It's only fitting that the late Buck Perry was inducted into the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame prior to the start of the 38th annual Bassmaster Classic.Perry, known as the father of structure fishing, would have been proud of the top finishers who employed many of his teachings to catch impressive bags of bass under difficult conditions.For example, Lake Hartwell was some 15 feet below normal, water temperatures lingered in the upper 40s and low 50s, and weather conditions varied from near freezing temperatures to bluebird skies and mild temperatures.Anglers at the top of the leaderboard knew it was about timing, targeting the baitfish and following bass' deep migration routes to do well in this event.No previous Classic produced so many deep patterns built within Perry's structure fishing principles, nor has there been such a variety of lures and techniques employed by the pros. Here's how the Top 5 caught 'em.
Alton Jones did something during a Bassmaster Classic he's never done before: He started the tournament on a spot where he had made only one cast during practice.
"My son and I pulled in there, made simultaneous casts and each caught a quality bass," says the 44-year-old Waco, Texas, pro. "We left that spot and I never saw it again until the tournament started."
That gamble paid off with his first Classic victory. And while he fished similar areas, the sweet starting spot gave him the confidence in a deep water pattern that would hold up for three days and under a variety of weather conditions.He caught his limit on a jigging spoon with the first seven casts of the tournament. And while most of those were culled once he began catching bigger ones on the jig, he knew he had a productive area that could hold up under changing weather conditions. He caught 17 pounds, 5 ounces the first day, then added limits of 18-11 and 13-7 to win by more than 5 pounds.Jones targeted mouths of spawning pockets on the lower end of the lake near the dam. To be productive, those pockets had to have heavy timber in the mouth, specifically at 30-foot depths. He located those with his Humminbird Side Imaging unit that depicted clear images of the timberline.When I looked around the deep pockets, I noticed the bottom was bare until you got out to about 30 feet," he explains. "It was a moonscape between the shoreline and the timber."Furthermore, those mouths that had ditches wiggling out of timber into the pockets were the best. The timber provided the bass with a safe haven in winter while the ditches gave them a direct route to spawning areas once the water warmed.The spoon bite died after the first day, and the jigs — Booyah's Pigskin and an A-Jig — kept him atop the leaderboard. Jones said he created his own skirts at the event, incorporating Buckeye Lures' Mop Jig skirt, which has thick, round rubber material and strands of silicone. Both brown/purple jigs were tipped with a Yum Chunk to resemble local crawfish. He dragged the Pigskin over isolated wood along the outer edge of the timber and the A-Jig into the thick stuff."It was slow and tedious because of the depths and the fact the fish wanted a slow moving bait to imitate the crawfish," Jones describes. "Whenever I felt that bait hit a piece of wood, I knew I was about to get bit."
CLASSIC DETAILS: NO. 1 ALTON JONES
TACKLE: Jigs: 7-foot medium action Kistler Magnesium rod and Ardent XS casting reel spooled with 14- and 17-pound Silver Thread Fluorocarbon line. Spoon: 6-6 Kistler Magnesium medium-heavy rod and Ardent baitcaster spooled with 17-pound Silver Thread Fluorocarbon line.
TECHNIQUE: The spoon was jigged vertically in deep ditches around timber in the morning while the jigs were crawled slowly over wood in the ditches the rest of the day.
SECOND PLACE: CLIFF PACE
Mississippian Cliff Pace located bass in areas similar to Classic winner Jones, but he couldn't get the consistent bites from the quality fish.
Like Jones, he found bass schooling in heavy, deep water timber at the mouths of coves, but he had to rely upon three distinctly different methods to catch them.
"The bass were in the timber waiting for baitfish to get riled up by stripers that were hanging around the deep water," he describes. "I've found that largemouth are opportunists, and when the stripers get the baitfish stirred up, the bass move in for the kill."On the first day, the bait got "penned up" in the backs of the pockets where he could pick the bass off by throwing a Buckeye Lures Su-Spin Blade tricked out with a V&M Pork Shad soft jerkbait. The Su-Spin Blade has two blades that clatter beneath a lead head onto which he attached the soft jerkbait.
