LAGRANGE, Ga. — Rarely does a Bassmaster Elite Series angler reveal the lure he caught a fish on – much less the big bass of the day – anytime other than the final day of a tournament. But Casey Ashley didn't mind telling what bait his 6-pound, 6-ounce largemouth bit during Day Two of the West Point Lake Battle.
It was a Rebel Pop-R topwater lure.
"I don't fish any tournament without one tied on until the water gets to 70 degrees," said Ashley, who, thanks to the lunker largemouth, jumped from 20th place to sixth place Friday.
And he went on to explain why he likes the Pop-R so much in these conditions.
"A Pop-R does three things," Ashley said. "It imitates the shad spawn. It's a good bream imitation. That covers both of the feeding patterns. And if bass are guarding fry, it irritates them enough to bite."
So why would the 29-year-old Donalds, S.C., pro give away secrets on Day Two? Because Ashley understands he's not telling anybody anything.
"It's a crapshoot," said Ashley, in describing this tournament. "You can come right behind somebody else and catch one. There's no rhyme or reason for what they're doing."
That's the prevailing pattern this week on West Point Lake, where it took 20 pounds, 4 ounces to make the Top 50 cut in May 2011 and only 14-3 to make it this year. Steve Kennedy won that Elite Series event two years ago with a four-day total of 64-14. At the halfway point this year, Aaron Martens leads Greg Vinson by one ounce, at 24-14. And Kennedy didn't make the 50 cut.
Although some guys, like Martens and Vinson, seem to be figuring out a pattern on this 26,000-acre impoundment located on the Georgia-Alabama border, most have come to the same conclusion as Ashley: The pattern is there is no pattern.
As more than one angler predicted from the start of the event, it will be won by the man who gets one or two big bites – not each day, but for the tournament.
"I've got a place where I can catch a limit of spots early," Ashley said. "Then I've got the rest of the day to try and catch largemouth."
After boating a five-bass limit of spotted bass Friday, Ashley said he got four bites the remainder of the day.
"I'm just chunking and winding and hoping for the best," he said.
Leader Aaron Martens might be the exception to the ruling theory of the lake this week, where water temperatures were in the 70s during practice, but dropped back into the mid 60s during the tournament, and water levels suddenly shot up before competition, then have steadily dropped under the thick clouds, rainy skies that marked Thursday and Friday.
Martens weighed-in five largemouth bass in his 13-5 bag Thursday. He had four spotted bass and one largemouth in his 11-9 bag Friday. He said he caught between 40 and 50 fish Friday and 25 to 30 were keepers – 14-inch minimum largemouth or 12-inch spots.
"I'm watching the fish and watching the bait," Martens said. "You have to try to follow them, because they change during the day. The first two hours (each morning) are good. After that, it's hard."
Martens admitted that Tommy Biffle is the contender who worries him most. Biffle, the cantankerous 55-year-old Oklahoman, is best-known for shallow water flipping. Biffle hasn't caught a limit in his two days on West Point, but his four fish each day have him in third place with 23-3.
"I had four bites yesterday and four bites today," Biffle said. "If I could just catch five, I'd be happy."
"Happy" is a relative term when it comes to Biffle. His happy is most people's mad. Just as certain is his ability to put bass in the boat with a flipping stick. And it's simply not going to take much to win the $100,000 first-place prize at the West Point Lake Battle.
"Thirteen pounds a day will win it over the next two days," said Martens. "But that's hard, so hard."