Decent end to a mediocre year

As most folks who follow the Elite Series already know, the event scheduled for the Arkansas River in Muskogee, Okla., was changed to nearby Fort Gibson Lake because of high water on the river.

Whether or not the event could have been held on the Arkansas River is forever debatable. Was it fishable? Yes. Were there big, submerged logs floating down the river? Yes. Regardless, here’s what I do know:Tournament Director Trip Weldon has the most thankless job in bass fishing. No matter what he decided in that situation, someone was going to be unhappy about it. So for that reason, I respect Trip’s call on this one.

I will say that section of the Arkansas River is an untapped fishing gem. There are plenty of fish in that system and it’s a fun, shallow-water fishery. I think most of the field would have had between 11 and 14 pounds per day and we’d have seen some 17- to as high as 22-pound bags.

The move to Fort Gibson was unique for a couple of reasons. One, we had just one day of practice, which when it was all said and done, was pretty cool. And second, since we had just one day of practice, the fish did not get beat up for three days preceding the event, which made fishing a lot better as whole.

I’ve never had just one day of practice for an event before, so that was kind of a new challenge and personally, I kind of liked it.

Instead of fishing, I just rode the lake for the first few hours, just to see what was available to fish. The water color was stained everywhere and the lake was about four or five feet low. After a mini lake tour, I decided I liked the looks of some of the shallow, natural rock up the river as well as the docks on the main lake the best.

Finally I decided to sample the fishing. I cranked a Bandit 200 on rocks for a while, then went down the lake to flip docks. I got a couple of quality bites flipping docks so I decided that was going to be my plan. But instead of fishing some more, I spent the rest of the afternoon riding the lake, looking at just about all the docks on the lake. Then I put my boat on the trailer and decided I would figure the dock fish out during the tournament.

The first morning things did not get off to a great start. I had not had a bite by about 9:30 when I went around the backside of a dock and made a skip-pitch way up under the walkway and bingo, I got my first bite. From there I figured out that the backsides and walkways were definitely the key places on the docks and I caught 15 pounds.

I fished most of the tournament flipping a Zoom Trick Worm with a ¼-ounce Tru-Tungsten weight. I really like that thin, straight worm in the summer, especially when fishing behind other anglers on docks.

On day two, I did the same thing, but I was not the only one flipping docks and the pressure was starting to take its toll on the fish. The first day getting the bait far up under the dock was not as critical, but the second day bites were harder to come by and every one I caught was WAY up under the dock.

Despite the fewer bites, I caught 15 pounds again to make the cut and fish on day three.

And as you might imagine, day three was even tougher, simply because so many people were fishing docks. I could still catch some on my Trick Worm, but the quality was not near as prevalent. I ended up with 11 pounds the final day and finished 25th.

In all it was a decent end to a mediocre year. I cashed four checks and didn’t make the Classic and I really hate missing that benchmark.

It was the shortest, most intense fishing season I can remember and I’m fried right now.

I ended the year stronger than I started, which is good. I’m more comfortable with my last few tournaments than I was with my first few. I made some horrible decisions at the Cal Delta, I simply panicked at Clear Lake and at Pickwick, which is such a rookie mistake. Clarks Hill was horrible and Smith Lake was so-so. I really didn’t get my comfort level back until about Lake Guntersville. At Kentucky Lake and Fort Gibson I felt like I was fishing decent again – not great, but good, as in my decisions were solid and my fishing was clean with hardly any missed fish.

So pulling out three checks at the end of the season at least allows me to live with myself during the off-season. Speaking of which, our off-season is now 7 months. Is there any other professional sport that has such a long off-season?

Flipping equipment from Fort Gibson

Lure: Zoom Trick Worm (green pumpkin) tail dipped chartreuse

Hook: 4/0 Xpoint offset round bend

Weight: Tru-Tungsten ¼-ounce

Line: 17-pound test Vicious Ultimate Fishing Line

Rod: 7-foot, 6-inch American Rodsmiths Mag Casting Rod

Reel: Ardent XS1000 6.3:1

Scent: Carolina Lunker Sauce Crawfish flavor

Back to my strengths

After my frustrating finish at Clarks Hill, I had an epiphany that I needed to quit trying to fish like everyone else and return to my fishing roots.

In an effort to secure that promise to myself, I preceded to remove two-thirds of the tackle from my boat after Clarks Hill. Basically, if I couldn’t flip it or it didn’t have blades or a squarebill on it, it stayed in the garage in North Carolina.

