By John Neporadny Jr.

Fort Gibson Lake will get a chance to show the nation how it has risen from the dead when the reservoir hosts the Bass Club World Championship (BCWC) Oct. 9-11.

Thirty-six 6-man teams from all around the country will converge on Fort Gibson to compete for the top prize of six Skeeter/Yamaha rigs valued at $50,000 each, with one awarded to each winning team member. There will be no home water advantage in this event since Oklahoma failed to qualify a team for the championship.

The contenders will be fishing the state’s top-ranked tournament lake according to the Oklahoma Bass Tournament 2007 annual report, a summary compiled by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation based on information from various tournament groups.

“Gibson has made a really strong comeback in the last few years,” said Gene Gilliland, Oklahoma BASS Federation Nation youth director and Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation fisheries biologist.

The 19,900-acre lake has apparently recovered from the largemouth bass virus outbreak that swept through Oklahoma lakes in 2000 and 2001.

“We never had a confirmed fish kill on Gibson, but we know the virus was there and it had some influence on catching fish and maybe killed an unknown number of bass,” said Gilliland. “Our electrofishing surveys really didn’t show much of a difference, but we know the fishing just stunk for a couple or three years afterwards. There were local guys calling it the Dead Sea.”

Mother Nature helped correct the situation with plenty of rainfall that raised the lake levels in recent years. “When we get water levels above our normal conservation pool and it’s flooding willows and weeds and brush in the summertime (from late May into August) we get really strong year classes of bass,” said Gilliland.

The latest electroshocking survey on Gibson revealed the lake has a strong population of largemouth bass. The survey produced 114 bass per hour with 33 of those fish measuring more than 14 inches. “The statewide average is slightly less than 100 and we figure anything over 60 per hour and 10 fish per hour over 14 inches is what we call a quality fishery,” said Gilliland.

The average winning five-fish limit at Gibson last year was 14.7 pounds. “Gibson has not been noted for having a lot of trophy fish (8- to 10-pound class) but you do see a lot of 4-, 5- and 6-pound fish,” said Gilliland.

Weather and water conditions should be stable during the championship. No major cold fronts or heavy rains are expected, so the water temperature should remain in the mid 70s.

“We are not pushing into fall quite as quickly as normal,” said Gilliland.

The water level is a couple of feet above power pool but has been dropping about 1 foot per day this past week, so the lake could be at normal pool during the tournament.

“That really changes the character of the lake,” said Gilliland. “When it gets down to normal elevation the water gets out of the shoreline cover. When the lake is up it is a shallow bushes bite but when it is down it is rocks and docks.”

Finding brushpiles could be the key to victory if the lake level is at normal pool.

“There are hundreds and maybe thousands of brushpiles (ranging from 2 to 20 feet deep) that fishermen have put in over the years,” said Gilliland.

Since many fish will still be in a summertime pattern, dragging 10-inch plastic worms and jigs or running deep diving crankbaits through the deeper brush could produce the best action. Throwing topwater lures and square-billed crankbaits to the shallow rocks will also trigger some strikes.

If the shoreline cover is high and dry, the BCWC contenders can run up the Grand River and a host of feeder creeks in the upper section of the lake to flip jigs and pitch spinnerbaits to shallow wood cover.

Hot spots for the tournament could be Long, North and Jackson bays if the water level remains in the shoreline willows. If the lake is at normal level, some of the best action could come from Sequoyah Bay, Fourteenmile Creek or the standing timber in Clear and Jane Dennis creeks. Some shad have started moving into the tributaries, so Flat Rock, Choteau and Pryor creeks and the upper Grand Neosho River could produce plenty of limits.

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