The top anglers from the Bassmaster Central Open on Kentucky Lake had two things in common last week — shallow water fish and the ability to adapt to falling water levels. That turned out to be enough.
(47 pounds, 14 ounces)
"My practice wasn't much different than a lot of the other anglers," said an elated Aaron Johnson from Bossier City, La. "I found plenty of fish in the grass but was concerned about their size. Most of them were short.
"But as I worked my way up towards the dam I realized there were big ones in it, too. In practice, during a rainstorm, I caught several good ones with a spinnerbait. When the rain stopped, however, I lost that bite.
"After some trial and error I realized that flipping the clumps of grass extending from the heavy mats was producing some really big bass. I decided I would live or die on the grass clumps. That's the way I fished all three days."
His weapon of choice was a Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver (in California #420 and Okeechobee Craw) along with a Reaction Innovations 4/0 BMF Barb Straight Shank Hook with a Tru-Tungsten Denny Brauer Flippin' Weight on 50-pound-test Sufix braided line. His rod was a Kistler 7 1/2-foot extra-heavy Helium with a Quantum AC 500 left-hand flipping reel (6.2:1 gear ratio) mounted on it.
"The key to my win was the reel. It's got a flipping switch on it that made a world of difference in this tournament. The bass were grabbing the plastic as soon as it started to drop through the grass. Any hesitation on my part and they were gone.
"The reel let me flip left-handed without changing hands to work the reel or engage the spool and drag. I was able to set the hook immediately before they had a chance to get deep into the grass — where I couldn't set the hook, even with braided line — or spit the bait out when they realized it wasn't something to eat."
(45 pounds, 4 ounces)
"I found a little place right in front of the launch area in practice," said the second place finisher from Conway, Ark. "I probably didn't burn a gallon of gas the first two days of the tournament.
"It was a small rockpile on the edge of a weedline that dropped from around 3 feet to about 8 feet. My best bait the first day — before the water dropped and exposed some of my rock — was a Strike King Bitsy Flip Jig in black and blue with a matching Zoom trailer.
"They'd hit it on the initial fall, almost as soon as it entered the water. But after awhile the bite would go dead, just stop. And it did that on the second day as well. When that happened I switched to a 1/4-ounce Strike King Kevin VanDam Spinnerbait — white with a nickel Colorado blade and a gold willowleaf blade — and fished the surrounding flats.
"I took several bass over 3 pounds from that general area in the first two days. But, as the water dropped and the boat traffic increased, the area stopped producing. I then went to my back-up plan — fishing boat docks with the Strike King Bitsy Flip.
Williams worked the jig on a 7 1/2-foot All Star Flipping Stick — medium-heavy — and a Pflueger President reel (6.3:1 gear ratio) spooled with 20-pound-test line. His spinnerbait outfit was a 7-foot All Star spinnerbait rod, a Pflueger Trion reel (5.2:1 gear ratio) and 17-pound-test Trilene XT clear line.
(44 pounds, 3 ounces)
"I ran downstream instead of up," Ray Brazier said. "I thought that would get me away from some of the fishing pressure. I ended up fishing about 60 miles from the launch.
"I found fish on flats out in the main river near the mouths of creeks and inflows. The water was falling hard every day. I'm guessing they came out of the creeks with the moving water and were positioning themselves near the safety of deep water."
His best bite was on a Spro Dean Rojas Signature Series Bronzeye Frog on a topwater pattern he discovered by accident. "The week before while I was practicing, I took a girl fishing who has cancer. She wanted to fish every state in the country before she passed. I took her fishing in Kentucky and Tennessee.
"My 11-year-old grandson, Chase Kobeck, wanted to go with me when he heard I had taken her out. I gave him the Spro bait because it was easy to cast and easy to work. He made a couple of casts and immediately caught a couple of fish. I used that pattern all three days.
"I threw mostly chartreuse and white, but sometimes all white worked best. If I had a blowup I tossed a 5-inch Senko (watermelon with red flake) into the ripples. I caught several that way over the course of the tournament."
He threw his Spro frog on an All Pro Ray Brazier Signature Series rod — 6 1/2-feet medium-heavy — with a Shimano Calais 100A reel (6.2:1 gear ratio) and 15-pound-test monofilament P-line.
(42 pounds, 7 ounces)
(41 pounds, 6 ounces)
"I found two areas, one about 10 miles upstream and the other about 10 miles downstream," said the Plano, Texas, angler. "They were shallow ridges under about 2 feet of water; both bare spots with sparse weed growth around them. And both were in backwater areas.
"In practice I determined that spots with bigger shad were holding the bigger bass. The areas I fished had huge shad schooling on them. I think that's what attracted the big bass and why I was able to catch them."
His primary lures were a Jackall Bonnie 128 topwater bait in Tennessee Shad and a blue chrome H2O Express lipless crankbait. He fished both of them with a medium-heavy Falcon Cara T7 casting rod, a Daiwa Fuego reel (6.3:1 gear ratio) and 15-pound-test CX Premium P-line.
(39 pounds, 11 ounces)
"I had a good frog bite going in practice, but when they started pulling the water down it disappeared," said the Whitehouse, Texas, angler. "I started flipping the hard edges of the mats, and the bite picked up. I moved out as the water dropped and my bite stayed fairly consistent. The key was to stay on the hard edges of the mats and move out with the water."
Ferguson flipped a Strike King Rodent (coffee scented) with a Tru-Tungsten 1-ounce Denny Brauer Flippin' Weight. His rod was a Quantum Tour Edition PT Gary Klein Signature Series Flipping Stick with a Quantum Tour Edition PT Burner Reel (7:1 gear ratio) spooled with 65-pound-test Sufix braided line.
"The coffee scent was critical to my success. The fish didn't hold on to the lure very long. They seemed to like the coffee taste and held it just a moment longer than other plastics. That gave me the time I needed to set the hook."