Of course, this was a risky maneuver considering the next event was Kentucky Lake: the ledge capital of the world where many believe if you’re not fishing 10 feet plus, you’re just not fishing.

But it became the acid test for a return to my shallow-water strengths. Fortunately there was still plenty of water in the bushes so I knew there still had to be some fish shallow.

Certainly I would be no threat to win, but I figured I could at least score a check in the shallow bushes – and I was right.

I spent the whole tournament with just three flipping sticks on my deck. My bait selection was super simple: a Zoom Brush Hog and a Sweet Beaver. If there was no wind, I used a 5/16th Tru-Tungsten weight. And if wind was an issue I went to a heavier 3/8-ounce Tru-Tungsten.

The first day I ran all the way to Barkley and flipped willows and buck bushes. The first five bites I got were all keepers and weighed 13 pounds. Then, to my disbelief, I never got another keeper bite the rest of the day. I caught at least 50 more bass without another keeper.

The second day I went way south on Kentucky Lake and did the same thing. I caught 50 or 60 bass, but only five were keepers and they weighed much better at 18-10.

I ended up making the day-three cut in 36th, but only caught three keepers for 6-06 the third day, which dropped me to 47th.

Hey, it’s not great, but here’s the deal: I fished my way and I did not have to go bow-to-bow with locals and other competitors for a spot on the ledges. And the best part was I never saw another boat the entire time I fished, which was fantastic. And most of all, I had fun fishing again.

Flipping equipment:

Lure: Zoom Brush Hog (green pumpkin, black w/ red flake)
Lure: Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver 4.20 (black neon, big Texan)
Hook: 4/0 Xpoint offset round bend
Weight: Tru-Tungsten 5/16 and 3/8-ounce, both black
Line: 20-pound test Vicious Ultimate Fishing Line
Rod: 7-foot, 6-inch American Rodsmiths H3 Titanium
Reel: Ardent XS1000 6.3:1
Scent: Carolina Lunker Sauce Crawfish flavor
Tip: During practice, I whiffed on a few bites and missed a few fish. During the tournament I soaked all my plastics in Carolina Lunker Sauce overnight and never lost a single fish during competition. The fish not only bit it better, they definitely held it longer with that Lunker Sauce.

Finicky, Fluke-y fishing at its finest

The BASS Elite Series stopped at Clarks Hill this year just as the blueback herring spawn was coming to a close.

Normally the blueback herring spawn brings bass to the shallow shoals of Clarks Hill by the truckloads, but given that it was winding down and these topwater-feeding bass had been so pressure since the first week of April, what bass were left were extremely educated and finicky.

In my case I could not get a single boil on a topwater bait of any type – the fish had just seen to many of them. I could literally throw a topwater bait all day and never even get a sniff.

My next choice was a Zoom Super Fluke, but they had seen quite a few of those this year, too. Working the Fluke under the surface in a normal fashion simply would not work.

What I eventually resorted to was working the Fluke so fast on top that it was almost like a topwater lure. Those bass wanted the Fluke to actually hop, skip and jump out of the water at a high rate of speed before they would become interested in it.

Most of the fish were set-up super shallow right up on top of the main lake shoals, points and corners in less than 2 feet of water. I had to cast the Fluke a long way, right to the bank and then twitch and rip it as fast as I could, making it skip out of the water; the more the Fluke jumped out of the water, the more the bass wanted it.

And that program worked like a charm on day one when I caught 10 pounds for 40th place.

But when day one’s sunny, windy conditions gave way to day two’s cloudy, drizzly conditions, something changed. The fish were still there, and I got probably 35 bites, but they simply would not eat the Fluke like they had the day before. They would still boil, bump and smack at it, but they would not completely engulf it like the first day.

Several times on day one I had to remove the hook with pliers, they were hooked so deep. But the two scrawny keepers I caught the second day were barely hooked.

And I missed so many fish that second day, it was the most frustrating day I’ve ever had. Thoughts of changing tactics were extinguished by the sheer numbers of fish I could see chasing and swiping at the Fluke. I kept thinking, one’s got to eventually get it, but they never did. It was like fishing for ghosts – I could see them boil and feel them snatch the Fluke – but every time I set, it was nothing but air.

And air is also all I felt as I fell from 40th to 77th in the standings on day two. Now my Classic hopes are pretty much toast; I’d probably have to finish in the top-five in the remaining events to even have a shot.

