It's been a while since many of the Bassmaster Tournament Trail pros have seen North Carolina's High Rock Lake. Though three Bassmaster Classic champions have been crowned on this lake, the last came in 1998 and a BASS tour-level event hasn't returned since. So when practice for the Bassmaster Memorial — the first of this season's Bassmaster Majors — begins, the pros will be jogging their memories and dissecting every element of the fishery trying put a pattern together. And should they be successful the first two days, they will have to come up with something entirely new. While the full field begin the tournament on High Rock Lake, the event will end with the top anglers fishing a 6-hole course on nearby Lake Townsend.
With so many variables on a lake that for some is shrouded in a little bit of mystery, we talked to three Berkley pros and asked them for their thoughts on the lake and what baits and tackle would play pivotal roles in determining the winner of the event.
Arroyo Grande, Calif.
Last time out: Lake Guntersville: 35th Place
Current Angler of the Year Standing: 3rd Place
High Rock Lake Experience: None. Never been there.
"I have never been there before and have no idea what I am going to do. So I took some old Bassmaster videotapes out and started watching them. I used to videotape the Bassmaster show every weekend back when Bob Cobb was doing it. And I found three tapes that had two Bassmaster Classics on them and one other event on High Rock Lake. I've watched those about fives times each now. They are pretty informative, they showed creeks where guys fished with crankbaits. It showed how Denny (Brauer) won it flipping docks and so did Bryan (Kerchal). But it's great to be able to get an idea for the type of structure that the lake has and where the guys did some of their offshore cranking. I took some notes as far as which creeks they were at and a couple of key spot where David Fritts was fishing that had some different colored houses on it. So I would note 'tan house with the blue trim' and stuff like that. I have no other info. That's pretty much all I have to go on. We'll see what happens. I like flipping docks and let's hope there are some fish up shallow still. I don't know the lake well enough to go out and start cranking. It takes a long time to go out there and figure out all the little spots where they could be laying on.
"The whole thing was I didn't know I was eligible for the Majors this year. I didn't know until Georgia that I was in the running. By the time I found out it was already past the cutoff to receive outside information. I don't have anybody to call there, anyway. I just have to make the best of it. Even last year I didn't have very much info on these places where we fish, I don't know a lot of people to call. I think it helps me going into this event having had to do it on my own so much in the past. I show up, check out what the water temp is and go fishing. I don't have to worry about chasing other people's patterns, which is good since these lakes are so big. A lack of experience can hurt you, but at the same time you still have to find fish even if someone said they were here or there 30 days ago. Fish move. If I find them, I find them.
"At Clear Lake I've done really well in the past on boat docks. In the years up there it made me pretty efficient at finding out which boat docks fish are relating to, key things. I'm comfortable I can cut down on the time it takes. In a half day I can figure out which docks they are on. I think that fishing quick hitting different kinds of docks in a few hours helps you know if they're around. Then you can run that pattern throughout the lake. I'm fine with slowing down and searching those docks to see if they are there, even if it is a slower tactic than some people use when fishing new water.
"This time of year I like to trim skirts way down a Berkley Classic Power Jig and a smaller natural color crawfish imitation. I'll flip it on 17- to 20-pound fluorocarbon line. I'm not trying to overpower the fish. They just spawned so they're kind of finicky. I'll also flip a PowerBait Beast and a Chigger Craw and High Rock. The Chigger Craw is a 4-inch bait that would do really well. If I feel that they are around the docks and not attacking baits, I might back off with a drop shot or a shaky head worm. If there aren't enough shallow fish, I might be in trouble.
"I'll probably fish for numbers, hope I can catch 20 fish a day and hope that a few of them are giants. I'll fish something a 2-pounder can eat and some a 7-pounder can eat. With the Beast, I'll rig it on a 4/0 extra-wide-gap hook; and depending on how deep they are, I can flip a lighter weight 1/8- to ¼-ounce. If the fish are suspending on the docks and I want a reaction bite, I might go to a ½- or ¾-ounce to get a quicker fall. I'll just have to let them tell me what they are doing.
"The Classics that I've watched, they were won with anywhere up to 46 pounds for three days. So I would say somewhere between 14-16 pounds a day to win it. If you can get on a 3-pound average fish and you get a couple of big ones you'll have a chance to win."
