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Chase’N A Check
The Diary of Douglas Detherow and Blake Ellison Prefishing and Competing on Northeastern Oklahoma Lakes

June Skeeter event on Grand
“Weeping Willows”
By: Douglas Detherow

“We are just a couple of young fishermen limited mostly by our equipment, on a limited budget, with limited amounts of time, but the only limits we really care about are limits of bass!!!”

It is June on Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees, normally a tough time to be on this lake, for us anyway, but the water is up nearly three feet. There are willow trees two and three feet deep around every corner and that usually means a bass around every willow tree. The fish are on a rock solid “flipping the trees” pattern and we are excited in anticipation of the Skeeter event in the coming weeks.


May 31st Prefishing

We start at daylight down by the dam with the intentions of establishing a secondary pattern throwing crank baits along the numerous points to be found on the lower end of the lake. Blake has already been up the lake earlier in the week and located a couple of willow patches loaded down with keeper sized bass, but as we’ve learned, you never trust the GRDA to maintain the water level for more than a couple of minutes.

After putting in we immediately ran across the main body of water to a creek that had given up numerous bass during the prespawn and spawning stages. It only made sense to us that we should be able to locate a school of hungry post spawn bass making their way back into the deeper water of the main lake to weather out the hot summer that was soon to come.

It is just breaking day and I pick up a POP-R to begin fishing. Blake goes straight for the crank bait. We start on the secondary point closest to the mouth and work our way into the creek. Immediately past the point is a small cut with a few solitary floating docks that will usually harbor a few bites. Blake had the boat positioned nose first to the back of the dock and was flipping a brush pile while I, as usual, was left with the wide open 30 feet deep water in which to throw my surface lure. I turned and threw next to the deep end of the dock by the ladder, and gave it a quick couple of twitches with my rod. After the ensuing “blurp! blurp!” I let it rest as the rings radiated away. SWUSH!!! A bass absolutely crushed the bait and I set the hook. The fish fought hard, but upon landing it I realized it was not a keeper and immediately released it back to the water. We ended up catching a dozen or so short fish in that cut within the first hour without a single fish that would measure, and left the area in search of the bigger bass we would need in order to be competitive.

We ran over to the Ketchum Creek area and approached the steep rocky banks in the same manner as the creek before. Again, we quickly get several fish to bite, but none were large enough to do us any good. After a few hours toiling down lake without any promising discoveries we decide to load the boat and trailer up to the State park by Horse Creek and start looking for some bass that could help us a little.

This area of the lake is absolutely loaded with willow trees. Actually there are too many and we know better than to rely on the pattern but can’t resist a couple of flips into some inviting cover to see if we can’t bend our rods on some big ole greenbacks. While I was still digging my flipping stick out of the rod box, I heard Blake grunt and now familiar z-z-z-z! On his very first flip a fish thumped him and began running to the side with his worm and he set the hook but had forgotten to tighten his drag after servicing his reel the night before and missed the opportunity. “That felt like a good bite”, he said through now clinched teeth. He regrouped himself, tightened his drag, and flipped to the very next tree. This time I was digging through my tackle when I heard him grunt and looked up to see his rod bent with a fish online. He quickly swings the solid two pounder into the boat and dangles it in front of me as I sat there with line in my mouth and a jig in my hand. A quick “That’s the way it should go!” and he declares that we should leave this patch of trees before I even get to flip once. We decide to get back to looking for some crank bait and rig fish along the main lake points between Horse Creek and Martin’s landing.

We spent the rest of the evening first going up the North bank past Shangri-La, to Martin’s then straight across the lake to the South bank and back down all the way to Honey creek fishing crank baits and rigs along every point and small cut along the way. For our efforts we caught a 25 pound Flathead, a drum, a few sand bass, a couple of perch, and one little ole dinky 8 inch Kentucky that fought like a perch, so we went to the restaurant in Honey creek and sat down for a bite to eat and to discuss what we would do next. Our plans of finding a reliable pattern of main lake crank bait and rig fish were diminishing about as quickly as our ability to stay out of those luscious willow trees.

The next day, June 1st, would be the last legal day of prefishing we would have on the water so we decided to go in search of as many clumps of willow trees harboring keeper bass as we could find. We started the morning in Martin’s, the known off-limits area, trying to get bites on a couple of different baits that could be utilized elsewhere to produce fish. In less than thirty minutes we caught probably twenty pounds of keeper bass and cussed Dave and Ivan for being cruel by not permitting us to fish there during competition as we sped away in search of the mother load of bass we could actually use.

