If you had asked Zack Thompson which lure he planned to use in fishing the CITGO Bassmaster Western Open presented by Busch Beer at Clear Lake Nov. 18-20, it would not have been a jigging spoon. In fact, it wasn't until the second day of competition that the Orinda, Calif., angler decided to "do something different than everyone else" and tied on the silver spoon with a red treble hook.
The result was literally a dream come true for Thompson, who as a youngster watched The Bassmasters television shows and dreamed of one day competing as a bass pro. The spoon carried him to a solid victory in the Western Division's season finale and earned him a spot in the Open Championship. He finished with 13 bass weighing 48 pounds, 14 ounces, more than 3 pounds ahead of runner-up Anthony Klonowski, who weighed in 45-9. Jared Lintner finished third with 41-5.
Thompson's initial reluctance to change lures is easy to explain. During practice, he'd caught back-to-back 4-pounders on a silver/white Zoom Fluke, letting the soft plastic lure float lazily down beside deep pier pilings in the lake's midsection. Then, on the fog-shortened first day of competition when the 125 boat field wasn't released until noon, the Fluke had produced what turned out to be the tournament's Purolator Big Bass, a 9-6 giant that gulped in the lure less than five minutes after they'd started fishing.
"One of the things that prompted me to change to a jigging spoon the next day was the fact that the bait around the pier had moved deeper," noted Thompson. "The water off the end of the dock I was fishing was about 30 feet deep, and initially, the bait was only about 10 feet down. When I arrived the second morning, everything had moved out into the 15- to 25-foot range."
Lures: Zoom Fluke (silver/white); Bass Pro Shops XPS 3/4-ounce tungsten jigging spoon with a Size 4 red Gamakatsu treble hook.
Tackle: Thompson used 10-pound-test P-Line for both lures, matched with a 6-6 Kistler Cranking Rod and an Okuma baitcasting reel.
Technique: Initially, Thompson used the Fluke, letting it sink slowly around the pier pilings. He later switched to the jigging spoon, letting it sink to the bottom, then jumping it as much as 4 feet above the bottom. Bass seldom hit the spoon on the fall, but rather either on the bottom or just above the bottom.
Thompson also wanted to use a lure the bass on Clear Lake probably do not see very often. Overall, jigging spoons don't win many tournaments, but in this case with deeper fish, a spoon was one of the best choices he could have made. It was a 3/4-ounce Bass Pro Shops XPS tungsten model, to which he added a No. 4 red Gamakatsu treble.
Although he spent most of his time in front of one particular pier, the entire beachfront stretched more than 100 yards and contained a number of piers and boat docks. With its deep, protected water, the place became a magnet for the area's bass as the water became progressively colder during the week.
In fact, Thompson keyed his fishing more to the area's crappie and bluegill than anything else. Schools of these fish literally blackened a depthfinder screen. By the end of each day, Thompson and his nonboater partners had usually snagged enough of both to feed a small army.
The bass were holding below the crappie and bream, but they did not actively feed — or at least Thompson didn't catch many of them — until schools of shad moved through the area. He could see them on his depthfinder, too, and his spoon matched them closely in size and color. When the shad came through, everything started eating them, and his spoon started getting hit."Interestingly, the bass hardly ever hit the spoon while it was falling," Thompson related afterward. "Instead, they'd pick it up when it was on the bottom, or just above the bottom."I never caught any fish casting and hopping the spoon, either. The only thing that worked was a strictly vertical presentation. I'd drop the spoon to the bottom, let it sit there for a moment, then jump it 3 to 4 feet off the bottom."
Because of the way the bass were acting, Thompson doesn't believe they were actually relating to the other fish, but instead to the area itself, with its depth and piling structure that offered good ambush points. Although Thompson caught the 9-6 right beside the pilings, many of his bass came from 5 or 10 feet out from the pier. What specifically appeared to trigger feeding was the appearance of the shad.
Thompson actually left the area the first afternoon after he caught the 9-6, a move he described as panic fishing to catch a five fish limit. With roughly three hours to fish, no one stayed in their water very long if the fish stopped biting.
As a result, Thompson came to the scales that afternoon with just three bass weighing 11-15, most of which was taken up by his lunker. In 9th place, he found himself 7 pounds behind leader Anthony Klonowski, who had cranked in 18-15.
Thompson changed to the spoon the next day — shortened about two hours for fog — and stayed around the piers where he brought in the tournament's heaviest weight, 23 pounds, 13 ounces. He actually had his first five in the livewell in a little over an hour. His huge catch, combined with Klonowski's hard-luck day of motor trouble that resulted in a 14-12 sack, moved Thompson into the lead with a total of 35-12.
When he caught two 4-pounders early the final morning, then gradually added three other fish to fill out a 13-2 total, the title was his.Clearly, Thompson's success with the spoon surprised a lot of fishermen at Clear Lake, but perhaps even more revealing is how diverse the top three patterns turned out to be. Klonowski finished second by slowly bouncing a crankbait over rocks 11 feet deep while Lintner did just the opposite in ripping a vibrating bait through vegetation in less than 4 feet. Even fourth and fifth place finishers Skeet Reese and Bill Siemantel fished differently, as well.
None, however, solved the puzzle quite as well as Thompson and the spoon he never planned to use.