Pace made long casts into the balls of shad holding in about 5 feet of water and cranked the bait slowly back to him.
That produced most of his 18 pounds, 10 ounces the first day. He followed up with limits weighing 14-11 and 11 pounds on Days 2 and 3.When the sun came out the second day, he had to move deep and employ a drop shot rig in 46 feet of water around the timber. And on the last day, he had to alter the plan because the bass suspended 35 feet down.When I dropped down to the fish, the fish that bit would follow the bait to the bottom and eat it," he describes"But it was tedious fishing."He also caught some fish by casting a jigging spoon into areas where he saw bass busting baitfish and on a jig that he worked through bends in ditches winding through the timber.
"The jig produced my bigger fish, especially when the bass were on the bottom and packed into those tight turns," he explains. "I had to work it really slowly to get them to bite."Pace said he had to change spots often, noting that the longer he sat on one spot, the tougher it got."It's kind of funny, because if I didn't see fish on the graph, that told me they were on the bottom and would bite. But if I saw them on the graph (suspended), I knew it would be difficult to catch them."
CLASSIC DETAILS: NO. 2 CLIFF PACE
LURES: 1/4-ounce Buckeye Lures Su-Spin Blades (white) rigged with pearl and blueback herring V&M Pork Shad; V&M Pork Pin and finesse worms (green pumpkin/chartreuse tail and green pumpkin/blue); 1/2-ounce V&M Cliff Pace Signature Series football jig (Moneymaker color, which is a natural green) tipped with an unnamed 5-inch twin-tail grub (green pumpkin); 3/4-ounce Hopkins spoon (silver).
TACKLE: Su-Spin Blade: Shimano Curado D baitcast reel spooled with 15-pound Trilene fluorocarbon and matched with a 7-foot medium-heavy Castaway Skeleton rod. Spoon and jig: Curado D reel, 7-3 Castaway GrassMaster Braid rod and 15-pound Trilene fluorocarbon. Drop shot: 6-10 Jeff Kriet Castaway spinning rod, Shimano Symetre spinning reel spooled with 8-pound Trilene fluorocarbon, 2/0 Gamakatsu hook and 3/8-ounce drop shot sinker 10 inches below the hook.
TECHNIQUE: He used the Su-Spin Blades in the backs of pockets when bass moved in shallow to feed on baitfish, used the spoon to make long casts to bass busting bait in open water, and drop shotted the finesse worms in deep timber in the mouths of coves.
Kevin VanDam had never been as confident with a pattern going into a Bassmaster Classic, yet that confidence likely prevented him from winning a third title.
"I spent too much time on my main lake pattern the last day and never got a bite there," he laments. Throughout his practice, VanDam caught more than 20 pounds daily by fishing Strike King crankbaits on clay points on the lower lake. His baits were custom-painted to resemble the blueback herring baitfish — a darker model for overcast days and a translucent version for bright days. He also weighted them with a Grigsby Quick Clip weight (originally designed for tube baits), which he attached to the front hook hanger, that helped get the crankbait deeper and to suspend when he hesitated his retrieve over the ends of the points.
"I sat over 30 feet and cast into about 8, then raked the bait over the top of the short grass," he says. "That grass on the clay points was key."
The pattern yielded 20 pounds, 3 ounces the first day, but the bass and bait left the area under the windless, bluebird skies the second day.
"I was shocked," says the two-time Classic champ. "I never expected them to leave, but blueback herring like to roam, and the bass follow them. They both were gone."
VanDam ran 30 miles uplake where he fished the balsa Flat Shad in small pockets and tributaries. Shad was the primary forage up there, he notes, and the water was slightly stained.
"The cold rain from the day before dropped the water temperature in the larger creeks, so I keyed on shorter pockets that got less runoff," he described.
