2015 Bassmaster Elite Series
When we started the 2013 season on the Sabine River I finished 79th, which at the time was my worst Elite Series result. I’d locked myself into mediocre areas and as a result was unable to be competitive. This time I vowed to start the year off better and that meant expanding my search. I looked at places that were over 80 miles away from the launch, but of course that makes the practice period go by very quickly. Even if you’re in the truck heading from one ramp to another, it just eats up time when you feel like you should have a bait in the water.
Despite the hurried practice, I felt like I could have a better tournament this time around. Ideally, that would mean a high finish, or at least a check, but any improvement would be welcomed.
On the first day of practice I headed toward Taylor’s Bayou, where the tournament was won in 2013. There are two different arms up there – Taylor’s and Hildebrandt. I stayed there all day, had 8 to 10 bites, and maybe one of them was a keeper. After pulling off the water, I talked to a few guys who’d also fished in there and who I think are honest with me, and they agreed that it had been exceptionally tough. The water was dirty, so while I didn’t write it off completely, I didn’t intend to go back unless absolutely necessary, either.
With lots of water to cover on Day Two of practice, I traveled a long way east to an area that was full of local boats. I had a keeper bite or two, but it was nothing special. Meanwhile, I watched several of the locals catch fish and put them in their coolers. It was disheartening because I knew that the area had potential, but with all of that pressure it was going to be a grind. I needed to keep my head screwed on straight so I made a move.
After inadvertently stumbling into some private property areas and being told to leave, I moved to yet another area that produced a few keepers. The key spot was one really small area. If that’s where I went on tournament day after making a 70 to 80 mile run it might take 30 minutes to fish it all – and that’s if I went exceptionally slowly. I wasn’t sure if I could depend on that for the tournament.
On the final day of practice I fished another area where some competitors did well in 2013. I caught 4 or 5 shorts and had maybe 2 keeper bites, but it was the best thing I had going. While it wasn’t around the corner from the launch, it was only about a 40 minute ride, which is not bad by Sabine River standards. I loaded up at 10:30 and spent the rest of the day fishing near the ramp, which didn’t produce anything. I had one decent area and that was what I’d live and die with.
I was in the third flight on the first day of competition, which gave me a fairly long day. That was important after a two hour fog delay. It was also important because I wasn’t sure how the tide would affect the bite. In practice, I’d caught fish over there on a spinnerbait when the tide was up, which makes sense, but I sensed that I’d have to change up as the water levels moved. Within 10 to 15 minutes of arriving, I caught two shorts and then my first keeper. That settled my nerves quite a bit. After a few more short fish, I flipped up another keeper on a Berkley Chigger Craw. With two in the livewell, I then proceeded to lose a few fish, at least two of which I know were keepers.
As the tide got out my spinnerbait bite died and I had to slow down and flip to get them to eat. I was still getting lots of bites, but they were eating it funny, as spawning fish often do. Sometimes I’d set the hook and find nothing there. Other times I’d get my bait back and the legs or claws would be gone.
At one point I pitched my Chigger Craw to a log, got a bite and missed it. I rerigged and then caught the fish. By the time it got to be 12:30, the tide was most of the way out, so I switched to a weightless stick worm style bait and by 1:30 or so I had my limit. After catching a few more shorts, the tide was dead low and I found a 2 to 2 ½ pound fish sitting on a bed. I couldn’t get her to bite, but it made me feel like I had things figured out for the next day. Start with a spinnerbait, flip as the tide went down, then bring out the stick worm when the tide was all the way out.
On Day Two we had an even longer fog delay. Those 40 minutes sitting around waiting, combined with the fact that I was due in 20 minutes earlier, meant I had to make my time count. I knew the weights would go down and felt that I had plenty of fish left, so I wasn’t terribly worried.
I caught a few small fish on a spinnerbait, then an hour into the day caught my first keeper on the Chigger Craw around heavy wood. My second keeper came on a stick worm in an area where I knew some fish were spawning. Overall, though, they were biting funny, with lots of short strikes and fewer fish overall. Whereas I probably caught 25 fish total on the first day, with five keepers, on the second day I might’ve caught a dozen, with just two keepers.
With an hour left to fish I found a bass over 2 pounds sitting on a bed. I’d seen her run bait toward the bank the day before and she was committed. She’d leave, but always come back. If I threw my creature bait in the nest, she’d turn on it, but never really get it in her mouth. I must’ve fished for that fish for 45 minutes, with a bite every cast for the last 30, but I could never hook up. It was hard to leave, but eventually I had to go. With my Talons up, I made one last pitch, she struck, and…my bait came right back at me with no legs.
With that fish I would’ve made the cut easily, since I only missed it by a few ounces. In hindsight, I guess I should’ve kept moving and fished faster. It’s funny to write that, because normally we tell ourselves to slow down, but in this case I probably would’ve done better if I’d kept moving, because 90% of the fish I landed ate the bait immediately. I made it back to the weigh-in with five minutes to spare.
While it didn’t turn out exactly the way I wanted, I can’t be totally disappointed in this outcome. I finished better than I did in 2013, and with a break or two I could’ve done really well. I figured out how to use three different lures to keep the bite going throughout the day, adjusting to the conditions.
My spinnerbait was a ¼ ounce chartreuse and white double Colorado Terminator. I fished it on a Fenwick Elite Tech Bass 7’ medium-heavy rod paired with a Pflueger Patriarch (7.1:1) and 15 lb. test Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon.
When I flipped, I used a 4-inch black with red flake Berkley Chigger Craw on a 3/0 VMC Heavy Duty Wide Gap hook and a 5/16 ounce Reins tungsten weight. I fished it on a 7’5” Fenwick Elite Tech Bass rod paired with a 7.9:1 Pflueger Patriarch spooled with 20 lb. test Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon.
Finally, the junebug stick worm was threaded on a 3/0 VMC worm hook and fished on 15 lb. test Trilene Fluorocarbon. Once again I used the 7.9:1 Patriarch, but in this case the rod was a new one from Fenwick, a 7’1” medium-heavy World Class model. It’s going to be very popular.
Overall, I was surprised at how good the weights were on the Sabine, especially on the first day, but they’ll pale in comparison to what we see in a couple of weeks on Guntersville. I’m really looking forward to that one, especially after missing a check in the season opener. The Sabine has gotten me twice now, but the last time we were at Guntersville I had a strong tournament and I hope to be able to carry that momentum forward. I’m ready to get to work.