By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Anglers on the MLF Bass Pro Tour who've been licking their chops for a tournament in which the offshore bite is "the deal" will get their wish starting Friday when the circuit visits Table Rock Lake for the second time in a three-week span. The repeat performance was necessitated by severe flooding in Oklahoma that's made competing at the scheduled venue for the season's seventh event, Grand Lake, an impossibility.
The water at Table Rock looks similar to what it did for the previous event, but conditions have changed. It's considerably warmer and a lot more fish have moved from the extreme shallows to their deeper haunts where they'll spend the summer.
On top of that, MLF has thrown in its own curveball – competition will begin at noon each day and conclude at 8 p.m. in place of the normal early morning to mid-afternoon timeframe. That will completely eliminate anglers' ability to capitalize on the morning shad-spawn feeding frenzy.
All 80 competitors know precisely how Aaron Martens won the last event – he exploited post-spawn fish that had already pulled away from the shallows. There are still good numbers hanging around close to dry land, but the majority of the field will focus on the deeper places where they're grouped up.
Again, here are some of the specifics on the fishery.
BassFan Lake Profile
> Lake name: Table Rock
> Type of water: Highland reservoir on the White River
> Surface acres: 43,100 at full pool
> Primary structure/cover: Chunk rock, bluff banks, standing timber, boat docks, flooded brush
> Primary forage: Crawfish and threadfin shad
> Average depth: Roughly 70 feet
> Species: Largemouth, spotted bass, smallmouth
> Minimum size: All bass must weigh at least 1 pound
> Reputation: Great lake with big fish of all species, but they're greatly affected by weather
> Weather: Sunny for the Shotgun Rounds (first 2 days), then thunderstorms will be in the mix for the final 4 days
> Water temp: Mid to high 70s
> Water visibility/color: Clear to stained, depending on location.
> Water level: A couple feet above normal pool
> Fish in: 1 to 40 feet
> Fish phase: Post-spawn
> Primary patterns: Finesse tactics (dropshots, shaky-heads, etc.), crankbaits, swimbaits, spinnerbaits flipping, tubes, jigs (bladed and traditional), worms, topwater
> Fishing quality (1=poor, 5=great): 3 for Table Rock
> Biggest factor: Pressure on the offshore areas – the lake will fish much smaller in this setup than it did in the previous event
> Wildcard: Shallow stragglers ¬– there's enough of them to keep a few guys in the game.
Here's a look at how Table Rock lays out, courtesy of Navionics:
Following are some angler perspectives on their repeat visit to Table Rock.
"It seems like the shallower fish are really starting to migrate – there sure was a lot of them last time. I think the last full moon had something to do with that migration. The shad are still everywhere in the mornings, but starting at noon, that does you no good.
"You can't just go down the bank and catch a ton of them like some of us did before and that's going to bunch guys up more. The weights probably won't be as high, but you should still see some big ones at the top. Some guys will get offshore and kill them because the fish are moving that way.
"There's still some that can be caught shallow, but it's not as good as it was. If a guy pulls into the right pockets he can do well just fishing the banks, but the guys who really know how to catch them offshore are going to have an advantage.
"I think the time change is a neat curveball and it's going to be interesting. Some different things will be in play in the afternoon and evening and it's shaping up to be a really cool deal, I believe."
"A lot of fish are going to be caught deeper this time. You won't see as many guys fishing the flat banks – it'll be more on the vertical banks and out on the points and drops. That's how (Martens) caught them last time and it's just going to continue to get better out there.
"I think you'll see more dragging-type presentations unless we get a lot of wind or something like that. Then in the last period maybe guys will pick up more moving stuff.
Aaron Martens won at Table Rock earlier this month by exploiting offshore fish.
"Everybody knows what everybody was doing last time and the more productive patterns are going to get a lot more pressure. It's a big lake, but when everybody's looking for certain things it becomes fairly small.
"The fish are still biting, but it's not as good. Last time it was super-good in practice and it was still really good in the tournament, but it was slower. Right now they're biting about like they were in the tournament, so I expect it to slow down a little more."
"It's warmer, the fish are further along into the post-spawn and it's going to fish different. I was pretty confident last time and I ended up missing it, so you just never know. This time it probably plays a little more to my strengths, but not a ton more. There's still going to be a lot of fish caught shallow.
"I really like (the time change) and I wish we'd do more tournaments like this. I've got nothing bad to say about it. For one thing, I like sleeping in, and for another I think it makes it easier for (fans) to follow along and watch. That's a good thing for us."
"The water's a little lower and that'll change the shallow aspect a little bit, and blasting off at noon will change a lot of things. Guys will be able to fish however they want to and catch them, but I don't think the weights will be as big as last time.
"Some guys will roll into docks and there'll be a giant school sitting there. A lot of those places won't be found in practice; it'll happen during the tournament.
"I was excited to go to Grand with all the rain they've had, but it ended up being too much rain. I've done fairly well here early in the year and late in the fall, but right now I'm not really liking it as much as some other places."
"I still think lots of fish will be caught, but they'll be caught in different ways. I plan to fish some the same way I did last time, but some other things will come into play. A lot of them can still be caught shallow, but it won't be centered around the shad spawn.
"You might still be able to catch enough going down the bank, but the deeper bite will be a bigger factor than it was last time."
A Few to Keep an Eye On
With the above in mind and more, here are a few anglers who could fare well in this event.
> Aaron Martens – He got a head start on the whole offshore migration thing last time and should be able to expand on it now that more fish are out.
> James Watson – He's not likely to have two stinkers in a row (he was 54th in the previous event) on his home lake. The setup is no more favorable for him.
> Dustin Connell – He's had an excellent season (14th in the points) despite being unable to ply his offshore skills to this point. He should really be in his element.
> Mike McClelland – He's had a miserable season and is coming off a 66th-place finish, but he's bound to turn it around at some point. He knows the lake too well to have it treat him so badly twice in a row.
Anglers can launch their boats from any ramp they choose, but will gather at Moonshine Bay for the start of each competition day. Fishing gets under way at noon on the first five days and at 10 a.m. in the Championship Round. The MLF Postgame Show will follow the conclusion of the Championship Round on June 5; there will be no Postgame Show following the first five days of competition due to the 8 p.m. end of competition.
> Fri., May 31 – Sunny - 85°/59°
- Wind: From the NW at 6 mph
> Sat., June 1 – Mostly Sunny - 88°/65°
- Wind: From the WSW at 7 mph
> Sun., June 2 – P.M. Thunderstorms - 84°/61°
- Wind: From SW at 10 to 15 mph
> Mon., June 3 – P.M. Showers - 77°/62°
- Wind: From the ESE at 7 mph
> Tue., June 4 – A.M. Thunderstorms - 80°/68°
- Wind: From the SSE at 7 mph
> Wed., June 5 – Scattered Thunderstorms - 81°/67°
- Wind: From the SW at 7 mph