Day on the lake: Alton Jones Jr.

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Photos Don Wirth
They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. “Little Alton” Jones literally grew up on the Bassmaster Tournament Trail — his dad is veteran pro and 2006 Classic champ Alton Jones. “For 14 years, my whole family traveled the country together while Dad competed in tournaments,” he says. Little wonder Junior dreamed of one day becoming a professional angler like his old man. Yet, he was refreshingly realistic about his future. “I learned from my dad how incredibly tough the competition was at the professional level, and how important it was to get and keep good sponsors,” he says. “So, when I turned 18, I enrolled at Baylor University to pursue a degree in marketing. I figured if my dream of becoming a bass pro became reality, a marketing degree would be a big plus for promoting my career and working with sponsors. And if a fishing career didn’t pan out, the degree would help me get a good job in some other line of work.” At Baylor, Jones proved to be both an excellent student and a proficient tournament angler. “I won enough money fishing local tournaments to pay for my entry fees in the Bassmaster Opens. After graduation, I fished all three Open divisions and did well enough to qualify for the Elite Series in 2017. I’m sticking with fishing as long as I can — it’s the Jones family tradition.”

6:42 a.m. It’s dark and 34 degrees when Jones and I pull into Lake L’s deserted launch area. “This is the biggest cold front they’ve had in this region so far this fall — it was 85 degrees here last weekend,” he notes. “My boat cover was frosted over when I woke up.” He quickly unloads a selection of Kistler rods equipped with several brands of reels from storage. “The water is probably still fairly warm, but this cold front could make them lethargic.”

7 HOURS LEFT
7 a.m. The sun cracks the horizon as we launch the Skeeter. Jones checks the lake temp: 62 degrees. He dips his fingers in Lake L. “It feels like dishwater compared to the air temp! There’s zero humidity, too — classic cold-front conditions.” What pattern does he anticipate working today? “The fish should be fairly shallow. I’ll probably throw squarebill and lipless crankbaits, spinnerbaits, maybe even some topwaters. The water has decent clarity, so swimbaits and jerkbaits should work, as well.”

7:08 a.m. Jones races to Lake L’s fog-shrouded dam and makes his first casts of the day with a Smithwick Elite 8 Rogue jerkbait, black back/silver sides. “Bass key on shad big time in fall, and this lure is a good representation of an injured baitfish. Since the water’s pretty warm, I’m fishing it aggressively with quick jerks and short pauses.”

7:10 a.m. Jones dog-walks a bone colored Heddon Super Spook Jr. topwater stickbait close to dam riprap. A small fish pulls it under but doesn’t hook up.

7:13 a.m. Jones switches to a Booyah Flex 2 squarebill crankbait in the nubone color. “This plug is filled with foam, so it’s heavy enough to throw long distances, yet it’s super buoyant.” He catches two short largemouth on his first two casts with the crankbait.

7:18 a.m. Jones bags his first keeper bass of the day, 1 pound even, on the Flex II.

7:19 a.m. On his next cast, Jones catches keeper No. 2, 2 pounds, 4 ounces. “Both keepers hit right after the squarebill deflected off the rocks. This bait ‘hunts’ with a very erratic action.”

7:21 a.m. Jones quickly catches two more short fish on the Flex II. “Well, they sure aren’t lethargic!”

7:26 a.m. Having fished the entire length of the dam, Jones reverses direction and fishes his way back to his starting point with the squarebill and jerkbait.

7:31 a.m. Jones tries a green pumpkin 5/16-ounce Booyah finesse jig with a matching Yum Christie Craw trailer on the riprap. “I trimmed the trailer back for a more compact presentation. I tend to get more bites on smaller baits in fall.”

7:40 a.m. The jig is dredging up slimy grass, so Jones reverts to the squarebill. He catches four nonkeepers from a 25-yard stretch of riprap.

7:44 a.m. He tries the jerkbait and hooks a wad of coontail grass. “Grass is good! They should move into this stuff once the sun gets higher.”

7:48 a.m. Jones bags an 11-inch largemouth on the Super Spook Jr.

7:53 a.m. Jones moves into a shallow pocket adjacent to the dam. A big bass throws a wake as it rushes the Spook but doesn’t strike. “Whoa! That was a monster! Who says you shouldn’t throw topwaters during a cold front?”

7:56 a.m. Jones casts the Spook to a shoreline retaining wall and a good fish smashes it the instant it hits the water. His third keeper weighs 3 pounds, 4 ounces.

6 HOURS LEFT
8 a.m. Jones has been fishing the Spook on 14-pound monofilament; he switches to another reel with 50-pound braid. “I’m seeing a lot of grass on my electronics and I don’t want to bust off a big fish.”

8:07 a.m. Jones idles into a nearby cove to try the Spook around some docks. A keeper bass strikes the lure, jumps and comes unbuttoned.

