It’s rare that we have a chance to fish two tournaments on a single body of water in a given year, and even rarer that the two events occur back-to-back. That’s the situation that presented itself on Douglas Lake this year, though. It gave me a great opportunity to really dial in a pattern. Obviously, I’d like to do well in the PAA Series, especially because this year there’s a chance to qualify for two Toyota Texas Bass Classics, but just as importantly I was able to use the PAA event to prefish for the Bassmaster Southern Open. After a fourth place finish in the first Open, another good event would move me one step closer to qualifying for the Elite Series.
When we arrived in Tennessee I knew next to nothing about Douglas – just the fact that the Elites fished there last May and caught the bass fairly deep. I didn’t seek out any help and that may have hurt me, because I didn’t know that the Alabama Rig was going to play such a huge role. Instead I focused on the techniques that I typically utilize in 45 to 50 degree water. In the end, that meant I focused on a jerkbait and a jig. I thought there’d be a good cranking bite too but I couldn’t make it happen.
I focused my efforts in 30 to 35 feet of water and over the course of three days of practice I had a total of seven bites, never more than three in a single day. That was all I had to go on. The first day of competition I started off throwing the jig on a bluff bank and caught a keeper real fast. That put me in that mindset, which was a mistake, because it just wasn’t happening. I had one more bite the whole day and as luck would have it I broke the fish off.
By the second day the word was out that the big catches were coming on the Alabama Rig. To be honest, I really hadn’t thrown the rig much, just a little bit a few weeks earlier at Guntersville. Still, I tied on the Lunker Lure Gillraker and basically didn’t put it down all day. I had a bite in my first five casts and thought it was really going to be on fire, but by 1:30 I hadn’t had another sniff, so I put it down and picked up the jig, at which point I caught my second fish pretty quickly. That was it.
Obviously, it was a disappointing tournament for me, but I learned a couple of things: First, the overall quality of the fishery was better than I’d expected. Second, the fish were shallower than I thought they’d be. I took Saturday off and worked for the PAA and then spent quite a few hours tweaking the Gillraker. By the time the Open started I wanted to make sure I had the right heads, the right swimbaits and the right retrieve locked in.
On Sunday, I picked the Gillraker up and more or less didn’t put it down for the next six days. I probably threw it for close to 100 hours and it was a tremendous learning experience. That first day of practice I had 8 or 10 bites and they were all quality fish. Armed with the information from the week prior, I could key in on areas that I hadn’t fished before. It wasn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, but I was starting to get dialed in.
Over the four days of practice I found little groups of fish from one end of the lake to the other. Normally that’s a bad deal, because when the tournament starts you spend more time running around than fishing. In this case, though, it was helpful because Douglas just isn’t a very big lake. In fact, one tank of fuel lasted me five days.
When the tournament started I was pretty confident that I’d narrowed down exactly what I needed to be doing and where. I fished the Gillraker on an El Grande Monster Rod paired with a Lew’s Super Duty Casting Reel (6.4:1 gear ratio) spooled with 25 lb. Tatsu fluorocarbon. Keitech 3.8” swimbaits seemed to produce the best results. I had tweaked the rig just right and they were really biting that day. I fished clean and ended up with 16-14, which had me in 20th place. All I needed was a couple of big bites to vault me up the leaderboard.
On Day Two I got a big bite right out of the gate – a 5 ½ pound largemouth. I quickly added two more keepers, and then caught a giant smallmouth. It was probably 4 ½ or 5 pounds. Unfortunately, on Douglas they have to be 20 inches to keep and this one was just about an eighth of an inch short.
I thought I had my timing down right, but due to the constantly changing weather I was actually off a bit. I ran down from the upper end to the lower end and added a fourth keeper, but that was it. With two hours left to go I ran back up. I caught another big smallmouth that barely missed measuring, and then lost two three-pound largemouths in the last five minutes. Either one of those fish would have pushed me into the top twelve, but it wasn’t meant to be. I ended the day with four fish for 12 pounds. I was the “bubble guy,” sitting in 12th place, with five anglers left to weigh in but the last guy knocked me out.
The good news is that my goal all along has been to make the Elites. That means I’ll probably have to be in the top five in the points standings at the end of the season. Well, after two of three events I’m in first place, ahead of Brandon Lester by a point and ahead of my good friend Glenn Browne by four points. Now I can turn my attention to winning the points race.
I’ve also really gotten a crash course in maximizing the effectiveness of the Gillraker. I know when to add blades, where to add them and what size to add for maximum control. That should help me in my next event, an FLW Tour tournament on Beaver Lake. We’ve been there a lot of times before and it should fish fairly similar to Douglas. I’m a little tired after going at it so hard for a number of weeks, but I’m also fishing with an open mind and a lot of confidence. I like the way that feels.
PAA Tournament Series
3 fish, 6.10 lbs.
Bassmaster Southern Open
10 fish, 28-14