> Day 2: 5, 18-11
> Day 3: 5, 20-14
> Day 4: 5, 15-11
> Total = 20, 73-11
Seth Feider turned what was basically a desperation scenario into a top-5 finish. He found half a dozen quality bedding fish that he could see during practice and picked off five of those the first day and the other early on day 2, then spent the rest of the event in Wolf Creek targeting previously caught fish that had been released during the Elite derby or one of the many other tournaments held on the lake recently.
"Practice was ugly," he said. "All I had were those six good bedding fish and four of them were in one pocket. I never got a bite just fishing.
"In Wolf Creek, at least I knew 100-percent that fish would be coming in there. It's a tournament-every-weekend kind of deal and I knew lots of 4- and 5-pounders had been let go in there."
He caught about half of his weigh-in fish on a Texas-rigged tube. A few came on a Texas-rigged craw and he got one each on a Rapala DT-6 crankbait and a dropshot rig.
The fish in Wolf Creek were in 2 to 6 feet of water. He caught his biggest one – a 6-pounder – on day 4 and said it was an epic struggle.
"She was scrappy and she whooped me. I got her on the side of a dock and it was just a terrible job of fish-landing. It was the only one I went down and grabbed all week."
> Tube gear: 7' medium-heavy Daiwa Tatula Brent Ehrler Signature Series rod, Daiwa Tatula SV casting reel, 30-pound Sufix braided line (main line), 8-pound Sufix fluorocarbon (leader), unnamed 1/4-ounce tungsten weight, 4/0 VMC wide-gap hook, 4 1/2" unnamed tube (green-pumpkin).
> He threw his BioSpawn VileCraw (green-pumpkin) on the same gear.
> Cranking gear: 7' medium-action Daiwa Steez Fle-X-Lite rod, same reel, 12-pound Sufux fluorocarbon line, Rapala DT-6 (penguin).
Main factor in his success – "Finding those few bed-fish in practice really saved me."
Performance edge – "Probably my sunglasses. I wore Amphibias with yellow lenses, which allowed me to see those fish when it was still basically dark on the first day. I was able to catch them quick and get the ball rolling."
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