I was really looking forward to the first FLW Tour Major of the season. Not only would it be my first chance to work toward qualifying for the Cup, but I also felt like I had a pretty good grasp of what the fish would be doing at Hartwell. We were there under similar conditions last year and I was sure that the patterns would repeat themselves, with the fish moving from their prespawn haunts up toward the spawning grounds.
For practice, I divided the lake into sections to make the hunt for big fish easier. The first day I went far up the Seneca and was pleased to find off-colored water the whole way. On the second day, I stayed on the lower end, which was a struggle because of very high winds. The third day I worked to expand on what I’d learned so far. In particular, I wanted to fish the lower end of the Seneca. It was a totally different scenario with calm winds and sunny skies and I dialed the fish in really well. Over the course of the day I was able to pinpoint the areas where the fish had just pulled up and I probably could’ve had 18 pounds. On top of that, I knew where some similar areas were located in 26 Mile Creek, the next one over, so there existed a strong possibility to expand as the tournament went on.
With a solid game plan in mind, I was fortunate to be Boat #8 on Day One, which would likely give me my choice of starting spots anywhere on the lake. I figured that I’d go to the upper end and work my way down as the day progressed. Unfortunately, that plan never got a chance to get started because I made it less than 10 miles before my outboard’s lower unit locked up at 70mph and that was it. With a 3pm weigh-in, there wasn’t much time to spare, and I lost over 5 hours as a result of the problems.
I wasn’t really near any ramps, so I put the trolling motor down, got on the phone and tried to fish one-armed to the nearest ramp while searching for a fix. Along the way I did manage to catch a couple of small keepers. That presented me with a new dilemma. If I pulled out of the water and trailered to the service crew, I’d have to release the fish and start over. With limited time, that would put me further behind. Luckily, the service crew met me at the closest ramp and fixed me up right there, so I didn’t have to dump the fish. By the time they finished, though, it was noon, I had about two hours to fish and I was just about out of battery power for my trolling motor.
I weighed in five little bass for 6-13, but I was absolutely sick to my stomach over the way the tour season had started.
Heading into the second day, I figured that most of my best places had been picked pretty clean. I was certain that there were plenty of other competitors up there and they’re too good to miss out on what I’d found. I still started up the Seneca and I caught a few there, then went into 26 Mile and finished out my limit, as did my co-angler.
At that point I pulled out every trick in the book to try to catch a kicker fish or two, but apparently I was on the wrong rotation. We had one big bite all day and it came at the end of my co-angler’s line. He lost it. I just wasn’t able to recover and the first day’s troubles had put me too far in the hole.
I ended up with 10 pounds that second day, far below what I thought my areas would produce, but still I would have been pleased to have that each day. It would have moved me up about 40 spots.
I was able to salvage some points by catching a limit each day, mostly on a ¼ ounce Lunker Lure shakey head with a trick worm, fished on a medium-heavy Carrot Stix spinning rod with 6 lb. test fluorocarbon. That’s what I used around the docks because I knew there was pressure ahead of me. I had to fish it dead slow. When I got into heavier cover I pulled out the Lunker Lure Limit Series Jig. In between the docks I fished an Alabama Rig.
Next up is Table Rock and it promises to be a tremendous tournament. There have been some bad recent storms through that area, but overall it has been a mild winter and spring has been accelerated. I’m sure the fish are already up and it could be a full-blown spawn by the time we get there. I’m confident that I know where some of the bigger fish live, both up and down the lake. Of course, in this group everyone will catch them, so I’ll need to fish a clean tournament to bring in the big bags that’ll be necessary to compete. After the downer at Hartwell, it’s going to be an uphill climb, so not only will I need money finishes in the remaining events – I’ll also need to add a top ten or two along the way.
10 fish, 16-13 pounds