The Bass Pro Tour took their flagship event to Oklahoma’s Grand Lake last week, and with their nerve-wracking format it was a battle until just about the very last cast was made on one of America’s most storied tournament venues.
The Mossy Oak Fishing team came out with guns blazing. We brought three of the greatest championship contenders the sport of bass fishing has ever known – Four-time Bassmaster Classic Champion Kevin VanDam, two-time Classic Champ Jordan Lee, and 2019 winner Ott DeFoe, one of the most consistent and deadly anglers ever to pick up a rod and reel.
Of course, any championship event’s standings may be a little bit deceiving. While the pay scale was generous down the line, most anglers buy into the mantra that “if you’re not first, you’re last.”
All of them had substantial history on Grand. In fact, VanDam won Elite Series events there in 2007 and 2018. It’s the ultimate pattern lake, sprawling, with a variety of water colors and different types of cover and structure – and the Oklahoma fishing community knows how to roll out the red carpet.
Mossy Oak Fishing Lake Breakdown
- Host: Tulsa, Oklahoma
- Launch Site: Wolf Creek Ramp in Grove, Oklahoma
- Lake Description: Grand Lake – known formally as Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees – spreads out over 46,500 acres and is consistently ranked among the most popular and prolific bass fisheries in the United States. It’s a popular lake for other recreational purposes as well, but particularly early in the season it’s a hotbed of fishing effort. The Pensacola Dam consists of 51 total arches and is believed to be the longest multiple arch dam in the world. It dams the Grand River, and was built as part of the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration to provide power for the region.
- Navigation: While caution is always advised, Grand Lake is relatively simple to navigate for even novice boaters.
- Bass Species Present: While Grand is primarily a largemouth fishery, there may be some smallmouths ands spotted bass available to competitors in the upper reaches. However, because it usually takes large weights to win, they may not be viable tournament targets.
- Other Species Present: Grand Lake has exceptional fishing for crappies and hybrid striped bass, and is also world-renowned for its prehistoric paddlefish.
- Forage Species: Fish on Grand eat crawfish and bluegills and various insects, but it’s the solid shad population that makes them so stout.
- Weather: The field at Grand Lake got treated to unusually volatile and changing weather. There were blooms on the trees, so it had clearly been warm, but by tournament time the temperatures had dropped and anglers were bundled up against the chill. That meant bass were mostly shallow, but not necessarily bedding. The other factor was the pre-tournament rain that made the water level rise and the water color get dirtier throughout the event. While Grand’s bass are used to off-colored water, there’s a difference between stained and downright filthy. The anglers who were able to find the less dirtied water typically did better in the standings.
How to Fish Grand Lake in Late March
March can be a time of constant and dramatic changes throughout our midwestern fisheries, and Oklahoma’s weather is particularly volatile. It can be warm and calm one minute, and raging winds and freezing temps the next – with all sorts of permutations of those conditions in between. At Grand Lake, water levels also play a key role. Anglers love to flip flooded willow bushes and key docks, but if the water’s too high or too low the bass won’t use them.
Grand’s great range of water clarities also play a critical role in anglers’ success and choices. Down near the dam, in the clear water, a jerkbait or swimbait can excel, particularly early in the month. In the dirtier water, a hard-thumping spinnerbait, fished slowly behind dock walkways and under cables, is a prime choice – especially if an angler knows the location of some brush. The tournament winner utilized a Berkley Frittside crankbait in the HB brown pattern for much of his catch and supplemented it with a flipping jig, a known way to catch bigger bas.
Forward-facing sonar has also changed the game since the last time a major league’s championship was held at Grand Lake. Now anglers can pinpoint and target individual fish, hunting them deliberately like big bucks rather than taking a more scattershot approach.
Top Mossy Oak Performer
Jordan Lee is no stranger to championship level success. He won the 2017 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Conroe in Texas and the 2018 Classic on Lake Hartwell in South Carolina, and simply does not miss the big dance. This week he finished a more-than-respectable 8th among a stacked field of contenders and took home an award of $16,000.
That wasn’t his only reward, though. Online sports book entity Bally Bet, now the title sponsor of the Bass Pro Tour Angler of the Year award, gave each of the circuit’s past AOYs a check for a cool $50,000. As the 2020 title-winner, Lee got an oversized check for his accomplishment.
Jordan caught his fish on a Berkley Stunna Jerkbait in the Hanky Panky pattern, fished on his signature Abu-Garcia Jerkbait Rod, paired with a Revo MGX Reel (8:1) spooled with 10-lb test Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon. The real story, though, was his ability to adjust.
“It was a lot different this time around,” he said, referring to his two prior events on Grand. “The water was fairly clear versus normally it’s dirty or event muddy. Then, during the last day of practice and the first day of the tournament, the water came up around three feet.”
He struggled to survive on Day One, but then on Day Two he figured out a solid bite that carried him until the end. “I was in the right part of the lake, where the water had stayed clean. Using my Lowrance Active Target, I started catching fish out of brush on the jerkbait. I had seven or eight different places I could rotate through.”
He said that historically he’s “despised jerkbait fishing, but ever since Active Target came along,” the game has gotten easier and much more fun. The Stunna, too, has added confidence. “They bite it. I’m not an expert, but I know that a lot of guys who are experts, who can throw anything they want, were throwing it.”
While the two-time world champion is used to winning, he nevertheless felt this time that he maximized what the lake gave him. “I found some really good stuff,” he said. “But I had to pound it to make the cut. The places I was catching them were so isolated, I couldn’t find a hundred more places like them.”
Nevertheless, in only the Redcrest’s third iteration, he was thrilled with how far this major event has come.
“Tournament fishing is tournament fishing,” Lee concluded. “But having an expo there and seeing the fans show up really made it a special event for me.”
Top Lures at Grand Lake
If you’re headed to Grand Lake, bring flat-sided crankbaits, hard-vibrating spinnerbaits and your favorite jig and craw to flip and pitch. As the bass move onto the beds this month, a soft stickbait and a variety of craws and creatures should excel as well.
Two additions to that list of basics you’ll want to consider, albeit at opposite ends of the spectrum. First, don’t discount finesse techniques like dropshotting and the Ned Rig. The former is great because this is a classic pattern lake with all sorts of textbook offshore structure. The latter should be in your arsenal because Grand receives a lot of fishing pressure. The bass that won’t respond to your power offerings may just chomp down that stubby little Ned Rig and put your spinning gear to the test.
What They’ve Been Wearing
During Redcrest week, the anglers chasing prespawn bass occasionally looked bundled up for winter, with knit hats, insulated jackets and plenty of fleece making an appearance. Remember, the same great Mossy Oak clothing that you wear in the deer stand or duck blind can do double duty on the water. If it kept you warm while sitting still in November it’ll do just as well while chunking and winding through March.
However, we’re well aware that many of you like fishing-specific clothing to get you in the mood for long days of competing on the water. Some of our favorites this time of year are the Mossy Oak Fishing Hoodie, the Fishing Elements Logo Hoodie and the ¼ Zip, which keeps the sun off you and provides just enough neck coverage to ward off the chill of a lightning-fast boat ride.