2014 Bassmaster Elite Series
Table Rock Lake
49th Place / 13 fish, 32-02
The White River lakes in the Ozarks are quite a bit like the lakes here in East Tennessee. Things change fast — one day it can seem like you have no clue and the next day you’re the smartest guy on earth.
I’ve fished plenty of high-level events on Table Rock and nearby lakes like Bull Shoals and Beaver, and my results have been all over the map. Four of those tournaments were on Table Rock, including a fall EverStart championship in which I finished 5th, as well as two March FLW Tour tournaments and a PAA event in October. In addition to the good finish in the EverStart, I’ve earned checks but I’ve also suffered through some tougher finishes.
The two spring events I fished on Table Rock were earlier than this Elite Series event, but after the particularly cold winter we’ve suffered I thought maybe that this one would fish similarly and I used that experience as a starting point. Most of the time I’ve gone up the James River arm, including in the EverStart, and I’m comfortable there, but the last FLW Tournament I fished here was won in Long Creek. In fact, several of the top finishers fished there, but I never did, so I thought it might be a good starting point for my practice.
Starting in Long Creek on the first day of practice, I caught a bunch of fish, but out of 21 fish landed only one was a keeper. I tried a lot of different things and none of them seemed to work. The one keeper that I caught was my shallowest bite of the day and it came on a spinnerbait. I fished moving baits all day and didn’t really see any reason to switch to slower lures, but I knew that I wasn’t on the right area.
The second day I went up into the familiar territory of the James River. I started in the clearer sections but didn’t really get any bites until there was a little bit of color in the water. After that, it was game on. There were a few stretches where I could get a bite on almost every cast. I ended up with 42 fish in the boat and nine of them were keepers. Unfortunately, there were no really good ones in the bunch – a few in the 2 ½ pound range, one that might’ve pushed three pounds. I was a bit baffled that I hadn’t come across some better fish, but after talking to several people I trust, including Andy Montgomery, I realized that a lot of people were going through the same thing. Still, I was pretty confident that if I went up there I could catch 10 or 12 pounds.
The next day I went up the James again, and started looking in the clearer water even though it hadn’t produced the prior day. It was a little cooler than the stained water, and in my experience when the fish are a little further along (as they’d be in the warmer water), the bigger ones tend not to bite. I might not get as many bites in the cooler, clearer water, but I felt that my chances of catching a good one were increased. If I could get something going with the potential for a few quality bites, with the insurance of a limit area nearby, I could live with spending a few hours chasing a kicker or two. Unfortunately it never happened. I stayed in the clear water until around 11 o’clock and didn’t start getting consistent bites until I got into the more stained water. That left me with no choice but to go up into the dirtier water on tournament day and catch as many fish as I could, hoping for a good one or two. I knew that 2 ½ pounders would be at a premium.
On the first tournament morning I headed straight to what had been my most productive bank in practice, producing three keepers and a bunch of shorts. The light switch was turned to “off,” though, and I caught only a single 8” spotted bass on tournament day. I fished around the corner and caught another about the same size before finally catching a lone keeper off of a secondary point. I was bouncing around, fishing places that looked good, but the action didn’t improve until the wind picked up. After that I could hit just about any nearby windy steep bank, particularly areas where the bluffs transitioned to rock or gravel, and expect to get a bite. The action was pretty consistent and there were quite a few keepers mixed in, mostly on a Wiggle Wart and a Rapala DT6. Out of 40 or 50 bass, perhaps a dozen were big enough to keep, but there were no good ones mixed in. It shocked me that I couldn’t tempt a single 3- or 4-pound bass. My 11 pounds put me in 67th place.
I wasn’t the only guy up in that part of the lake, and looking at the standings that night I saw that none of us did well. In fact, only one of the anglers fishing near me was in the top 50 – and he was in 50th! I’m sure the fish were up there, but they weren’t biting right so I had to make a switch. Heading into Day Two I totally scrapped my practice and Day One. There was a storm coming in and it was going to be cloudy and very windy. I’d just go fishing, hitting whatever looked good, and try to make a climb up the leaderboard. Even though I only had 11 pounds, one good bite on Day Two could vault me high up the standings.