Here’s the list of tackle I used at Clark’s Hill:

Lure: Zoom Super Fluke in colors blue glimmer and fire and ice
Hook: 5/0 Daiichi offset worm hook
Line: 20-pound test Vicious Braid
Leader: 15-pound test Vicious Ultimate Fluorocarbon
Rod: American Rodsmiths Marty Stone Magnum Casting Rod 7-6
Reel: Ardent XS-1000 6.3:1

Tip: I used a #1 barrel swivel to join the braid to the fluorocarbon leader

Getting back on track

At the closing of my Pickwick Lake Tour Summary, you might remember me talking about a bad habit I’d picked up that involves panicking in the first 30 minutes of a tournament, thereby starting the event with shoddy decision making that’s hard to build upon during the rest of the event.

At both Clear Lake and Pickwick Lake I absolutely panicked and left the best fishing areas because I did not get a bite in the first 5 minutes.

I don’t know at what point I started doing this, but it has a lot to do with the best pros in the world fishing on the best lakes in the world in the Elite Series. The talent pool in the BASS Elite is extreme and when you drop these guys on fish factories like the Cal Delta, Clear Lake, Pickwick and Guntersville, I feel like everyone in the tournament has 20 pounds in the first five minutes of the day – and it messes with my mind.

At Guntersville, I was going for a zero panic policy: I vowed not to leave my chosen starting spot until I caught a bass.

I ran to my first river ledge where I had umpteen bites in practice. The entire stretch was maybe 100 yards long. First cast…nothing. Second cast…nothing. My brain wanted to bail, but I kept fishing…biteless. For 15 minutes I worked up the ledge without a bite. In the Elite Series, that first 15 minutes seems like 5 hours and I was freaking out. Then I got to the last corner of my ledge and it was on!

The fish had repositioned and I contacted them again and it was a bass every cast for probably an hour. If I had panicked and bailed, I would not have gotten off to the solid start that allowed me to weigh-in 23-4 on day one for 21st place. I eventually finished 29th and I’m happy to be back in the check line.

Essentially, Guntersville was a classic post-spawn event. Bass were gathering back up on the river ledges in huge schools and taking advantage of a shad-spawn that was going on out on hard river bars along the main channel.

A lot of the grass has disappeared in G-ville due to the harsh winter and large volumes of current. Now the fish seem to be relating more to hard structure in 6 to 12 feet of water on the main channel – bars made of sand, rock and mussels.

The best bite was the first hour of the morning when the bass were feeding heaviest on the shad. If current was present – like on day one – the bite lasted longer. If the current waned, the schools loosened up pretty quickly.

My primary pattern involved crankbaits and soft plastics on these river channel hard spots. I’d start with the crankbaits and then when the place started to cool off, I’d go to a Carolina rig and Texas rig to boat a few more keepers. My back up pattern was fishing a Zoom Magnum Ultra Vibe Speedworm in scattered grass clumps in 2 to 5 feet of water up in the river. I used this pattern on day two to upgrade my catch substantially.

Here is a more detailed look at my Lake Guntersville tackle. Feel free to click on the hyper-linked products to get a closer look at what I was using.


Lures: Rapala DT-14, DT-10 (blue back/pearl sides) and Bandit Deep Flat Max (chartreuse shad)
Line: 12-pound test Vicious Ultimate Fishing Line
Rod: 7-foot American Rodsmiths Kicker Stix Signature Series #1
Reel: Ardent XS-1000 5:1
Tip: I changed all my trebles to 1/0 Daiichi black nickel

Deep Worming, Carolina Rig:

Lure: Zoom Magnum Trick Worm (green pumpkin/junebug)
Hook: 4/0 Xpoint offset worm hook
Weight: 1-1/4-ounce Tru-Tungsten
Beads: Tru-Tungsten Force Beads (6 and 8 mm)
Line: 17-pound test Vicious Fluorocarbon
Rod: 7-foot, 6-inch American Rodsmiths Team Series Casting Rod
Reel: Ardent XS-1000 6.3:1
Tip: Soaked all my worms in Carolina Lunker Sauce crawfish the night before.

Deep Worming, Texas Rig:

Lure: Zoom Ol’ Monster (plum, watermelon red)
Hook: 4/0 Xpoint offset worm hook
Weight: 3/8-ounce Tru-Tungsten
Line: 12-pound test Vicious Fluorocarbon
Rod: 7-foot, 6-inch American Rodsmiths Team Series Casting Rod
Reel: Ardent XS-1000 6.3:1
Scent: Carolina Lunker Sauce crawfish
Tip: I use a Tru-Tungsten Force Bead (8 mm) even on my Texas rig to make a clacking noise with the weight.

