I’ve never been handy with tools, an embarrassing fact that caused me considerable shame as a child because my dad was a master carpenter. His repeated attempts at teaching me the proper techniques for hammering, sawing and chiseling repeatedly resulted in bent nails, splintered wood and bloody fingers. Sadly, my klutziness has followed me into senior adulthood. My boat dealer’s service technician calls me “Hippo Hands” because I am incapable of picking up a screwdriver without dropping it. As with tools, so with fishing tackle — for a member of the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame, my lure presentation skills are shockingly rudimentary. Which explains why I am in total awe of Clark Wendlandt, the veteran Texas pro. Whereas the new generation of Elite Series anglers display technical prowess with today’s sophisticated bass boat electronics, Wendlandt is an old-school lure presentation virtuoso, the Paganini of pitching. Wendlandt combines angling savvy with performance artistry — just watching him fish is enthralling, whether or not he’s catching anything. During our day on Lake S, I marveled at his uncanny ability to consistently deliver his bass baits into nooks and crannies where no lure hath been before. Unfortunately, the fishing sucked; those early spring bass can be ultra-contrary. But calling the day a washout would be akin to Michelangelo’s apprentice saying he didn’t enjoy watching his master paint the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling because the delivery pizza they shared for lunch didn’t have enough pepperoni on it.
◗ 6:29 a.m. It’s 37 degrees and foggy when we arrive at Lake S. “The forecast calls for sunny skies and a high around 60 this morning,” Wendlandt says, “but then a cold front rolls in and it’ll be snowing by 6 p.m.!” He arranges several Bass Pro Shops rods and reels on his boat’s front deck; his lures are all by Strike King.
SEVEN HOURS LEFT
◗ 6:45 a.m. We launch the Ranger. Wendlandt checks the water: it’s 52 degrees and murky. What pattern does he predict will be operative today? “Bass should be moving shallow, but this region has been warm one day and cold the next, which may position some fish in deeper water. Still, the lake temp, water color and all the laydown trees and docks I’m seeing tell me there should be plenty of shallow bass, which suits my style of fishing.”
◗ 6:47 a.m. Wendlandt makes his first casts of the morning to the boat ramp with a craw-pattern KVD 1.5 squarebill crankbait. “I figure I’m better off putting my lure in the water right away than burning time running around the lake in the fog.”
◗ 7:02 a.m. The fog is lifting as Wendlandt idles to a nearby shoreline littered with laydown trees. He casts a 1/2-ounce chartreuse and white Pro-Model spinnerbait with twin Colorado blades to the gnarly cover.
◗ 7:10 a.m. The bank transitions into a point, which Wendlandt cranks with the 1.5.
◗ 7:16 a.m. Wendlandt rounds the point, enters a cove and slow rolls the spinnerbait around a sloping bank. “If this lake were clearer, I’d probably be more focused on deeper water because of how cold the air temp is, but I feel confident there are some good fish around shallow cover.”
◗ 7:23 a.m. Wendlandt has fished his way to the back of the cove, where he retrieves a white 1/2-ounce Thunder Cricket bladed jig with a matching Blade Minnow trailer around submerged stumps.
◗ 7:30 a.m. Wendlandt casts the bladed jig to a 5- to 12-foot dropoff. “I’m seeing some fish suspending around the breakline on my LiveScope [forward-facing sonar], but I’m not sure if they’re bass.”
◗ 7:36 a.m. Back to pounding shoreline cover with the spinnerbait.
SIX HOURS LEFT
◗ 7:45 a.m. Wendlandt is rotating between the spinnerbait, bladed jig and squarebill in the wood-strewn cove. “There may actually be too much wood cover! In lakes with tons of wood, you’re often better off targeting isolated logs or stumps than big clusters of cover.”
◗ 7:48 a.m. Wendlandt switches to a 1/2-ounce black-and-blue Hack Attack jig with a matching Rage Chunk trailer, making multiple pitches to each laydown he encounters.
◗ 7:56 a.m. Wendlandt has exited the cove and is approaching a main-lake boathouse while cranking the bladed jig. “Docks are money in early spring. Bass will stage under them prior to spawning, especially if some deep water is nearby.”
◗ 8:01 a.m. Wendlandt roots the bladed jig around the boathouse. No takers here.
◗ 8:13 a.m. Wendlandt idles to a long stretch of main-lake shoreline featuring several docks, scattered laydowns and a seawall. He makes his initial presentation to a Jet Ski lift with the jig, pitching it into an impossibly tight opening in the structure’s metal framework. I compliment him on his precise delivery. “I’ve had years of practice! It’s incredible the difference your presentation can make, especially in cold water where a lethargic bass may not move an inch to grab a lure. On docks, they’ll often be holding where one piling or deck slab meets another, where the walkway meets the bank or at one of a dozen different possible edges; I want to drop that lure as close to these key spots as possible. A stealthy approach is also critical when dock fishing. I’ll move in close at a low trolling speed to avoid stirring up the water, then I’ll drop my Power-Poles so I can make multiple presentations while being freed up to move around my boat’s big front deck to achieve the optimum pitching angle. And, I constantly check my line for abrasion caused by scraping against all that wood and metal.”
