Clarks Hill was no walk in the park last week. The bite was tough and the prospects for a big bag were low. Putting that aside, however, three anglers managed to rise above the rest of the field. For the winner, it was a hometown boy's dream come true. For the other two, it was a lesson in life on the water and the realities of professional bass fishing.
Here's how they tell the story:
(1st place — 53 pounds, 6 ounces)
This one breaks down into something like two tournaments. The first three days I fished one way, and on the final day I had to go with something totally different. It was scary for a while, but in the end it all worked out.
Thursday, Friday and Saturday I made a long run to fish long, flat shallow points. My best spots were covered with chunk rock. The points held the blueback herring and the chunk rock helped keep the crawfish in place.
My morning bite was very shallow, 2 or 3 feet. As the afternoon approached, the fish moved out a little deeper — 6 to 8 feet. The key was to work the baits slowly and methodically, so that every cast covered water, while at the same time following the fish as they moved out.
My primary lure was a 1/2-ounce Buckeye Lures Mop Jig with a green pumpkin Zoom Super Chunk on the back. I threw it on a Duckett Fishing Micro Magic Rod — 7 foot, 6 inches, extra-heavy action — with a Bass Pro Shops Johnny Morris Signature Series Baitcast Reel (7.1:1 gear ratio) spooled with 20-pound-test McCoy Fluoro100 fluorocarbon line.
The bait did a good job of imitating the baitfish and the crawfish; the rod and line gave me the sensitivity I needed to detect soft bites; and the high-speed reel allowed me to bring my lure back quickly when it was out of the strike zone.
The Mop Jig was my primary bait, but that's not to say it was the only one I used. I also caught a few bass on topwater baits — a Zoom Super Fluke and a Buckeye Lures Custom Super Spook. They were fished on Duckett Fishing rods, Johnny Morris Signature Series reels and McCoy line.
On the last day I made that same long run, but it didn't pay off for me. When I got to my favorite point, there was no current. The bite was dead. Disappointed, but not panicked, I downsized and fished just a little deeper than I had been fishing.
My Sunday lure was a Buckeye Lures Spot Remover with a green pumpkin Zoom Trick Worm on the back. I fished it on a Duckett Fishing Micro Magic 7-foot, medium action spinning rod and a 6.3:1 Bass Pro Shops Johnny Morris spinning reel spooled with 8-pound-test McCoy Fluoro100 fluorocarbon line.
I think the thing about my win that you could call a lesson is that you should never panic. When I arrived at my spot on Sunday morning, there was nothing. The current was dead and so was my bite. I could have run all over the lake looking for a big bite, but I didn't. I knew the fish were there. I just had to figure out how to catch five keepers and settle for what I could get.
That's by no means a guaranteed winning strategy. The alternative — running all over the lake — doesn't have any guarantees either. I decided to catch what I could catch and hope for the best. It worked out for me.
(2nd place — 53 pounds, 4 ounces)
In practice I tried to do the Clarks Hill deal — points, chasing blueback herring — but it didn't work out for me. I finally found a creek with some grass in it. As the tournament went along, I was able to refine my fishing.
The bass were in little cuts or pockets off the main channel. In my neighborhood we call them dead ends and knockouts. The water in them ranged from an inch deep to maybe 2 or 3 feet in some places.
I fished almost all the time with a Spro Dean Rojas Bronzeye Poppin' Frog in natural green. I worked it in a variety of ways, from really fast to dead still. When it was overcast it seemed like faster worked best. When the sun was out a slower retrieve brought more fish to the livewell.
The crazy thing was the bass didn't seem to be relating to anything other than bream. They were everywhere. And my bites were the same way. Some of them came 10 feet or more away from the grass. I'm not sure what was going on.
Even the sun didn't put them tighter to the cover. The textbook says that when the sun comes out the bass tighten toward the cover. I kept waiting for that. It never happened. I guess my bass didn't go to school.
I fished my frog on a Powell 735 Max Frog Rod and a high-speed reel spooled with 50-pound-test Fins Braid line.
Losing by 2 ounces sucks, but I have to take my hat off to Jason. He fished one heck of a tournament.
(3rd place — 48 pounds, 9 ounces)
I had a tough practice but finally settled into a typical Clarks Hill pattern. Basically I was fishing points, chasing blueback herring. My primary rig was a drop shot with a finesse worm.
My rod was a Duckett Fishing Micro Magic 6 foot, 6 inch spinning rod. I used a Shimano spinning reel with 8-pound-test Hi-Seas Fluorocarbon line.
Most of my fish were shallow. I had to throw right up into the dirt to make them bite. I honestly don't know why they were up there so shallow, but they were. Sometimes you have to do what the fish want you to do rather than what you think you ought to do.
(Big bass — 7 pounds, 12 ounces)
I caught her on top of one of my favorite points in the lake. It's a spot in front of a sharp drop with chunk rock scattered around the area. When they pull water, the fish position themselves on the rock and eat whatever washes over the lip of the drop.
It's definitely a big bass spot. I caught one more than 3 pounds and another more than 4 pounds the day before. I've been catching big bass there since I was a kid.