2018 Bassmaster Classic
13th Place | 15 fish, 52-06
I’ve fished about a dozen tournaments at Kentucky Lake over the years, some as late as the fall, but never before June. I’d always heard about the great shallow bite in April and May, with stories about finding 50 bass in every pocket, and I was ready to check that out. Needless to say, it didn’t turn out quite to be quite that good. Nevertheless, it was a change from our typical ledge fishing events, which tend to group up the bass but they also group up the anglers. This time we were going to be able to spread out.
When practice started the lake was a little bit over full pool but it was dropping quickly and it started off slow for me. I looked for a shad spawn early and couldn’t find any, so it was slow the first few hours, but finally I found a few small ones, and eventually I caught one that weighed about 4 ½ pounds After that I hooked into a couple that felt to be in the 3- to 4-pound range, and even though I didn’t boat them it started to give me a clue as to what was going on.
On the second day of practice I looked for a shad spawn once again and I found some in the hard cover spots where you’d normally expect that to be going on. They weren’t big, maybe 2 to 2 ½ pounds, but I landed a few to get the day started. Later I caught a 3 pounder out of a bush and had one more bite, but that was about it. It got really hard. That’s typical of a shad spawn bite – it can often be lights out first thing and you can limit out in a matter of minutes, but then it can be terrible for a long time. With that in mind, I ran all the way to Barkley to check it out but didn’t manage to find anything I liked. All in all, it was a day with a lot of time behind the steering wheel.
On the third morning the shad spawn was going on everywhere. I’d catch one or two and then move to the next place. I had a limit quickly but only one of them was over 3 pounds, which cautioned me not to get sucked into that bite for too long. It would be a good way to catch 12 pounds, but it would also be possible to catch 20 fish and have very little to show for it. Still, the shad spawn is a pattern that I’m very comfortable with. Last year I fished it from Okeechobee to Arkansas, all the way from February to June, and I really got a good understanding of how to maximize it, so I was excited to get to fish it. When it works, you can fill the livewell by 7:30 or 8 o’clock, and that makes it easy for the rest of the day. In the afternoon I shook off a fish on a soft jerkbait that I’m pretty sure was on a bed, mentally marking the spot so I could come back and try again.
I started the tournament flinging a spinnerbait in the area where I’d caught my best fish in practice. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but I also jumped a good one off with that bait in practice. The bites came quick on tournament day, but when I 2 ½ pounder jumped and easily spit my spinnerbait, I decided I was done with that. I switched to a bladed jig and quickly caught a keeper and a short. Then I saw a fish swirl on some bait on top and I fired the bladed jig in there several times without a bite. I picked up my Terminator Pro’s Jig, cast it once, and caught the fish. That told me it was going to be my primary tool that day. I had a limit there pretty quickly, and culled once, but left with about 10 pounds.
I ran south to another area I wanted to fish. There was another boat there, but there was lots of good water to fish. I culled three or four times in a hurry, all about 2 ¼ to 2 ½ pounds. Then I hooked one and he got me hung in a rope. I had to move a lot of stuff to get the boat in there, and even when I got close I still had to lean over the trolling motor while keeping most of my weight in the boat, but the gymnastics were all worth it when I got my hands on that 5-pounder. After that I retied, settled back down, and cast back to the same spot I’d just blown out with my trolling motor. Miraculously there was a 4-pounder ready to pounce, which meant that I’d gone from 12 to 14 to 16 pounds in a hurry. I knew I could stay and cull more, but I wanted to save some of those fish for the weekend.
At about 9:30 I ran back to the fish I’d shaken off on the last day of practice. I couldn’t see if there was a bed there, and based on my past history it has rarely worked to shake a fish off and then catch it later, but it was worth a try. I pitched a Bass Pro Bull Hog creature bait to the general area along the corner of some riprap and then tried to drag it through where I thought the bed might be. After two or three pitches, I felt that telltale “thump.” I kind of hesitated, thinking, “Really? This never happens to me.” Then I drilled him. The fish jumped completely out of the water and I knew it was her. She was a little bit over 4 pounds, another good cull, bringing me up to over 18 pounds.
At that point I just went fishing for the rest of the day. I had a good bag and I was relaxed. Under overcast skies I went to a backwater searching for isolated good with my bladed jig. I quickly culled with a 2 ¾, and told my Marshal, “I guarantee you that one was on a bed.” Clearly, they were still spawning, and while I wasn’t sure how many of them would be big, I was going to find out. The shad spawn fish were mostly post-spawn, with a few pre-spawners mixed in, and this was a totally different group of fish. I ran that, hitting all the good-looking pockets and coves with the bladed jig, culling once more. By the time the clock expired, I had two 3-pounders caught on the bladed jig, a 4-pounder that had been bedding, a 4-pound pre-spawner caught around the shad spawn, and a 5-pound post-spawn fish also on the shad spawn. My 19-10 had me tied for 12th with David Walker.
On the second day I skipped the place where I’d caught my limit on Friday and went straight to where I’d caught my two biggest fish. The other boat who’d been in there had a good first day as well. He was the only boat I’d seen in there and I knew we’d respect each other, but when I showed up not only was he there, but there were four or five additional boats. There was enough room, but it was a little bit aggravating. I stayed long enough to catch my limit, and they included some 2 ½, 3 and 3 ¼ pound fish, but no fours.
