Top 12 at BASSfest

Lake Texoma 2016Heading into the week of the BASSfest event, Lake Texoma was 8 feet high and rising. Flooded cover and dirty water means one thing to me – FLIPPING – and that’s my favorite way to fish. I’d never seen the lake before and given the atypical conditions I was glad that I hadn’t gone to pre-practice as that scouting would have been wasted.

When the water is super-high and getting higher, the best places to look for bass are the banks where the fish can’t get too far behind the cover. It was textbook situation and by following it I got a lot of bites during practice. It was sunny and calm every day, which made it a no-brainer that the fish would be in that thick cover. The only questions were whether you’d get a bite and whether you’d be able to extract him from the mess of limbs.

Most of the fish that I found were in creeks and I resolved to spend the tournament in those tributaries where I’d gotten the most bites. I had no idea what the quality would be because I generally didn’t set the hook during practice. Nevertheless, I was confident because as other anglers sang the blues about the tough bite I didn’t think that catching fish would be a problem. As a result of the falling water and the off day on Saturday, I felt like things were just going to get better as the week progressed.

On the first day of competition I had a limit in the boat in 30 minutes on a Hawg Caller spinnerbait. Then when the sun got up I started targeted the cover more directly. That meant flooded willow trees and buck brush with a ¾ ounce black and blue Lunker Lure jig and a Missile Baits D Bomb in California Love. With a limit in the boat, I was able to slow down and pick the trees apart and culled out those spinnerbait fish. At the end of the day, I had 19-06, which put me in 2nd place behind Casey Ashley. I’d lost a couple of big ones that would’ve put me well over 20 pounds, but that’s the price you pay in that tangled web of cover. 

I’m still not sure what happened to my fish on the second day. I know that the lake had crested on Day One and then started to fall, and there was certainly a lot of fishing with the new telescoping fishing rod in my best areas, and the result was that the fish were in a funk. They just didn’t bite as well. In particular, my main lake fish didn’t bite at all. I missed some opportunities and only weighed in four fish. Fortunately one was 5 ½ pounds, which pushed me over 11 pounds for the day and I only fell three places to 5th. Still, I was a little concerned.

My adjustment for Day Three was to lay off my main lake fish a bit. They hadn’t produced on Day Two and I didn’t feel that I needed them. I caught one keeper on a buzzbait and one on a spinnerbait early, then I slowed down to flip. That enabled me to fill out my limit quickly, but I never had a big bite. With 13 pounds I knew that I was going to be in the Top Twelve cut for Championship Sunday. The only question was where I’d be in the standings. As it turned out, I held steady in 5th. Normally, that’s a good place to be, but I was 7 ½ pounds out of the lead. I never dreamed that the leader, in this case Casey, would struggle so much.

On Sunday there were only 12 of us on the lake, and the water had rested for a day, so I knew that I could run my previous water and possibly branch out a little, too. The lake level had dropped 2 ½ feet, which pulled the fish out of places we couldn’t get to previously. It was cloudy and rainy in the morning which produced textbook conditions for topwater. I pulled out a 3/8 ounce Lunker Lure buzzbait, black with a silver blade, and immediately started getting bites. I was able to cover water and kept getting bites, which allowed me to expand my range into a new area after noon. It was a fun way to spend a final day. I also caught one of my weigh fish on a D Bomb, but never got the big bite that I needed to make a move up the leaderboard.

Looking back on it, I wish I had adjusted a little differently on Day Two, but even then it would’ve been difficult to surpass Hackney’s weight. With a decent fifth fish I would’ve moved up one spot.

My key baits for the first three days were the D Bomb and the jig. I fished both on extra-heavy Lew’s Custom Lite 7’11” flipping sticks paired with Lew’s Super Duty reels. I used 50 pound Gamma Torque braid with the jig and 20 pound Gamma fluorocarbon with the D Bomb. On Day Four, the Lunker Lure buzzbait was my meal ticket. I fished that one on a 7’ medium-heavy Custom Lite with a Lew’s BB1 Pro and 16 pound Gamma fluorocarbon.

That 7’11” Custom Lite flipping stick has been the key to my success over the past two events. At Texoma I had it in my hand from daylight to dusk for six straight days and the light weight and comfortable grip allowed me to fish clean the entire time. Considering the thick cover that the fish lived in, that’s no small feat. When your bait is dropping through 7 feet of limbs, it’s like a zipper, and one wrong move or one weak spot in your equipment and the fish is gone.

Now I have four days at home before heading up to Lake Cayuga in New York. The last time we were there I just missed the 50 cut and that’s not going to happen again. I know the deal there now and I know the three areas of the lake I need to focus on, so I’m going to spend my time figuring out the subtleties that will enable me to achieve a top finish. After a little bit of a rough start to my season, my finishes have gotten much better over the last two tournaments and I’m looking forward to Cayuga, La Crosse and the Potomac. All three of those bodies of water fish to my strengths and I’m planning to make a strong run at winning and at my fourth consecutive Classic appearance.

4th Place; 19 fish, 57-09

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