Sometimes, says Oklahoma pro Kenyon Hill, it's better to zig when everyone else zags, a lesson he learned at the Lake Dardanelle Elite 50 last spring near Russellville, Ark.
Randy Howell won the event by swimming a jig through the shallows. In fact, just about all of the E-50 pros were targeting the grass, fishing tube baits, jigs and anything else they could swim through the leafy cover.
Hill was doing the same thing throughout practice and was catching a few fish. But it didn't feel right.
"It was very frustrating," he recalled. "It was foreign to me, and I really don't like doing something that most of the field is doing."
It wasn't until the last day of practice that Hill decided to abandon the popular pattern for something else. "I decided that if I was going to do anything in this tournament, I was going to have to make a change. There was something about the lake that reminded me of fishing Lake Texoma as a kid, and I recalled getting on a big fish pattern during the spring by fishing fat, square-lipped crankbaits on deep rocky banks."
He tied on a shad-colored shallow runner, located a rocky shore and immediately caught a 3-pounder and a 5-pounder. That told him what he needed to know, so he spent the rest of the practice day driving around looking for more rocky banks.
"Nobody was on them," said Hill. "Everyone was thinking grass, grass, grass. There were all these big beautiful rocks tumbling into deep water and only Stacey King and I were fishing them."
He caught 15 keepers the first day of the tournament and leaped into contention. He stayed with the rock pattern and finished fourth. King was seventh.
"It's not often that a pattern so obvious goes overlooked by so many guys at this level," he said.
"The lesson I learned is it's easier to fall back on something you know rather than trying to fish a new style in a tournament scenario. Sometimes you're better off zigging when everyone else is zagging."