FLORENCE, Ala. — Kevin Short was sick of hearing about swimbaits, and Thursday he did his best to change the conversation.
Kicking it "old school," Short, of Mayflower, Ark., tied on two comfort choices — a jig and a crankbait — and toted 20 pounds, 3 ounces, of Pickwick Lake bass to the scales at the Alabama Charge, enough to hold off Cliff Pace of Petal, Miss., by 10 ounces.
Short was mired in 74th place in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the year standings heading into this week — indicative of his lack of affinity for the swimbait — and needed a shot in the arm here. The first leg of the Elite Series has been dominated by swimbaits as Skeet Reese and Byron Velvick won with the frustrating technique in the previous two events.
But Short knew he was getting back to his strengths with the schedule focusing on Tennessee River impoundments that fish more traditionally. And Short cashed in, reversing his sliding trend after a rough stretch to begin the season.
"I've been so discombobulated lately and I knew I just needed to get my brain in the right place to start catching fish," said Short, who scored his first Elite Series victory last year on the Mississippi River. "I needed to get back on track and I needed to stick to what I know best. So far, it's working"
Short started attacking shallow early, keying in on largemouths. As the day progressed, Short moved to deeper water, following where he felt the fish were going. By 10 a.m., he boated three decent bass, which gave him the opportunity to relax and expand on his areas.
With a bevy of 2- and 3-pounders saturated in his area, Short figured out a way to only target the bigger bass. While he has limited boat traffic in his area, he said none of the other competitors have figured out how to catch the largemouth like he has.
"I just feel comfortable fishing like this," said Short. "I'm just happy to get away from that darn swimbait."
There are two polarizing decisions that anglers have to make this week. One, they risk losing valuable time by locking through to Lake Wilson — the move can pay off in spades — or play it safe in Pickwick. Secondly, once a location is established, anglers have to quickly decide to target largemouth or smallmouth as both species are in play this week.
While Short is married to the largemouth bite, Pace is working the smallies.
Plying through a ton of bites, Pace found the right five smallmouths to total 19-9. He was working tight, small areas that were home to roaming smallmouth. He stayed on Pickwick, like Short, and targeted shallow water.
He will duplicate his pattern Friday but with weather approaching — rain is in store for later in the day — Pace wouldn't rule out entirely switching things up.
Instead, he finds himself in contention and is threatening to run away with the TTBAOY trophy.
"I had zero confidence this week," said Reese, the 2007 Angler of the Year and 2009 Bassmaster Classic champion. "That weight is certainly not where I expected to be. Coming in this week, I would have been happy with a top 20."
Edwin Evers, who was tied for fourth in the AOY race heading into this week, was also tied for fourth in the event. Greg Hackney, of Gonzales, La., matched Evers' with 18-9. Hackney, in second to Reese in the AOY, continues to pile up solid tournaments and has prevented Reese from taking a near-insurmountable lead.
In sixth was Aaron Martens of Leeds, Ala., with 18-3. Five-time AOY Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., was 24th with 15-2.
BASS has visited Pickwick Lake, a 47,000-acre Tennessee River fishery, for six events, including a 2002 Southern Open won by Boyd Duckett of Demopolis, Ala., with 33 pounds, 8 ounces, through three days. Duckett was ninth after Thursday on Pickwick.
The Alabama Charge has a top prize of $100,000 and awards valuable points in the angler points standings. The full field will compete Thursday and Friday, with the top 47 advancing to Saturday's competition. From there, the top 12 will advance to Sunday.
The public is invited to attend the daily launches at 7:10 a.m. ET at McFarland Park, 200 James M. Spain Dr., Florence, Ala., 35630. Also free and open to the public, the daily weigh-ins are set for 4:30 p.m. ET at McFarland Park.