How did the top 10 Elites fishing legendary Lake Fork on Day 4 catch em? We asked each guy for their keys to success. The following interviews were done immediately after competition ended at the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest benefiting Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.
BRANDON COBB (1st place, total weight: 114)
“When I put the boat in the first day, the shad were spawning on the boat ramp. I basically knew immediately that the shad spawn was, maybe not the only way to win, but the way I was going to win, if I was going to win.
“It took me a little while to figure out the details of the shad spawn here. I was on a point and they came up schooling on a hard spot.
“Basically, I spent the rest of the practice looking for hard spots on flats, place in 1-to 3-feet of water. There were a lot of people doing that, it wasn't a secret.
“The key to why I think I caught them better was I stayed moving the whole time. If I pulled up and caught them for five straight minutes, and then they didn't bite for five minutes, I went to another one point. And I'd rotate back to it and let the fish set back up.
“It was just like herring fishing at home. You can have 100 places, but if you sit on one of them too long, you ruined it. You're better off to keep moving the whole time.
“In practice I caught them mostly on a topwater. By the time the tournament started, I don't know if it was pressure, the wind, I'm not sure what it was, but they just wouldn't bite topwater at all. I picked up the jerkbait and it was fortunate. I caught like a 6-pounder on my first cast.
“I figured out they were eating the jerkbait shallow, in the same places I was throwing the topwater. Once I got going, it seemed like they would always eat the jerkbait. It was situational when they'd eat the topwater.”
GARRETT PAQUETTE (2nd place, total weight: 101-15)
“The keys for me were being persistent, staying confident. I was fishing a pattern on offshore isolated pieces of structure that didn't really get going until about noon.
“It was really hard to stay mentally in the game when you only have one or two fish midway through the day on a lake that is this good. But once the bite started going it was to rotate the spots as fast as possible, and use baits that activate the schools.
“Those baits werea Strike King Pro Model 8XD, and a 7-inch Big Bite Baits Suicide Shad Swimbait on 3/4-ounce jighead.
“I think I caught probably 17 or 18 of my fish on those. I might have mixed enough frog and a topwater baits along the way. But all my weight came on those two baits. Finding schools of fish and then trying to rotate them and just fire them up as the days went on.
“All of my fish I found were in between 10 and 12 feet of water. These weren't summer areas. They were fish that just freshly spawned or actually pre-spawn fish outside of spawning pockets. They were just staging for a day or two and then they'd move. So, each day I'd have to kind of find a couple of new areas. But they were kind of in that mid-range depth zone.
“I did go shallow a little bit. On Day 2 I didn't have anything and I wanted to at least make the top 35 so I went shallow, got a limit and then went back out deep and caught a 6-pounder right away.
“But it was never about giving up o my spot. It was more of a mental thing. If I felt like I was mentally draining myself by not catching any fish, I'd go up shallow, get a few bites, calm down and then go back out and fish for those 5- to 7-pounders.”
MICAH FRAZIER (3rd place, total weight: 96-12)
“The first day of practice I only caught five fish, but one of them was on a flat point on a Zara Spook. There's so many of those points on this lake
“The second day of practice I went out and I tried to do that all day, and I could have had a 30-pound day doing that. It got tough when it got cloudy, but that's what I ended up doing the last two days to catch them big.
“I’m pretty sure it was shad-spawn points, but it wasn’t as obvious a shad spawn as some places are. I actually think they just live there right now.”
Frazier would run the same seven or eight points over and over again to build his weight each day.
“(Day 4) I started on the one point where I had caught 28 pounds on (Day 3). I did not get a bite. I went to two other points, and an hour and a half later, after the sun got up, I came back and I caught 25 pounds. It was every cast.”
BRANDON CARD (4th place, total weight: 95-10)
“The key for me was starting out with my Lowrance units. I got a new transducer installed right before I left to come here, and it's the Active Imaging transducer. It has the best detail side scan I've ever seen.
“I was able to find one really good shallow spot, and an off-shore spot with the side scan, that actually showed up way out there. It was probably 10-feet deep. But that was one of the key spots that bailed me out on Day 2. I caught a key fish there today (Day 4).
“Everything else was out deeper. I like to fish on Kentucky Lake and anywhere on the TVA chain. They were probably in 17 to 22 foot of water.