8:11 a.m. Jones rigs a silver shad 3/8-ounce Booyah spinnerbait with a matching Yum swimbait trailer and slow rolls it around the docks. I ask him about his recent bass outing with former President George W. Bush. “My dad and I were invited to the president’s ranch in Crawford [Texas] and spent the morning fishing with him on his 15-acre lake. He’s such a great guy! We also toured his art studio. He’s an incredible artist and just as passionate about painting as he is about fishing.”

8:18 a.m. Jones switches to a white 3/8-ounce Booyah buzzbait and catches a dink off a dock.

8:26 a.m. Jones moves to the shallow upper end of the cove, which is loaded with grass. He tries the spinnerbait and buzzer without success.

8:34 a.m. Jones probes a submerged brushpile with the finesse jig.

8:39 a.m. He dog-walks the Spook around a grassy point at the cove’s mouth.

8:46 a.m. Jones exits the cove and moves to a retaining wall to try the spinnerbait. Here, the 15-mph wind is bitter cold.

5 HOURS LEFT
9 a.m. Jones bags a short fish off a submerged rockpile on the spinnerbait.

9:06 a.m. He tries the Spook over the rockpile.

9:13 a.m. Jones moves to an undercut bank with scattered, submerged grass clumps and catches a small fish on the jerkbait.

9:16 a.m. The jerkbait snags a 4-foot strand of hydrilla. “See how green this grass is? As the water cools and the days get shorter in fall, aquatic grass gradually dies back and turns brown. I’ve found bass will gravitate to the remaining living grass because it produces oxygen.”

9:21 a.m. Jones drops his Power-Poles and ties on a 1/2-ounce Booyah One Knocker lipless crankbait, gold with black back. “This is my go-to lure for fishing grass. I feel confident that the bigger fish will be in the grass in these frontal conditions.”

9:24 a.m. Jones begins keying on submerged grass with the lipless crankbait. “I use my electronics to locate places where the grass suddenly gets thicker or more sparse, isolated grass clumps and grass growing adjacent to a sharp depth change and open water. I’m using a yo-yo retrieve: I cast the lure into the grass and let it sink, then as soon as I feel it tick the cover, I lift my rod slowly so the bait swims upward. Then I lower my rod slightly while reeling up slack line as the lure falls back into the cover. I’m fishing the bait on a 7-3 Kistler rod that’s graphite with a fiberglass tip.”

9:30 a.m. Jones idles into a shallow cove and immediately hangs a good fish on the lipless crank. He carefully works it to the boat; his fourth keeper weighs 3 pounds, 8 ounces. “The grass here is in 7 feet of water and grows up to 4 feet. That fish hit on the fall and swallowed it!”

9:35 a.m. Jones is pumped about his developing grass pattern. “Yo-yoing a lipless crankbait is the fastest, most efficient presentation you can use in submerged grass. It’s not ideal in superthick grass mats, but with the grass dying back and scattered like it is here, it works great.” He quickly bags two nonkeepers. “Yeah, they’re definitely in this hydrilla!”

9:50 a.m. Jones’ boat is positioned in open water at the edge of scattered hydrilla clumps. He works the One Knocker through the grass and a good fish hits it at boatside. His fifth keeper weighs 3 pounds, 13 ounces.

4 HOURS LEFT
10 a.m. Still yo-yoing grass clumps. “The wind is blowing into this cove, and I’m seeing some baitfish around the grass on my electronics. It’s a perfect ambush scenario.”

10:14 a.m. Jones moves to a grassy pocket and catches a squealer on the One Knocker.

10:22 a.m. He switches to the spinnerbait in the shallow back section of the pocket and snares another shorty.

10:30 a.m. Jones exits the pocket. What’s his take on the day so far? “The cold front hasn’t negatively impacted the bite so far — I’ve already caught five keepers and a bunch of small fish. Grass in the 5- to 7-foot zone seems to be producing best. I’m going to keep covering water and see if I can tap into some bigger fish.”

10:41 a.m. Jones moves to a steep channel bank and catches a nonkeeper on the spinnerbait.

10:47 a.m. Jones ties on a 6-inch in-line soft swimbait, brand unknown. “The line runs through the head of this lure, comes out of the belly and attaches to a treble hook. It shouldn’t be too big if there are gizzard shad in the lake.” He retrieves the bait parallel to a retaining wall.

3 HOURS LEFT
11 a.m. Jones moves to a cove on the opposite side of Lake L. Here, the hydrilla is thicker. He rigs a punch bait consisting of a bream colored Yum Wooly Bug creature, a 1 3/4-ounce pegged sinker and a 5/0 Zoneloc flipping hook, then pitches the Bug to the grass.

11:04 a.m. He tries the big swimbait at the edge of the hydrilla.

11:14 a.m. Back to punching grass. “I’m keying on the heaviest grass clumps close to deeper, open water.”

11:23 a.m. Still punching grass. Jones notes that the bite has slowed considerably due to the frontal passage.

11:41 a.m. Jones makes a frigid run to the extreme upper end of Lake L. Here the water is shallower and clearer, with abundant hydrilla coverage. He rips the lipless crank through the grass and catches two small bass.