5th Place / 20 fish, 56-11
Prior to BASSfest, I’d never seen or fished Lake Texoma. To be totally honest, I didn’t even know much about it because there hadn’t been any major events there in recent years. I looked up the results from last year’s EverStart tournament and the weights were fairly unimpressive, but beyond that and looking at Google Earth, my only research was to ask Edwin Evers a few general questions. I learned that it typically isn’t a lake where the fish go deep, and with the flooded conditions I planned to stay shallow if I could.
Practice started Sunday and the water continued to rise after coming up over 3 feet in the last week. There was all sorts of floating debris and cover in the water and while I have a lot of experience with water fluctuations at the lakes near home, our lakes rarely flood. With the little experience I had on flooded waters I knew that the fish usually prefer hard cover like docks, boat ramps and riprap.
I spent a good portion of the first day fishing the hard cover where I expected them to be, but had nothing to show for it. Then I went and flipped bushes for a bit and missed the few bites that I got. Finally I caught one little smallmouth on a DT6. The day was essentially a scratch. That didn’t bother me too much, though, because I knew that conditions were changing rapidly and if I kept my head in the game I could probably figure something out.
On the second day of practice I started on some docks and got a few bites early swimming a white Terminator jig. I caught one keeper spot and then missed or shook off five more. Then I went flipping and got some more bites. They were mostly in main lake oriented areas and particularly in areas with sparser bushes. When I’d find a narrow strip of them sitting in 8 feet of water no more than one or two pitches off the bank I could usually get a bite, and some of them felt pretty decent. After a tough first day, by the end of the second day I was confident that I had two decent things going.
On the final day of practice I started on some docks once again but this time I didn’t get bit, so I quickly switched to my flipping pattern and over the course of the day I managed four or five fish. That was the end of my practice and I was pretty locked into two techniques in a limited number of areas. It was pretty tough overall and I was going to be thrilled just to catch a limit. I figured that even 8 to 10 pounds would be a fair catch. At the same time, the water had crested on the second day and had started to fall, so things were only going to get better.
On the first day of the tournament I started on a community dock area that had two main parts – one with six slips and one with 12 slips. I made it all the way around the first one without getting a bite, and then made it almost to the end of the second one before finally hooking a 12 inch smallmouth that jumped and came off. I knew there were fish there and was surprised that I hadn’t gotten more bites, so I turned around to fish them again. Pretty quickly I caught a 2 ¼ pound meanmouth (that’s a smallmouth/spot hybrid). It was the second biggest fish I’d caught since I’d been there, so I figured I had my kicker out of the way.
I continued fishing around the docks and put three more keeper spots in the livewell. As the sun got up, it seemed to get better. There was a little bit of a shad spawn going on, but because there was so much bait in the water they weren’t really chasing. All of the fish that I caught had full bellies, but they weren’t keyed in on the spawning baitfish. I left with four in the livewell.
I moved a few coves up to another set of docks and missed a few bites before finally putting number five in the livewell, a 3 pound spot. Then I hooked one that felt heavy, but it had my line over a metal corner and broke me off. I sat down, tied on a new jig, skipped it out and quickly set the hook on a 5 pounder, which was a giant in this tournament. It was 9:30 in the morning and I had three good ones in the livewell plus two keeper spots. I was cooking with gas and made the decision to lay off my docks.
Moving to my flipping bushes, I caught a 2 ¼ pound smallmouth, which gave me all four species in the livewell (largemouth, smallmouth, spot, meanmouth), plus a bonus keeper spot. In the next pocket I culled out the small spot and started running isolated willow trees and buck brush. Pretty quickly I caught a 3 ½ pound largemouth which helped quite a bit.
At 1:30pm I flipped my Berkley Havoc Change Up (paired with a punch skirt) into an isolated willow and brought out a 4 ¾ pound largemouth to cull up yet again. I managed a few more small keepers over the course of the day, but none that would help. Still, I was extremely satisfied. I went into the day not sure that I would catch a keeper, and certainly not five, and I ended up with 12 to 15 of them, including a few good ones. It was a blessing that it all came together at the right time and my 18-05 had me in 4th place.
They put a live camera in my boat for Day Two and I elected to start on the same row of docks that had produced the prior morning. Once again, I didn’t get a bite until I got to the end, at which point a 2 ½ pound smallmouth rocked my jig and then came off. I fished that stretch two times before catching a 3 ½ pound largemouth and a keeper spot. Then I moved to the other community dock and I got some bites there, but I couldn’t get them into the boat. There were a few other single docks nearby, so I moved to them and caught a couple of keepers, which enabled me to leave with four.
