After a lifetime of living in Illinois, we recently relocated to Branson, very close to the shores of Table Rock. It’s an area we’ve grown to love but oddly enough I’ve never fished the lake at this time of year, so I had no local advantage whatsoever heading into this event. Nevertheless, I’ve spent enough time on the lake at this point that I felt I could figure things out.
The lake had been five feet above full pool before the event started and the fishing was pretty easy. You could catch largemouths up in the bushes and smallmouths on the shallow secondary points. I was hesitant to hang my hat on those bites, though, because things tend to change quickly and if you’re fishing yesterday’s patterns you can’t be competitive.
The official practice started on Labor Day and I had a really good day fishing up the White River arm. Most of my fish were shallow and I culled through multiple limits of mostly largemouth bass to eventually produce a best five that would’ve weighed 13 or 14 pounds. They were still shallow and even though the water was falling a little bit each day you could pick them off fairly easily.
On the second day of practice I went up the James River arm and I really struggled. Then the final day I decided to look for a deep bite on the lower end of the lake and it was even worse. That made my tournament strategy a no-brainer – I was going to head up the White to where I’d gotten the most bites.
The first morning of the tournament I ran up to some of those pockets just off the main river and everything went according to plan. I boated a limit quickly, three or four of them on a quarter-ounce black Lunker Lure Buzzbait, and then I went flipping with a Lunker Lure Limit Series Jig in a bluegill pattern. By noon I had a decent weight and felt like I could afford to do something different to try to hunt a kicker or two to boost my catch, so I moved out deep. The bite was still good and I managed to cull a few times, including with one really nice smallmouth.