By 8:30 I’d been through it all two or three times, and while I was still getting bites it had slowed down. There was another place down south that I hadn’t fished in practice, but I was pretty sure it was set up right to produce more quality fish. I caught a couple of small ones, then missed a 3 or 4 pounder, then caught one that culled by an ounce. Two casts later I caught a 4-pounder, my biggest fish of the day, and that made it worth the run. At 10 o’clock the bite totally died, which is about as late as you can expect it to go during a shad spawn. I stopped seeing both baitfish and bass. That’s a good tip for anyone fishing this time of year – when the shad stop following and bumping your bait on the way back to the boat, both the fish and the bait are gone. At that point I decided to go back to the bladed jig around spawning fish. I fished a lot of good looking coves and cuts without getting any bites. Then, with about an hour left, I missed one. After that I caught one around 2 ¾ pounds, which allowed me to cull up by about a ½ pound, and a few more that didn’t help, all on a Bass Pro Shadee Shad soft jerkbait (bubble gum candy).
With only one cull after 10 o’clock, I weighed in 16-03, and slipped a little down to 18th place. Skeet busted them pretty good, so while I was still within range of making the cut and figured that I need 18 pounds to make it to Day Four, it was going to take over 20 to really be in the hunt. I expected the morning to go well again, and assuming that to be the case I could move out in the afternoon and try to find a school of 5 and 6 pounders to make a charge.
I knew that the boat I’d been sharing my best area with was in the second flight on Day Three, so that gave me a 20-minute cushion to try something else and still beat him there. I detoured to the place where I’d started the first day, where I’d caught a big one in practice. I figured I’d spend 10 minutes there, then leave. I had one bite, it was small, and I lost him, so after 12 minutes I was gone.
Then I decided to run to where I’d started the first day, but the fog made that difficult It had been clear near take-off, but it was so socked in down south that even when I stopped one-tenth of a mile away from my waypoint I couldn’t see it. I eased on over, and couldn’t see anybody else, but I wasn’t certain they weren’t there. I started on a good stretch but it didn’t produce any bites. Then I moved and quickly caught a keeper, three shorts and another keeper. After that, I fooled a few more shorts, which surprised me because I hadn’t been catching short fish there. Then a 4-pounder decided to bite, which made me confident I’d made the right decision. As I idled over to where I’d caught the 5 and the 4 on the first day the fog lifted and I saw two or three other anglers in there with me. My spot was open, and when I got there it produced another 5. I’m still not sure why, but clearly something about that spot attracted bigger fish. Then I got behind another angler and finished my limit with a 2-pounder. I still had two bare keepers to cull, but I got rid of them pretty quickly.
Things were starting to look up, but then I had a 3-pounder eat at the boat and when I jerked he came off. Then a 4-pounder did the same thing. I made a bad cast over some cover, hooked another 3-pounder, but when I tried to lift him over he jumped off. Then it was over. At 9:28 I was still seeing shad, but at 9:30 it was like someone flipped a switch and they were done. So was my fishing. The smallest fish I had in the livewell was about 2-even. I thought about running the 10 or 15 miles to where I’d caught the 4-pounder the day before, but under bright, sunny skies I figured the shad wouldn’t be active there. With that decision made, I put my shad spawn rods away and pulled out my offshore rods to try that for a few hours. I’d bounced back to the bank occasionally, and I caught a few small one on a wacky worm there, but I never culled after 9 am. It just wasn’t meant to be. With 16-09 I missed the 12 cut by 1 ounce.
Despite the near miss, it was a good tournament from start to finish. I’m happy for my friend Wesley Strader and glad that he decided to come to BASS. His last tour-level win came in 2002 so I’m sure this meant a lot to him. He does things the right way, putting his time in, and it’s good to see a good guy do well.
Most of the fish I weighed in came on a ½ ounce white Terminator Pro’s Jig paired with a matching Swim-N-Elite Chunk. I fished it on a 7’1” medium-heavy Johnny Morris Platinum rod, which allowed me cast better than I could with a 7’6” model, I paired it with a Johnny Morris Platinum reel (8.3:1) spooled with 20 lb. XPS Fluorocarbon. I threaded the chunk on, cut a few strands off of the weed guard, and trimmed the skirt to make the whole thing cast better. I fished the Shadee Shad on the same rod and reel, except with 14 lb. XPS Fluorocarbon. I rigged it on a 3/0 VMC Heavy Duty Worm Hook.
The third bait that I relied upon was the Bass Pro Bull Hog in Okeechobee Craw, fished on a 4/0 VMC wide gap hook with a 5/16-ounce Swagger Tungsten weight. I fished that one on a 7’6” heavy action Johnny Morris Rod with that same 8.3:1 Platinum reel.
Next up is Lake Travis in Central Texas. It was the site of my first FLW Tour event in 2007, and I finished 6th using a float and fly. I recall it looking a lot like the East Tennessee lakes – deep and clear, with lots of fish. It was 45 to 50 feet low that year, and checking it out today I see that it’s only about 13 feet low, so it’ll be a much different playing field. When FLW was there last year they had flooded trees in the water so I’m guessing you’ll see some of that. I figure that 14 pounds a day will have you in pretty good shape, but I’m keeping an open mind. The season is still young and I’m in 20th place in the AOY race, so this tournament, like all of them, is super-important to keep the momentum going.