◗ 8:18 a.m. Wendlandt continues moving uplake along the shoreline. He’s casting the 1.5 and bladed jig to the seawall and open water between docks, then using the Thunder Cricket and Hack Attack around the docks. No bites so far, however.
◗ 8:22 a.m. Some clouds begin to appear as Wendlandt cranks a seawall.
◗ 8:26 a.m. Wendlandt’s lure presentation prowess becomes more evident as he skips the bladed jig 15 feet under a boathouse. “Obviously the right rod and reel combination is helpful in making precise presentations, but nothing tops practice. There are some decent online instruction videos that demonstrate the basics of lure skipping, pitching, etc., but the only way to become really good at it is to get on the water and practice these skills over and over. Once you develop presentation skills, you can fall in behind other guys fishing down a bank and mop up all the bass they missed.”
◗ 8:30 a.m. Wendlandt makes a half-dozen precise jig flips to various parts of a big boathouse. “Don’t just hit it and quit it!”
◗ 8:36 a.m. The squarebill is dredging leaves off the bottom. “Some of these docks are pretty shallow. Docks with a nearby deep-water access are often best in early spring.”
FIVE HOURS LEFT
◗ 8:45 a.m. Wendlandt has spotted some fish suspending near a dropoff in front of a dock on his LiveScope. He ties on a white 3/4-ounce single Colorado spinnerbait and slow rolls it past the fish. “One followed it but swam off. Must be a bass. Normally I’d use a jerkbait on suspended fish, but they’d have a hard time seeing it in this dirty water.”
◗ 8:51 a.m. Back to the 1.5 and bladed jig between docks.
◗ 8:54 a.m. Wendlandt uses scissors to free the 1.5 from a tangle of old fishing line.
◗ 9:03 a.m. Wendlandt skips the jig under a moored pontoon boat.
◗ 9:06 a.m. Wendlandt tries a red and chartreuse Chick Magnet flat-sided crankbait. “BTW that name refers to Lake Chickamauga [Tennessee], not to girls.”
◗ 9:08 a.m. Wendlandt flips the jig to another dock, pauses, then slams back his rod. An 11-inch largemouth sails into his boat. “That fish picked it up when it was sitting dead still on the bottom.”
◗ 9:12 a.m. The sun is warming things up rapidly as Wendlandt continues uplake along the row of docks. He pitches the Thunder Cricket to the inside back corner of a boathouse and another fish loads on; this largemouth is a keeper weighing 1 pound, 9 ounces. “He really smacked it!”
◗ 9:19 a.m. There’s no more love around the next dock Wendlandt fishes, so he runs straight across the lake to a clay point and tries the bladed jig.
◗ 9:24 a.m. Wendlandt graphs a brushpile with suspended fish two cast-lengths off the point, then slow rolls the 3/4-ounce spinnerbait past the targets. They aren’t interested.
◗ 9:29 a.m. Wendlandt rounds the point and enters a tributary arm, where he casts the bladed jig to shoreline bushes.
◗ 9:37 a.m. Wendlandt roots a Red Eyed Shad lipless crankbait in the DB craw color pattern around stumps in the back of the creek. No luck here.
FOUR HOURS LEFT
◗ 9:45 a.m. Wendlandt works his way out of the creek by hitting shoreline wood with the Chick Magnet, jig and Thunder Cricket.
◗ 9:54 a.m. Wendlandt unsuccessfully probes a long laydown with the bladed jig and 1.5.
◗ 10:02 a.m. Wendlandt reaches the mouth of the creek and tries the bladed jig and flat crankbait around isolated wood cover.
◗ 10:06 a.m. Wendlandt runs into another nearby creek arm and runs the Red Eyed Shad around a stumpy flat. The water here is 54 degrees.
◗ 10:15 a.m. Wendlandt’s trolling motor kicks up mud as he dredges the lipless crankbait around a sand point. What’s his take on the day so far? “There’s some great-looking shallow cover in this lake, but there’s either not many fish in it or they’re in it but refusing to bite. My gut tells me they’re holding out from shore a bit, but this lake is new to me and I’d rather spend my remaining time moving along and eliminating shallow cover quickly in hopes of eventually contacting a big fish than I would idling around and searching for isolated cover patches in deep water. There’s a blockbuster cold front heading this way, but right now the sun is warming the water, which should pull more fish into the shallows. So I’m gonna spend most of my remaining time hitting shallow wood and docks and gamble on catching that 10-pounder.”
◗ 10:21 a.m. Wendlandt casts the tandem Colorado spinnerbait to a logjam. It hangs up and he’s forced to break it off.
