I circled the Table Rock tournament on my calendar months ago — I know the lake well and I tend to produce good results there. Of course, this being tournament fishing, there’s always a curveball and this time it was rising water. I’d never experienced those conditions there this time of year, so I tried to keep abreast of how things were changing as practice progressed.
My practice period was divided among three different areas. I spent the first day up the James River, where I caught a quality bag of fish. Then the next day I went up the White River, where I did terribly. On the third day I stayed midlake, the area I know best and where I figured I’d probably spend the tournament. I didn’t get the big bites there that I’d had up the James, but the numbers were strong, so I figured that was my best bet.
As practice progressed, the fish were moving up onto their spawning beds pretty consistently, but after a long period of rising water the level had peaked and was starting to fall a bit. I noted that happening, but might not have considered it fully.
The first day of the tournament I messed around with a number of different techniques, starting with a Lunker Lure buzzbait which produced four or five fish. When that bite tapered off, I flipped a Sweet Beaver and a Lunker Lure jig and finished off my limit real quick. I didn’t have a kicker, though. With a 3:30 weigh-in, I needed to make something happen, so at 1pm I pulled into a new area with some deeper bushes. It was dead calm, so even though I couldn’t see the beds, it was pretty obvious where they’d be. Between 1 and 3:30 I absolutely crushed them. I probably caught 25 fish in that time span, but they were all cookie cutters, and while I culled up to 14-13, I couldn’t improve as much as I needed. In the end, I weighed in one smallmouth, one spot and three largemouths.
In order to make a jump into the Day Three cut, I’d have to bag an 18-20 pound limit, which requires good decisions and flawless execution. Most importantly, it requires that you not waste any time. I considered going up the James when we launched on Day Two, but those big fish had been staging in pre-spawn areas and I felt like they’d probably moved since I’d been up there. That would force me to relocate them. Accordingly, I made the commitment to spend my long day on the water searching out new areas in the general zone where I’d spent Day One.
Once again, I started with the Lunker Lure buzzbait, but I couldn’t tempt anything with it. I eventually moved to the flipping stick and it took me until about 1pm to amass a limit, and even then it was less than 10 pounds. The water had fallen too much and the easy fish were gone. On top of that, more and more competitors were moving into the area. I needed to make a move, so I backed off to the secondary points and started cranking with a Bandit 200 crankbait. On my fourth cast, I caught a 5-pounder. Then I moved and culled with a smallmouth. When I moved again, I lost a big largemouth.
Clearly I had made the right decision – I just made it too late. I’m confident that if I’d cranked all day long I could’ve made the cut, but it was too little, too late.
Making it even worse, on the second day I fell out of the boat. I was flipping and had just caught a fish when my next flip wrapped around the top part of the bush. I wanted to get my tungsten weight back, so I leaned in, the branch broke, and suddenly I was swimming in Table Rock. That’s the first time it’s ever happened to me and I hope it’s the last. Fortunately I had on wicking fabric shorts and t-shirt, so I was dry again pretty quick.
Next up is Beaver Lake. My track record there is 50/50. I like it, but I’ve never fished there in the post-spawn, and I’m pretty certain that’s what we’re heading into. My best guess is that it’ll be a diverse bite and in order to win you won’t be able to do any one thing. I’m hoping there will be a good deep bite, and I know which end of the lake I’m likely to concentrate on, but it won’t take too long to figure out if my hunches are right. If nothing else, I hope to stay dry in the boat this time.
41st place; 10 fish, 28-07