TULSA — Brent Chapman pulled his boat up to a rocky bank on Grand Lake and mused about what could have — should have — happened in the Bassmaster Classic.
“This is the place where I thought I’d win the Classic,” Chapman said Saturday as he launched a long cast. “In practice, the fishing was just unbelievable here.
“I’d throw a jerkbait out, twitch it twice and they’d be all over it. I caught a 6-pounder, a 4 and some other keepers. It was easy.”
Even the pros have stories that start, “You should have been here yesterday” or in this case, last week.
A cold front roared into Oklahoma early Wednesday, dropping sleet, snow and cold temperatures on the Grand Lake area. By the time the Bassmaster Classic started Friday, the bass were sluggish and very selective on what they would bite.
Chapman, from Lake Quivira, faltered in the first round, catching a limit of five bass, but with not much weight. He entered Saturday’s round in 35th place — and with a lot of ground to make up.
Yet, he couldn’t get himself to refuse a second shot at the bass that he had found. After a long ride in the cold, he pulled up to the bank and started casting, hoping the fish had recovered.
“These are about the toughest conditions you could ask for,” he said. “Bluebird skies, sun, no wind — it’s a typical post cold-front day. And the bass are tough to catch when it’s like this.
“Still, I know they haven’t left. I can see them on my graph. I just have to figure out a way to get them to hit.”
Some four hours later, Chapman was still puzzled. He had gone more than half of his fishing day without getting so much as a hit.
“That’s always the big mystery of this sport,” he said. “Should you stay or should you leave?”
Reasoning that the bass would be more active in murkier water, he made a run to a different arm and devised a new strategy.
“There almost always are some shallow fish in this murkier water,” he said. “Plus, it might be a little warmer.”
He was right on both counts. First, he tried a small finesse bait and caught his first keeper of the day. Minutes later, he switched to a shallow-running crankbait that a friend had made and he quickly added two more medium-sized bass to his livewell.
“Finally,” he said. “I was beginning to wonder if I really was on Grand Lake.
“This lake has some big bass, but in conditions like this, they can be tough to catch.”
Moments later, Chapman switched back to his suspending jerkbait and felt some weight on the end of his line. He pulled back and felt the solid pull of a bass. In the cold water, the largemouth put up a weak fight and soon it was swimming in Chapman’s livewell.
But Chapman saved the best for last. A few minutes later, he cast the jerkbait back to the same area where his last fish had come from and he felt an even bigger tug. This time, he had a 4-pounder.
And suddenly, his day was looking better.
“Well, at least I have a limit, and I won’t have to make the walk of shame (when a pro fisherman comes to the weigh-in stage after failing to catch a keeper),” he said. “This is a game of adjustments.
“Sometimes, you have to move to a different part of the lake. Sometimes, you have to try a different lure or method.
I’m kicking myself for staying at that first place so long,” he said. “But at least I’m catching fish here.”
The alarm on Chapman’s cell phone rang.
“One hour to go,” he said.
He started fishing with urgency and caught two more keepers, culling fish to reach his five biggest bass. Then it was time to make another breakneck ride across the reservoir to the check-in point.
Welcome to the life of a professional fisherman. It’s more than just kicking back and waiting for the bobber to go under.
Fishermen such as Chapman are experts at figuring out where the bass are and what it will take to get them to open their mouths.
“In the Classic, it can get intense,” said Chapman, who was the 2012 B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year. “You have to keep looking for things that work.
“It can get frustrating. But I still love it. This is my passion.”