By Justin Brouillard | Photos by Tanner & Travis Lyons and Ben Kennedy
GROVE, OK. – The final event of the event of the inaugural NPFL season brings the anglers and their families to Grove, Oklahoma for a fall fishing finale. With September almost over and the final two days of this event being in October, the National Professional Fishing League has visited a variety of regions beginning in March with pre-spawn and spawning fish and ending with a chilly fall bite. The famous Grand Lake is the deciding factor in a lot of different races and is setting up to be an event to watch.
About the Lake
Located in the Northeast corner of Oklahoma, Grand Lake sits at the foothills of the Ozark Mountain Range and the actual name of the famous fishery is Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees. With over 45,500 surface acres for anglers to fish, and 1,300 miles of fishable shoreline, anglers are expected to sample all parts of the playing field and can find success both beating the bank and fishing offshore. The Neosho, Spring and Elk Rivers are the lakes main tributaries and anglers can expect to find quality largemouth and smallmouth bass located throughout, with largemouth expected to dominate the event.
The AOY Race
With only one regular season event remaining of the inaugural NPFL Season, the Progressive Angler of the Year race is as tight as it’s been all year, and it’s quite literally going to come down to single digits. With several impressive seasons, nobody has been able to run away with the title and each event has shuffled the top guys around.
After the dust settled at Winnebago, Tennessee angler Brandon Perkins holds the slim lead over Debary, Florida angler Keith Carson. With Perkins and Carson both winning an event this season Perkins sits in the current lead with 1208 points while Carson is 4 back at 1204.
Close behind first and second, John Soukup is the winner of two NPFL events this season and is just 8 points behind Carson in third place. Marc Schilling quietly had a stellar season thus far and sits 3 points behind Soukup in fourth. California angler Bryant Smith has been consistent the later part of the season and made a run to the top five after Lake Winnebago. Smith sits 8 points behind Schilling in the fifth spot.
Read more about the AOY Race leading up to Grand Lake, here!
- Brandon Perkins 1208
- Keith Carson 1204
- John Soukup 1196
- Marc Schilling 1193
- Bryant Smith 1185
Sheldon Collings might be the angler who lives the closest to Grand Lake. With a dock and lake access, he quite literally lives on the lake and spends a lot of time working on the lake as well. Being a “local” to the lake for over 17 years, Collings does have lots of tournament history but Grand is a lake that changes yearly. With the off-limits period for the NPFL, it doesn’t stop anglers from keeping an eye on tournament results.
“Those guys caught them last weekend in the BFL. Usually 12-pounds makes the cut and this year it was closer than 14-pounds and lots of 15 to 16-pound bags caught. It’s been cool here, I am working near the lake and I am seeing bait busting and moving around.”
Even though Collings has not been on the lake in a while, three days of practice for the tournament will be a good refresher. The big thing will be to fish the current conditions and not get caught up in a memory.
“Personally, I think a lot of moving baits with these cool nights, temperatures in the low 50’s, it should be a great shallow deal, some fish caught on docks, but mainly shallow. I will know if I get bit on a place, I have several other places I can get a few more bites. Sometimes fishing memories will work, but 90% of the time it doesn’t.
Pressure on Grand Lake has always been a thing but the fishing can still be good. During the official practice day Sunday, it was the second day of a 400 -boat two-day tournament. Collings know as well as many other, the pressure will make it a little tough, but expects lots of fish to be caught when the event kicks on Thursday.
Another local angler, Mitchell Webb is an hour from this week’s playing field but doesn’t quite call it his home lake. With several years of experience on Grand, Webb notes the lake is fishing different than it has been in the last several years.
“I didn’t pre practice, I didn’t figure I need to. However, the lakes fishing differently, better than is has in a while. Going off the BFL results and other local stuff, its fishing good. Usually, the fall transition is tougher and fishing before wouldn’t have helped, but based on how the place is, I kind of wish I had gone over there to fish. At this point, I get three days like everyone else and well see what I can come up with.”
With that three-day period, Webb will have to decide whether he will fish shallow or fish off shore on Grand. With fall in the air, the shallow bite might be the most productive for numbers, but Webb knows what lies off the bank.
“You can win on Grand Lake offshore or shallow any time of the year besides the spawn. It’s one of the only places in the country where it can be like that. I want to fish shallow. I hope I do but I’ll keep it all honest. The deeper stuff is a lot of dead water but you can sneak out there and your day can be over quick too.”
Jeff Dobson has also been fishing Grand Lake for years. Aside from fishing the last 5 days before the cut off period, the veteran has fished on Grand since “well, the mid 90’s.” A lot has changed over the years and Dobson noted that it seems like the lake is on the ups, and is fishing better than it has been in years.
“I basically spent my practice period fishing stuff I have never fished or things I have not targeted in years. The lake changes, you get some floods and it moves fish around so that was my practice besides the last day – I checked a few of my good areas.”
Echoing the others, Dobson agrees that Grand Lake is a place that almost all year-round you can fish how you want. Aside from the spawn as Webb and Collings said, anglers will be able to fish shallow, mid-depth, or deeper. With a tougher year than he is used to as a professional angler, Dobson is in a unique spot where he can go into this event with no regard the points standings.
“I am not fishing for a check or points; I am 100% fishing for 5 fish a day. If I was in the points race, I would fish for a limit every day in different areas but I am going for a win, I have to.”
Dobson predicts fish to be caught this week with the fishing being “decent” but like always, some guys will struggle and a few will do well. The key being to beat the pressure, the fish do not school up like other places, and you have to keep moving and fish for fresh fish.
James Biggs may be from Texas, but the tournament success on Grand Lake over the years makes him one of the most knowledgeable anglers in the tournament. With several tour level events, including a National Championship win where he pocketed over $130,000, most of his events resulted in top 20 finishes. Biggs has employed a mix of fishing shallow and deep on Grand in the past, but qualifying for the NPFL Championship may change his approach this go around.
“I need a good finish this time. In sitting in 23rd in points and there is a big difference here fishing to win and fishing to do well – it’s a totally different mindset. In the past here I have done well working shallow fish for a limit and getting a couple bites offshore.”
For Biggs, it could be going up the river, it could be tossing a topwater all day, it could be suspended fish off shore, it good be rock transitions or docks. The biggest thing will be finding a section of the lake, and the type of cover the fish are on, and then duplicating it.
“You can always catch them shallow on Grand but a lot of times it is won deeper. For every 20 guys fishing deep, one catches them. I like to do both, suspended fish and fish on the bottom, and then go shallow to get a limit. I want to make th championship and I need to finish well.
How to Watch
Tune in daily September 30th through October 21st to thenationalprofessionalfishingleague.com to watch daily LIVE Coverage, the LIVE Leaderboard, LIVE Blog, and daily on the water photo galleries of the anglers on Grand Lake!
See the Results from Lake Winnebago, here!