On the first point I came to I got a bite on my first cast and lost it, but five minutes later I landed a chunky keeper that went straight into the livewell. Heading further down the bank I caught a short fish before hooking the one I’d been waiting for the whole time. When I landed her I thought she’d weigh around 4 ½ pounds and I was shocked to find out later that she was fat enough to push the scale to 6 ½. That was a difference maker. Shortly thereafter, I got in a hurry and lost one when I tried to boat-flip it, but a few minutes later I landed a keeper largemouth. In less than an hour I had two solid keepers and a big one.
The wind was howling, so much that I could barely stay in the boat. I have to rave about my Nitro Z9 and all of the components for a minute. While others got wet and beat up, my boat got me there and back dry and in one piece every day. That second day I was focusing on the areas with the biggest waves, where they were hitting the bank, and my Minn Kota with 112 pounds of thrust kept me in total control. The difference between that and 101 pounds may not sound like much, but it’s huge on a day like that, and my Lithium Pro Batteries never let up in the slightest. I rarely carry a drift sock anywhere but the Great Lakes, but by deploying my Talons halfway down, I could slow the boat down and control my drift just enough to keep my presentations precise.
Focusing on windy steep banks, I got bit almost everywhere I went. It wasn’t always more than one fish, but the places where they lived were pretty predictable. I had a limit by 10:30 or so, and my fifth fish was over 2 ½ pounds. I culled a couple of times over the course of the day, plus twice in the last hour. One of those last culls added about 4 ounces and the final one probably added about a pound. My bag weighed 17-02 and it moved me up 50 spots into 17th place. That was my “hero day” and it saved the tournament for me.
Where nearly everything went right on Day Two, on the third day I was doomed by one bad decision. With the water slicking off, I knew it would be tough, which meant that I should head back up to the dirtier water. After catching that big bag on Friday, though, I wanted to stay in Long Creek again. I figured that if I hit the dirtier sections of Long Creek that was my best bet and that kind of thinking burned me. I’m almost certain that if I’d gone up the James I could’ve caught at least 10 pounds, maybe as much as 13, which would have had me fishing Sunday. Instead, I stayed close and caught two small keepers. The Wiggle Wart didn’t work at all – I had to turn to a spinnerbait late in the day to catch the two fish that made it to weigh-in off of some boat docks.
One day you’re the windshield, one day you’re the bug. I guess that if I had to have a bad day I’m glad that it happened after I’d made it into the 50 cut, but I fell from 17th to 49th and losing all of those points hurts. Once you lose them, they’re gone forever. If I had it to do over again, I’d go up the James on Day Three, but hindsight is 20/20 and I have to learn from my decision.
Almost all of my fish the first two days came cranking, mostly on an old-school Wiggle Wart, as well as a few on a Rapala DT6. I fished a Phantom Green Wart in the clearer water and Natural Brown Craw in water with a little bit of stain, both on a Fenwick Aetos 7’6” medium-heavy moderate action rod, which I paired with a 5.4:1 Pflueger Supreme reel spooled with 10 lb. test Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon. The last day I salvaged a few points with a ½ ounce chartreuse and white willowleaf/Colorado Terminator Super Stainless spinnerbait, fished on a 7’ Fenwick Aetos medium-heavy fast action rod. I paired the rod with a 7.1:1 Pflueger Patriarch reel spooled with 15 lb. test Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon. My equipment never let me down, even if my decision making wasn’t perfect.
Now we have a few weeks “off” before heading to Toledo Bend. I’m in 17th in the Angler of the Year race and feel like overall I’m fishing well, but this break will allow me make sure that everything is in order. I’ll be plenty busy with photo shoots, filming for Bass Pro Shops and other obligations, and that won’t give me a chance to really think about Toledo Bend in depth until the event draws nearer. Being busy is good for me – it’ll allow me to keep my momentum up heading into the midpoint of the season. I’m ready to make a move up the standings.