Bassmaster Northern Open
1st Place / 15 fish, 62-05
Any time I have an opportunity to fish a major event on Douglas I’ll do whatever I can to be there. It’s where I spent a lot of my formative years of fishing and it has been very good to me in competition. It was a little bit odd to see it on the Northern Open schedule, but I understand why BASS did that and it didn’t hurt my feelings one bit.
This time of year I know 20 or 30 places where the fish should be hanging out. As a result of the unusually cold winter, I expected that it might be a little bit off, but I still figured they’d be located predictably. That meant primarily post-spawn areas, which in turn meant that I didn’t need to practice on a lot of that.
My familiarity with the lake allowed me to stay away on Memorial Day, which was good because I had absolutely no interest in going out in that zoo. Instead I took my son and one of my daughters to the Holston River to fish for smallmouths. I wouldn’t have accomplished anything on Douglas so that was a better use of my time.
I wasn’t 100 percent sure that I’d go out on Tuesday, either, but after waiting out a storm in a friend’s camper I finally hit the lake at around 8:30 and fished the upper half. I spent a lot of time idling and graphing and just a little bit of time fishing. When I did fish, at one point in the course of four casts I had four bites, including a 4 ½ pounder that I landed. I got bit pretty regularly in some other places, too, to the point where I felt that 15 to 17 pounds a day would be pretty doable up there.
On Wednesday a friend who was fishing as a co-angler joined me and we fished the lower end of the lake. We caught a few fish but there was extremely heavy pressure. There are lots of good fishermen and the modern map chips show a lot of detail, so much of the good stuff was consistently covered up. I decided that my plan would be to start above Dandridge, catch 15-17 pounds, and then come down to look for a few big bites.
Day One went better than planned. On my first spot I caught three fish up to 3 pounds. Then on the next place I caught five or six more, including one almost 5 and a few around 3. Then on the next place I added another one almost 5 pounds and a couple of 3-pounders. That meant that by 9:30 I had over 19 pounds. I figured I’d ride around a bit to see what was getting fished up there and then go down the lake. It was a good thing I put together that big bag early because I never landed another bass the rest of the day. I’m not quite sure why. I guess they just weren’t biting, but it told me that I didn’t need to bother with that part of the lake. I could write off everything from Dandridge down.
I was in 6th or 7th place, but not far out of the lead. Nobody had 24 or 25 pounds like I expected, so if I could average 18 or 19 I felt that would give me a pretty good shot of winning. On the second day my starting spot was covered up and a couple more spots produced nothing. It was a lot tougher, especially in the morning. My first five fish might’ve weighed 10 ½ or 11 pounds and it took me until 10:30 to get them.
Finally I told my co-angler that we were going up the river to an area where I didn’t expect to see any boats. I started flipping my Terminator Jig and my first fish was over 5 pounds. Then I caught a 3 ½ and a 4, which took me from 11 pounds to 19 pounds in an hour. I’d been doing it to salvage the tournament and it ended up turning things around completely. I was leading after the second day.
Since there were only 12 of us the last day I could start wherever I wanted. I had a spot where I’d seen some fish busting, but I couldn’t get them to bite. Then I hit some deep places and didn’t catch anything on them, either. The one thing I had going for me was that it had been really foggy running up, so I lost my spectator boats, which allowed me to move around more easily. Finally I got a bite on my square bill, a solid 3-pounder, but it came off at the boat. Then I finally put a 4 pounder in the boat before jumping off a 2 ½. When I finally left that spot I had three or four, but they didn’t come easy. I worked my way down the lake cranking and finally caught my fifth fish out of a group of schoolers, but it was only 12 ½ inches. Once I’d worked as far down as I wanted to go I turned around and started back up, hitting places I hadn’t fished earlier in the week. I caught 8 or 9 more, including one over 4 pounds.
At that point I had a decent limit, including two good ones, but I didn’t feel comfortable, so I went back to my starting spot where they like to school. I quickly got a 4 pounder to eat my crankbait, but it jumped and threw it. I was getting good bites, but couldn’t get the good ones in the boat.
There was one rock pile where I consistently saw bass chasing bait. Once I got positioned correctly, it was lights out – my co-angler and I just blistered them. Most were smallmouths, which have to be over 20 inches and you can only have one of them – but there was the occasional largemouth, too. Eventually I caught a big smallmouth but I didn’t have a measuring board. I had marked a place on my ORCA cooler and it was too close to call. Sometimes I could get it to touch and sometimes I couldn’t. I culled a few more times before finally catching a 5 pound largemouth. At that point, I knew that I had over 20 pounds even without the smallmouth. It may have cost me a pound and a half, but I felt like it made sense to let the big brown fish go. At that point there was still time to fish and I caught my biggest one at the end of the day to really give me a big bag.
It was just a special day. My co-angler had his three-fish limit for over 11 pounds and my five weighed 24-01. Everything didn’t go according to plan, but at the same time it was so much fun figuring out exactly the right cast and getting the one quality bite after another. I probably caught 45 or 50 fish and I lost a bunch more. Winning any time is great, but doing it in front of your friends, family and hometown crowd is especially meaningful. For the next week, I couldn’t go anywhere without getting congratulated and it was all very rewarding.
I couldn’t have done it without a perfect set of equipment. On the first day I primarily cranked a Rapala DT16 (Caribbean Shad) on a 7’8” medium-heavy Fenwick Elite Tech Bass rod paired with a Pflueger Supreme and 10 lb. test Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon. On the second day, my key bait was a ½ ounce Terminator Flipping Jig (Texas Craw) with a green pumpkin chunk. I fished it on a heavy-action 7’5” Elite Tech Bass rod with a Pflueger Patriarch (7.9:1) spooled with 30 lb. test Trilene braid with a 20 lb. test Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon leader.
On Day Three when I put together the monster limit my best lure was a Storm Arashi square bill (silver/black) fished on a 7’2” medium-heavy Fenwick HMG paired with a Pflueger Supreme XT and 15 lb. test Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon. The way the current was coming across, I was winding it as fast as I’ve ever reeled a crankbait. I was winding it so fast, in fact, that I had to take a break every 10 minutes or so, and still they’d have it in the back of their throat.
Next up is BASSfest at Chickamauga. With a Classic berth in hand and good position in the AOY race, I feel it’s time to take some chances and really get after it in the remaining few events. This win was exceptionally gratifying and I want to build upon this bit of momentum.