FLORENCE, Ala. — A hint of fall helped local anglers Steve Humphries and Mike Gilley win the 9th annual Toyota Bonus Bucks Owners Tournament held on Pickwick Lake. Their winning catch consisting of all smallmouth weighed 19 pounds, 9 ounces.
The winners, both from Florence, credited the beginning of the fall transition as key to their success. A series of brief cool snaps preceding the Sept. 20 event helped stimulate bass activity by lowering the water temperature.
“It only takes a one- or two-degree temperature change to get them biting,” said Humphries, owner of a real estate business. “A temperature rise in the opposite direction will shut them down.”
The winning team focused on an obscure area featuring a gradually sloping bottom from 15 to 25 feet. Humphries said the bottom depth only changed about one foot every 75 yards. There were no signs of the textbook habitat preferred by the smallmouth on the renowned trophy fishery where they fished near the weigh-in site at McFarland Park.
“It’s not your typical setup for smallmouth on this river,” said Gilley, in the construction business. “Normally, it’s all about sharp drop-offs, current breaks and rocks along the main river channel.”
What did stack up were the smallmouth. The team had a five-bass limit in the livewell by 8 a.m. They made passes along the winning 100-yard stretch of bottom using a variety of baits. Notably, lures matching the size of the baitfish being fed upon by the smallmouth. Those were smaller profile soft plastic creature baits and leadhead skirted jigs.
Key baits were 3/4- and 7/16-ounce jigs made by locally-owned Johnston Lures. Strike King Rage Tails were added to the jigs for strike appeal. Alternatively, the team fished creature-style soft plastics, using a slow retrieve and keeping the bait in contact with the bottom to trigger strikes.
“We discovered the fish were feeding on smaller shad, not the bigger bait they sometimes prefer here,” said Humphries. “It’s easy to overlook how important matching the lure to the size of the bait really is during this time of season.”
The Carhartt Big Bass Award of a $1,000 apparel package went to Dale Pelfrey. He caught the biggest bass of the tournament, a largemouth weighing 7 pounds, 7 ounces.
The no-entry fee tournament featured a total cash payout of $20,450, with $5,000 going to the winning team.
Toyota Fishing Team pros Matt Arey, Michael Iaconelli, Brandon Lester, Terry Scroggins and Gerald Swindle were in attendance.
This was the 9th annual event, open to anglers registered for the Toyota Bonus Bucks Program owning a 2016 or newer Tundra, Tacoma, Sequoia or 4Runner. Two-angler teams from 33 states participated with one member of the team required to be registered and eligible for Bonus Bucks, with the team boat towed by the participant’s vehicle.
Teams from four Toyota manufacturing facilities competed in the plant division. They came from Indiana, Mississippi, Kentucky and Alabama. The Kentucky team won the title for the second year.