By the numbers at Watts Bar

JT Thompkins

J.T. Thompkins isn’t getting greedy, but he recognizes the wisdom of turning the numbers. The South Carolina pro placed 17th on Day 1, but he knows what he needs to do to make the top-10 cut.

Thompkins, whose remarkable consistency has put him atop the St. Croix Bassmaster Open Elite Qualifiers standings, said a shift in first-round quality turned his focus to quantity. He’s hoping to realign that balance going forward.

“The size disappeared on me,” said Thompkins, who launched in one of the earlier flights. “I had a really good practice with a lot of bigger fish. I caught quite a few keepers (on Day 1), but I just never got the size.”

The likely explanation: fishing pressure.

“I just think the bigger fish are smarter and the pressure’s getting to them,” Thompkins said. “Those are the first fish that feel the pressure, so as the tournament goes on, they’re going to be tougher to catch.”

With a later flight on Day 2, Thompkins said he’s hopeful that more time on the water will allow him to work through enough of that quantity to find some helpful quality.

“Every time you set the hook, the odds go up, so hopefully, I’ll set the hook enough times that (eventually) I’ll get a good bite,” he said. “This fishery has mostly smaller fish, so I think you have to weed through a lot of fish to get a big bite.

“Playing the numbers is definitely the way to go here.”

In practice, Thompkins developed a two-part game plan comprising a grass pattern and an offshore plan.

“With the offshore deal, I’m able to pull up to isolated pieces structure, where I’d get a big bite here and a big bite there,” he said. “That’s were a lot of my better ones would come from.

“Hopefully (today), I can run that same pattern and have a good day. I’m going to spend most of my time in the grass for limit fish and then we’ll see what happens.”

As Thompkins explained, he’s confident that the big offshore fish are still in the area, but a couple of Day-1 mishaps shattered his potential.

“I jumped off a 2- and a 3-pound on my first (offshore) spot and then the school got busted up and just stopped,” Thompkins said. “There’s definitely still a ledge bite; I just have to get out there and put them in the boat.”

Concentrated potential

Sam George, who placed ninth on Thursday with 12-13, also played the numbers game, but with a more conservative strategy. Starting his first morning on a main river stretch with isolated wood targets and good current, the Alabama pro decided it would be best to manage his best potential.

“I knew coming into this that keepers were going to be really hard to come by and I told myself if I can just catch five and get out of there, I was done,” said George, currently 11th in Opens EQ points. “This late in the year and as tight as the points are getting, I know that’s kind of a back-up-and-punt move; but I knew that, if I can just get through this event with 8 or 9 pounds a day, I would survive and get on to the next event.

“I really don’t like that theory of fishing scared, but with a couple of tough tournaments ahead of us (Lake of the Ozarks and Harris Chain of Lakes), I knew that if I could just buckle down and get out of my own head early in the morning, it would really help throughout the day.”

After accomplishing his early goal, George ran several other areas with minimal results. With few options, he’s banking on that key main river stretch.

Guard Duty

Notably, Day-1 leader Bobby Lane had a different take on the numbers. He caught four of his weight fish on his opening spot and finished his leading bag later in the day.

On paper, it looked like a successful day — and it was, statistically speaking. Strategically, Lane would have preferred a different path to success.

Specifically, the Florida pro said he would have preferred to grab a quick limit on his opening spot and then move elsewhere. Reason being, he found something unique in that opening area and could not afford to yield it to any of the nearby competitors that watched his early productivity.

Fortunately, when Lane finally left that starting spot, he briefly checked another promising area. Catching one about 3 pounds on his first cast told him he’d have at least one more solid option, in case he leaned too hard on his Day-1 honey hole.