Speed Worm:

Lure: Zoom Mag Ultra-Vibe Speed Worm (green pumpkin)
Hook: 5/0 Daiichi offset worm hook
Weight: 1/4-ounce Tru-Tungsten (watermelon)
Line: 17-pound test Vicious Fluorocarbon
Rod: 7-foot, 6-inch American Rodsmiths Team Series Casting Rod
Reel: Ardent XS-1000 6.3:1

Pickwick panic

I made many, many mistakes in the BASS Elite Series on Pickwick Lake where I finished 85th. In fact, I made so many rookie mistakes in that event, I don’t know where to begin recounting them.

First and foremost, I practiced on both Pickwick and Wilson, which was totally unnecessary given the number of fish there are on Pickwick.

Years ago the fishing on Pickwick was poor and locking out was more of a necessity. But now that Pickwick’s fishery has rebounded so strong, locking out is not needed and I should have never tempted myself with Wilson. Quite simply, I practiced both lakes and had way too many areas going on in my head – mistake number one.

Mistake number two was hitting the panic button in the first 15 minutes of the tournament and bailing on Pickwick to catch the lock up to Wilson.

The Elite Series guys are so good and the weights are so high in these events that it creates an immense amount of perceived pressure to catch a 20-pound limit on the first five casts of the day. With each unanswered cast first thing in the morning, it feels like I’m getting farther and farther behind by the minute. Instead of settling down and catching what bites and understanding how my fish have changed that day, my decision making process goes to pot and I panic.

I started the tournament in Coffee Slough, the well-known backwater where Kevin Short eventually won the tournament and an area I’ve done very well in in past tournaments.

But when I got in there the first morning, I immediately noticed that the water had fallen at least a foot. I spent 15 minutes flipping a row of bushes that had produced 10 bites in practice. And when I did not get a bite in the first fifteen minutes, I began thinking about everything I had going on in Wilson. As more competitor boats poured into Coffee Slough during those first few minutes, I decided that two negatives – the falling water and the pressure – were going to change things for the worst in there. At the last possible minute I bailed, ran to the lock and barely caught the first lock time up to Wilson.

I caught a ton of fish swimming a jig and fishing a spinnerbait in Wilson on day one – probably 50 fish on the day – and all I could muster up weight wise was 8 pounds.

On day two, I decided to do what I should have done to begin with: go to Coffee Slough, settle down, stay out of everyone’s way and just fish. I ended up catching 13 pounds, 8 ounces by flipping a Zoom 8-inch lizard.

At the time I had no idea Kevin Short was even in Coffee Slough, he was way in the back and I stayed in the front where fewer people were fishing. But at the end of the day two, when he came idling out, I realized then I had made a huge mistake on day one by locking up to Wilson and not just settling down in my initial area in Coffee Slough.

Twice this year I’ve panicked right out of the gates: Clear Lake and Pickwick. It’s a bad habit I’ve picked up and I’m getting rid of it. Going forward, I’m going to focus on getting my head right the first couple of hours of the tournament.

During practice, I’m going to spend more time contemplating that first couple of hours of the tournament so I can settle down and make the right decisions the first morning.

Here’s a look at the tackle and equipment I used at Pickwick, click on the product for a closer look:

Swimming jig

Lure: Dirty Jigs swimming jig (gill)
Trailer: Zoom Super Speed Craw (green pumpkin)
Line: 30-pound test Vicious Ultimate Braid
Rod: American Rodsmiths 7′ Kicker Stik Series #2
Reel: Ardent XS1000 6.3:1
Scent: Carolina Lunker Sauce Crawfish flavor


Lure: ½-ounce Picasso spinnerbait (white/chartreuse)
Line: 20-pound test Vicious Ultimate Fishing Line
Rod: American Rodsmiths H3 titanium casting rod
Reel: Ardent XS1000 5.1:1

Lizard Pitching

Lure: Zoom 8-inch lizard (green pumpkin)
Hook: 4/0 Xpoint offset
Weight: 1/4-ounce Tru-Tungsten
Line: 17-pound test Vicious Ultimate Fishing Line
Rod: American Rodsmiths H3 titanium 7-foot, 6-inch
Reel: Ardent XS1000 6.3:1
Scent: Carolina Lunker Sauce Crawfish flavor

Sight-fishing festival at Elite Series stop No. 3

We hit the third event of 2010 BASS Elite Series dead square on the spawn, just like we did last year. Personally, I was hoping that the water temps would stay in the mid 50’s and it would be a classic pre-spawn event: crankbaits, spinnerbaits, jigs and maybe jerkbaits. But Mother Nature decided differently, bringing record high daytime temperatures to Virginia the week before the event and sending bass to the beds in droves.

