HENDERSONVILLE, Tenn. — Coming off two straight tournaments where offshore ledge fishing was the dominant pattern, Old Hickory Lake threw a curveball to the Bassmaster Elite Series pros in the Tennessee Triumph presented by Longhorn.
With the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers pulling very little water through Old Hickory Lock & Dam, the offshore bite never developed. And the shallow-water pattern, which few thought would hold up for four days, did just that.
Winner Kevin Wirth caught all his fish shallow — mostly flipping isolated wood structure in three feet of water or less. And almost every other pro in the top 12 caught the majority of his bass in shallow water.
First, Kevin Wirth, 55-10
The 45-year-old Crestwood, Ky., native mentioned on Day One, when he caught the 17-pound, 2-ounce Berkley Heavyweight Bag of the tournament, that he was "uncomfortable" fishing in the shallow water where he found fish. But he was more uncomfortable fishing around all the boats concentrating around river channel ledges. So Wirth stayed shallow and got more comfortable there as the week went along. He caught most of his bass flipping a green pumpkin Berkley Power Hawg. When the water was calm, he'd use a quarter-ounce weight; when the wind came up, he'd switch to 3/8ths. Sunday after the lake level rose and obscured some of his wood cover, he caught his biggest bass and another 2-pounder on a buzzbait.
Second, Bill Lowen, 50-5
The North Bend, Ohio, native felt at home this week. He said Old Hickory Lake, built on the Cumberland River, reminded him of his home waters on the Ohio River. Instead of flipping finesse-type baits, Lowen likes to go the other direction — using big soft plastics. With a quarter-ounce River2Sea tungsten weight, Lowen caught all his bass the first three days on a 10-inch black or red shad Berkley Power Worm. When the water muddied Sunday, he switched to a 5-inch Berkley Power Hawg. He also caught one bass last week on a green pumpkin jig.
Third, Randy Howell, 50-5
The Springville, Ala., pro said fellow Alabama resident Tommy Swindle taught him this technique a couple of years ago — fishing a big 10-inch worm on a shaky head. He used the combination of a 3/8ths-ounce Lunker Lure football shaky head, which features a 5/0 hook, and a Zoom Old Monster worm to catch the Purolator Big Bass of the tournament — a 6-6 Friday — and his other two biggest bass in the tournament. Sunday Howell switched to a 3/8ths-ounce Vertical Lures Jig X coupled with a Yamamoto twin tailed trailer and swam it through shallow grass. The jig color was Cayuga craw, a green pumpkin/amber/watermelon combination that looks like both a crawfish and a bream, both of which the bass are feeding on this time of year in that shallow water, according to Howell.
Fourth, Dean Rojas, 48-12
The Lake Havasu, Ariz., resident is famous for fishing his SPRO Dean Rojas Signature Frog, and Old Hickory Lake's shallow bite set up perfectly for him to concentrate on using that topwater lure last week. He did have to mix up the color patterns a bit. "I needed something I could see," Rojas said, "because the shade pockets were so dark. Sometimes when I would throw the frog in there, it would never come back up again. They'd have it immediately. I was like, 'Where did my frog go?' Then they'd be swimming out with it." Rojas started with a natural green color, then switched to green-and-yellow, leopard and green-and-black. He also caught a few bass each morning on a crankbait.
Fifth, Alton Jones, 48-10
The Waco, Texas, resident and defending Bassmaster Classic champion relied on an Ozark craw-colored Booyah Pigskin football head jig trailed with a YUM Wooly Hawg Tail green pumpkin trailer. He used a 3/4-ounce jig on his deeper structure and would switch to a half-ounce jig on the shallower stuff. He also caught several bass on a Texas-rigged YUM Ribbontail worm in either plum or watermelon/red flake color patterns. "When I was fishing real heavy cover, I'd go to the worm," Jones said. He also caught fish on a Booyah buzzbait and a few on a shallow-running crankbait.
