Skeet Reese (First, 54-13)
Day One: 15-8
Day Two: 22-9
Day Three: 16-12
With the backwaters of the Red River overcrowded, Reese spent his time in the same general areas, but tried to find something different or overlooked. What he found was a 200-yard stretch that turned out to be the key to his Classic victory.
The area he was fishing was in Pool 5, just outside the popular "Goose Pond" area known locally as Bobo's hole. Just across the river from Clark's Marina, the Goose Pond was easily the most popular spot for competitors over the first two days of the tournament.
"I realized that the extreme back end would get beat up pretty good so I hunted for stuff outside," Reese said. "This one little stretch is all I found. I love that this week — nobody, not a single angler or media — picked me as a favorite for this event."
Reese had his bank to himself and spent the tournament fishing back and forth along scattered stumps and areas of pad stems with both a creature bait and a spinnerbait.
His creature bait was the newly-released black and blue Berkley Crazy Legs Chigger Craw, which he fished on an 8-foot flipping stick and Berkley Trilene 100% fluorocarbon line. Depending on the wind, he varied his weight between a 3/16-ounce tungsten sinker when it was calm and a 1/4-ounce tungsten sinker if it was windy.
The Lucky Craft Redemption spinnerbait was a shad pattern with nickel blades and Reese fished that on a 7-foot fiberglass rod with his signature Skeet Reese Abu Garcia Revo and 50-pound Spiderwire Ultracast.
"When you are hooking fish in the pads, using mono, you get tangled up a lot," Reese said. "If you use Spiderwire, when you hook a fish, you can cut through the pad stems easier."
He also cited his Biosonix unit as helping to generate a few key bites over the course of the tournament.
Mike Iaconelli (Second, 54-2)
Day One: 15-5
Day Two: 18-10
Day Three: 20-3
Iaconelli increased his weights over each day of the tournament and very nearly walked away with his second Bassmaster Classic trophy.
Unlike Reese, Iaconelli made the long run down to Pool 4, where he located fish in an area known as Sullivans. Most of that area was shallow and muddy, but the back third of the backwater had a ditch with about 7 feet of water in the middle. Iaconelli targeted the edges of the ditch which were covered in stumps.
He had two basic approaches: covering water with moving baits and then target fishing individual pieces of cover.
His moving bait arsenal consisted of a LaserLure square-bill crankbait in a special black and blue color and an Ike's Revenge, a chatterbait-style bait made by Longshank.
For pitching and casting to stumps, Iaconelli used a 3/8-ounce Berkley Ike's Finesse Jig in black and blue and a Tru-Tungsten 4.5-inch Flippin' Tube in black and blue. The tube was thrown with a 1/4-ounce Tru-Tungsten weight and a 4/0 Youvella hook.
Both target baits were rigged on 20-pound Berkley Trilene 100% fluorocarbon line and a Diiawa 7-foot, 2-inch Ike Signature rod and a 6.3:1 Steez baitcaster.
On the final day of the tournament, the water temperature dropped almost 8 degrees in the area that Iaconelli was fishing. He utilized the tube almost exclusively then and had 15 bites. For the first two days, he had been catching them right next to the target, but for some reason, on Day Three he had to cast 1-3 feet away from the target.
"Maybe it was a little warmer in the roots," Iaconelli said. "The key for the whole week was time management and knowing they were there. I had the whole area to myself save for the 30 to 50 spectators that were there with me."
Brian Snowden (Third, 52-14)
Day One: 15-9
Day Two: 19-4
Day Three: 18-1
Like Iaconelli, Snowden also made the run to Pool 4, but he was fishing the far end of the pool in an area known as the Jungle. He shared that water with a few other contestants, most notably Casey Ashley, Jami Fralick and Bobby Lane, all who made the final day.
Fralick and Snowden travel together, helping each other out, and they both fished the same area all week.
The key to the area, as Snowden explained it, was two ditches with a ridge of pad stems that dead ended out in the backwater the two shared. They would both fish up and down both edges.
"It is a big area, about three football fields in size," Snowden said. "There are pad stems and stumps. I would just go down one ditch throwing to the left, then maybe go down the other throwing to the right. I just wanted to vary my approach."
Snowden also had a small area in Sullivans where he fished a channel with stumps. The channel had 2 to 4 feet of water, with the stumps in 2 feet or less. The first day he caught two there and then went to the Jungle.
His primary lure in the Jungle was a swimming jig, one that Fralick turned him onto.
"Jami was a big help — showing me to swim that jig," Snowden said. "That really was his creation."
The jig was a 3/8-ounce green pumpkin jig with strands of orange and chartreuse. He fished that with a Zoom Super Chunk trailer on 17-pound test line and a 7-foot St. Croix rod.
On Day Two, he started in the same backwater area and again caught two nice keepers on a watermelon/red Zoom Super Hog. Then he ran to the Jungle to finish off his limit.
Things took a turn for the worse on Day Three, when he lost his lower unit running to his first spot after locking through into Pool 4. By the time the Nitro service team could get his new boat down to him, he didn't arrive at his spot until 11 a.m. That lost time was critical since he had to head back to the lock by 1:40 p.m.
In view of the lost time, Snowden decided to go straight to the Jungle, where he caught his 18 pounds and then had to leave.
"If I had another hour, I might have been able to cull the 2-pounder in my well for a 4-pounder," Snowden said.
One thing that Snowden figured out as the week went on is that as the temperatures cooled, the fish moved a little from right up on the bank toward the middle.
"The key for me is that I'm really good at figuring out small areas and dissecting angles," Snowden said. "Also, I would cut lanes in the grass with the motor and that seemed to help reposition the fish."
Mike McClelland (Fourth, 52-1)
Day One: 13-14
Day Two: 16-8
Day Three: 21-11
A huge final day helped McClelland to the best Classic finish of his career.
He was fishing in Pool 5 in an area known as White House and focused on isolated stumps. The individual, bigger stumps along ridges in 3 to 4 feet of water were the most productive for McClelland. He kept his boat in 8 to 10 feet of water and the key was to be along the edge of the break, casting to the targets.
Three lures were the most productive for McClelland: a spinnerbait and two types of jigs.
His most productive lure was a 3/8-ounce green gourd Jewel Finesse Jig with a Zoom Super Chunk trailer. He also threw a 3/8-ounce Jewel Football Jig also in green gourd with an Ultravibe Speed Craw.
He fished the jigs on a new Quantum PT series reel on a Falcon 7-foot, 4-inch Mike McClelland signature series rod and 20-pound Seaguar Invisx fluorocarbon.
The spinnerbait he used was a 3/8-ounce sexy shad War Eagle Finesse Spinnerbait.
Bryan Schmidt (Sixth, 51-1)
Day One: 15-5
Day Two: 13-11
Day Three: 22-1
On the strength of the second-biggest bag of the final day, Bryan Schmidt broke into the top six and finished highest among Federation Nation anglers.
His area in Pool 5 featured a duck blind and stumps, which he targeted the first two days. On Day Three, the water temperature had dropped to 47 degrees in the morning, so he changed areas, planning to return in the afternoon.
When he came back, the water had warmed up to 51 or 52 degrees. On a hunch, he decided to go up shallow, where a few logjams had created small hyacinth mats up near the bank.
With a Texas Sidewinders flipping stick in hand rigged with a 1-ounce Tru-Tungsten weight and a Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver, Schmidt started punching thick mats.
"I left the docks planning to swing for the fences," Schmidt said. "When I noticed the water starting to warm up, I started flipping the hyacinths and before you know it, my observer Donovan was dodging 5-pounders."