Just to get the wishful thinking of not having to sight fish out of my system, I spent the first half a day of practice pitching a lizard in dirty water. I got a few little bites doing that but as soon as I went to the clearer water around State Park North, I saw fish on beds. Literally, in the first minute of looking for beds, I found some – and they were everywhere.

I knew then not to even fight the sight bite and prepare myself for a big-time spawn event, so I spent the next two days looking for spawners. Even though I’d spot about 30 to 40 fish per day, the challenge, of course, was finding better ones.

I only found four bigger fish – by bigger I mean 4 pounds or just over that – they were females paired up with males. Everything else I found were just single bucks.

My initial intentions were to start the tournament on those bigger females that were paired up, but a number 93 boat draw kind of took the wind out of my sails. By the time I got to the four best fish I had found, someone else was already on them.

So I commenced to just catching bucks off beds to the tune of about 13 pounds the first morning. Then I looked for hours for better fish to cull up with but never found any that would help the cause.

After day one I was in 53rd place with 13-04. I started the next morning trying to flip in the dirty water, hoping for a better fish, but my “dirty” water had cleared up so much I could see the bottom, so it was back to the sight-fishing game and I ended up with about the same weight as day one which left me in 50th place for the event, a mere 7 ounces from the cut. That’s about as painful as it gets. I’d just about rather bomb in a tournament and not even be close to the cut than to be that close to a check – especially in today’s economy.

And while 50th place is nothing to write home about, the only moral victory in the deal is that I no longer fear the sight-fishing tournaments like I used to. I’ve never really considered myself a great sight-fisherman, yet during the Smith Mountain tournament I caught every fish that I fished for except for one – and it was too buried in the cover to present the bait right.

Other than that, the only sight-fishing mistake I made was on the second day I had two fish that each took me over an hour to catch. I should have caught each one of those in about 15 minutes, but I kind of miffed them up with bad execution and they ended up taking me way longer than they should have. I essentially wasted about an hour and a half that could have been spent looking for a bigger fish. Sight-fishing is certainly a game of efficiency: the faster you catch them, the more time you get to look for bigger ones.

In the end Skeet Reese had the winning formula because as the tournament wore on with heavier winds, the spawning fish pattern dwindled and Skeet’s swimbait pattern got better. Skeet has the swimbait bite on Smith Lake dialed in. He did well with it last year and then built on that knowledge to win this year. Hats off to Skeet because I threw everything else while looking for beds – flickshakes, floating worms, buzzbaits, toads and even swimbaits – and no other pattern existed for me; sight-fishing was the only way to go.

As for my sight-fishing gear, I used two different set-ups. One was a Zoom big Critter Craw in junebug teamed with a ½-ounce weight and 20-pound line. The other was little lighter outfit with a Zoom Lil’ Critter Craw in green pumpkin with a smaller hook and a 3/8-ounce weight with 17-pound test line.

If the bass was locked and ready to bite, I’d go straight to the bigger rig, especially if they were deeper – that ½-ounce weight zipped straight into the bed. If the bass was a little skittish and not quite settled down, I’d use the smaller Lil’ Critter Craw to tease them a little more.

Here’s a complete list of the tackle I used for sight-fishing at Smith Mountain Lake. You can click on the links to get a better look.

“Heavy” sight-fishing outfit:

Lure: Zoom Big Critter Craw (junebug, black w/ red flake)
Hook: 4/0 Xpoint offset
Weight: Tru-Tungsten ½-ounce (red)
Line: 20-pound test Vicious Ultimate Fishing Line
Rod: 7-foot, 6-inch American Rodsmiths H3 Titanium
Reel: Ardent XS1000 6.3:1
Scent: Carolina Lunker Sauce Crawfish flavor

“Light” sight-fishing outfit:

Lure: Zoom Lil’ Critter Craw (green pumpkin)
Hook: 2/0 Xpoint offset
Weight: 3/8-ounce Tru-Tungsten (red)
Line: 17-pound test Vicious Ultimate Fishing Line
Rod: American Rodsmiths H3 casting rod
Reel: Ardent XS1000 6.3:1
Scent: Carolina Lunker Sauce Crawfish flavor