We fished I believe every willow tree in the water between Martin’s landing and Twin Bridges. Not all of the trees had fish in their branches. In fact very few did. There was a reason to the rhyme though, and by the end of the day we could more times than not pick a group of trees that would produce a quick keeper. By days end, after 9P.M., our best five bass (not counting the Martin’s fish) would weigh we figured between 15 and 17 pounds, enough to be in the hunt. We had covered an extraordinary amount of area, as well as spent 14 hrs on the water both days, and all we could come up with were fish in the willows, so that’s what we intended on fishing during the tournament that still was a week away. Pending of course that there would still be willows in the water in six days.

June 7th Tournament Day

I had watched the water level like a hawk from my computer at work all week, and prayed for rain. By Friday, the lake level had actually raised a couple of inches!!! It was going to be ALL RIGHT!! If anything, there should be even more fish pulled up to the trees and ready to take a ride with us back to weigh in.

We had drawn 95th as our take off position and were surprised to find that the three trees that were just past the off limits boundary outside of Martin’s without a boat so we started our day there. After a thorough going over and no bites we pulled up and ran to a willow covered point up past sailboat bridge.

There were a couple of boats already fishing in the area, which wasn’t a surprise, so we weaved our way in and began flipping the trees. We fished the first point without turning a head, and hurried to the second. While there, Blake made an adjustment to a more subtle presentation and quickly picked up two short fish. “Maybe the fish were still there”, we thought they were just not as aggressive so we went back to the first point with our new look. Blake quickly caught another fish that we actually laid on the board to check but again came up short. We then headed back under the bridge to fish a couple of willow clusters that had produced for us during practice.

Upon arrival, at the first of many small patches of trees, we began meticulously picking the water apart. After fishing all but about two of the trees in the initial group Blake pitched into the middle of a bushy lay down and began working his bait through the branches. I saw him make a quick adjustment to his feet and set the hook. P-Z-Z-snap!!!
His line broke at the reel when he jerked. He was standing there in amazement wondering what had gone wrong while I quickly dropped my flipping stick and grabbed my cranking rod. I knew that there was a long tail of line because of where it had snapped, and I thought that I may be able to snag it with the crank bait and salvage the bad situation.

Believe it or not, on the very first attempt, as my bait came to the surface there was the end of his line tangled in the hooks. What a break! But we weren’t even sure if there was a fish on the other end. Blake reached down and grabbed the line pulling it hand by hand back to the boat while I grabbed the net. I heard him say “Oh yeah!” just as a two and a half pound bass came out of the water 10 feet in front of him. He did an excellent job of fighting the fish back to the boat with his hands as I scooped it up. HIGH FIVES!!! It was 9:00 and we had caught a very dramatic first keeper. Talk about Keep’n it together!!

The fishing was confusingly tough we thought as we fished the remainder of the trees in the area without a fish. Where could they of gone?? We kept our plan in tact for the next hour running from tree to tree catching only short fish. At 10:15 we pulled up to a patch of trees that started next to a dock in the mid lake area. On his first flip to the tree adjacent to the dock Blake set the hook again. I could see the fish boil in the tree and knew it was a keeper so I hurried to the net as he worked it to the boat. HIGH FIVES!!!
Our second keeper would weigh around two pounds. This fish gave us the will to stick with the trees a while longer. We knew that something had happened to the bite in general and figured it was going to be tough on everyone. We thought that if we would just stay with our plan we could muster five keeper bites.

At 12:30 we headed under the bridge again to a subtle rip-rap wall in the river that had held the only nice cranking fish in practice. Blake had fished this area on his trip with out me and I asked him where he had caught the four pounder that he had shown me a picture of. He pointed and I cast my bomber in for a closer look. Whammo!!! On the second crank of the reel, what felt to be a big fish hammered my bait. I yelled for the net as my line raced under the boat. Blake was there and ready when I felt the fish give a little and head for the surface. “Here he comes!!!” As the water boiled I caught a glimpse of a big paddle shaped black tail. I had seen this before and knew it was not a bass but about a five pound flathead.

