My Finest Hour: Lowen’s strategic victory at Pickwick

Event: 2021 Bassmaster Elite at Pickwick Lake

While Bassmaster Elite pros strive for excellence throughout each event, the right combination of variables occasionally align to create the opportunity for superlative performance. Success hinges on seizing the moment, rising to the occasion and turning in a truly memorable performance. Here’s an example from veteran Elite Bill Lowen.


With a brutal storm system bullying its way through the area a day before the tournament’s scheduled start (March 18), extreme current levels and hazardous winds prompted B.A.S.S. officials to postpone the official start by two days. When competition finally commenced on a Saturday, anglers found turbid water, a minefield of floating debris and flooded shorelines that were high and dry during practice. 

Working to manage the upstream volume, the Tennessee Valley Authority took drastic measures to move the massive influx of water through the system. Wilson Dam thundered 24/7 with as much as 208,000 cubic feet per second (CFS) roaring into Pickwick. 

The massive inflow swelled Pickwick past the 18-foot flood level, and the TVA reservoir would reach 21.1 feet by that Friday. Late on the third day, the lake’s water level began to fall rapidly — a trend that continued through Championship Tuesday.

Suffice it to say, no one was thrilled with the playing field, but having grown up on the Ohio River, Lowen understood the dynamics. Was it ideal? No. Did it fit his style? You bet.

“That week was a mess, and I was actually one of the anglers who thought we should (reschedule) the event,” Lowen admits. “But thank goodness we didn’t.

“For me, it was one of those perfect scenarios (for) my background on the Ohio River and experiencing flood conditions every spring. Most of the guys in the field probably felt like they were already defeated, but for me, it was just another day. I went with my gut feeling, and every call I made was 110% correct.”

Lowen said that decision making started with the realization the scenarios where he’d caught fish during practice were completely trashed. Identifying likely areas was no cakewalk, but Lowen said doing so was simply a matter of going back to his roots.

“I had an offshore spot (near Kogers Island) where the water was shallow during practice, and I could catch ‘em pitching a jig around isolated wood and grass line edges that I could see on my Humminbird 360,” Lowen said. “When I went out there to try that the first morning, the current was so bad I kept the Minn Kota Ultrex trolling motor on high and it wouldn’t even go forward.

“Seeing (flood conditions) a lot on the Ohio River, I kinda have a feel for where those fish move,” Lowen said. “I looked to my right and there was an island with a bunch of big laydown trees that were dry in practice. To me, that was the first, obvious place they could go and get out of that extremely crazy current.”

Trusting his intuition, Lowen fished this and other newly inundated shallow cover, including flooded reeds. He would effectively mine these areas for three days, and after placing third and then second, he’d enter the final round sharing the lead with Chad Pipkens.

The decision

After faring well in particularly challenging conditions for three days, you’d think Lowen would head into the home stretch with a solid game plan. As it turned out, his courage to call an audible proved transformative.

“Coming into the third day, I noticed that the water was starting to fall,” Lowen said. “Where I was raised, once that water starts to fall, those fish pull off that shallow cover they were holding onto, and they move to the next deepest piece of cover. They get on some deeper channel swings/bluffy type stuff, and they get on deep dock posts.”

Lowen started the final day on his primary spots, but inside of the first hour, he wasn’t feeling it so he shifted gears. Moving to a bluffy area with boat docks, Lowen endured a slower than expected morning, but landing on the right dock changed everything.

“About 20 minutes in, my gut said, ‘You’re gonna have to scrap this, go fish the conditions and do what you think you have to do,’” Lowen recalled. “For an angler, the hardest thing to do is leave something that’s been productive for three days and start over.

“I still fished in the general area, but I fished different depths and structure. But as an angler, that’s the scariest thing you can ever do — scrap your deal and go fishing. Especially on the fourth day, when you’re in the lead, you have a chance to win; it’s hard to do. It was a long, stressful day, for sure.”

Lowen’s stress clearly dissipated toward the end of his day when he skipped a 3/8-ounce Lure Parts Online jig with a chunk trailer under a dock and caught the attention of an 8-pound, 5-ounce largemouth. The event’s heaviest fish, that much-needed kicker pushed him to victory by a margin of 2-10.

Game changer

That big Day 4 fish clearly pushed Lowen across the finish line, but we can’t brush past his bait’s strategic significance. Using a lighter jig and a chunk trailer allowed him to make the right presentation for the swift current scenario.

“That’s always been the deal for me when fishing in current,” Lowen said. “A lot of guys like a bigger, heavier jig or (Texas rig weight) because they want to make bottom contact and feel what that bait is doing. But I learned a long time ago here at home that you can take that lighter jig and float it with that current and barely make contact.

“It looks so natural and you’re less likely to get snagged because that jig’s not forcing itself to the bottom. I fished that jig on a slack line, and I let that current float it through there. That chunk trailer lets it drift well because it doesn’t have any appendages, so there’s no resistance.”

The takeaway

Lowen’s look back highlighted a couple of key points, starting with the resonating advice from bass fishing legend and good friend Denny Brauer. On the eve of Day 4, a text from the 1998 Bassmaster Classic champ encouraged him to “Go catch me a 7-pounder on a black-and-blue jig!” (This did not constitute a rules violation regarding outside information, as Lowen was already using this bait.)

Even more compelling, Lowen said, was Brauer’s broader advice.

“I’ll never forget something Denny Brauer told me years ago before he retired; he said: ‘You’ll catch a lot of fish using little baits, but if you start fishing bigger baits, you might not catch as many, but you’ll get bigger bites. Over the last five or six years, I’ve taken it to heart, and I’ve started using bigger baits. And looking back, that’s probably why I won Pickwick.”

Also, Lowen said the victory cemented one of his core beliefs: “I’ve always been big on ‘listen to your gut,’ but that event reassured me that if you don’t, you’re a fool,” Lowen said. “If you could set up a tournament where you felt like you were going to excel in, that was definitely the one for me.”