There was a main lake point nearby that had produced for me in practice, and this time a willow tree at the end yielded me a 2 ½ pound meanmouth, filling out my limit. Around noon I caught a couple of keeper spots to cull, then moved to the docks and culled again with a 2 pounder. At that point I wanted to go to some good bushes up the lake, but the falling water had muddied things up so I started fishing new stuff instead. I caught a small spot that helped a little, and a few bushes later caught a 2 ¾ pounder. I rerigged, and even though I hadn’t caught two out of the same bush yet, I flipped back in and one about 2 ½ pounds swirled on top and ate it. That wrapped up my day with a 12 pound limit, which dropped me two spots to 6th place. It was a lot tougher on a lot of guys, but I still knew I’d need to do well on Day Three to make it to Championship Sunday.
I felt like 10 pounds on Friday would give me a shot at the twelve cut and 12 pounds would almost certainly get me there. I hadn’t made a regular season Elite Series final cut since 2013, so I really wanted to make it. Once again I started on my docks with the white jig, but this time I didn’t get so much as a peck. I switched to a small swimbait on a spinning rod and it was like someone flipped a light switch. Right away I caught one around 2 pounds, then a couple of keepers, then one around 1 ¾ pounds.
With those fish in the livewell, I switched to flipping and went a long time throwing that punch rig without a bite. I switched to the swimbait and caught some small fish – all between a pound and a pound and a half – but I knew I had to change things up to make it to Sunday. Late in the day I went to the other arm of the lake to some new water, and picked up a new flipping rod with a 6 inch straight-tailed worm on it.
On the next point I probably had 10 bites on the worm, after barely getting bit on the Change Up. Unfortunately, only one smallmouth helped. Luckily I still had time to fish the point where I’d caught the good meanmouth the day before. With 9 or 10 minutes left in the day (and a 3 minute run back to weigh-in), I flipped the worm into a willow tree and caught a 4 pounder. That gave me a nearly 3 pound cull, bringing me up to 11-05, and got me into the cut. It was a key fish at a critical time, and it was just an awesome feeling to swing it over the side.
After the day off, I was in 9th place headed into the final day of competition. I figured that that there might eventually be a good topwater bite and my docks would reload, so I was excited. I started on the docks and quickly caught a 3 pound smallmouth. On the next cast I caught a 2 pounder and that was it. I didn’t want to waste too much time there so I elected to try some new places. I cranked a windy nearby bank and quickly caught a 2 pound smallmouth on a Storm square bill.
After flipping with no success for a while I took a ride up the lake and pulled into a bank to fish some willows. Glancing back in the other direction I saw a mud line with some bait flipping and quickly ran over there with my crankbait. On the first laydown I came to I caught a 2 pound spot, and then on the next laydown I caught its twin. At that point I had a limit with no small fish in it. I culled once on that bank but after 30 or 40 minutes the bite died.
I spent most of the rest of the afternoon bouncing from one good looking point to another, trying to take advantage of places where there was current and a little breeze. I caught a few fish, but only culled once, with a bass in the 2 ¾ pound range. Fortunately, at the very end of the day I hit what turned out to be my best spot of the tournament. I flipped in my punch rig and as I lifted it from the water a fish rolled on it and ate it and I swung in a 4 ¾ pounder. Then I culled a few more times and that wrapped it up.
With 15-01 on the final day I moved up four spots into 5th to end the tournament, which was way better than I would’ve expected during practice. I’m proud of this finish because I never got locked into any one tactic or area. I had the docks that were productive on Days One, Two and Four, producing some critical weigh fish, but I didn’t live and die with them.
Two techniques produced the majority of my fish. The first was a white ½ ounce Terminator Pro Jig paired with a swimming style chunk. I fished it on a 7’6” Fenwick World Class medium-heavy rod, a Pflueger Patriarch (7.9:1) and 17 lb. test Trilene 100% fluorocarbon. The second bait was a green pumpkin Havoc Change Up fished behind a ½ ounce Reins Punch Shot weight and a Texas Craw punch skirt on a 4/0 VMC Heavy Duty Wide Gap worm hook. I’d dip the tails of the Change Up in just a little bit of orange dye. I fished that one on a Fenwick 7’8” Fenwick World Class heavy action rod paired with the same reel and 20 pound Trilene 100% fluorocarbon.
Two good finishes in a row pushed me up into 20th place in the AOY standings as we head into the northern swing of the schedule. I feel like I’m fishing well, and managed to turn tough practices into solid events. Of course, you’d rather feel like you have things figured out during practice, but that alone doesn’t pay the bills. I’ve stayed level headed and adapted to changes. If I can carry that through the rest of the year, I feel like things should continue to go well.