B.A.S.S. first visited the Dakotas’ vast Lake Oahe in 2018, and not only was the fishing and scenery superlative, but the overwhelming consensus was that they’d only scratched the surface of the lake’s potential. With that in mind, the field returned four years later to take part in a smallmouth beatdown.
Coming on the heels of a St. Lawrence River tournament that saw records shattered, it would be tough to compare the two – and indeed the weights were lower out west – but it was nevertheless a standout event. Incredible amounts of strategy are necessary to conquer this distinct venue, and with finicky fish and changing weather conditions, it proved to be another test of the best.
Mossy Oak Fishing Breakdown
Host: Mobridge, South Dakota
Launch Site: Indian Creek Recreation Area
Fishery Description: Oahe is a massive fishery. This impoundment of the Missouri river is 230 miles long, has an area of 370,000 acres, and is up to 205 feet deep. That makes it the fourth largest reservoir in the United States. Only South Dakota waters were open to contestants.
Bass Species Present: While smallmouths dominate, a handful of largemouth bass were caught during competition. Oahe is best known as a walleye fishery, and produces other species including northern pike and salmon.
Forage Species: Because Oahe lacks much distinct structure or cover, the smallmouths roam with the baitfish. The species include rainbow smelt and lake herring, along with gizzard shad and goldeye.
Weather: The number one factor weatherwise is the wind. When it blows in certain directions, it makes the lake all but unfishable from a bass boat. In fact, many anglers expected at least one day of competition to be postponed or canceled. Fortunately, they were able to compete all four days. After some wind on the afternoon of Day One and then again on Day Two, the final two days of competition calmed down. It wasn’t slick by normal standards, but it was by Oahe standards.
How to Fish Lake Oahe in August
As noted above the key to fishing on Oahe this time of year is to follow the nomadic baitfish. Most of the top finishers keyed on main lake points as a starting spot and branched out from there. They utilized down-imaging and forward-facing sonar to stay atop the bait. It was also critical to stay mobile, because after receiving angling pressure some fish refused to strike. Key lures included Ned Rigs and dropshots with sinkers up to ¾ ounce. Light line helped reluctant biters to get in the mood.
While modern forward-facing sonar was a key tool for most successful anglers, many of their paired it with one of the most old-school techniques in their tackle selections: The Carolina Rig. Not only does it allow an angler to cover water and maintain bottom contact in rough conditions, but it also has a higher hook-to-land ratio than many light line techniques.
Top Mossy Oak Performers
The Mossy Oak Fishing team continues to excel. Four of the team’s seven anglers made the cut to Saturday’s round of 47 and collected quality checks for their efforts.
- 19th – Gerald Swindle
- 32nd – Brandon Cobb
- 37th – Brandon Lester
- 46th – Drew Benton
- 53rd – Bill Lowen
- 66th – Brandon Palaniuk
- 81st – Greg Hackney
The Angler of the Year Race
Superstar and past Angler of the Year Brandon Palaniuk held onto his Angler of the Year lead, but with an uncharacteristic slipup, he ceded ground to some of his closest followers. Those included Brandon Lester, who finished inside the money and rose up to second place. With only one regular season event left to go, Palaniuk still has a sizeable lead toward earning his second crown, but it’s far from clinched. Drew Benton is in 7th place, likely out of contention for the trophy, but enjoying another fantastic season. Swindle, Cobb and Hackney all seem nearly assured of qualifying for the 2023 Bassmaster Classic, and Bill Lowen is just a few spots outside. As they head to the shallow water wonderland of the Upper Mississippi, expect Lowen to make a push for all seven to meet up in Knoxville.
Lester’s Amazing Season
While Brandon Palaniuk’s season has been amazing, Brandon Lester’s effort should not be overlooked. He’s the only angler in the Elite Series field who has not missed a cut to Day Three, and at just 37 points behind the leader he still has a shot to take home the crown.
“It’s definitely doable,” Lester said. “But for it to happen, he has to stumble, like he did last week. He’s a phenomenal angler. My whole goal is not to wish anything bad for him, but if he does stumble I want to be right there to take advantage of it.”
Lester’s superlative season started with a win in the Southern Open on Florida’s Kissimmee Chain, which put him into the Bassmaster Classic before the Elites even kicked things off. He’ll fish his eighth Classic in 2023, and with one tournament left he’s in the rare position of having the potential to triple-qualify.
“Winning that tournament took a lot of weight off of my mind,” he said. “After that I never needed to fish for points. It hasn’t really changed anything about the way I approach the tournaments, but it’s allowed me to be more calm, to go out there and do my thing.”
After that event, he finished 5th on Florida’s Harris Chain, and won at Pickwick Lake in Tennessee. The one tournament he’d like to have back is his solid 32nd place effort at the St. Lawrence River. “I lost a lot of big fish,” he recalled. “A few of them and I would have made the top ten. I know it happens to everybody up there because they’re mean and ferocious, but I’d like to have another shot.”
He improved upon his 2018 result at Oahe by a remarkable 53 places, but befitting his stellar career he still wasn’t satisfied.
“We were taking off out of a totally different part of the lake, and I fished a totally different part than last time,” he said. “The problem was that everyone was fishing the main lake points there were the only viable option, and I had a late boat draw on Day One. That’s just the way it worked out. I made lemonade out of lemons.”
What They’ve Been Wearing
Oahe marked the first “sweatshirt weather” many of the pros have experienced in quite a while, and they made the most of it, rocking the Mossy Oak Sun Hoodie under a fleece and/or a rainsuit. It protected them from the wind that makes even a calm day at Oahe seem like “Victory at Sea.”