Wouldn’t you know it, the event that I thought would give me the toughest time gave me my best finish of the season. Finishing second on Lake Oahe was doubly rewarding because it pushed me into sixth place in the Toyota Bassmasger Angler of the Year points, plus it kinda got that smallmouth monkey off my back.
I’ve said it many times that I usually struggle with smallmouth fisheries, so to come close to winning one on this type of lake is a big mental victory for me. Dave Mercer asked me on stage if this might change my view toward these fish and I guess I like them a little better now, but I still don’t love them.
The interesting part about this tournament is that these fish were postspawners; they were really skinny. In fact, I’d say we probably didn’t even show off this lake’s full potential because a lot of those 4 1/2-pound fish are normally 5-pounders if they weren’t so skinny.
I think one element of my success was just the vastness of this lake. Unlike so many of the nation’s most popular lakes, you could find fish that don’t get picked on every hour of every day.
Usually, in the places we go, everybody knows the great areas, and the really strong finesse fishermen tweak their baits and rigs and find ways to make those fish bite. The way I fish, I blow through an area and if the suckers don’t bite what I have on, the heck with them, they’re not there.
In this event, I wasn’t throwing the little sissy stuff; I caught most of my fish on a Carolina rig with a 3/4-ounce weight and a green pumpkin Zoom Speed Craw.
The key to this tournament, for me, was location. You had to be around the right type of stuff, which, in my case, was main lake points in 15-25 feet with scattered rock. There are a few bushes out there and I caught some fish off wood, but it was mostly rock.
The funny thing was, I ran 60 miles to try and get away from everyone, but tournament winner Mark Daniels was fishing on the point beside me and Bradley Roy was on the next point down from him. We all caught fish off the same points one another was fishing, so these spots had a lot of smallmouth.
I actually started the tournament fishing shallow, and I didn’t even run up there to where I caught my fish until 11 o’clock. I caught a small limit shallow, but I had this point where I had caught a fish kind of by accident. I pulled up there on Day 1 and caught 17 pounds on a dropshot.
It was really slow, and it took forever to catch a fish. I was marking a lot of fish and I said, “They’ll bite something a lot better than what I’m doing.” So when I got home that night, I rigged up that Carolina rig and on Day 2, I had 20 pounds.
What clued me in on this was after I got my limit on Day 1, I picked up a tube and started snapping it aggressively like I was doing in practice. On my first cast it didn’t even reach the bottom before one hit it. I missed it and as the tube was falling back to the bottom he hit it again.
I hooked that fish, a 4 1/2-pounder, and I lost it — the only fish I lost all week. On the next cast, I caught a big one, so that told me they wanted something kind of fast that looked like a crawfish. That’s why I went with the Carolina rig, plus you don’t lose them as bad on that.
Also, the shallow rocks were easy to find — if you saw rocks on the shoreline, you knew there were some under the water — so most of the shallow spots were covered up with boats.
When I got up there to those points, I already had a limit of fish, so I was relaxed. I got bit pretty quick. A lot of guys tried to fish deep, but if they didn’t get bit, they gave up on it. Some of them, probably fished some of the same stuff I fished or other guys fished, but it was a timing deal; you had to get bit early enough to give you the confidence to stick with it.
Speaking of confidence, momentum is an indescribable thing. When it swings in your favor, you can do no wrong. With two Top 12 finishes in a row, I feel like I have the wind at my back. I just need to keep fishing clean and making good decisions.
Maybe if we ever return to Lake Oahe, I’ll get a shot at some really big smallmouth. Next time around, I’m gonna feel a lot better knowing I have a better understanding of these fish.