2016 Bassmaster Classic
25th Place / 11 fish, 26-02
I’d had a good tournament the last time that Grand Lake was the Bassmaster Classic venue, and I feel like I have a good understanding of the lake, but I knew that I’d need to adjust if I was going to match or improve upon my 11th place result from 2013. They’d had a lot of rain in the fall and that changed the water color and water level throughout the lake.
I felt like I had a pretty good understanding of how water moves through that system and expected it to have run its course by the time we arrived. What I didn’t take into account is that Grand doesn’t have a continuous flow like many of our Tennessee lakes. As a result, the lower end of the lake was far dirtier than I planned for, and the temperatures hadn’t quite risen as expected. I figured that the temperatures would be in the high 40s at the start of practice and in the low 50s by the time we fished, so it was a little surprising on the first day of practice to find 44 degree water at the ramp.
That first day of practice I launched in Wolf Creek and fished the lower end of the lake, where the water was quite dirty. Fishing a long hard day, I only managed to put two bass in the boat. One was a bare keeper and the other one was over 5 pounds, and they both ate a #5 Shad Rap. Had we been fishing for drum I would’ve had a pretty good limit, though, with my best five well over 17 pounds. I was pretty disappointed.
The next day I fished up lake, including in Honey Creek, and the water looked better. It was also a little bit warmer. While I didn’t catch any big bass, I had 6 or 8 bites and landed 5 keepers, including a couple in the 2 ½ to 3 pound range. Once again, they all came on crankbaits.
On Sunday I fished up the lake and once again didn’t generate too many bites. I had one 3 pounder in an area where I did well last time we visited Grand. Near the end of the day I found a few pockets where the wind was blowing the shad into 52 degree water. I could see fish blowing up on them, and while I didn’t catch any I figured that things were getting ready to happen.
After two days off the water, Wednesday was the official last day of practice. I headed right back to the pockets where I’d seen the activity but the wind had changed direction and the temperature had dropped – the shad were gone. I spent most of the day up the lake tightlining and cranking and ended up with 8 or 9 keepers, but once again no big ones. With practice done, I didn’t think catching 12 to 14 pound limits would be particularly tough, and with a few breaks I felt that I could catch more.
On the first morning of the tournament I started right by the ramp in a spot where I’d done well on the second day of practice and then caught a keeper there on Wednesday. To be honest, I felt that it would be no problem to catch a limit there, but I only managed one bite and just half stuck him before he got off. What was the difference? I had expected 50 boats to go flying by, but not the 150 that showed up. I was taking waves over the front of the boat and there’s no question that all of the activity messed them up. It would have been smarter to start elsewhere.
With nothing to show from my starting spot, I headed up the Elk River where I’d had a few bites on Wednesday. On the first bank, I caught a short and missed a fish. On the next bank, I landed a few more shorts. Finally, I threw a Terminator jig into some wood behind a dock and landed my first keeper. I’d landed a short fish on the jig right before that. Even though those were the first fish I’d caught on a jig, the conditions were perfect for it and I figured that I had the start of a pattern, but it didn’t continue after that.
Fishing my way out of the Elk, I hit a steep bluff bank where I’d caught a couple of keepers on Wednesday, one on a Wiggle Wart, the other tightlining. On the second tree I caught one close to 4 pounds on a tightlined Berkley Gulp Minnow, which is pretty good for that technique. That was about 10:30, and I figured that maybe I was onto something, but after another hour of fishing it I didn’t have any more bites so I scrapped it and ran back down the lake to a riprap point between some docks that I’d seen in practice. Pretty quickly I caught my third keeper on a Shad Rap, but that too fizzled out, so I went back to my starting bank and managed a couple of short fish but no more keepers.
At one point I threw my Terminator jig into a thick laydown and as I worked it to the end a 3 or 4 pounder rolled on my line that was draped over a limb. I pulled my jig up to the limb, shook it a few times, and when it loaded up I set the hook and totally whiffed. It was a good fish, so that really hurt.
With time dwindling I ran down the lake to the more colored water, to a pocket with a number of dock and a steep rocky bank. When I got to one dock I threw my Terminator jig over a walkway and got a solid bite, but I was out of position and the fish came off. Eventually I caught keeper number four on a Terminator spinnerbait and with an hour left to fish I was desperate to catch one more keeper. I remembered a good pocket up the lake with a rocky point on the end of it and when I got there I caught my fifth keeper on a #6 Shad Rap before running out of time.
I was thrilled to have five bass for a little over 11 pounds, but I caught them on five different baits, which doesn’t inspire much confidence. I wasn’t out of it completely, but I hadn’t learned anything about what the fish were doing.
On Day Two I figured I’d just go fishing for the first couple of hours and see where the day would take me. I started where I’d ended on Day One and then bounced around, trying a number of different things. Finally I made the decision to run back to the pocket by the ramp, and as I made the 10 minute drive I started to think about how all of my crankbaits had been some variation of a craw color. When I arrived, I decided to change it up and tied on a Rapala DT6 in Disco Shad. Within 5 minutes I caught a keeper. A few minutes later I caught a second one. When I got to the end of the bank it got shallower and I tied on a similarly colored flat-sided bait that didn’t dive as deep as the DT6, and then I caught keeper number three. It felt like I’d figured something out, but after running some more banks with nothing to show for it I returned and caught number four. That was the fish that pushed me into the cut for Sunday, but I could never finish off my limit.
Heading into Sunday in 22nd place, I knew I’d need a big bag to make any sort of meaningful difference in my final placement, so I elected to fish an altogether different area down the lake. It had been good to me in 2013, but I hadn’t looked at it in nearly a week. When I got to the pocket that produced best last time, I got out a square bill and within 5 minutes caught a bass close to 4 pounds. Unfortunately, I still hadn’t figured anything else out and never got another bite on that lure.
Finally at about noon I got disgusted by the muddy water and ran back up the lake to a long bluff up the lake with a number of short pockets off of it. That’s the type of place where we catch them at home under those conditions. I pulled out a jerkbait and right inside the point of one of the pockets I hooked a 3 or 4 pounder, only to have it pull off. Then I caught two drum. In the next pocket, just inside the point I caught a 2 ½ pounder. I figured I had something going on, but with only an hour and a half left to fish I simply ran out of places to fish. All of the other short pockets I could find had two much downed wood. There were no more good ones between me and the boat ramp, so even though I’d figured a little something out, I didn’t have anything else that fit the pattern. I weighed in my two bass and ended up 25th overall.
Because I caught my fish on such a wide variety of baits, it’s hard to narrow down my tackle selection from this tournament, but the majority of the bass I weighed in came cranking on Fenwick Lunker Stik cranking rods, both 6’8” and 7’3” medium-heavy models. It’s a fiberglass rod, but unlike the old glass rods it’s not heavy at all. I paired them with Pflueger Supreme XT baitcasting reels (6.4:1) spooled with 10 to 15 pound test Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon.
Another piece of equipment that really stood out for me was my new Humminbird Helix 12s. The lineup is so great, and I’ve had a lot of questions about why I switched from the higher-priced Onix units. The truth is that they’re every bit as good and at a lower price they should sell a ton of them.
Now it’s on to the start of the Elite Series season and I’m ready to get after a berth in next year’s Classic. I consider Edwin to be a friend, and he’ll be a great champion, but seeing a friend win makes you want that to be you on the stage holding up the trophy.