Rusty reflexes at Logan Martin

As with any competitive sport, if you want to excel in the bass tournament arena, you must practice regularly. Pro golfers work on their swings almost every day. Major League ball players take regular batting practice. Pro basketball players shoot hoops incessantly.

My lack of time on the water was painfully evident when I fished the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open at Logan Martin Lake last week as a co-angler. I don’t believe I was ever around fish that would have put me in the Top 12. But I certainly muffed opportunities that could have earned a check.

When I arrived at Pell City for the tournament, I hadn’t picked up a rod since the Douglas Southern Open the previous month. I made my first cast of 2013 at the Douglas event. That kind of effort just won’t cut it.

My first day partner at Logan Martin, Alabamian Jimmy Bahakel, is a man of few words. We launched about 45 minutes before our boat number was called. He didn’t speak two words during that time. I didn’t push the issue. I figured he was focusing on his game plan. I didn’t want to upset his apple cart.

It’s not that Bahakel (don’t ask me how to pronounce that) wasn’t a nice guy. When he did speak sparingly during the day, he did so with humor. After setting the hook, he said “fish on” with less enthusiasm than if you had asked someone to pass the salt.

He said “fish on” seven or eight times that day and culled a limit that weighed something over 9 pounds. I managed a three-bass limit that went 4-12. It put me in the middle of the pack. Those were the only three bass I caught that day.

Limits were the norm for boaters and co-anglers alike at Logan Martin, thanks to the lake’s healthy population of Coosa River strain spotted bass. At the weigh-in stage, many of the competitors commented to Tournament Director Chris Bowes how mean those Coosa spots are. They weren’t complaining.

Bahakel and I began the day fishing a short stretch of riprap with a culvert at one end. Minutes after we started casting, Elite Series pros Stephen Browning and Ott DeFoe idled through the culvert, one right behind the other.

I learned later that neither of them did well that morning in the shallow backwater on the other side of the culvert. However, both rebounded that day to bring in solid limits.

I pulled one 2-pound spotted bass off the riprap on a Strike King Caffeine Shad. We fished in that area for maybe 45 minutes. Then we left and spent the rest of the day fishing for spotted bass offshore.

Bahakel caught all his bass on two baits. One was a 1/4-ounce shaky head jig sporting a full-bodied, 6-inch straight tail worm in a dark purplish color. The other was a very fat, deeply ribbed chartreuse fry that he dragged across the bottom with a Carolina Rig. Both baits produced about the same number of bites.

I caught my final two bass on a shaky head worm, but not until I switched from the 1/8-ounce jig I started with to a 1/4-ounce jig. I suspect that the stained water had something to do with that.

For Day Two I drew Kyle Fox of Lakeland, Fla. Fox had caught heavy largemouth bass during practice from flooded bank grass. The gambit that produced those bites was swimming a whitish Strike King 1/4-ounce swimming jig dressed with a white craw with lively pinchers. I didn’t catch the brand.

Fox was casting the jig into the grass and burning it all the way back to the boat. He told me that the strikes he got during practice where vicious.

On the first day of the tournament, Fox ran his swim-jig, bank-grass pattern for most of the day without putting a largemouth in his livewell. He bailed on the largemouth during the final hour to cast for spotted bass. He caught three of them for 5-something pounds.

“I’m so far behind I have to go for the largemouths again,” Fox told me. “It’s the only way I have a chance to catch enough weight to get a check.”

So Fox again flailed the bank grass with his swim jig for most of the day without catching a bass. However, we took a 90-minute spotted bass break during the middle of the day. We were casting to a rocky bank at the mouth of a creek.

During that time, Fox landed seven keeper spots on a 1/8-ounce shaky head jig with a dark, straight-tail worm. I was fishing the 1/4-ounce jig that worked for me the day before with a smaller, thinner worm in a lighter color.

I didn’t get a bite until I downsized to a 1/8-ounce jig and bummed a few of the worms that Fox was using. Then I proceeded to absolutely bungle four bites that could have been my ticket to a check. I got what I deserved for not making time to get a fishing rod in my hands more often this spring.

I don’t believe the reason I got the bites after making the switch was due to the size of the jig. I’m convinced that the spots either preferred the larger, darker worm, or that they had an easier time seeing it in the stained water.

After the spotted bass break, Fox hammered the shallow grass with his swim jig to the bitter end. I plucked a keeper out of the grass by pitching a jig into a deeper stretch of the greenery. That was my day.

I have only three weeks to get ready for the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open at the James River. I will be fishing that one as a boater, thanks to Phoenix President Gary Clouse. He is generously loaning one of his Phoenix boats to me so I can compete in the Northern Opens as a boater.

Between now and then, I’d better get on the water at every opportunity if I hope to get off to a good start.

Check out my photos from behind the scenes at Logan Martin.