Lost in all the emotions at the conclusion of the Basspro.com Bassmaster Central Open last Saturday were the subtle details of how John Garrett caught heavier bags over three days than any of the other 192 pros who competed on the Arkansas River.
It’s understandable, considering how the tournament ended: Chris Jones rocketing from eighth to first on the final day with a 19-pound five-bass limit, and Garrett finishing only 6 ounces behind Jones after a 2-pound penalty was assessed for having six fish in his livewell at one point Saturday. It was a hero’s journey for the winner, and a heartbreaker for the runnerup.
The particulars of Garrett’s method might provide a clue to help another bass angler suffering through a tough day. In summation, Garrett was knocking on wood at the Arkansas River.
“In all current situations, fish are holding on wood for a current break,” said the 24-year-old Garrett, who is from Union City, Tenn. “Picture the fish with its nose on the piece of wood, looking upstream.”
Banging a squarebill crankbait off wood or rock is a well-known technique for inducing a reaction strike. Garrett adopts that same principle to flipping wood cover in current.
“If you pop that wood right where the fish is sitting, you get a reaction bite almost every time,” Garrett said. “I learned that in 2017 at an Open on the Sabine River. If I flipped to a piece of cover and banged the bait on a limb, I got a bite. I ran with it after that. It works in any current situation.”
Garrett finished 10th in the 2017 Sabine River Central Open. He qualified for the 2017 Bassmaster Classic through the College Bassmaster Classic Bracket and finished 42nd at Texas’ Lake Conroe. Last week marked only his 11th B.A.S.S. tournament and just his second since 2017. Garrett has taken the last two years to concentrate on finishing his business management degree at Bethel University, after shining on the college bass fishing team there. Here’s entered both the Eastern and Central Opens this year.
For the record, Garrett weighed a limit each day at Muskogee: Day 1 – 15-0, fourth place; Day 2 – 11-12, second place; Day 3 – 17-11, for a total of 44-13, before the 2-pound penalty dropped him to second place.
“I caught 14 of my 15 fish off wood,” Garrett said. “One I caught (Saturday) was just cruising down the bank in water that was barely deeper than her back. I assume she was going from one piece of wood to another.”
All Garrett’s bass were caught on a Texas-rigged Strike King Rage Bug paired with either a 3/8th- or 1/2-ounce Strike King Tour Grade Tungsten weight and 4/0 Owner Jungle Flipping hook. The other key components in Garrett’s setup included 20-pound test Seaguar Abrasx fluorocarbon line; a 7-foot, 6-inch Team Lew’s Custom Speed Stick (magnum heavy cover) rod; and a Team Lew’s HyperMag Speed Spool 8.3:1 baitcasting reel.
“I was using a green pumpkin Rage Bug in the clearer water and black/blue in the dirtier water,” Garrett said. “The fish living in current are super strong. I boat-flipped every one I caught. You’ve got to be able to pull them directly out of the cover before they have a chance to bury up in it. The rod is basically a broomstick with the perfect amount of tip. I hold the reel and rod in my hand when I’m flipping, and this setup fits my hand perfectly.”
After coming oh-so-close to winning Saturday and enduring all the emotions that went along with his mistake that cost him the title, Garrett was calm and collected after a night of sleep.
“I slept like a rock (Saturday night),” Garrett said. “I was worn out. I spent way too long on the Arkansas River (last week).”
Garrett and his former Bethel University bass fishing teammates Cody Huff and K.J. Queen practiced five days on the Arkansas River. The time and the teamwork paid off: Queen finished 15th and Huff was fifth. Garrett learned a hard lesson with his second-place finish.
“I was definitely bummed out for awhile,” he said about the penalty costing him a title. “I made a mistake, and I’m definitely going to learn from it. But if you told me before the tournament that I could get second place, I’d have taken it. I’m kind of winging it right now, trying to make fishing my deal.”
It’s very early in Garrett’s B.A.S.S. career. But with 11 total tournaments including the 10th place finish on the Sabine River in 2017, an 11th place showing at New York’s Oneida Lake in 2017 and now a runnerup finish on the Arkansas River, Garrett looks like a good bet to, as he put it, “make fishing my deal.”