RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. — You would be surprised at Boyd Duckett's answer when asked to name his best performance in a Bassmaster Elite Series tournament this year.
Was it the Bassmaster Classic in February, when he edged out Skeet Reese to win $500,000 on Alabama's Lay Lake? No.Was it the Bassmaster Legends last Sunday, when he moved past Dean Rojas and held off Jason Quinn and Kevin VanDam to win $250,000 on Arkansas' Lake Dardanelle? Wrong again.
"I finished seventh at the Potomac, and I was on absolutely nothing, ever," said Duckett of the Capitol Clash held on the Potomac River two weeks prior to the Legends event. "It was the most perfect tournament I've ever fished.
"I got seventh place out of nothing. I absolutely junk fished. I made some great decisions. I stayed when I should've stayed, and I (moved) when I should've (moved)."You know at the end of the day if you made the right decisions. Those are the days that matter to me. I know if I fished well, regardless of the weight."
Sunday's Legends final on Lake Dardanelle was another one of those days, even if not quite up to his Potomac personal perfection performance. When the tournament moved to a six-hole course on Dardanelle's Illinois Bayou arm Saturday, Duckett caught 16 pounds, 8 ounces by drop-shotting ledges.
A much-welcome thunderstorm hit the Russellville area that morning, and left overcast skies much of the day. Dean Rojas used his signature SPRO Bronze-eye Frog to grab the lead that day with 16-14. And just about every one of the six finalists caught a bass on a frog or other topwater lure under those weather conditions Saturday.
"The frog bite is definitely on," noted VanDam.
Sunday dawned clear, bright and hot. Duckett correctly predicted Rojas would have trouble duplicating his Saturday success on top. But he didn't forecast his deeper, drop-shot bite disappearing. He figured it was only going to get better as more bass left the shallow grass and stacked up with the fish he'd found on deeper ledges Saturday.
But after fishing two holes in the allotted 70 minutes Sunday, Duckett knew he had to try something different.
"You can't just sit out there and die," said the 47-year-old Demopolis, Ala., resident. "I went to the banks and started flipping."But after a period of punching grass with a 1 1/2-ounce weight and a Berkley Chigger Craw, landing one keeper, Duckett made a more subtle tactical change. He stayed shallow but switched to a seven-inch, electric blue-colored Berkley Power Worm and a 3/16ths-ounce Tru Tungsten weight on 15-pound test Berkley Fluorocarbon line.
"It takes a long time," Duckett said of that method. "You've got to shake it to get it to fall down (in the grass). That worm barely falls through there. We do it back home, fishing these same water willows."
That change allowed Duckett to fill out a limit and cull one fish, giving him 13-9 on the day, 30-1 over two days and a 12-ounce margin of victory over Quinn.
It also characterized his week, one in which he had to change tactics every day. During Monday's practice on Lake Dardanelle, Duckett "whacked a big sack" flipping a Berkley Chigger Craw in thick aquatic vegetation.
Dardanelle's 40,000 acres are heavily influenced by how much current is running in the Arkansas River, which forms the lake, making it fish more like a river than a lake. Finding bass related to current was the key for the 50-man field when the tournament started Thursday.
"The river was falling a little bit every day," Duckett said. "(The bass) pulled back out of the grass. There's scattered milfoil out there, and I ended up catching 'em the second day on a Rat-L-Trap, just kind of dragging it. When it comes up on that milfoil, you rip it through and let it fall back to the bottom."
When the tournament moved to the Illinois Bayou hole course on the weekend, current was much less a factor. That section of Dardanelle fished more like a lake.Basically, Duckett used four different fishing methods on the four days of the Legends event, adjusting to falling river levels the first two days, overcast skies on a more lake-like environment Saturday, then bright sunshine on the lake Sunday."The biggest thing is just to calm down and stop trying to force it," Duckett said. "There's so much information in bass fishing now. They're supposed to do this, they're supposed to do that."But you can't always rely on the book of bass fishing knowledge."If you just settle down and listen, they'll tell you," Duckett said. "They'll tell you every day."
At times, there's only a slight difference between "junk fishing," like Duckett did on the Potomac, and "listening to the fish," like he did at Dardanelle. Sometimes when you're junking around, using all 30 rods in your boat, one or two will force a whisper from the fish. Duckett said time and experience combined to improve his ability to hear that "probably five or six years ago."He started winning tournaments by relying more on his intuition. And that's how a seventh-place finish on the Potomac River can be almost as satisfying as a win on Lake Dardanelle."I've learned how to enjoy my day," Duckett said. "Did I fish well today? Did I get all I could get out of it today?
"If you get all you can get, you fished well. If you start fishing like that, the wins will come. That's been a fun experience."
Watch Duckett's victory on the Bassmaster TV at 9 a.m. ET Saturday on ESPN