A dream came true at the second stop of the Bassmaster Eastern Opens for 2018 on Lake Norman. I finally won a tournament, accomplishing my main goal as a co-angler. Rather than going in depth on how I earned first place at Lake Norman, I’d like to share key points I’ve learned that have led me to success fishing from the back of the boat.
All three tournament days at Lake Norman I was around the same kind of water. That gave me the opportunity to stay consistent with my approach. I was paired with Jade Keeton of Killen, Ala., on Day 1, Shane Lineberger of Lincolnton, N.C., on Day 2 and Whitney Stephens of Waverly, Ohio, on Championship Saturday. (For the record, Keeton finished 55th, Lineberger 56th and Stephens 11th.) There are many docks around Lake Norman, and fishing the docks tends to be the predominant pattern. All my pros targeted docks a large majority of each tournament day.
My two key baits were a drop shot and a wacky-rigged stick bait. Most all my pros were targeting the walkways on docks for shallower, bigger largemouth. That showcased the opportunity for me to target the deeper posts at the ends of the docks as we worked around them. I used a heavier weight on my drop shot (3/8 ounce) to allow me to cast farther and get to the bottom faster when we worked around the ends of the docks in a hurry. I was able to pick up many key fish doing so.
Occasionally, my pros would lock down on a bass they physically saw. That’s when I would throw the wacky worm. Knowing we were going to be in one spot for awhile allowed me to let that worm sit after working the area thoroughly with my drop shot. It played a big role in getting some bigger bites. I was using high visibility chartreuse-colored Daiwa J- Braid and watched my line very closely to detect subtle bites.
Fishing as a co-angler, your job is to fish for the fish your pro is not targeting. I’ve experienced so many times when I try to keep up with what the pro is doing, but it never yielded the results I hoped for. Fishing differently and making casts to areas that my pros have not hit has really paid dividends for my success. I have finished in the top 10 in seven of nine consecutive Opens. Watching where your pro makes his casts, making sure you don’t hit the same target and having the confidence to do so can lead to positive outcomes, as it did for me in this event.
Confidence baits are another huge piece to the puzzle for putting together a limit as a co-angler. Being from Minnesota, a drop shot is very familiar, and it works well throughout the different bodies of water I’ve fished. I encourage others to use techniques/baits they have confidence in. Anglers catch good bags a variety of different ways in every tournament. I believe it’s important to keep baits in your hand that you believe in and know how to fish better than other lures and techniques, no matter what your pro is doing.
Keep these things in mind next time you’re fishing out of someone else’s boat. There are plenty of fish, especially on Lake Norman, and you may be surprised how you will get bites fishing differently.
I am so thankful my hard work has paid off. It feels amazing to win in the Opens as a co-angler. It’s a huge boost in my journey towards fishing from the front of the boat in 2019. I look forward to putting what I have learned to the test. I am currently leading in the Eastern Opens Angler of the Year co-angler points and striving to get another title under my belt.
After winning at Lake Norman, it feels great – halfway through the season – to have accomplished my goal of qualifying for the championship. It is a big confidence boost, and I’m looking to fish harder than ever the rest of the year. With two events left, I’m excited to get after some Lake Champlain smallmouth next. Thanks for following along in my journey from co to pro.