DEL RIO, Texas — Some will call Craig Schuff a fast learner.
Afterall, the Watauga, Texas, angler had never thrown a swimbait before coming to Lake Amistad for the Bassmaster Central Open this week, but Saturday his 24-pound catch with one of the big swimming lures propelled him to his first Open win with a three-day total of 68 pounds, 9 ounces.
Ray Hanselman, a guide on Amistad the past 17 years, claimed the runner-up spot with 67-9, while Bassmaster Elite pro Clark Reehm finished third with 66-3. Aaron Johnson finished fourth with 63-3; Dean Alexander, the Day Two leader, dropped to fifth with 62-4; and Trent Huckaby, last year's winner here, took sixth with 61-2.
Fishing under cloudless skies with only a slight wind, Schuff targeted prespawn and postspawn bass moving up and down tree and hydrilla-lined ditches leading to a spawning flat in a large cove on the Mexican side of the lake.
Keeping his boat in 15 to 18 feet of water and working an Osprey swimbait very slowly eight to 10 feet deep, Schuff caught a 4 ½-pounder on his third cast, a 5-pounder two casts later, then a 7-pounder en route to his 24-pound day.
"The bass were changing positions each day," Schuff said, "and today they were more shallow than yesterday. It took me about an hour to fish three key places I had identified, and I occasionally alternated the swimbait with an 8-inch Yamamoto Senko, which also produced some good fish for me.
"I was truly blessed this week," added Schuff, who won $51,943 for his week's effort. "I watched how Jason Williamson won the Elite tournament here with a swimbait and came determined to fish the way he did. After I caught about 28 pounds with the Osprey one day in practice, my confidence really grew, but today I had to fish it so slow I could barely feel it swimming."
He fished the Osprey with 25-pound Seguar fluorocarbon line on a Falcon Amistad 7'3" heavy action rod and a Shimano Curado reel.
Hanselman fished the same general area as Schuff, working both Zoom Trick Worms and Berkley Power Worms through hydrilla in 12 to 15 feet of water. For him, the key was fishing fresh, growing hydrilla in a spot about 50 yards square; he rigged the worms with 3/16-ounce TruTungsten sinkers and crawled and swam them slowly through the vegetation.
Interestingly, Reehm and Alexander also shared the water with Schuff, as did 17th-place finisher Mike Kernan, who had 52-10. Although Reehm and Alexander also fished other areas, this one bay produced more than 300 pounds of fish during the tournament.
Sam Koebcke of Austin, fishing his very first Bassmaster Open tournament on only his second trip to Amistad, won the non-boater division with a three-day catch of nine bass weighing 46-9, an average of more than five pounds per fish. He caught them Carolina rigging Zoom Flukes and Zoom Old Monster 10 ½-inch worms between six and 20 feet deep.