The last regular season Elite Series event was a strange one from the get-go. Because of heavy rains, the venue changed at the last minute giving the anglers only one day of practice. The winner spent that day mowing his grass, and then led the tournament wire-to-wire. And, through it all, the anglers praised BASS for their last-minute organization and called the local fans the most courteous in the country. Here's how they tell the story:
I thought about going out and decoying them, but that didn't seem fair. They only had one day to practice, so I thought I'd leave them alone. It was the right thing to do. I'm good with it, and not just because I won.
Fishing your home lake can be tough. You have to make sure you don't let your knowledge of the lake overpower what the fish are doing. When I first started fishing on Thursday, I thought the bass would be deep. The water was over 80 degrees. That's where they should have been. That's where I wanted them. But they weren't there. They were shallow, so I had to fish rockpiles in 2-10 feet of water. I didn't want to do that. Deep bass would have been better for me. I think I could have caught more and the other guys would have had trouble finding them deep on short notice.
Regardless of where you're fishing, you have to let the fish tell you what to do. Not doing that is a mistake a lot of guys make when they're fishing at home.
The second thing was my lure. I had a homemade, modified Gene Larew Biffle Bug. We poured a football head with a wire loop coming out of it. Then we attached a 4/0 Owner hook to the loop. After that I threaded my plastic bait on the hook. That gave me a jointed bait, much like a crankbait. The additional movement generated more strikes and the joint made it more difficult for the bass the throw the hook. It took away his leverage. That was exactly what I needed for this tournament.
All I did was cast it out and wind it back with a steady retrieve making sure it bumped along the bottom at all times. When it stopped bumping I set the hook. That meant a bass had it in his mouth. I used three head weights, 5/16, 7/16 and 9/16 ounces. I swapped weights depending upon the water depth. You need a heavy enough head to stay on the bottom, but not so heavy that you can't handle it.
My rod choice was a Quantum Tour Tommy Biffle Signature Series — 6 feet, 10 inches, heavy action — with a Quantum Tour Edition PT Burner Reel and 20-pound-test Sunline Shooter fluorocarbon line.
One other thing real quick: I couldn't be more proud of my friends on the lake. They were courteous and respectful on the water and a lot of fun during the weigh-ins. It's a great community. I'm proud to call it home.
(3rd place — 70 pounds, 8 ounces)
The fish move shallow for oxygen and they often relate to the backs of creeks, especially if there's some water flow in them. We had all those conditions on Fort Gibson, so I spent my time finding creeks that met my criteria. Most of my bites came in muddy water with very little visibility. I'd say it averaged about 5 inches, if that much.
My baits were bigger than most of the other guys, too. The forage was gizzard shad about the size of your hand. I tried to match them with size first and then color. That was key, no doubt about it. Early on, my best bait was a Lucky Craft RC 2.5 crankbait but as the tournament went along, I also caught them on a Dave's Tiger Shad spinnerbait, 1/2-ounce double willowleaf, No. 5 and No. 7 blades. I also caught a few on a Brush Hog, Texas rigged. I fished all my baits on G. Loomis MossyBack rods with Revo STX reels and 14-pound-test Sunline Shooter fluorocarbon on my crankbait and 15-pound-test Berkley Trilene Big Game for the other two baits.
I coated everything with a local scent product called Slick Sides in Salmon. It was developed by a guy named Wilson Frazier — the Professor. (A lot of the Elite guys are using it but they don't talk much about it. It's one of those open secrets.)
(Big bass — 7 pounds, 5 ounces)
My reel was a Pflueger Patriarch (6.4:1 gear ratio) spooled with 12-pound-test Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon line. My rod was critical in catching her. I could feel every movement of the bait, and I had the tip to keep her from throwing the hook along with the backbone to control her all the way to the boat.