The following is the final installment of a four-part series that details my experience at the 2011 Everstart Championship on Kentucky Lake.
It’s 5:00am. I slept great and am surprised at how calm I am. I feel like I should be more nervous or at least more excited. I just feel oddly relaxed… almost too relaxed. Earlier in the year, I had a shot to win an Everstart at Eufaula. I remember feeling more butterflies back then. I ended up blowing my 1st place position and dropped to 6th. Next time I’ll worry about the butterflies. I think I like relaxed. It feels like cruise control.
I’m sitting in 14th place and feeling really good about making another big move up. In my mind, I moved up 10 places yesterday, so I should at least be able to replicate that jump. I was aiming for the win, but told myself that I’d be happy with 4th place. Hey, not too bad for a guy who was two inches from not fishing it at all, right?
Moving on… I do the whole ritual… shower, load truck with gear and lunch, drink protein shake, floss, etc… I’m gone.
I meet my Day 3 pro at his campsite in Paris Landing State Park. He seems equally calm. I like that. I fished with Big Mike McDonald, the jolly FLW cameraman and pro fisherman. We were going to have fun today.
Flushing in the Fog
It’s looking like a fog delay as we launch the boat. A half hour went by and the fog wasn’t going anywhere. The announcement finally came that we would delay the tournament until the fog cleared. Thirty minutes go by… 60… 90… we were getting pretty antsy by now.
As a side note… there’s no need in letting things like this get to you. No need to fuss over it because it’s not like you’re disadvantaged. The fog delay would affect everyone equally. I just tried to use the time to meditate upon the day ahead, make tackle modifications, reorganize a little bit, pray, socialize with other anglers, and most importantly… make use of restroom facilities!… and use them I did. TWICE! Flush.
Dude, where’s my creek
Finally, after a two-hour delay we were cleared to go. We get in line, get on plane and head to the first spot! About 10 miles down, we make a turn off the mainlake and enter a creek. It was like entering a cloud. The fog saturated the air. Mike, being the the responsible veteran he is, slows the boat down. We pass a couple crappie fisherman that would have been sitting ducks had we not slowed down.
We keep idling down. We can’t even see the bank. Suddenly a boat appears just to our right. It’s a local. He’s just fishing by himself. He looks like an old grump. I can just hear him now in my head, mumbling to himself…
“Here come these damn tournament boats with their fancy shirts… think they can come fish in my creek… I been fishing this creek for 30 years…”
We just trolled past him for another 80 yards or so. He can have his little stretch of bank. We don’t want it.
Sweet Home “Tennabama”
I check out the sonar. We’re in 14′ of water and there’s a road bed that cuts across the width of the creek, creating a sharp rise. The top of the roadbed comes up to about 3′ deep. This is perfect. This creek is unique because of how the deep channel is abruptly cut off by this road bed at the back of the creek. It’s a great place for bass to corral shad up against the break. It’s like a Golden Corral for hungry bass.
I determine this spot to be perfect for throwing swimbaits. I grab my Powell 775 Endurance which was rigged up with my “Tennabama” rig on 65lb Sufix 832 braid. I hurl the three swimbaits out and let them do their thing. At first I just begin reeling. Nothing special. No countdown. Mike has an Alabama Rig and is doing the same thing. He has his rigged with three pearl colored Money Minnows. I am rigged with three Basstrix in the chartreuse-shad color.
Okay, we’ve been casting for a little while now, but where are the bites? It’s late enough in the year, the shad are here, and the bass have had enough time to migrate back here through the creek channel. This spot is a winner. It must be a case of angler error.
Since the sun wasn’t shining and there was no surface action, I figured I was fishing too high in the water column. So, I began to slow roll my swimbaits parallel to the adjacent road bed. I counted them down to 12-14′ and began to reel slowly. A couple casts later… thump!!! Fish on! I lean into it and am rewarded with a stout bass.
I didn’t want to say anything right away, but after I landed three more, I decided to let Mike in on the secret. A few casts later Mike landed his first bass and we were both pretty psyched up.
