Now that it’s finally March on the calendar, the best time of the year is officially here for many area anglers.
Just call it March Madness, bass fishing style.
For one thing, the annual Bassmaster Classic will be contested later on this month from March 24-26. Held in Oklahoma two of the last four years, this time the 47th Classic will be held in Texas at Lake Conroe just north of Houston.
Another reason that March is tops for local bass anglers is that the pre-spawn phase is quickly turning into the spawn, especially as this year’s March 10 full moon arrives.
And with that full moon, the third month of the year will send big female bass swimming towards the shallow water flats of Oklahoma lakes where they’ll soon lay their eggs. That big fish presence in the skinny water will give area anglers one of the year’s best opportunities to catch a seven, eight, nine or even a 10-pound plus bass.
All of which brings to mind a couple of conversations about springtime fishing during the spawn, discussions that I’ve had in the past with a couple of the Sooner State’s four Bassmaster Classic champions.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t afforded the opportunity to interview the Sooner State’s first Classic champ, Don Butler, who won the 1972 event on Tennessee’s Percy Priest Lake.
As Bassmaster.com tells the story, Butler was the first ever member of B.A.S.S. along with being the winner of the second ever Classic championship.
Info I’ve gleaned from Bassmaster.com indicates that Butler, a Tulsa-area lumberyard owner, apparently dabbled in tackle making too. That included the production of a spinnerbait called the Okiebug, a lure he used to win the 1972 Classic.
Neither have I had the chance to interview Charlie Reed, the Broken Bow angler who won the 1986 Classic on Tennessee’s Chickamauga and Nickajack lakes.
Reed, who fished competitively until 1997, is also known as the husband of Vojai Reed, who in 1991 became the first woman angler to ever fish in a B.A.S.S. event.
While I never have had the chance to interview the two favored Oklahoma angling sons mentioned above, I have been afforded the opportunity to visit with the state’s two other Classic champions.
That includes several interviews with the late Ken Cook of Meers, Okla., the former Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation biologist turned bass fishing pro.
Cook, who regrettably passed away in January 2016 after a heart attack, was as good a bass angler as there ever was, something evidenced by the success that he had down through the years after making the switch from biologist to tournament pro.
In fact, Cook – one of the most knowledgeable and pleasant folks a writer could ever interview – won the sport’s Super Bowl event when he captured the 1991 Bassmaster Classic championship when it was contested on the Chesapeake Bay near Baltimore, Md.
Cook’s three-day tally of 33-pounds, 2-ounces helped seal one of the most dramatic Classic finishes of all-time as he edged runner-up Randall R. Romig (32-pounds, 15-ounces) and third place angler Woo Daves (32-pounds, 5-ounces) for the $50,500 winner’s check.
The late Cook, who would have turned 70-years of age on February 2 of this year, went on to win five more B.A.S.S. tournaments in his career. He also won $1 million dollars over the course of his career to go along with his 14 total Classic appearances and three appearances in the FLW Tour’s Forrest Wood Cup championship event.
Always one of my favorite interviews, Cook had a knack for taking the subject of fishing and turning into something that even someone like yours truly could understand.
Including questions like the ones that I asked him about how to fish for bass at a Sooner State water body during the month of March and on into early April.
Cook indicated to me that it would be wise to look for pre-spawn fish using and feeding heavily in staging areas near a lake’s coves, creek channels and secondary points.
What lures should an angler throw?
Cook said that he’d start with a 1/2-ounce spinnerbait with a Colorado blade – for vibration’s sake – to throw around early spring’s shallow water targets.
As for spinnerbait colors, he indicated that chartreuse/white was a favored color combination, especially when a little bit of blue was mixed in (think the Sexy Shad color pattern here, made famous in recent years by Kevin VanDam).
Once Cook found some fish, the late Oklahoma bass fishing pro would then slow down and methodically fish a lake’s woody cover with a jig in black/chartreuse colors, one usually tipped with a black Berkley Power Frog. He’d also throw a Texas-rigged black/red Berkley Power Tube as well.
What about lakes with vegetation?
Cook said that on many lakes in March, there isn’t much grass just yet. But as it increases – something that should happen earlier than normal in this unusually warm year – Cook would then use either the spinnerbait or a red crawfish hued rattling lipless crankbait.
“That lipless crankbait is hard to beat at (that) time of the year to find the edges of that grass, if it’s there,” Cook told me.
While the late and great Oklahoma bass pro Ken Cook won his Classic trophy a quarter century ago, the current Classic champ Edwin Evers won his title barely 12-months ago.
Bass fishing fans will have a hard time forgetting the former Mannsville resident Evers and his historic come from behind win a year ago this weekend on Oklahoma’s Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees.
That’s when the current Talala, Okla. resident stormed from behind on the final day to claim the 2016 Classic crown in front of an enthusiastic Tulsa weigh-in crowd.
Evers, a former Southeastern Oklahoma State University football player turned bass fishing star, found the mother lode of big Grand Lake bass in the Elk River section of the lake.
So good was the fishing on that fateful March 6th day that Evers would eventually weigh in five bass that tipped the B.A.S.S. scales to a stunning 29 pounds, three ounces.
That was good enough for Evers to roar from behind and overtake fellow Oklahoma pro Jason Christie for the win.
In capturing the event, Evers weighed in a three-day total of 60 pounds, seven ounces. That enabled him to claim the $300,000 winner’s check and his claim as the sport’s current top angler.
How good is Evers’ claim on the sport’s top rung? Well, consider that he has 11 B.A.S.S. wins, two Major League Fishing titles and more than $2.9 million in career earnings…and counting.
How does Evers go about fishing for the big fish of March’s bass fishing madness?
One way is using the bait that he won the 2016 Classic on, a 5/16-ounce Andy’s Custom Bass Lure jig.
“It’s a really cool jig,” said Evers. “It’s (made by) one of the few companies that still has the living round rubber (kind of skirts) and it’s something that you have to have in that clear water situation (of the Elk River area).”
Another bait that Evers has used at this time of the year is the tried-and-true soft plastic lizard, a bait that can elicit a smashing strike from a female bass on the spawning bed.
“It’s a good bait to fish,” said Evers. “In terms of catching big bass, lizards and salamanders really prey on the eggs that big females lay so the bigger fish are more apt to eat them. I do get a lot of bites from bigger fish in the spring on lizards.”
How big? Evers indicates that he has caught lots of eight and nine-pound bass on this type of lure, a bait that he likes to fish primarily during stable weather conditions.
How does Evers fish this lure?
“With a lizard, I like to keep it on bottom,” he said. “I’ll do that by popping it and scurrying it across the bottom, still looking for isolated cover (to target).”
While there’s no guarantee that using such a bait will ever result in any of us ever winning the Classic title, one thing is for sure.
And that’s this – that following the advice of two of Oklahoma’s Classic bass fishing champs can certainly help us smile big as anglers.
Especially during the Sooner State’s bass fishing version of March Madness.
Lynn Burkhead is Senior Writer for the Outdoor Channel, World Fishing Network and Sportsman Channel and lives in Denison, Texas