GROVE, Okla. In the 5 a.m. darkness Thursday, the water of Grand Lake suddenly looked like a clear midnight sky, highlighted by the twinkle of countless stars. Those stars were actually thousands of shad breeching the surface in reaction to kleig lights illuminating the dock prior to the start of the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series Sooner Run.
And just that quickly, everyone got a graphic view of what the anglers will be dealing with in this four-day tournament.
"This is the time of year when the shad are spawning," said Kevin VanDam, the Kalamazoo, Mich., angler who has won practically every top honor in pro bass fishing, including the 2005 Bassmaster Classic. "Every type of fish in the lake is feeding on these shad right now."
Actively feeding bass are a pro angler's dream, however, there's a catch in this scenario.
"It means you're just as likely to catch a fish at the end of this dock here as you are next to a log along the bank," said VanDam, first pointing one way, then the opposite direction to illustrate the point. "The bass tend to suspend under them."
So just like in every other bass tournament, active fish or not, the key will be finding a technique that can best take advantage of the conditions. In the 68-degree, calm, overcast Thursday morning, with shad flipping on the surface, a longer than usual topwater bite appeared likely. But the pre-tournament talk indicated that every technique from topwater to Carolina-rigging has a possibility of producing a championship.
"You're going to have to cull through a lot of small fish," said Mike Wurm of Hot Springs, Ark., who has fished many tournaments at Grand Lake in his pro career. "I think 10 pounds or so on both of these first two days will get you in the top 50."
After Friday's weigh-in, the 100-plus pro angler field will be cut to the top 50, based on the two-day totals. Saturday will determine who makes the final cut of 12 pros for Sunday's finale and a shot at $100,000.
"To make the top 12, I think it will take 30 to 35 pounds," Wurm said. "The key is going to be finding some three-, four- and five-pound fish.
"This is a good lake. Like a lot of lakes in this area (of the country), it got hurt for awhile by (Largemouth Bass Virus), but it's coming back strong. I don't think you'll see a lot of monsters caught, but someone is going to find a bunch of those three- to five-pound bass."
The weigh-ins will take place daily at the North Beach Development on East Rd. 270 in Grove at 3 p.m. CT.