Fifth, Rick Clunn, 48-10
The four-time Bassmaster Classic champion from Ava, Mo., relied almost exclusively on a Lucky Craft RC 3.5 crankbait in a green copper shad color pattern as he worked a shallow flat that had a creek channel running through it. He also caught three of the bass he weighed in on a green pumpkin half-ounce jig.
Seventh, Brent Chapman, 47-11
The Lake Quivira, Kan., resident said he went through about 10 bags of plum-colored Zoom Old Monster worms, which he Texas-rigged. His other primary lure was a T&C Custom crankbait, which a friend of his makes by hand out of balsa wood. It's a square-billed crankbait that "puts off a really good vibration and it's real buoyant, so it bounces off the wood real good and gets a reaction strike out of these fish." The crankbait runs about 2 or 3 feet deep. The color pattern on the crankbait was chartruese-and-black.
Eighth, Ray Sedgwick, 44-14
The Cross, S.C., resident used a half-ounce Strike King jig in a peanut butter-and-jelly color pattern trailed with a watermelon candy Zoom Ultra Vibe Speed Craw in 8 to 10 feet of water. When he went to shallower water — 6 feet or less, Sedgwick changed to a quarter-ounce green pumpkin Critter jig that he makes and trailed it with a Zoom Critter Craw. "A lot of those fish were sitting in a foot of water of less," Sedgwick said.
Ninth, Mike Iaconelli, 44-3
The Runnemede, N.J., resident caught 90 percent of his fish on a 4-inch Berkley Power Tube in a black-and-blue color pattern with a quarter-ounce Tru Tungsten weight. He was targeting isolated wood cover in shallow water. He also fished a green pumpkin Berkley Power Hawg on a 3/16ths-ounce green pumpkin Tru Tungsten weight when he had to show the bass a little something different on the same piece of structure. He also caught some deeper fish each day on a ledge right across from the Sanders Ferry Park boat ramp using a Berkley football shaky head Gripper jig trailed with a Tru Tungsten finesse worm.
10th, Todd Faircloth, 42-14
The Jasper, Texas, pro said he "never dreamed most of the top 12 would have been fishing shallow" when he started this tournament, after he split his practice time about half-and-half between deep ledges offshore and shallow cover. But, again, with no water running through the dam last week, the offshore bite fizzled. And Faircloth, as he's done all season in staying in Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year contention, successfully adjusted in making the top 12 cut. He caught most of his bass on an All Terrain Tackle finesse jig with a green pumpkin Yamamoto craw trailer.
11th, Steve Daniel, 42-4
The Clewiston, Fla., resident enjoys fishing shallow, and this tournament played right into his strength. The 55-year-old Daniel enjoys using "old school" tackle, and last week was no exception. He caught all his bass on a 25-year-old homemade half-ounce brown flipping jig. "I cut the old skirt off of it, it was so dried up, and put a new black-and-blue skirt on it," Daniel said. "It's an ugly jig." He trailed it with a black-and-blue Berkley Chigger Craw. Daniel's 4-2 largemouth tied for Purolator Big Bass honors Saturday. Daniel saw enough 4-pounders in one shallow area that he stayed there almost exclusively. "My boat was sitting in 4 to 5 feet of water mostly," he said. "I was throwing at the bank. Most of the fish bit about 3 feet deep."
12th, Marty Stone, 42-3
The Fayetteville, N.C., pro said he was "all over the board" in the lures he used last week. The first day, when he had 16 pounds, 5 ounces, including 6-, 5- and 4-pounders, Stone caught them on a crankbait in 14 feet of water. The second day he caught most of his fish on a Texas-rigged Zoom Old Monster worm. "The key to that was I had a half-ounce Tru-Tungsten weight and a (Tru-Tungsten) Force Bead," Stone said. "That Force Bead made all the difference in the world. I caught 10 to my partner's one." He caught some on the worm again Saturday, but also started flipping docks with a Tru-Tungsten T-Rig and a Yamamoto Senko. Sunday he caught four keepers on a Lucky Craft RC 2.5 crankbait and the other keeper on a SPRO Dean Rojas Signature Frog.