There was no doubt in my mind that the Elite Series event on Kentucky Lake would be won offshore. Even though that’s not my primary strength, I committed to the ledges from the beginning and spent nearly my entire practice with my nose pointed at my Humminbird graphs. By the end of practice, after hours and hours and hours of idling, I’d dialed my electronics in to an unbelievable level of detail. I’d located five schools of fish and felt that I could catch a limit pretty easily, but getting quality bites was going to be tough.
Things were changing every day, with more fish moving out to the main river and others moving to secondary spots, so timing was going to be critical. I didn’t expect the ridiculous amount of pressure to play such a big role, but that ended up being a major factor in the tournament, with competition boats, spectator boats and recreational fishermen all vying for key positions.
When Day One began, I headed to a school I’d located on the last afternoon of practice, one where I felt a 17 to 19 pound limit would be relatively easy to catch. I had the area to myself for two minutes before another boat showed up. Three minutes later we were joined by another boat. I could see the fish on my graph but they were off of the structure and off of the bottom, not in a feeding position. Even if I had fired up the school I would’ve had to share them with the other anglers, so I left and ran up to the dam.
Once I arrived at my second spot, it was pretty easy to catch a few and I had a limit by 9:30. Unfortunately, they were just plain keepers. With five in the livewell, I started to make my way back, looking for new schools. I ran into a few fish, but nothing of any size.
I have 500-plus waypoints on Kentucky Lake and it seemed like every one of them had a boat sitting on it. I have to admit that played with my head a little bit. Finally I pulled up on a good spot just as another boat was leaving and I remained there for the last hour, catching a 4 pounder and one that was about 3 ¾. Without those two it would’ve been a rough day.
The second competition day was my long day. As one of the last boats out I decided to start on a school I’d found near the takeoff, hoping they’d still be there. It turned out they were still there, and again I caught a limit pretty quickly. This time they were a little bit better. Fishing a variety of crankbaits – a DD22, a Strike King 10XD and a new one from Profound Lures, I had a limit in 45 minutes. After that I decided to go looking, but the bite was tough. There was no wind and not much current and fish were tough to come by. In the end, I weighed in my limit from the morning and ended up in 72nd place.
On Friday I headed to Lake Barkley for the “second chance” tournament. I didn’t feel like I needed to practice there because I have some history on Barkley, but when I arrived I was in for a surprise – they’d dropped the water and my shallow stuff was useless. I switched back to my deep water tackle on the fly.
I knew a good structure spot about 45 minutes north, so I fished my way up intending to do some damage there, but by the time I arrived Randy Howell was already culling off the spot. He ended up winning the bracket with 18 pounds for the day. With an early weigh-in, I was left to scramble, so I hit a bunch of new places with little success until there were only about 90 minutes left in the day.
With not much time left to fish, I lost a fish then landed a good keeper, but knew that I was cutting it close in terms of getting back to weigh in on time. After that I caught about a dozen fish that were too short to keep. I ran a few more places and with 10 minutes left I hit a spot that was loaded. I caught a 2 ½ pounder and lost what felt like a big one. The school was lit up. Most of them weren’t huge, but if I’d had the time to fish them they would’ve been enough to get me back into fishing on Saturday, since it only took about 13 pounds. As soon as my fifth fish was in the livewell I had to go. It was a classic catch 22 – I needed to stay longer to get the weight I needed, but I didn’t have the time left in the day.
The drive back was a barn burner. I cut every corner I thought I could pass safely, and twice I felt the motor drag on the bottom at 70mph. In the end, I was four minutes late, which cost me 4 pounds off of my 11-07 total. I’d never been late to a weigh-in before, but in this case it was the right decision, even if I still ended up on the wrong side of the cut.
I cranked all week with a Denali 7’10” extra-heavy mag cranking rod paired with a 5.4:1 Shimano Chronarch spooled with 12 pound test Gamma Fluorocarbon. The real stars of the show were my Humminbird graphs and Lakemaster chips. I’d upgraded the software and was able to dial in my down-imaging and side-imaging to the point where I could make out the roots on the stumps. Kentucky Lake is monstrous, though, so even three days of idling weren’t enough to see it all.
Next up is the St. Lawrence River out of Waddington, NY. Lots of smallmouths, lots of big water. Everyone is going to catch lots of fish, so it’ll be a battle of ounces. With a Classic berth already in hand, I can continue to fish for a win. I just have to make sure that I don’t fall out of the top 50 in the points. Currently I’m 38th. I’d like to say that I could play it safe, but at this level of competition there’s no such thing.
10 fish, 27-lb; 03-oz