Champions Tour Okoboji Preview

Here we are! Gearing up for our first event of the 2024 Champions Tour, Presented by Skeeter Boats, Season. To kick off the year, we are venturing south and will actually be leaving the state of Minnesota for the first time in our history! An exciting milestone for the Classic Bass Champions Tour.

We aren’t traveling far over the border, as the destination for this event is in Northern Iowa, Lake Okoboji. This chain of lakes is also known as the Iowa Great Lakes Region. Our anglers playground will be a little over 7,000 acres and include: West Okoboji, East Okoboji, Upper Gar, Minnewashta, and Lower Gar. The Okoboji Chain is very unique, as the far western side is known for its incredible water clarity, and as you work east this chain of lakes gets dirtier and dirtier.

However, there is bass crawling in every square inch of Okoboji.

Champions Tour Okoboji Preview

This chain has gained popularity in the Upper Midwest over the last several years, with 5 fish tournaments in the spring routinely bringing in bags of fish weighing in over 20 lbs, with some bags approaching the upper 20lb mark, with several being over 30 lbs. This lake is known for some absolutely gigantic largemouth bass, and it is stuffed full of them. But don’t overlook the smallmouth, as these should play a factor in our tournament.

We caught up with a couple of our Champions Tour Pro’s: Ron Mehr, Chad Grigsby, Ryan Trousdale, and Chad Garton to give some insight on this tournament.

Garton, a local angler who’s had success in other events on Okoboji, talked about how different the lake is this year. There’s been substantially more pressure on the body of water the last few years, which is to be expected with the size of fish it’s producing, the weights have been lower this year. Garton thinks that has to do with the pressure and how educated these fish are getting. And now, we’ve had High Water levels show up, after an abundance of rain in the Upper Midwest over the past few weeks. With water spilling into the chain from Big Spirit Lake for the first time in 3 to 4 years, this lake is going to start changing, and make for some shallow habitat for these fish to live in, that they haven’t in years.

When catching up with these anglers, a very common theme of all these conversations is that Lake Okoboji is a place where you can do whatever you want to catch a bass. This is a lake where you can fish to your strengths. And based on the time of year we are coming to Okoboji, there’s more than likely going to be several patterns that are going to play; ranging from 1 ft of water, all the way out to over 20 ft. 

Champions Tour Pro Chad Grigsby is visiting the area for the first time and mentioned that this chain is starting to remind him of Lake Minnetonka, except the fish size average is way bigger. “It’s a really cool lake, I like it. It’s got a lot of healthy grass. There’s (several) different lakes and it seems like there’s bass in every one I’ve been to,” Grigsby added. 

Anglers that prefer to fish structure, are going to love the west side of the lake, and as you venture further east you run out of structure and run more into the “bowl” style of lakes, with a couple rock piles but it’s mainly grass and docks. However, a big curveball for this event is the water level. Several anglers have talked about the high water present. Dock fishing is going to be very difficult, as the water is almost to the tops of the docks. 

What stage are these fish in? Ron Mehr chimed in with, “There are going to be a lot of guys who are lost with the largemouth pattern, because there’s a lot of them immediately postspawn. But if you can find the ones that spawned a while ago, they’re chewing.”

When talking with another local angler, Ryan Trousdale, he mentioned some of the same beliefs as Mehr. “I think a strong majority of the fish are in the post spawn funk. The better fish seem like they’re out deeper but it’s hard to find any number of them,” Trousdale explained. The key to success is starting to sound like it’s going to be important to cover a lot of water, and hope you are able to run into a spot that they just got to out deep.

“I haven’t found the spot where you can sit there and catch them. I don’t think they’re quite there yet,” Grigsby also chimed in.

Trousdale showed some of the same sentiment as Grigsby, with anglers still in practice, they’re trying to unlock this place as conditions change. “I think you’ll catch more numbers on West Okoboji. But right now it seems like the quality isn’t as high. Or maybe I haven’t found them yet,” Trousdale added, “Right now the smallmouth are just about done spawning. And I think they’re gonna be a player.”

As expected, the x-factor in this event is going to be the Smallmouth Bass population. It’s been a common belief across the field that in order to win this event, you’re probably going to have to fish for both species, but unlocking the key on how to efficiently do both is going to be the difficult part.

The curveball to this event is that the anglers are going to have a 2lb minimum in effect, for the first time ever. This was done in an effort to follow the 15” minimum that is typically in effect for events in Iowa. When asked about the 2lb minimum, Mehr added, “It will affect the guys who are going to be fishing (smallmouth) beds. There’s a lot of 1.7 and 1.8lb males on beds right now, which won’t do anything with the 2lb minimum.”