Last time out: Lake Guntersville: 53rd Place
Current Angler of the Year Standing: 1st Place
High Rock Lake Experience: Fished his first Bassmaster Classic there in 1998 and finished 15th. Hasn't been back since.
"Back in 1998 when I fished High Rock Lake, it was the first Classic I qualified for so I have some good and bad memories of it. I remember I was just a rookie, and I was in fifth place after first day and I thought it was cool – was part of the press conference and all that stuff. After that it went down hill pretty quick and I just lost all my fish. I remember that the lake had some good, quality fish in certain places. I think there's a possibility that we could see some 20-pound stringers but I would imagine that 15 pounds a day would probably be pretty good.
"In this tournament, there are going be a lot of different things going on. Most of the fish are going to be postspawn and some of them will have moved out to the humps and the ledges and things like that and guys throwing Carolina rigs and crankabits will be able to catch them. I am hoping there will be some fish left shallow on the docks. I remember the lake has plenty of docks. So for the guys who like to fish shallow there should be a lot of pilings and a lot of docks to fish. I plan to go into this thing committed to fishing shallow water around the docks. I figure if I am going to have a good shot at winning it, my best chance will be fishing docks. I am sure there will be some guys who have better knowledge of the lake who will be out fishing structure.
"My first few days of practice will have to determine if there are shallow fish that I can catch. The nice thing about the Majors is there are no points involved and you can really swing for the fence. If you hit it out of the park, you can knock down a really big check. If you strike out, there's not a whole lot lost.
"I kind of vision that I'll have some shallow crankbaits tied on, maybe even smaller ones and maybe some top-water action for in the mornings. I figure a flipping bite will be a part of it, so I will use a Berkley PowerBait 10-inch Power Worm, a small jig and a Berkley PowerBait Chigger Craw. Those are things I have in my head going in. I may have to revise those once I get there but those are my go-to baits. I'm kind of covering all of my bases, having some small baits tied on and something bigger. What the fish want will probably change, too: from big in morning to small in the afternoon.
"The whole key to fishing post spawn, and it doesn't matter if it's High Rock or any other lake in the country, is that you have to fish slow. Once they get done spawning they are lethargic and they don't have a lot of energy. If you slow down you get more bites."
Last time out: Lake Guntersville: 53rd Place
Current Angler of the Year Standing: 32nd Place
High Rock Lake Experience: Fished 1998 Bassmaster Classic there, finishing ninth. Hasn't seen the lake since.
"I haven't been on the lake since that Classic but I remember that it fishes really small. Very busy lake, more of a pleasure-boat-type lake. I remember it being pretty silted in the upper half. But that was the last time I was there. I don't really know. It's been almost 10 years. It was kind of downhill last time we were there.
"I'm not sure what the dominant forage is in the lake, maybe threadfin shad, gizzard shad and lots of bluegill. I'm sure the bass will be in a post-spawn, early summer pattern. What I've seen on a geographic line across the country is that just about everything is off the beds and in a post-spawn to early summer pattern. I think it's an all largemouth in the lake. I remember it being nothing but largemouth that last time I was there.
"For this tournament, there are probably two or three things that can happen. One is a total dock pattern where most of the fish are up under docks. Also, some type of topwater deal or a floating worm type deal. The floating worm is a Berkley Gulp! 6-inch Float Worm that stays up high, rigged weightless with a 4/0 hook. Just chunk it along dock poles or anything that has a lot of shade to it. Most of the time I like to use a bright or white color but this time of the year it could be more natural like a green pumpkin or something. A lot of that has to do with the color of the water. I'm not sure but I think this time of year the color of the water will clean – not clear but clean.
"Other than the floating worm, there may be some drop patterns, like fishing creek channel drops with big crankbaits, big 10-inch Berkley Power Worms, jigs things like that. I have no earthly idea what the weather is going to have in store for us. I hope it's going to be nice and hot so I can wear my shorts.
"You know, I don't know how you could even guess what kind of weight it will take to win this tournament. I have no idea what the fishability of the lake is these days, whether it's gone up or down. I have no knowledge what's going on over there."