Smallmouth and largemouth in play at Kayak Championship on Tenkiller

Qualified kayak anglers from around the country will gather in eastern Oklahoma to compete in the Yamaha Rightwaters Bassmaster Kayak Series Championship scored by TourneyX, and Oklahoma’s own Jim Baird believes there will be plenty of opportunities to catch both smallmouth and largemouth.

“We should be able to smack them,” Baird said. “It all depends on how much rain we get. I expect there to be good numbers of bass caught. There will be a few big bass caught.”

Tournament days are scheduled for March 20-21 in conjunction with the weeklong celebration surrounding the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Classic presented by Jockey Outdoors, and anglers will be able to launch from any approved public launch on the lake. The top finishers will be honored on the Classic stage at the BOK Center in Tulsa before Friday’s Day 1 weigh-in.

While its appearances on the Bassmaster schedule are limited, events held on Tenkiller have certainly been memorable. In 2018, Cody Huff and Bethel University partner Garrett Enders won a College National Championship there. The next year, Carl Jocumsen notched his first career Elite Series victory on the fishery.

Both of those events were held in the summer or early fall. But this time, kayak anglers will be dealing with a moody Oklahoma spring, which could bring any type of weather. The long-range forecast currently calls for daytime highs in the 70s, nighttime lows in the 40s and rain each day.

“Weather will be a huge part of this,” Baird said. “In a normal, mild season, water levels will be a little above normal and it will be stained to clear. It will be clear near the dam. The Illinois River can get pretty wild with not a lot of rain.”

Baird anticipates the bass will already be entering the prespawn phase. The smallmouth tend to set up on steeper banks and bluff walls. The river section could also yield big smallmouth bites if the water is high enough.

Largemouth, meanwhile, will be found around some of the flooded timber Tenkiller has to offer, as well as brushpiles and islands. If the water rises, buckbrush and bushes will provide flipping and pitching opportunities.

Spotted bass also inhabit the lake, but Baird views them as more of a nuisance and doesn’t expect them to factor.

“The largemouth will for sure be in prespawn, while the smallmouth may be a little behind,” Baird said. “They tend to spawn later. I think there will probably be more smallmouth caught.”

With bass in the prespawn mode, Baird said he anticipates a jerkbait being a key lure for the top finishers as well as a jig or a soft plastic.

“The jerkbait is probably going to be the biggest player,” he said. “That’s typical for anywhere really this time of the year.”

The field is made up of qualifiers from the 2023 Yamaha Rightwaters Bassmaster Kayak Series scored by TourneyX regular season. The winner will pocket $54,000.

The event is being hosted by Explore Cherokee County, Oklahoma, Tour Tahlequah and the Greater Tenkiller Area Association.