It’s going down to the wire

Brock Mosley has repeated the late charge that he’s made each of the last two days. This tournament is going down to the last minute. And it has more last-minute opportunities than most. The anglers can fish right up to check-in time and be in productive water. Two 6-pounders have been caught within casting distance of the check-in spot by Elite Series anglers this week

Waterlines tell the tale

In open water, it’s often hard to distinguish a water level decline without looking at your electronics. But in the shallow pockets, a drop like Pickwick Lake has experienced is unmistakable.

Bill Lowen recently noted this point when he left his dock pattern to see if the flat reed banks he visited yesterday held any potential. One look at this pale brownish vegetation told a clear tale of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s water management proficiency.

Prior to this event, the TVA significantly dropped the lake level, in anticipation of Wednesday’s storm. The massive influx of upstream rainfall required a methodical movement of volume through the system and that swelled Pickwick to the point of nearly covering the takeoff site at McFarland Park.

The water started coming down yesterday, but today has seen a big change. Lowen pointed to an isolated clump of reeds where the muddy stains that marked the recent high water line reached a foot-plus above the current surface level. Looking deeper into the pocket, a dark rim lining the reeds bespoke the falling water truth.

Both Lowen and Cory Johnston have fared well on docks today. Not surprising, given the fish’s need for cover with sufficient depth. Even with the water dropping, docks will remain a viable pattern.

Johnston has an Elite observer

Seth Feider finished 25th on Day 3 at Lake Pickwick. He’s probably going to be ranked second in Angler of the Year points when this tournament becomes final today. But Feider’s mind hasn’t shifted to the next event yet. He’s back on the water this morning, shown here watching his pal Cory Johnston fishing the boat dock that has put him in contention for the title.

Yes, that’s within the rules for another Elite Series angler to be observing after he’s eliminated from competition, provided he doesn’t make a cast or provide any information to any other competitors today. Feider double-checked the rules before venturing out. That’s Feider at the trolling motor. Pat Renwick of the “Stray Casts Outdoor Cartoon Television Show” is believed to be one of the other rain-suited observers. The others are unknown.

Pipkens explains the hook set strategy

Chad Pipkens earned his Championship Tuesday spot by committing to an area upstream of Kogers Island. His two other commitments — a bladed jig and an uncharacteristically slow presentation.

A bladed jig is a solid choice for the grassy ditch he’s targeting and, as the Michigan pro explained, a creeping pace is necessary for tempting fish that are hunkered down in the vegetation.

However, when Pipkens gets one to bite, the fish have typically raced downcurrent and closed the distance to his boat so fast that he’s had trouble setting the hook. Normally, Pipkens wouldn’t have trouble sticking fish — especially with his trailer hook addition; but the aftermath of last week’s heavy rainfall has pushed a fierce current through Pickwick.

It’s simple physics — no matter how fast he reels, a current-swept fish will outrun him. If he can’t come tight, he can’t drive home the hook.

“They’re sitting down there and they’re not eating until it comes right over them,” Pipkens said. “You feel a little (tap) and you get a little slack. You try to catch up them, but in the current, you just can’t.

“The first day, I should have had a really big bag; I just didn’t know how much they’d move. In practice, they’d bite and you could just let them swim around and they weren’t moving. Now, with that current, when they bite, they’re gone with the current.”

The solution: On each bite, Pipkens runs to his back deck.

“You gain (approximately) 15 feet by running to the back,” Pipkens said. “I can tell when one bites, because I can’t feel the blade vibrating. I can’t feel the fish but it finally loads when I run to the back.

“When I started doing that, I put every one of them in the boat. That’s what you need to do.”

Lowen answers Brauer’s message - big time!

Bill Lowen had just put his fourth 2-pounder in his livewell and lamented the “bag of peanuts” he’d caught this morning. Then everything changed, like it can on Pickwick Lake. Lowen was flipping near a boat dock when a game-changer bit.

“Denny Brauer sent me a message last night and told me to catch him a 7-pounder on a black-and-blue jig,” Lowen said after landing a giant. “Oh, my gosh, look at he size of that thing! I think it’s bigger than 7. It might be close to a 10. I don’t know how big it is."

Lowen didn’t weigh it, saying, “It don’t matter how big it is. Let’s just keep fishing.”

Bassmaster legend Denny Brauer, now retired, and Lowen go way back. Brauer took Lowen under his wing, so to speak, when Lowen joined the Elite Series. They were frequently practice partners for several years. And they remain in close contact. This feels like a string connecting B.A.S.S. history, from yesterday to today.

Mosley finally tries “The Horseshoe”

Brock Mosley’s early 16-pound limit, which has him at the top of the leaderboard, produced some dramatic video for “Bassmaster LIVE.” Mosley detailed how he’d been waiting all week to go to the area just below Wilson Dam known as “The Horseshoe.” He needed the current flow to decrease and other anglers to clear out before he felt comfortable enough to try it.

Mosley started the day in a 5th-place tie. But most of his success has been later in the day. So this seemed like a good time to try throwing a spinnerbait in the rapids below Wilson Dam, and it proved to be. Mosley is off to his previous haunts now.

“I think I need two 5-pounders to have a shot,” Mosley said. “It’s been better for me later in the day. Rain is coming. I know these river fish bite better when the weather is nasty.”

It can happen quick on Pickwick

There have already been two examples this morning of how quickly it can happen for a bass angler on Pickwick Lake. Hank Cherry jumped to the top of the leaderboard early with a five-bass limit in 37 minutes - from 7:21 to 7:58. Then it was Cory Johnston’s turn. He caught five between 8:30 and 8:49 - 19 minutes.

That’s another reason why the winner of this tournament isn’t likely to be determined until check-in time.

Will 30-plus come from Pickwick today?

The reason everyone has a chance in today’s Top 10 championship round is twofold: 1) the relatively narrow margin between 1st and 10th place - 5 pounds, 13 ounces; and 2) the potential swimming in Pickwick Lake. Keith Combs tapped that potential last Monday on the first practice day when he had a best five that would have pushed 32 pounds.

“I figured out a little deal throwing a 3/4-ounce Strike King Thunder Cricket,” Combs recalled. “It was like fishing at home on Rayburn or Toledo Bend. They were in these little drains that developed into a current break. I had a 10, a 7, three more in the 5-pound class and I don’t know how many 4s.”

Combs couldn’t find those fish after the flood hit the Tennessee River. But he realized that Chad Pipkens found some of them, based on the area where Pipkens was catching them in the tournament. Pipkens acknowledged that was probably the case. Cory Johnston is in that area too, where the bass have slid behind an island in a current break. There is a lot of hydrilla in the area.

“I think just figuring it out as the tournament has gone on was a big part of it,” Johnston said of his rise from 22nd place on Day 2 to 3rd place yesterday. “There are 30-pound bags everywhere in this place. But you’d have to spend days out there to figure out where they are.”

Can someone figure it out today? There have been 55 five-bass limits topping 20 pounds weighed during the first three days of the tournament. Two have topped 25 pounds - Koby Kreiger’s 25-12 on Day 1 and Johnston’s 25-5 on Day 2.

Gone to the birds

Andy Crawford has a passion for bird photography, but that's not what this photo is about.

He took this photo where Chad Pipkens is fishing, which is a main river bar.

"This was two feet underwater, two days ago," he said to Andy.

This could be an indication about what today could be like, in terms of fishing habitat being under, or out of, the water.