The following is a continuation of a four-part series that details my experience at the 2011 Everstart Championship on Kentucky Lake.
I wake up at 4:00am to find out that the rain has returned. I step outside to gauge the air temperature. It’s finger-numbing frigid outside. I think to myself, “I’m gonna need an extra layer for sure.” I get dressed, load up my truck, and go through my mental checklist. Before leaving, I make a protein shake in the hotel room and eat some almond butter for fat energy. Now I am ready to floss. I never fish a tournament without flossing in the morning. I know… it’s weird, but it’s good hygiene. I just can’t stand the distraction of knowing a little chunk of striated meat is in my gums. It’s just one more thing that might distract me from the task at hand. Flossing is my ritual superstition thing… my one dirty sock, my lucky jock strap, etc… When I floss, it makes me feel that I’ve crossed every last “t” and dotted every last “i”.
I meet my Day 2 partner at Paris Landing. He’s impressed with my row of clean teeth… just kidding. It’s too dark to notice. I load up my gear and we launched the boat. We’re pretty early, so we go through boat check, dock the boat, and head over to the Folger’s tent for some coffee. In addition to coffee, there were tons of donuts of every variety at this table. In keeping with the FishStrong mentality, I refrain. I admit it was a challenge, but I knew I would fish better without kick-starting roller coaster blood sugar levels. Besides, I really didn’t need to eat yet.
While we are waiting, I stand under the tent with my partner and the unofficial FLW chaplain dude who says the morning prayers and conducts the post-meeting Bible study. While hunkered beneath the tent, we talk about fishing, Jesus, the Christian attitude towards fishing and its use as a tool of testimony, the rain, the drought in Texas, and the price of hay.
Into the Elements
Okay. Play time is over. Time to get in the boat and make our way towards the front of the line. I put my game face on and make sure everything is secure. Our number was called through the bullhorn. Off we go!
A few miles down the lake, we turn into a creek and venture towards the back. It was rocky, shallow, held a few stake beds, and had a little pocket about twice the size of a big cul-de-sac. I pick up the squarebill and go to work. Aaahh… what a job. If only I could do this full time!
No bites on the square bill other than a couple rocks snagged onto my hook. It’s just tough to get bites in that kind of rain. We were in a good area and I knew fish were around, but the weather system was goofing it up. Not to mention, all the fishing pressure since practice probably pushed them out some.
I switched to a Series 1 CP crankbait to see if the tighter action would draw bites. Just hauling water. I was beginning to think we were too shallow and close to the bank. Too late. Here comes more boats. Pretty soon we had at least 4 boats in the vicinity and a couple were fishing out where we probably needed to be.
Yep… we did need to be there. I notice a couple other anglers catching fish. It wasn’t a whack fest and they were small, but it was a sign of life. The only thing we could do at that point was fish our little area right outside the pocket and wait for the fish to come to us, or move spots altogether.
We move a little further back in the creek, but still close to the pocket and banks. I switch back to Xcalibur square bill. The wind was even worse at this point. I launch the crankbait to a little point right off the mouth of the pocket. I really expected one to be there due to how hard the wind was beating it. I figured I would try to burn the crankbait back. I don’t like fishing slow in the wind. I thought to myself, “surely something has blown in there by now… maybe an irate smallmouth terrorist that’s actually emboldened by the nasty conditions”. I was right. My rod bows over and a 3+lb smallmouth jumped straight out of the water. After a spirited fight that had my rod down in the water nearly up to the reel, my boater netted the brown beauty.
“Aaah, the fast retrieve is the ticket”, I thought to myself. It’s amazing how boats seem to suddenly appear when you catch a decent fish. Maybe I wasn’t paying attention before, but next thing I knew, we were squeezed pretty good by 3 other boats. They all saw me catch that smallmouth too. There was nowhere for us to go. All the immediately adjacent spots were taken. My partner then told me about some yahoo from the day before who moved right up on him while ignoring him the whole time. Despicable.
You Gotta Be Kidding!
