With Toyota Angler of the Year on the line, Greg Hackney knew he had to catch 'em at Bays de Noc. He wanted 20 pounds a day, but thought that the high teens might do it. Either way, he needed a decent limit anchored by a couple bigger fish, and that's what he looked for.
After a so-so practice where much of the time was spent close to the tournament ramp, his tournament strategy was to start near the ramp in Little Bay de Noc to try for some bigger fish, then run 12 miles south into the lake and blast through pods of smallmouths to fill out his limit.
Day 1 of the tournament, Hackney started close, but "the wind was wrong and I never got on the fish," he said. "I couldn't position the boat right." He was trying to fish steep drops, where the bottom (all sand) was in 9 feet and then suddenly dropped into 25 feet. "Those fish were suspended just off the break," he said.
With that a no-go, he ran south to his other spot, a big sand flat in 4 to 7 feet that tapered into 10 feet, with grass patches in the 7- to 10-foot range. "I got down there and knew it'd be pretty good since there were so many fish," he said. "I probably caught 40 cranking – when I left there I had 17 pounds."
He went back to the area he started in that day, and caught a 4 and 3 on a swimbait which inched him up to 18 pounds. Not a great weight, but solid.
Same thing, different day
After three days of sitting on the bank and getting pummeled by AOY pressure, Hackney said he was relieved to get out on the water for the second and final tournament day. He wasn't sure if his fish had moved by then, but had no choice but to fish the same way.
"I started close [to the ramp]," he said. "I knew the better fish were close, and I was hoping to get them started in the morning and never have to go south."
That didn't happen. Hackney caught a 3-pounder on a Strike King KVD J300 jerkbait (clear ayu), then missed a fish, and that was it. So once again he headed south.
"This time it was totally different," he said. Even though the water temperature had fallen by only 1 degree, to 57, and it was "actually better cranking weather." The smallmouths were "in a totally different mood.
"I made one pass through that area – about 700-800 yards, so it was big – cranking those isolated patches of grass. I caught three, all small, and one pike. When I got to the last patch, I wacky-rigged a Shim E Stik and started flicking it in that grass to see if they were still there."
They were, just less aggressive. He ended up catching about 30 keepers, but the best five only weighed 17-02. "They were all 3-pounders," he noted. "As many as I caught out there, I never caught a 5 and probably only caught two pushing 4."
He ended up with 35-02 in 24th place, good for enough points to hold off Todd Faircloth and win Toyota Angler of the Year.
His main bait at the close spot was a 5-inch Strike King KVD Swim N Shiner (green gizzard) rigged on a 1/2-oz Strike King Squadron Swimbait Head. He fished it with a 7' 6" Quantum EXO rod, Quantum EXO 200 reel (6.6:1) and 14-pound Gamma fluorocarbon.
"I'd cast it out, let it hit the bottom in 9 feet and just wind it slow," he said. The fish were near the bottom on that break.
The bait he caught the most fish on at his lake sand flat was a Strike King KVD 1.5 crankbait (yellow perch). "They were eating yellow perch, and when I'd catch one it would spit up perch about the exact same size as that 1.5," he said. "Plus, the crankbait allowed me to see what was there. I'd catch one and it would pull up the whole school so I could get a look at them."
He was making "extremely long casts" and burning the crankbait. "I wasn't trying to hit the grass – I was cranking over it," he said. "The great thing about that 1.5 is it hunts center. It'll be tracking straight, then all of a sudden will run a foot and half to the left. Then it'll track straight again, then it'll turn to the right. That triggers them to bite."
He fished it on a 7' 4" Quantum Tour KVD crankbait rod, the same reel as the swimbait and 16-pound Gamma fluorocarbon.
"It also seemed like the ones that bit the crankbait were bigger," he noted. "There were tons of 2-pounders, and if I [threw] anything else, I'd catch all sizes."
That's what happened on the final day, when he wacky-rigged with the Strike King Shim E Stik (green pumpkin) on a 1/16-oz tungsten-weighted wacky hook. He dead-sticked it on a spinning rod with 8-pound Gamma fluorocarbon. "Most fish came on the initial fall or right after it hit the bottom – the first time you moved it," he noted.