I didn’t have much prior experience on Old Hickory, so heading into this tournament I vowed to let the lake tell me how to approach it. I was in decent shape in the PAA points, and with the option to throw out my worst result, I could take a few chances. At this point, I’m extremely anxious to win one of these tournaments, but you have to see if you’re in position to go for the victory.
During practice, I spent half my time down lake and half my time up the river. Down lake I caught good numbers of fish, but the size was off – they were all one to two pounders. There was a pretty good topwater bite going on because of the shad and the bluegill spawns, so I felt I could rely upon that for an easy limit each day. Meanwhile, I spent parts of two separate days up the river, and was getting lots of bites there as well, but the size was much better, with a number of 2 ½ to 4 ½ pound fish in the mix. It was a flipping and pitching deal up there, which was a positive. On the negative side, it was a long run. Then again, I figured that would mean less pressure.
I had planned to start the tournament down lake, box a quick limit, and then run up the river to get some better bites, but an incoming cold front changed my plans. I knew it would kill the topwater bite, so I scrapped that idea and committed to the river. When I got there on the first day of competition, I still caught a pile of fish, but the bite went small. I ended up flipping up two keepers that averaged nearly four pounds apiece, and lost a third – with that fish I would’ve been right at 11 pounds, still in striking distance. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be, but it made my Day Two decision easy. I knew that if I could get five of those bites I’d have 15 to 18 pounds in the livewell, so there was no question of what I should do. An 8 to 10 pound limit wouldn’t move me up, so the choice to head back up there wasn’t really a gamble.
As it turns out, several of the top finishers, anglers including Dean Rojas, Greg Hackney and eventual winner Steve Kennedy, were also making the run up there. In fact, they were going past where I fished. It worked out for them, but others who gambled on the upriver section of the lake couldn’t make it happen.
On Day Two, my fish shrunk and I had two for just over three pounds. I lost another good one, but I can’t make any excuses and I have no regrets about my game plan. It was just one of those events where the cards didn’t fall into place. More than likely, it will turn out to be my throwaway tournament.
For what it’s worth, I caught just about all of my tournament fish pitching and flipping. They weren’t quite ready for the Lunker Lure jig, so I used a Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver in the California 4.20 color. I dipped the tails in JJ’s Magic dye in order to replicate the bluegills in the lake and I’m convinced that made a difference – the fish held on when they bit. A few more bit a tube, but the Beaver was my main tool.
We’re getting to the point in the season where we’ve been on the road for the better part of three months and it’s easy to get a little burned out. Sure, I could use a week or two off to regroup, but that’s not going to happen. Fortunately, our next event (this week) is on the Potomac, where I made the final day cut last year. It’s a fishery where there’s no question about fishing shallow versus deep. It’s a shallow power bite — you can leave the shakey heads at home. Actually, I didn’t use them at Old Hickory, either. I could have caught some fish on them there, but they wouldn’t have been the winning fish, so I elected to go big. At this point, there’s no reason to fish scared and I’ll go into the Potomac tournament with that same mindset