Champions Tour Okoboji Preview

Mehr and Garton both explained, if there was ever a lake to do a 2lb minimum, it’s this one, because there’s a lot of fish over that mark in this fishery. And Grigsby shared that same sentiment, “There’s so many “good” fish here. It seems like it’s a 3-5 lber or a 1.5lber for me.”

What will it take to win this event? That is the real question. With a new 2lb minimum in effect, that’s going to lower the weights a bit automatically. However, when this place is humming in the summer and there’s schools of 40-50 fish out deep, it’s been stated that this place could compete with the Champions Tour record over 247lbs 10oz, set by Adam Rasmussen back in 2021 at Pelican Lake.

But right now? We don’t expect our field of anglers to get there. However, we do expect a very volatile leaderboard throughout the day. As Garton explained, “There’s some stretches where you can catch a lot of little fish, but there’s also stretches where you can pull up and catch 25 lbs in 5 or 6 casts.” Okoboji is a prime venue for some last minute heroics because of it’s population of large bass. Grigsby shared some of the same beliefs as Garton, “I think it’ll be tight up at the top. I don’t think someone is going to run away with it. There’s too many big fish, you could be down 10 lbs then catch 3 fish and be in the lead all the sudden.”

Mehr and Garton both believed that the winning bag will more than likely be in the 90 – 100lb range, as long as Okoboji shows out the way that it should.

One thing is for certain, we’re expecting to see some fireworks in Okoboji, IA on Tuesday, June 11th. If you’d like to attend blastoff, we will be starting at 6:45 am at Emerson Bay Boat Ramp. Our Award Ceremony will begin at 4:30, also at Emerson Bay Boat Ramp.

If you’re wondering what anglers to keep your eye on at this event, we caught up with Rich Lindgren, aka HellaBass. Rich is a bass fishing enthusiast that provides insights on bass fishing for Bassmaster, as well as documenting his own tournament success on his YouTube Channel, and providing educational content for the community with his Livestreams. Looking at Lake Okoboji, these are the anglers HellaBass is thinking you need to keep an eye on.

HellaBass Forecast

With this being a brand new lake there’s a lot of uncertainty. Anglers should be running into largely a post spawn event, but we might see a few late smallies on beds. With that, anglers should be able to fish the whole lake, shallow to deep, wind permitting. As people have mentioned, there’s so many different ways to catch them at Okoboji, it’s hard to pick just 5 anglers to watch, especially because there are so many talented anglers.

Arnold Helgerson ~ He’s the defending Angler of the Year and he always seems to excel at fishing new water. Arnold is known as a dock expert, and that’s rightfully so, because he is one. There’s plenty of targets for Arnold to exploit on Lake Okoboji and it should be in his wheelhouse for largemouth.

Chad Garton – Chad is one of the few anglers in this field that has plenty of Okoboji experience. Last fall he went on a streak of 4 tournaments weighing in a largemouth in each one of them over 7 lbs. He has won here in the fall, and had success at other times as well. It’s well known that Garton knows Okoboji well. However, the ultimate question with the Champions Tour is always, will the new format trip him up?

Champions Tour Okoboji Preview

Noah Schultz – I mean, how can you not pick Noah Schultz at a fishery that is largely unknown and an even playing field. Noah is a big bass guy, and he excels at events that have large fish present in the biomass. He has done well in Okoboji tournaments in the past, and has more experience than most of the field here. And although he will try to convince you he doesn’t know anything about Smallmouth Bass, he’s proven he can win with smallmouth and largemouth. This is not far from Waseca, MN and I think he’s got a few tricks up his sleeve for this one.

Champions Tour Okoboji Preview

Joel Willert – Starting his Champions Tour career with a bang last year, winning the first event on Big Stone Lake, Joel could be a threat to do it again at a different big bass fishery. Joel is extremely talented with electronics, and in complete honesty, he might be the best in this field at it. He’s proven across the country that he is capable of dialing in smallmouth or largemouth bass, so he shouldn’t have a weak spot in his arsenal here. And like mentioned about Joel’s expertise with his electronics, if there’s not many of the schools “out there” yet, Joel is likely to be able to tap into any offshore schools of bass that have set up because he will be able to find them.

Brad Leuthner –  This is Brad’s return to Champion’s Tour and I’d fully expect him to do it with a bang. After grinding in the Bassmaster Opens Brad has to be excited to be coming back to venues where bites are plentiful. I expect this will be a breath of fresh air for him and he will be able to get some momentum rolling throughout the day. Brad also understands the format and has excelled in the past, winning back to back events in his career on the Champions Tour. I expect him to return and compete at a high level, like he never left.