Bassmaster Central Open On Grand Lake O’ The Cherokees Will Decide Season Points Title
GROVE, Okla. —

It’s a rare occasion when Arizona pro Josh Bertrand gets to fish an event with little or no pressure.

But that’s where he finds himself as he prepares for the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open scheduled for Oct. 5-7 on Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees.

A regular on the Bassmaster Elite Series, Bertrand finished 29th in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings, securing his berth in the 2018 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods. Although he currently leads the Central Opens division standings, he feels no pressure to win at Grand or even to have a strong showing to guarantee his spot on next year’s Elite Series.

He just plans to have fun and learn — and he thinks that approach could be good for a lake that is still transitioning into fall.

“We’re in such an oddball, tough time of year,” Bertrand said. “If you are worrying about trying to get a high finish, it could be a really challenging event. I don’t live in Oklahoma, so I can’t say for sure. But I would imagine the fish probably haven’t made it into their fall patterns yet.”

That means they’ll likely be scattered — and multiple patterns could come into play.

“If you’re right in the middle of a season, whether it’s summer, fall, winter or spring, you might have 95 to 100 percent of the fish in that pattern — right there in the areas you expect them to be,” Bertrand said. “Right now, let’s say for instance you have a third of the fish in a summer pattern, a third of them in the fall pattern and a third of them transitioning. You’re just flat-out fishing for fewer fish, no matter what you’re doing.”

Arkansas angler Mike McClelland is in a similar situation to Bertrand’s. Since he won the first Central Open on Table Rock Lake and finished 22nd in the second Central Open on the Sabine River, he needs only to show up at Grand Lake to officially earn a Classic berth.

As of 1 p.m. Thursday, McClelland and his wife, Stacy, were already parked near Grand in their motorhome — and like Bertrand, he agreed it could be a tough transitional event.

“I know everybody gets excited about fall fishing,” said McClelland, whose 28-year-old son Justin is also fishing the tournament. “But when you’re dealing with one of these midland, highland reservoirs, historically, the last couple of weeks of September and the first week or two in October have been really tough.”

Bertrand’s only previous experience on Grand Lake was a 35th-place finish during the 2016 Bassmaster Classic — an early-March event that Oklahoma angler Edwin Evers won with a combination of largemouth and smallmouth caught around shallow cover in river current. McClelland actually won an Elite Series event on Grand in 2006, but he says his experience is limited there as well.

“There’s probably some added pressure on me because people consider me one of the so-called experts on this lake,” McClelland said. “I have definitely spent some time on Grand. But when it comes to this time of year, it’s like I’ve never fished it at all.

“I expect fish to be caught from just a few feet deep all the way out to as deep as they’re ever caught on Grand.”

The winner will earn a Classic berth — provided he’s not already qualified and has already fished the two previous Central Opens. The tournament’s pro division winner will also receive a Skeeter ZX200 powered by a Yamaha SHO200 outboard, while the co-angler winner earns a Nitro Z18 powered by a Mercury 150 Pro XS.

The final Central Open standings will also determine five invitations for the 2018 Bassmaster Elite Series. Behind Bertrand in the current standings are Randy Sullivan of Breckenridge, Texas; Drew Sloan of Scurry, Texas; Chad Morgenthaler of Reeds Spring, Mo.; and McClelland.

Since Bertrand, Morgenthaler and McClelland may requalify for the Elite Series, Chance Woodard of Paris, Texas; Roy Hawk of Lake Havasu City, Ariz.; and Lee Livesay of Longview, Texas — the anglers who currently rank sixth, seventh and eighth — are also in good position to qualify. Former Elite Series pro Charlie Hartley of Grove City, Ohio, who failed to requalify for the Elite Series after the 2015 season, is in ninth place with a chance to requalify if he has a strong performance.

Daily takeoffs will be at 7 a.m. CT from Wolf Creek Park, and weigh-ins for Days 1 and 2 will be held back at the park at 3 p.m. The Day 3 weigh-in will be held at 4:30 p.m. at the Bass Pro Shops in Broken Arrow, Okla.

The event is hosted by the City of Grove, Okla.