Different bass anglers have reputations for different things. Arkansas’ Kevin Short is renowned for catching them when the going’s tough. It’s no surprise then, that he has the lead at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open on Fort Gibson Lake.
With air temperatures of more than 100 degrees and water temperatures in the 90s, you wouldn’t expect things to be easy, but Fort Gibson has been downright stingy. Part of the problem is the weather. Another challenge is the size of the venue. At about 20,000 surface acres and with 153 boats in the tournament, everyone is fishing in a crowd.
On the first day, it was hot, sunny, cloudy, raining, thundering, and the wind blew hard. And that was just during the weigh-in.
Short came to the scales with a rare limit of five bass measuring 14 inches or more. They weighed 16 pounds, 11 ounces and gave him a lead of 1 pound over Scott Dean. With two days left to compete, Short was predictably tight-lipped about his methods.
“I’m working the fish-my-butt-off pattern,” Short said, starting a chorus of anglers who all claimed to be doing the same. “I fished about five different areas and caught seven or eight bass — all keepers — but I had to work for every bite.”
Former Elite pro and Oklahoma native Bradley Hallman is in the hunt, too, with a 5-bass limit weighing 14-3. He caught a dozen bass on the first day, including nine 14-inch keepers. His catch was good enough for seventh place.
“The lake fishes very small,” said Hallman, “and the only way I could guarantee that I’ll keep catching them tomorrow is if I get the area to myself. It’s that tough and that crowded out there.”
As expected, the leaders are fishing offshore structure, probably with Carolina rigs, Texas rigs, jigs and deep diving crankbaits, though few will admit to anything just yet.
Elite pro Tommy Biffle is a local and pretournament favorite. He lives on Fort Gibson Lake and won the last time the Elites were here in 2010. Two years ago, Biffle felt so good about the tournament he spent the final practice day mowing his lawn. This time, he practiced at every opportunity before the cutoff period, thinking it might be his final chance to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic. Luckily for Biffle, a solid performance at the Elite finale locked up a Classic berth for him. Now he’s fishing for pride, reputation and a chance to pick up a nice payday on water he sees every time he looks out the back window. Biffle is in 32nd place with 10-11.
Although area temperatures have been in the triple digits for weeks, they’re expected to plummet by the final round on Saturday, with highs in the upper 70s. When asked what that might do to his pattern, Kevin Short shrugged his shoulders and said, “It could get better.” Bradley Hallman will welcome the cooler temps, saying, “I’m not sure what it will do for the fishing, but I’m tired of burning up!”
The Carhartt Big Bass leader after the first day is James Elam of nearby Tulsa. His 5-11 largemouth anchored a limit that weighed 14-3 and put him in eighth place.
Among the co-anglers, Joe Lane of Republic, Mo., leads the way with a co-angler limit of three bass weighing 11-0. His lead is half a pound over Matt Crawford, who had the biggest bass among co-anglers, a 5-pounder.
With the top ranking anglers in each Opens division earning invitations to join the Elite Series in 2013, many eyes are focused on that race. The Central Open points leader going into this season finale is Josh Bertrand. Unfortunately for Bertrand, he struggled today and caught just three bass weighing 7-9. Unless he mounts a comeback on Day 2, he’ll likely fall in the standings.
At stake for the pros are cash and a boat and motor package, as well as a berth in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic on Grand Lake, Okla., Feb. 22-24, and five invitations to join the Bassmaster Elite Series (for the Top 5 in overall points).
Image courtesy Bassmaster