DURANT, Okla. — The plan going into the GEICO Bassmaster BASSfest presented by Choctaw Casino Resort was to have the 108 anglers of the Bassmaster Elite Series launch at the Spillway Ramp on the Texas side of the lake and motor across to East Burns Run in Oklahoma for traditional morning takeoffs.
But Mother Nature had her own plans.
The boat ramp and courtesy dock at East Burns Run are underwater due to heavy rains in the region and lake levels that are more than 9 feet above normal for this time of year. So all takeoff festivities will now be held from the Spillway Ramp near Denison Dam, with B.A.S.S. pontoon vessels taking the place of courtesy docks.
Other than that, everything is on schedule for what has become one the premiere events on the Elite Series schedule.
“We’ve had to make a few changes due to the high water,” said B.A.S.S. Tournament Director Trip Weldon. “But it’s going to work fine.
“Spectators will certainly still be welcome at the takeoffs, but they’ll need to park at the overlook area and walk down to the ramp due to very limited parking. We really appreciate everyone’s cooperation.”
The full field will compete Wednesday and Thursday, with only the Top 50 advancing to Friday’s semifinal round. The anglers will take a break Saturday for BASSfest activities, including Bassmaster University seminars. Then the Top 12 will fish for the $100,000 first-place prize Sunday.
Lake Texoma — a massive 89,000-acre fishery that is known for producing big tournament limits of bass — could be tough for the anglers to tame due to the high waters. B.A.S.S. Conservation Director Gene Gilliland, an Oklahoma native, said the fish are likely to be spread out, and all types of flooded structure could come into play.
“With so much water in the lake, you’re talking about thousands of acres of water that the anglers wouldn’t normally have available to them this time of year,” Gilliland said. “All of the bushes and shoreline structure that people would normally be fishing is 7 or 8 feet beneath the surface.
“You could literally see fish being caught under picnic tables.”
With lots of water being released from Denison Dam, stained water is being pulled from shallow creeks all over the lake. That means the water clarity on most of the lake resembles a cup of coffee with a heavy dose of cream.
That could make it harder to find cooperative fish — and Brannen Parrish of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Tulsa, Okla., said it could add a degree of danger to basic navigation.
“A lot of dead trees and other debris have probably been displaced by the high water, and those things could be anywhere,” Parrish said. “Everyone on the lake will need to be really careful when they’re running.”
Events like BASSfest usually draw crowds of on-the-water spectators anxious to catch a glimpse of the pros in action. But those fans may choose to watch the fishing action on Bassmaster LIVE program, since they will have a hard time finding their way onto the water this week.
The Spillway Ramp is one of the few that is currently open on the lake, and it is being reserved for Elite Series competitors. Most other ramps around the lake are closed out of necessity — because they’re completely under water.
“We don’t close the lake or tell anyone to stay off the lake,” Parrish said. “I’m sure there will be some people out watching because they already had their boat in the water at a marina or because they found a place to put in.
“That’s certainly OK. We just encourage everyone to operate with extreme caution.”
Weigh-ins and the Bassmaster Outdoor Expo will be held daily, Wednesday through Sunday, at 3:30 p.m. at the Choctaw Casino in Durant.
On Saturday, June 11, Bassmaster University will be in full swing beginning at 10 a.m., offering more than 20 must-attend seminars taught by Bassmaster Elite Series pros and B.A.S.S. staff. A full schedule of Bassmaster University seminars is available at Bassmaster.com/BASSfest.
The High School All-American weigh-in and the final Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Wild Card presented by Bass Pro Shops weigh-in will take place on the main event stage at Choctaw Casino Resort.
All Bassmaster events are free to the public.