TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — A necessary change will deliver solid opportunity for the final regular-season Bassmaster Elite Series event of the regular season, as anglers set their sights on Eastern Oklahoma’s Lake Tenkiller.
Originally, this event was scheduled at Fort Gibson Lake for May 16-19, but flood conditions forced the postponement. Determining that the ongoing high water there was unsafe, B.A.S.S. announced last week that it was moving the event approximately 40 miles to Tenkiller.
Competition days will be Thursday through Sunday with daily takeoffs at 7 a.m. CT from Chicken Creek Ramp in Cookson, Okla. Weigh-ins for Days 1 and 2 will also be held at Chicken Creek before shifting on Days 3 and 4 to Cherokee Casino Tahlequah. All weigh-ins will be at 4 p.m.
“Oklahoma is excited to welcome the Bassmaster Elite Series tournament to Lake Tenkiller later this month,” said Oklahoma’s Lieutenant Governor Matt Pinnell. “This event will have a huge economic impact for our state, and is an especially welcome event to this region following the flooding earlier this year.
“We are thankful to our partners with Bassmaster and are thrilled to have tournament participants and fans in northeast Oklahoma. Oklahoma has some of the best fishing in America, and we look forward to showing that off at Lake Tenkiller.”
The tournament site’s official name, Tenkiller Ferry Lake, honors a prominent Cherokee family that operated a ferry service at what is now the dam’s location. The family name is said to be rooted in the “Trail of Tears” era when soldiers and pioneers at Fort Gibson named a Cherokee warrior “Tenkiller” for the number of notches in his bow.
This Illinois River impoundment covers about 12,900 acres. Stretching 35 miles, Tenkiller has an average depth of 51 feet and an impressive assortment of lake features.
“You have a lot of bluffy areas, you have river channels running against the bank, you have several creeks and a river section,” said Elite Series veteran Mark Menendez. “So, you can kind of break it down into a lower, mid- and upper lake — you just won’t have to run as far from one end to the other.”
As of Sept. 11, Tenkiller was 4.88 feet above conservation pool level of 632, with the dam releasing 3,235 cubic feet per second. Torrential spring rains brought the lake to nearly 664 feet in June, with big declines throughout July, some ups and downs in August and a return to the downward trend in early September.
Tenkiller’s falling water will no doubt impact the tournament storyline. Noting that the lake has been steadily falling for a couple of weeks, Menendez sees a good opportunity for anglers who can adjust to the changes.
“The water color will be clean enough that it won’t be like the absolute flood we would have been heading into on Fort Gibson,” he said. “We may have to deal with some suspending bass, but I don’t think it will be that big of a problem.
“I think the whole lake will be in play and with only 75 boats on a 35-mile lake, we won’t be fishing behind each other all day. The lake patterns well. So distinguishing a pattern is going to be really important so you can just run new water that fits your pattern.”
Moreover, Menendez points to Tenkillers’ abundance of largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass as a key component for game plans and adjustments.
“You have three distinct populations that will all be in play, so that may change the pattern and location that the next guy pulls up to and how he fishes, depending on what he’s fishing for,” Menendez said. “The smart play will be the mixed bag because that’s going to cost-average things. You’re going to see some trifecta bags this week.”
Given the year’s lingering heat and a forecast of mid-80s to lower-90s for tournament week, anglers will likely find fish holding on to late summer patterns. Menendez expects an array of patterns from topwater lures and crankbaits to worms.
“I think you’re going to see it absolutely all over the board,” he said. “It’ll be that way, one, because of the species stratification and, two, because I think you’re going to have fish scattered from inches deep to 35 feet deep.
“I’d say the winning weight will be between 62 and 66 pounds. We are fishing with a 16-inch limit, but I think if you can get that 16- to 17-pound bag every day and slip a 20 in there on top of it, that could be dangerous."
The Tenkiller event is the last regular-season Elite Series event of 2019 as anglers fight to qualify for the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship being held on Michigan’s Lake St. Clair Sept. 28-Oct. 1. Only the Top 50 anglers advance to this tournament, where they will compete for their share of $1 million in prize money.
Alabama pro Scott Canterbury leads the AOY race with 679 points, followed by Florida’s Drew Cook (660), Texas pro Chris Zaldain (653) and Indiana’s Bill Lowen (652). Cook also holds the lead for DICK’S Sporting Goods Rookie of the Year.
The winning angler at Tenkiller will receive $100,000 and one of the coveted blue trophies given to all Elite Series winners.