2015 Bassmaster Elite Series
17th Place / 15 fish, 59-03
I have quite a bit of tournament experience on Kentucky Lake over my years on the water, including one FLW Tour event, a number of local and regional championships, and numerous weekend events. The Tennessee River usually treats me pretty well, and in June it is rightfully known as the greatest ledge lake in the United States.
Despite all of those positives, my practice this year wasn’t up to par. You usually need six, eight or even ten schools of quality fish to be competitive out there. On the first day I found three good schools. On the second day I found one more good school, but on the third day I really didn’t find any. I felt that all of the ones I’d found had the potential to produce a 20 pound bag, but I didn’t know if I’d have any of them to myself. I’d spent a pretty significant amount of time looking for off-the-wall stuff with those concerns in mind. It’s a good way to win, but it can also eat up a lot of practice time with little benefit if you’re not careful.
While Kentucky Lake’s ledge fishing is usually done fairly deep, most of what I found was comparatively shallow, less than 10 feet deep, and on the first day of competition I went to one group north of the ramp that was in less than 5 feet. In seven casts I had a limit, including one 4-pounder. The rest were under 3 pounds apiece. Then I cast out my Terminator Football Jig and caught one about 6 pounds, which brought me up to somewhere between 17 and 18. Shortly thereafter a 10-inch Power Worm produced another one over 4 pounds, which put me right at 20.
I’d had a late boat number and no one had been on the spot when I got there. No one tried to get on it while I fished, either, so I felt like it was a safe bet that I’d have the area to myself. With that in mind, 20 minutes into the day I decided to save those fish for later. I ran south and tested out a couple of places without success. I ran into Andy Montgomery, who only had two fish but they were both good ones. Finally I hit another group of fish and caught six or eight from the school but none of them culled.
There was a place I wanted to hit but when I passed it there were a few boats within sight of it. Later I ran by it again and they were still close enough to see me if I stopped on it, so I went elsewhere. I had a 2 ¾ pound fish that wasn’t doing very well. It had engulfed my DT6 down to the gills and I knew that it would be touch and go. Finally I got to an area where I caught three fish over 3 ½ pounds each in short order on a DT10, which allowed me to cull the struggling fish out.
At that point I changed to an even deeper-diving crankbait. On my first cast I missed a fish but my next cast produced a 4 ½ pounder, which put me in the range of 23 pounds. I didn’t know if that would be in the top ten, but I suspected at the worst it would be pretty close. That made me happy. I needed to save that place so I took it easy for a while and fished very little for the rest of the day, except for guarding that spot. I slid out deeper and managed to catch my best fish of the day, a 7-pounder. Obviously the day went better than expected. It was one of those days when it felt like I couldn’t do anything wrong. I was leading with 26-07, and it seemed like adding 20 to 22 pounds a day wouldn’t be terribly hard.
On Day Two, I started in the place I had guarded for so long on Day One, and couldn’t get anything going. The fish were gone for reasons that still remain a mystery to me. I had one bite on a swimbait on my second pass. He missed it and that was it. It was done for the tournament.
At that point I ran 20 miles north to my Day One starting spot. This time it started off poorly there, with several missed strikes, but gradually I put three small keepers totaling about 8 pounds into the livewell. At that point I decided to scrap my plan, head back south and just go fishing. In fact, my fourth keeper came flipping a duck blind.
Eventually I found another offshore group of fish in 8-10 feet of water and I caught four keepers there, including one about 4 ½ pounds. At a nearby creek mouth, I caught another one that weighed about the same, which brought me up near 15 pounds. After my two best spots produced only three small keepers, I’d salvaged the day. It was a struggle, but I avoided a total train wreck and ended up with 18-02, which had me in eighth place. We had Friday off for the “Second Chance” tournament. That gave me time to regroup and hope that the fish would help me out on our third day of competition.
On Saturday, I started on my Day One starting spot and once again it proved to be frustrating. I caught a keeper on my first cast on a DT6 and figured that I was back in business. On both my third and fourth casts I got strikes, but it both cases the fish came off. On my sixth cast, a fish hit it but didn’t get hooked. Then it was over. I’d had the opportunity to have a good start but I’d botched it.
At that point I started fishing my way down the lake. I stopped on the spot where I’d caught three on the second day and caught one about 2 ¼ pounds. As I was coming back, I hit a spot right next to the creek channel where I’d caught a 4 ½ pounder on Day Two. As I idled in, I saw that Brandon Lester was sitting there. He had already seined the area pretty well, but he advised that I throw my dropshot in there and I managed to catch another keeper.
The fish weren’t coming up schooling, but occasionally you’d see two or three gizzard shad skipping across the surface, running for their lives. When that happened and I was within range, I threw in and quickly got bit. It felt like I stuck him good and he was stripping drag, then suddenly he pulled off. I still have no idea what happened, but I’m sure it was a big fish and that was pretty upsetting. At that point I still only had three bass for around 6 or 7 pounds.
I moved to another deep creek channel where I’d had one good bite in practice. As I pulled up I could see the fish on my sonar and pretty quickly I caught a 3 ½ pound and a 2 ½ pounder to fill out my limit. Then I picked up the big spoon and landed another one that weighed about 3 pounds, allowing me to cull. That was the end of it. I weighed in 14-10 and dropped out of the top 12, to 17th overall. It hurt not to fish that last day, but after the start to the season that I had, I feel good about the way I’m fishing overall.
I used a wide variety of tackle for my second consecutive 17th place finish. In fact, on the first day of competition I weighed in five fish on five different baits. My biggest fish came on a swimbait fished on a ¾ ounce jighead. My second biggest was on a ½ ounce Terminator football head jig in green pumpkin and orange with a Berkley Crazy Chigger Quad craw. The other three were on a jumbo crankbait, a Rapala DT6 (Rasta color) and a plum 10-inch Power Worm fished on a ½ ounce VMC Rugby Head.
On Day Two, one of the fish I weighed in came on a swimbait and the other four were on the big Power Worm. On Day Three I went back to mixing it up – two on a dropshot, one on the worm, one on a DT6 and one on a big flutter spoon. The 10-inch Power Worm was the most consistent producer. It’s one of my staples in any ledge event. I fished it on a 7’3” medium-heavy Fenwick Elite Tech rod and a Pflueger Patriarch (7.9:1) reel spooled with 30 pound Trilene braid topped off with a leader of 15 lb. Trilene 100% fluorocarbon.
The other key tools in this event were my Humminbird graphs. With a usable side-imaging range of over 100 feet I was able to see groups of fish that other people couldn’t. With my Humminbird 360 I could see the two good groups that I fished for on Day One as I fished for them. When they were gone, there was no doubt about it – it wasn’t that I was just unable to get them to bite. On top of all that, my Lakemaster chip is incredible. When key spots dry up it’s possible to simply run the lake and look for more places that fit a particular pattern.
After a tough start to the Elite Series season I’ve bounced back with three straight checks, including consecutive 17th place finishes. That has me in 15th overall in the Angler of the Year race. I’m happy to be in the position that I’m in, especially because two of the remaining three tournaments are smallmouth events, as is the AOY Championship. I’m hitting a stride at a good time and looking forward to the rest of the year.