VanDam threw at small points, stumps, logs and docks scattered along the shore to catch 11-14 the second day.
"I should have gone back up there from the start on the third day, but the deep points had produced bigger fish so well, and I needed big bites to catch the leaders," he describes. "But that just didn't happen."
When he gave up on the deep points the last day, he had only 2 1/2 hours to fish. He ran uplake and caught 11-7 in the pockets, but believes he could have done better had he gone there sooner.
"I had no idea the leaders were going to struggle," he says. "If I would have gone to my backup pattern sooner, I could have finished higher."
CLASSIC DETAILS: NO. 3 KEVIN VANDAM
Bobby Lane may have had the most consistent pattern of the Bassmaster Classic leaders, but he couldn't get the quality bites he needed to get on top.
In fact, the Bassmaster rookie employed some of each of the same techniques used by the front-runners: a jigging spoon and a drop shot in deep water, and a crankbait along the shoreline.
"I fished the spoon and drop shot in the morning, and then ran a crankbait pattern in the afternoon," says the 34-year-old Florida pro.
The deep bite was automatic the first two days. Lane found a pocket up the Tugaloo River that had a depression adjacent to a deep secondary point. The water was 20 feet on top of the point but dropped into a 36-foot hole before rising back to 28 feet. The spot was no bigger than two boats.
"The wind blew in there every evening and morning and the bait stacked up in that hole," he describes. "I could go in there and catch a few bass on the jigging spoon, and when that slowed, I switched to the drop shot. I saw every fish I caught on my graph and it was just a matter of getting a bait in front of them."
Lane added a barrel swivel to his line on the jigging spoon to reduce line twist and attached a fluorocarbon leader between it and the lure.
When that action died in late morning, he picked up the crankbait and began running deep pockets that had steep banks.
CLASSIC DETAILS: NO. 4 BOBBY LANE
TECHNIQUE: He used a spoon and a drop shot early in the morning in a deep hole adjacent to a point, and then spent the rest of the day cranking deeper banks of pockets.
Greg Hackney knew the blueback herring forage and shad were key to finding Classic bass, so he made that his focus as he searched for bassy spots on Lake Hartwell.
"Even though I fished pockets and major creek arms, everything was channel related, where the herring or shad like to hang," offers the Gonzales, La., pro.
Not only did they keep him in the game, but they produced a fifth place his highest in six Classic appearances. A strong favorite wherever he fishes, Hackney had never finished higher than 19th in a Classic.
And, had he not made a slight strategical error by leaving a hot spot too soon, he may have finished higher.
The sweet spot was a creek bend against a riprap bank along a major highway. The rocky bank dropped into a 25-foot hole along a 100-yard stretch.
Hackney positioned his boat close to the bank and rambled shallow running Series 3 or Flat Shad crankbaits along the rocks.
"The baitfish were stacked in there when the wind pounded against the rocks," he states. "I made only one pass the first day, caught 15 pounds and left. I should have stayed there and beat on them. I had no idea the spot was so weather related."
Hackney left the spot thinking he could save those fish for later in the tournament. However, the wind didn't blow as hard thereafter.
He also discovered an early morning pattern in the backs of pockets that he used daily before running and gunning secondary points in creeks.
The morning spot offered a creek channel running down one side of the pocket where he fancast the shallower edge with the Flat Shad.
"The river channel ran across the mouth of the pocket, and the stripers and bass moved to the back to feed on herring early," he describes. "When the water warmed up, they left, so I had to do something else."
That's when he ran deep, secondary points at the mouths of pockets in major creek arms.
"The creek kissed those points, and that's where the bass were," Hackney offers.
Both crankbaits ran shallow, but the Series 3 deflected better, which he says was critical in the calmer water.
The Flat Shad worked better in windblown areas.
CLASSIC DETAILS: NO. 5 Greg Hackney
TACKLE: 6-6 Quantum Energy cranking rods, Quantum PT Series baitcast reels and 12-pound Gamma Fluorocarbon line.