I spent five minutes wrestling that thing off there and retying my line as Blake fished ahead. On my first cast back, another fish ate my lure and I set the hook. This one was a nice sand bass. Three casts later, yet another fish hit me and as I lay into him, and he comes straight to the top. This was the right species, just the wrong length. There were fish of all shapes and sizes along this wall. I threw past the only bush along the bank and ripped my bomber through the outer branches. Thump! And another short bass came barreling out of the water. This was getting interesting I thought to myself just as Blake set the hook. At the end of his long cast an obvious keeper came to the top of the water and unbuttoned. I threw just past where he had lost the fish and set the hook on another bite. “There he is!!” I said, as the fish sped towards the boat. A 13 inch Kentucky came up and I swung him in. I hollered at Blake to get his lure back in the water because there was obviously a group of feeding fish in the vicinity. We spent thirty minutes going up and down that wall without another bite. We sure could have used that third keeper. But those things happen and you just have to shrug them off and move on hoping that you won’t pay too dearly for the mishap. But you usually do!!!

It was now 1:15 and we started brainstorming on a new strategy because we were running out of time, only had two fish in the live well, and the willows weren’t paying off. Rather than our normal panicked frenzy of last minute machine gunning random points with crank baits, that rarely pays off, we kept our heads and formulated the lessons we had learned over the past few years into a reasonable plan of attack. We were going to go back to the most productive group of willows from practice and begin fishing out from them into the deeper water. They had to be there somewhere. Fish don’t just get out of the water and fly away, even though it seems like it some times.

While leaving this particular group of trees earlier in the day I had noticed a sharp drop into the creek channel about 40 yards from the two foot deep point. The water came off the trees on to a flat that ranged from 7 to 10 feet and then dropped off into around 20. I thought that this would be a good place to begin our search.

We made the run to the place we had in mind and I watched the depth finder as we crossed the channel started on to the flat. I killed the motor and grabbed my Carolina Rig as did Blake. We were setting on the channel throwing toward the trees. On our first casts Blake and I hit almost the exact same spot. During my retrieve, I felt what I thought was Blake’s weight coming over my line. As I paused to see what he was doing I recognized the tap-pull of a bass on a rig. I set the hook into what felt to be a good fish and called for the net. The bass came to the surface and showed himself to be a solid two to three pounder that we desperately needed. That was the last we saw of the fish as my line went limp soon afterwards. Upon inspection, the fish had never been hooked, it had simply clamped down on my waded up power bait and come off when it opened its mouth. Another missed opportunity; we really needed to cash in on. Literally!! Again, shrug and go.

We thought we had possibly found the fish that had eluded us all day and were down to less than an hour of tournament left to catch three. Blake changed to deep diving crank bait and I stuck with my rig. On his first cast, he set the hook and a solid 15 inch fish came to the boat with a mouth full of cranker. This one would make it to the live well. HIGH FIVES!!! Our third (should have been 5th) keeper is in the boat at 2:30. We have officially located the pesky critters and the clock was ticking faster than we could cast.

Three casts later Blake sets the hook again. “Good Fish!!!” as his rod bends over the side of the boat into the open water. I see the fish flash as I reach for the net. It was a nice one, just the wrong kind. To both of our amazement, a three pound walleye relents to the net! A walleye on Grand??? O well, no time, throw him in the other live well and we’ll take a picture later. As we turn the boat to head back down the fish laden flat, Blake Sets the hook again!! I really like it when he gets on role like this!!! This one was a bass that we both hoped would measure but it came up just shy of the 14 inch mark. Too little too late!! We had to go to weigh in.

The day, though not a monetarily lucrative one, had its share of positives to offer. Firstly, my stinking boat ran all day. That is a fairly lucrative thing in its self. Secondly, rather than losing our heads, we stayed focused and put a secondary plan together based on the knowledge we have gained by spending time on the water. We adjusted, and it worked. It was just too late. There is no doubt in my mind we would of finished a limit in that open water if not culled some fish if we would have had another couple of hours there. That is another lesson that will definitely get stored in my bass brain for later use. Those more experienced fisherman that recognized the willows had gone sour for what ever reason and adjusted earlier in the day all finished with limits. In fact, the winners of the tournament and the $10,000 did exactly that. They started in the trees, caught two keepers then culled them after moving out with a rig and crank bait. I am particularly proud of our adjustment as it shows us that we are maturing as fishermen and headed in the right direction. Lastly and probably the most obvious lesson I learned during the day, is that if I decide I’m going to write an article about a tournament, Blake is going to catch all the fish.

We had our chances!! Five keepers hooked, and only three in the bag on the scales that weigh 5.88. What if we had adjusted sooner??? What if we would have landed those two we lost?? What if I would have kept that flathead and sand bass to fry up with this freak walleye that we now have to figure out how to get outta my live well??? This sport is full of what ifs?? Well for the losers anyhow. The key to winning is not having to ask that question at the end of the day.

-Tight Lines