Here comes yahoo! Almost right on cue! I mean, I can cast at his head and rip his ear off with my freshly swapped treble hooks! He’s now casting right towards our boat and taking his sweet time. He doesn’t even acknowledge our presence! I had to stop fishing just to keep from hanging up with his and his partner’s line!!! Seriously! He never said a word. I could tell that my boater was furious. I finally fire one about 3 feet from his boat to make the point. He turned and looked at me for a brief second and kept fishing. Loser. No dignity.
It finally stopped raining and the sun started to peek through. Using my notoriously popular eagle vision (not to brag, but my eyes are rivaled only by spy satellites) I noticed some birds on the other side of the creek in what looked like a carbon copy of the spot we were in — except nobody was on it! We hightail it over there before someone else got the idea. I knew this side was going to warm up faster too since the wind wasn’t hitting it. We were closing in from roughly 100 yards away when the surface erupts! The baitfish were on top and so were the bass!
We started fishing topwaters. My boater delivers a Sammy to walk over the commotion. I chose a Gunfish in the smaller 95 size. My boater was really great about boat positioning and never put me at a disadvantage. I appreciate that. Most of the busting bass look to be easy keepers. Next thing you know, we both hook up. Before long, I had three in the box and my partner had two. Could we both be on our way to a solid limit?
The nasty weather was beginning to clear now and the pressure was changing. The little frenzy we snuck up on was short lived. It was clearly starting to shut down. If I was going to get a limit, I needed to make it happen soon before lockjaw set in.
We haven’t had another keeper in at least 30 minutes. My pro is now throwing alternating between the Sammy and the spinnerbait. I stick with the Gunfish. I modify my retrieve to really “finesse” the Gunfish… popping it occasionally, slowing the cadence, lengthening my pauses. Finally #4 couldn’t resist and smacked it. Now I’ve got 4 in the box. My partner was still working on #3 with the Sammy, but couldn’t get any bites.
The bites became even slower! Another hour goes by without a bite. I experiment with a couple other lures briefly with no success. Something about the change didn’t feel right. My gut told me to go back to the Gunfish. A few minutes later…slurp! I eke out my 5th keeper! I’m looking good and figured I had somewhere between 11-12 lb. My boater still only had three. From that point on I just tried to stay far out of his way. I wanted him to get his limit and didn’t want to inadvertently catch any fish that he could’ve had.
We fished about another 90 minutes or so with no luck. I made sure to cast in the opposite direction of wherever he threw.
Two Down… One to Go?
Time runs out. Neither one of us caught another fish. Back to the weigh-in. I ended up with my limit and my partner had his three, but they were all fairly solid keepers. I knew lots of guys would struggle, so I felt pretty good about the day and was pretty sure I would be fishing one more. At the conclusion of the weigh in, my 11-02 sack propelled me up to 14th place. I made it to Day 3! I liked the upward trend I was setting and planned on maintaining the momentum if at all possible.
Key to Success
Now, why did I get more bites than my partner? I probably caught around five more fish than he did. Why was my topwater lure so much more effective? I could have thrown a Sammy or a Spook, but I chose the Gunfish to nab four out of the five fish I weighed. I firmly believe it made a difference when things got tough. Why?
Here’s my answer… everyone fishing topwater was throwing a larger Sammy and a Spook. These walk more aggressively and throw more water around. They represent more aggressive presentations when compared to the smaller, sleeker, Gunfish in the 95 size. By Day 2, these fish have seen all that stuff, they were a little more spooky, and the severity of the front didn’t help matters. When the feeding bite shut down, the more subtle characteristics of the Gunfish were able to draw a few more bites on pressured fish.
When fish are pressured, sometimes you can’t yell at them, you have to whisper. Some baits are like bullhorns… “GET OVER HERE, FISH”… others calmly whisper, “Heeere, bassy-bassy… come and get you some.” My retrieve combined with the characteristics of the Gunfish embodied the latter.
Stay tuned for Part 4, the final installment of my tournament account. In part 4, the Alabama Rig returns.