I entered this tournament committed to fishing deep the entire time. It’s something I’ve struggled with over the years, but if you’re going to do well consistently at Kentucky Lake in the summer, you have to bite the bullet and get it done. I might’ve fished shallow for 30 minutes over three days of practice, but that was all I allowed myself, and it appears that it was the right call. Even though I had a good event, in hindsight I feel like I had a legitimate shot to do a lot better.
My practice plan was to spend the first day south of Paris, Tennessee, near New Johnsonville, an area that’s produced a lot of the better catches in recent years. There was a Triton Owners Tournament down there with over 300 boats the day before, so I knew that if I could catch them in the immediate aftermath of that event it would likely only get better as the week went on. I fished deep and would’ve ended up with around 12 pounds. There were a couple of places where I could catch some fish relatively quickly, but I couldn’t get anything going in the grass and never had a big bite.
The second day I focused on the north end of Kentucky Lake. If I caught them well up there, I’d spend the third day there, too. If the south proved to be better, that would give me another day to explore down there and narrow down my options. The second day turned out pretty well in terms of numbers, but my weight was about the same. That made the decision pretty easy. There was no reason to run south an hour and a half to catch the same weight, especially since that would severely limit my fishing time.
The third day I elected to stay on the north end, but I headed over to Barkley for 6 or 8 hours, still fishing deep, but trying to expand what I’d found the previous day. It was a successful effort, as I managed to locate two pretty good schools of fish, but once again I wasn’t sure if there was any size to them. That was starting to get a little worrisome, since I knew that every ounce was going to make a big difference. After noon, I ran back to the north end of Kentucky, which proved to be a wise move because I located the school of fish that I worked on for the remainder of the tournament. In 10 casts I had 18 pounds, and then worked on scoping out the area. It was a place where I felt comfortable because I’d fished there before and it was loaded with bass, but perhaps most importantly it was inconspicuous and unlikely to get hammered by the rest of the field.
When we blasted off the first morning of the tournament, I headed straight to that school, a short run of perhaps three miles, and within 18 minutes I had a limit. Unfortunately, the size was off, so even though I waded through several more limits, I was only able to cull up to about 13 pounds. There was plenty of time to run some other stuff looking for a big bite, but I couldn’t make it happen and ended the day in 77th place. That was the bad news. The good news was that if the area produced on Day Two the way I knew it could, it was possible to make a huge leap in the standings because the weights were packed incredibly tight.
As usual, the plan didn’t work out, at least not at first. When I pulled up on the school on Day Two, I caught a big bass on my third or fourth cast, but then I went about 30 minutes without another bite. They couldn’t have moved far, but it took a while to relocate them. When I did find them again, though, I caught three fish bigger than anything I’d weighed in the first day. At 8 o’clock I filled out my limit with a fish that was probably 15 ¼ inches, one that I had to cull if I was going to make a move. I made the decision around 11:30 to run over to Barkley, where I culled up about a pound, but I still needed more, so eventually I drove the big Phoenix back to Kentucky Lake, where I had two more big bites that brought me up to my eventual weight of 17-07.
The area had produced the way I knew it could, but I was disappointed to fall 9 ounces short of the Top 20 cut. The satisfying part of the experience was that I was able to move with the fish and really understand their behavior throughout the day. I surmised that they were feeding at night, up on the shell beds near big flats, next to the main river channel. A few of them would still be there in 22 feet at first light, but, as the day progressed, they’d move out to about 35 feet. I used an Alabama Rig, a flutter spoon and a crankbait for a few fish apiece, but, by far, the best technique was a Carolina rig with a big Brush Hog on the end of it. Paired with my 7’6” Carrot Stix rod and Lew’s casting reel, I was able to make the most out of the fish I’d located.
Of course my Humminbird 1198s were instrumental, too. Anyone who wants to excel at ledge fishing really needs to invest in one of these units. If you idle around with the side-imaging on, in a couple of hours you can find things that would’ve taken months to locate in the old days. Then, once you’ve located the fish, with down-imaging you have the clearest possible picture of what’s going on underneath the boat. I’ve also been playing with a Hydrowave unit and I’m convinced that it coerced a few extra bites when the fish suspended and things got tough. It fires them up and when you get the right pattern going you’ll know it – after a couple of passes with no bites, suddenly you’ll catch two or three in a row when you play the proper “tune.”
Ultimately, while I didn’t finish at the very top of the standings sheet, this was a very satisfying tournament. I never doubted my skills, but at some point you have to wonder if you’ll ever get a break, and my strategy last week reinforced to me that when I can dodge the uncontrollable speed bumps, I still have the ability to catch fish and do well. That’s particularly gratifying on a system where I’ve struggled on the deep bite over the years.
23rd place; 10 fish, 30-07