Contenders in the Federation Championship endured a grueling yearlong elimination process to get to the crowning event. According to local experts, they will be glad that they did as Keystone Lake's largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass should be in highly desirable pre-spawn and spawning modes.
"The fishing could be really good," predicted Gene Gilleland, a veteran Oklahoma fisheries biologist and Federation competitor. "They are going to be hitting it while the fish will still be spawning and maybe a little pre-spawn, depending on the weather. We're having a little cold snap this week, which will kind of cool some things off a little bit and help things."
Keystone Lake is a 26,000-acre flood control lake located 15 miles west of downtown Tulsa. A watershed lake, Keystone is fed by the Arkansas River from the northwest and the Cimarron River comes in from the southwest.
The elite Federation anglers, which include 53 representatives from state and international Federations, defending champion Jerry Shawver II and reigning Paralyzed Veterans of America champion Jimmy Lankford, will find an entirely different lake from the one they scouted during the recent practice period.
"They've got the lake down to within just a couple of feet to normal conservation pool," Gilleland said. "About a month ago we had a horrible flood there while the guys were doing their prefish practicing. It was 8 to 9 feet above normal during their week of practice. So for a lot of the guys, about the only thing they were able to do was run the lake and figure out where the different areas are.
"The conditions are going to be drastically different from what they saw then. It's still up about 2 feet, which ought to be just prime because it ought to be up in the button brush and willows and covering a lot of terrestrial trees and grass and brush. And it 's hitting it just about spawning time. So I'm thinking that things will be in pretty good shape.
"If it stays stable the next week or 10 days, that will help it clear up a little bit. Normally, parts of that lake are fairly turbid. The Cimarron and Arkansas river arms are normally pretty turbid. But some of the feeder creeks should clear up pretty nicely."
Overshadowed by Oklahoma lakes like Grand, Texoma, Eufaula and Tenkiller, Keystone is somewhat of an unknown commodity to the fishing world.
"It has more of a reputation as a striped bass lake," Gilleland said. "It's really only come on as a tournament destination in the last three or four years. Of course, some of the guys were probably keeping it quiet before then. In 2003, the average winning weight at Keystone was about 10 pounds for a five-fish stringer. That fluctuates up and down a couple of pounds every year.
"There was a 10 1/2-pounder caught in a tournament a couple of years ago. So there are some big fish occasionally caught. But it's not going to be a big-fish shootout by any means. It doesn't have a reputation of producing a lot of 4- and 5-pound bass like Grand Lake does."
Gilleland predicted that the winning total for the upcoming three-day Federation Championship could be as high as 45 pounds.
Hosting the sport's world amateur championship seems appropriate for the state of Oklahoma, which is home to CITGO Petroleum Corp., MotorGuide Trolling Motors, Lowrance Electronics and the Oklahoma Aquarium. In addition, the Sooner State is home to the very first BASS Federation and the first BASS member - former Classic champion Don Butler.
The competitors come from 46 state Federations, the District of Columbia, Mexico, Canada, Japan, Italy, Zimbabwe and South Africa. The championship brings the state and national champions together, along with the defending champion and PVA champ, in a quest for the championship title and five coveted berths to the CITGO Bassmaster Classic, scheduled for July 30-Aug. 1 in Charlotte, N.C.
Fans can watch the 2004 CITGO Bass Federation Championship presented by Busch Beer on "The CITGO Bassmasters" on ESPN2, Saturday, July 24 at 10:30 a.m. ET/9:30 a.m. CT.
BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. The CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail presented by Busch Beer is the oldest and most prestigious pro bass-fishing tournament circuit and continues to set the standard for credibility, professionalism and sportsmanship as it has since 1968.
Sponsors of the CITGO BASS Federation Championship presented by Busch Beer include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Busch Beer, Purolator, Triton Boats, Skeeter Boats, Mercury Marine, Yamaha Outboards, Berkley, Abu Garcia, Lowrance Electronics, Flowmaster Exhaust Systems, MotorGuide, Bass Pro Shops, BankOne, and Evan Williams Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.
Associate sponsors include G3 Boats.
For more information, contact BASS Communications at (334) 551-2375 or visit www.bassmaster.com.