It’s 10:00am. The fog lifted. I can now clearly see the the old man we passed on the way in. He was tossing a spinnerbait up against the bank. He was getting mad because we were catching fish in what he probably regards as “his spot”. Just then, my rod doubled over. Was it a striper? Man, what a puller! This thing wasn’t coming up. The fish finally surfaced… a solid 5 pounder choked on the Basstrix Paddle Tail swimbait! For some reason, Mike wasn’t catching as many as me. I was getting bit about 4:1. Since he started slow rolling his A-rig like me, we ascertained that the dab of chartreuse coloring on my Basstrix swimbaits was the critical difference. I happen to believe that the Basstrix is a superior bait altogether and the colors are lifelike and top notch.
“Old Grump” unleashes fury
The old grump trolled over in front of us. He pulled up his trolling motor and slammed it down. He cranked his big motor, put the pedal to the medal, then swerved dangerously close to another competitor about 60 yards down on his way out… trying to prove a point about his turf??… Who knows.
There was another FLW competitor about 100 yards to the other side of us. He had a camera boat, but they weren’t capturing any action. Not even two hours into our day (roughly 10:30am) and I was culling like mad with a balance beam. The camera guys were pretty distracted. Mike hollered over to the other boat, “He’s culling over here!”. About 15 minutes later, we had the camera in our boat. Let the show begin!
My rod bowed over again. This time it was a striper about 12 pounds. Now Mike was hooked up… and on camera too! I netted the fish and went back to culling. He ended up catching two more within minutes… all on camera. Oh yeah, we were feeling pretty good.
In the midst of the fun and flurry, I made a culling mistake. While I was culling, I also had to net Mike’s fish and maneuver around the camera man while not stepping on my fish. When I returned from the excitement, I ended up throwing back an extra fish by accident! So, not only did I throw back the smaller fish, but I also threw back the larger one I intended to keep. Oops. It’s easy to get distracted with that much action going on in the boat. It’s okay, I ended up catching a few more and was able to fill out the limit again, but were they bigger than the one I accidentally discarded? I may never know. It could have made a difference at the weigh in.
After about 11:30am, things got really tough. We trolled around looking for the school again. We zigged, zagged, back and forth in the same general area, but it didn’t help. We could see the bait, and even some fish, but we couldn’t buy a bite. Even the almighty Alabama Rig was inconsequential. Things just seemed to stop. Good thing we both had our limit by then!
With less than an hour to go, we tried one more creek on the way back. I saw Koby Krieger and Chad Prough in this creek as well, but they were much further back. Was there a shallow bite going on in the second half of the day? Who knows. I only caught one more bass that day, on a Gunfish, but it was too small.
With 10 minutes to go, we were strapped down and ready to head back. The motor would not start. Just a faint “click”… dead as a doornail. Now we’re getting nervous! Thank God Mike had a jumper cable. I frantically set it up and held it down, Mike turned the key, and the outboard sluggishly turned over and fired up. The batteries were drained from trying to stay on top of the fish all day.
On the way back, in Tennessee, we saw another competitor throwing 5 swimbaits on his Alabama Rig. That wasn’t the first time I saw that either! I just have to roll my eyes.
The Final Weigh-in
I was the 7th angler to weigh in. After the scales settled, I had 14-09 lb and jumped to 1st place by a decent margin! It felt pretty good for a while, but it only held up for another 6-7 anglers. I had my 15 minutes of fame, spoke to the crowd about the importance of treating fishing as an athletic sport… how we’re really athlete anglers… plugged FishStrong, etc…
I eventually slipped down to 2nd, and then finally settled in 3rd place… just 4-ounces behind 2nd place. Did the culling mistake hurt me? I can’t complain. I moved up 11 places and felt really blessed for such a strong finish. I was going to get a nice check for my hard won efforts.
Keys to Success
Using a color with a hint of chartreuse and slow rolling were the keys to catching my sack. When bait is abundant, you have to get the lure down to the level of the fish. It’s gotta be in their face. Why should they chase your offering if the real thing is right in front of them?
Also, “matching the hatch” can go too far when you’re trying to match a million examples of the real thing. Why do you want to blend in here? I believe I caught more than my boater simply because my bait stood out more without looking too unnatural.
That’s it!! You made it through all four parts! Thanks for reading! I hope you were able to take away at least a couple lessons from this and using it towards your fishing success.