The first Southern Open of 2009, held on the Harris Chain of Lakes, was a test of finding moving fish in water that hadn't been fished to death by the other competitors. Here's how the top three finishers attacked — and solved — that problem.
(1st place — 68 pounds, 6 ounces)
Bryan Hudgins had a tough practice. His bite was slow and his spots were crowded. Those factors combined to force him into new areas, areas he wasn't especially confident fishing.
"I had trouble in practice finding spots that weren't overrun with other boats, so I decided to gamble and go to Lake Carlton. I didn't want to do that, but I had no other choice.
"I caught a few fish there, but I knew I hadn't found the weight I'd need for a good finish so I decided to move down to a local canal — a well-known community spot — and check it out. I couldn't believe what I found when I got there," he said.
"The water was clear and the big females were moving up on the beds. I was able to sit in my boat and watch them swim onto their beds. It was incredible. And despite the fact that this area is well known there wasn't anyone else around. I had the entire canal to myself.
"That's a lesson for all of us. Sometimes we avoid 'community holes' because we think they'll be crowded. But if everyone avoids them they'll be empty. From now on I'll check those places just to be sure. The reason they're well-known is because they hold fish."
After some observation and thought, Hudgins decided to target actively moving bass and those that had just moved onto their beds. His weapon of choice was a lipless crankbait; his time of attack was early morning.
"It worked well. I caught lots of aggressive bass every morning. I fished the same spot every day and had my weight before noon — and then, when the chasing slowed down, I bed fished with traditional baits until it was time to go in."
The Orange Park, Fla., pro used a 7-foot, 6-inch G. Loomis GLX Crankbait Series rod along with an Abu Garcia STX-HS Revo reel (7.1:1 gear ratio) spooled with 15-pound-test Berkley Trilene Big Game line to fish his lipless crankbait — a size 75, Spro Aruku Shad in clear chartreuse. He selected monofilament line because it doesn't sink like fluorocarbon. That helped him keep his bait shallow as he burned it over beds and access routes.
"I learned some things this week. One of the most important was that bedding bass aren't all the same, and they can't all be caught the same way. They're most aggressive when they first go to a bed. You don't have to drag plastics or some other bait through their nest for a half-hour or more to get them to bite."
(2nd place — 58-2)
Scott Ashmore credits unconventional fishing spots in Lake Griffin and high-quality equipment for his second place finish.
"I caught a lot of my bass away from the bank — off a lot more than most of the other guys were fishing," explained the Broken Arrow, Okla., pro. "Not all the bass spawn on the bank. They'll spawn well away from the bank if they can find a good spot. And they're often easier to catch out there because they don't get skittish from so much pressure.
"My equipment made a big difference, too. I used a MotorGuide electric motor which runs real quiet. It didn't spook the bass and, when I couldn't use it, I held my position with two Power-Poles — one mounted on each side of my big motor. Those two pieces of equipment, working in concert with the shallow draft from my Gambler boat, made all the difference in the world."
His bait and tackle consisted of an 8-inch V&M Finesse Worm in junebug rigged Texas style and weighted with a 1/8- or 1/4-ounce Tru-Tungsten worm weight. He tossed the bait with a 7-foot, 6-inch extra-heavy action Kistler rod and a Shimano Core 100MG reel (6.2:1 gear ratio) spooled with 20-pound-test Seaguar InvezX Fluorocarbon line.
"My Maui Jim sunglasses helped, too. I was able to make long casts and work my bait all the way back to the boat while seeing everything that was under the water without the distraction of glare. That was important in this tournament. I think everybody who finished high relied on good sunglasses. They're a must for Florida sight fishing."
(3rd place — 54-13)
"I had a horrible practice. After several hard days of fishing, I had exactly five bites," said Lane, without even the hint of a smile. "I knew something had to change if I expected to feed my family. So, when the tournament started, I headed to Lake Griffin — mostly out of desperation — and bed fished open water, away from the canals and the other anglers.
"I found a flipping and pitching pattern around clumps of grass near vertical vegetation with visible beds. Then I was able to figure out how they wanted it (placement and rate of fall). After that it was a matter of moving from spot to spot trying to catch bigger and bigger bass.
"Here's the deal: You have to find the fish before you can catch them. Switching baits, colors and sinkers all day like I did in practice isn't what catching bass is about. It's about finding them first. Maybe I won't forget that next time and have to look for my fish during competition."
The Lakeland, Fla., pro flipped and pitched with an All Star 7-foot, 6-inch Flipping Stick, an Abu Garcia Revo Skeet Reese Left-hand reel (6.4:1 gear ratio) with the drag cranked down as far as it would go and 65-pound-test Spiderwire Ultracast.
His lure was a black and blue Berkley Power Bait Crazy Legs Chigger Craw armed with a variety of weight and hook combinations depending upon the wind, water clarity and depth. Lane held his boat steady with the assistance of a Power-Pole and was able to spot beds and bass with a pair of 580 Costa Del Mar sunglasses.