“They were all on long tapering points, next to a drop. There had to be bait there and most spots had white bass. So what would happen is, you'd catch white bass and it would get the largemouth bass fired up and then you would catch them.
“I was deep cranking mostly but today I actually switched to a football jig and caught two really key fish. My two biggest fish today (Day 4) came on a football jig.
“I weighed in two shallow fish the whole week, one on a senko, one on a topwater, but everything else came off shore, deep cranking.”
JEFF GUSTAFSON (5th place, total weight: 94-5)
“First, early in the morning, the banks are alive and it was all over the lake. I don't know if it was actually a shad spawn where I was fishing but there was a lot of shad on these shallow points.
“You’d pull up there and the fish would just be erupting all over the place. It was a fun first hour the last three days. The first day I kind of missed it. But I spent my mornings doing that for the first hour or two and then I was focused on offshore, main lake points.
“Most of that stuff was in the 9- to 12-feet range. Not super deep but just off the bank. I was throwing a great big Lucky Craft square-billed crank bait. I don't know what it's called but it's huge. I had a couple of them and a few times over the last couple of days I spent about ten minutes getting them off of snags.
“I also used a ¾-ounce Scrounger with a 7-inch pearl Z Man Scented Jerk ShadZ. Fishing it like a swimbait, real slow.
“I had a shallow point that was really good. The last few mornings I caught two good ones and had a limit pretty easy. So, it took the pressure off and then I was able to go out and do my thing fishing deeper.
“You would just get these little flurries. I didn't catch a lot. But usually you would get three or four fish and if you got that then for sure one or two of them would be big ones, 5- or 6-pound plus fish.
“On one of those stops I caught a 6-13 and it had like a 5-pounder on the other treble. It got off when I was trying to grab them. But that was the kind of flurry you would have.”
DREW COOK (6th place, total weight: 94-1)
“Every morning there was a shad spawn kind of going on. But they were on some shell beds. Really shallow shell beds. They were spawning on the shells, and I would throw a Rat’l Trap and a jerkbait through them.
“I hooked a bunch of big fish this week and landed probably 30 percent of them, which is probably the worst tournament that I've ever had on fish landing. But you got to keep throwing it cause they're biting and they won't bite anything with a single hook in it.
“I had three shell beds that, well It was really one shell bed, but it was the beginning of it and the end of it. There was one stump on each side and that was where they set up every day.
“At some point in time they were going to sit on one, and then the other one. There were a few stumps out there and a little bowl where it got to about three-and-a-half foot. And it's honestly one of those special deals you can't really duplicate or anything like that.
“In practice I went in to a pocket and I was fishing around the bank and I saw some shad bust, or saw some shad jumping and saw a fish bust. I went up there and I threw a Rat’l Trap. Whenever I was reeling I could feel the bait kicking the bottom real hard bottom and I caught a shell, and then caught a bass.
“And they came up to school. I knew there was a lot of them there. It was right where the point stops and the grass started. You could tell where the shell beds ended. I went around the corner and where it ended the first cast up there caught like a 4-and-three-quarters.
“I found four shell beds after that. I looked a lot and only found four of them. But I caught fish on all four.”
KEITH COMBS (7th place, total weight: 93-7)
“I think the biggest key was timing. I moved around a lot. I had six spots that I found in practice, mostly fairly shallow, like 3 to 12 feet. I just kept hitting them repetitively and getting there at the right time. If you're there at the right time, you can catch three or four in a row, and then they would shut down.”
How did you pick your baits?
“Everything was about having confidence baits, which for me is a Strike King 6XD. Some places my boat was setting in 20 feet, but I was casting to 6 feet. So, I was working that slope. I also threw a 4.0 on some of the really shallow places.
“None of the places I caught them this week do I have any history on. It was just places that I found in practice. You know, saw them on the graph, or just found them fishing.”
CHAD PIPKENS (8th place, total weight: 90-12)
“I really didn't look deep in practice. I've never been here. I tried to get into a section of the lake that had fish. I mean honestly, I spent a little time graphing and got lucky.
“I found two places where they were piled up for a couple days. I don't know if they got fished out or moved. But I caught some giants at the place.