◗ 10:24 a.m. He tries both the flipping and bladed jig on a laydown extending off a mud point.
◗ 10:30 a.m. The wind is gusting intermittently as Wendlandt pitches the Thunder Cricket to a boathouse.
◗ 10:36 a.m. The water temp has risen to 55 degrees as Wendlandt flips the jig around a dock.
THREE HOURS LEFT
◗ 10:45 a.m. Wendlandt moves offshore to a submerged rockpile and retrieves the Red Eyed Shad around the structure.
◗ 10:49 a.m. He graphs bass suspending off the rockpile and casts a shad-colored J300 Deep jerkbait to the fish. “They should see this jerkbait now that the sun is moving directly overhead.”
◗ 10:52 a.m. The deep jerkbait is hanging leaves and sticks on the bottom, so Wendlandt replaces it with a shallower-diving J300 jerkbait, same color. He scopes a bass following the lure, but it doesn’t strike.
◗ 11:01 a.m. Wendlandt abandons the rockpile and races downlake to a stretch of docks he fished earlier. He moves two cast-lengths off the docks and jerks the J300 without success.
◗ 11:04 a.m. He flips the jig to the Jet Ski lift he fished earlier. Still nothing there.
◗ 11:13 a.m. Wendlandt moves to the boathouse where he caught his 1-9 and tries the jig and Thunder Cricket. No more luck here.
◗ 11:18 a.m. Wendlandt moves to a rock point and tries the J300. “I’m seeing wads of fish suspended way out here. They’re not following the lure, however — they’re probably crappie.”
◗ 11:29 a.m. Wendlandt runs downlake near the dam and fishes a riprap bank with a 1/2-ounce Pro-Model double-willow spinnerbait (green gizzard shad color).
◗ 11:36 a.m. Wendlandt grinds the 1.5 around the rocks.
TWO HOURS LEFT
◗ 11:45 a.m. Wendlandt moves to Lake S’s earthen dam and cranks the 1.5 parallel to the structure.
◗ 11:58 a.m. Wendlandt flips laydowns in a pocket near the dam. Dark clouds have moved in, the wind is howling and the temperature is dropping rapidly, signaling the cold front’s arrival.
◗ 12:09 p.m. The pocket transitions to a steep channel bank. Here Wendlandt flips the jig to multiple laydowns without success. “They just aren’t on this wood.”
◗ 12:14 p.m. Wendlandt jerks the J300 off the sloping bank but hauls water.
◗ 12:19 p.m. Wendlandt roars uplake into a large cove containing scores of docks. He hits the first one he comes to with the bladed jig. “I’m gonna pound these docks from every possible angle during my remaining time.”
◗ 12:25 p.m. Wendlandt moves to his next target in the cove, a large boathouse, and, incredibly, pitches the jig into the scant 1 inch of open space between a moored ski boat and an adjacent wooden walkway — the angling equivalent of shooting a flying duck in the eye with a BB gun.
◗ 12:37 p.m. The wind is gusting 20 mph as Wendlandt moves tight to another boathouse and pitches the Thunder Cricket around the structure. “Bass feel secure beneath overhead cover, so you can usually get as close as you want to a dock, especially if the water is murky, as long as you don’t bang your boat into it.”
ONE HOUR LEFT
◗ 12:45 p.m. Wendlandt skips the jig beneath a boathouse walkway in three different places, somehow timing each skip between waves lapping against the structure. In-friggin’-credible!
◗ 12:52 p.m. The temperature has dropped 10 degrees as Wendlandt flips the jig to a brushpile in front of a dock. “Should’ve been one there!”
◗ 1:11 p.m. Wendlandt tries the 1.5 and Thunder Cricket on a chunk rock bank.
◗ 1:28 p.m. Having just flipped two different boathouses from dozens of different angles, Wendlandt speed trolls to another rock bank and flips the jig to a massive laydown.
◗ 1:39 p.m. With minutes remaining and cold rain beginning to fall, Wendlandt flips the jig around one last dock.
◗ 1:45 p.m. Wendlandt’s time is up. He’s had a tough day on Lake S, ending up with one keeper bass weighing 1 pound, 9 ounces.
THE DAY IN PERSPECTIVE
“I rolled the dice and played to my strengths as a shallow-water specialist, but it didn’t work out,” Wendlandt told Bassmaster. “I had plenty of time to catch fish before the cold front arrived, but either they weren’t up shallow as I expected or they were totally lockjawed. If I had to fish here again under similar conditions, I’d use the exact same approach and remain confident that I’d eventually run into some good fish.”
WHERE AND WHEN CLARK WENDLANDT CAUGHT HIS BIGGEST BASS
1 pound, 9 ounces; white 1/2-ounce Thunder Cricket bladed jig with matching Blade Minnow trailer (both Strike King); main-lake boathouse; 9:12 a.m.
TOTAL: 1 POUND, 9 OUNCES