“The key for me really was that little DC-300 crankbait. I mean a lot of guys lost a lot of big fish. It's a small crankbait and I never lost a single bass. I can say that now because the tournament's over. I caught a 7, an 8-14, like three over 6 pounds and never lost a single fish.
“Yesterday (Day 3) I went up shallow because I thought I had to and I lost a couple on wacky worms. To that point, the key was landing the fish that I caught. I didn't have a lot to work with but I had two or three places that had fish and tried to learn each day. But I wasn't able to get them fired up in some other places.
How did you find your honey hole?
“Actually, I never had a crankbait out in practice, which is hilarious. I told myself I was going to fish shallow to mid-depth with a topwater, spinner bait shallow stuff.
“I was idling into a pocket, graphing and I saw a few marks on my Humminbird side scan. I fished the pocket. I came back out there and shook off two on a worm and then caught a 3-pounder. I'm like, ‘all right I can catch some fish here.’ I didn't know they lived there.
“That was the place I caught them really good the first day, not the next couple days. Because of that place, I literally started idling the entire creek bank on the way out and there was one place, I don't know what I saw on that side, it just didn't look right.”
“It was a little hard spot, and I thought I saw a couple notches. They were up in like 8 or 9 feet of water so they don't stand out real well. I could just see them, something that wasn't right. I spun the boat around, made 10 or 12 casts. I never had a bite but I was seeing fish on the graph and I'm like, if those are white bass somebody's got to keep them honest.
“I actually pulled out a crankbait, the DC-300. All I had was the clear one on from Lake Lanier. I hung a giant my first cast and I'm like, maybe I snagged a white bass. Then I lose a big one by the boat and I'm not sure what it was. I catch a white bass, then I catch a 4-pounder.
“I still didn't fully know what was there. I started Day 1 on a couple bed fish, like a 6 and a 7 on beds. But they were gone. Then I went to the shad spawn. But that was gone because of thunder the night before. So now I'm like ‘let me go check these places’ and it was on.”
CORY JOHNSTON (9th place,total weight: 85-7)
“The keys for me this week was definitely covering a lot of water. The majority of the fish I caught, I was bed fishing. I was looking at them.
“So, to be able to put my trolling motor on a hundred, cover a bunch of water, and fish new stock everyday was probably the biggest key. That and not getting caught up on those 2 1/2-, 3-pounders.
“That's kind of what hurt me today (Day 4). I just went and tried to find big ones, and passed up all those small fish. But to that point, the biggest key, was covering new water.”
How did you deal with having to idle to the back of those pockets, key in on specific stretches of bank and eliminate all that idle zone?
“I didn't really eliminate a lot of the idle. I looked for areas where there was pocket, after pocket, after pocket, so I could continuously go on the trolling motor, fish as many pockets as I could. And then, you know, idle out, or get on pad, get to the next area where there's a group of pockets. That's how I made it work.”
What baits worked best for you?
“Every fish was different. And that's the fun part of bed fishing. You know, every fish is unique, every fish reacts to something differently. So, majority I caught on a senko, weightless.
“I also caught some on a speed craw, flipping a 3/8-ounce weight. I caught some on a weighted fluke. You know, every fish was different.”
DREW BENTON (10th place, total weight: 83-8)
“First thing in the morning the shad spawn for me was on seawalls and hard-bottom points, shell or hard clay. I’d throw a topwater, a Bagley Rattlin' B and a Bagley Knocker B, and a Bagley B, also B3 crankbait.
“That's what I did on shad spawn. Then later in the day, I just sight fished. Fished up in Caney. It was the clearest water in the lake, down on the lower end. I sight fished while switching from fry guarders to bedding fish.”
Which bait did the bedding bass like best?
“Anything watermelon red. If it had red flake in it, they ate it pretty quick.”
What tipped you off?
“When water gets 70 degrees, shad are going to be spawning somewhere. I saw some shad spawning down the lake and there was no bass on them yet. I felt like the fish down the lake weren't as far along as fish up the lake.
“I ran up the lake the last day of practice and that's when I found my best shad spawn place. I just started running seawalls that were protected and I pulled up to one and shook off like 10 bites and caught like a 5 3/4-pounder.
“That's kind of what got me running that. I ran about three more places like it, got bit on them. So, I said, ‘Well, I'll start here and I'll run down the lake and sight fish.’”