10 fish, 23-02
After the Bassmaster Classic at Guntersville I didn’t have to go far for the next tournament, just a bit down the road to Jasper, Alabama, home of Smith Lake. The two bodies of water are very different, but I was still looking forward to making the change. I knew that there’d be a decent Alabama Rig bite, and that a jerkbait and crankbait would probably play a role, too. I also hoped they’d bite a jig a little bit, but in the end I knew that the A-Rig would be the major player.
Ultimately, I didn’t get to practice too much because I came down with a nasty flu that seems to follow me wherever I go this year. Obviously, I needed to spend some time on the water, but with back-to-back Elite Series events coming right on Smith’s heels I knew that it was most important that I get healed up. The weather was miserable – cold, rainy and windy – which wasn’t conducive to getting better.
Fortunately I’d been to Smith before and between my history there and the time I got out during the practice period, I felt that I could focus on one particular area. I looked at some other stuff but pretty quickly narrowed it down to one section of the lake, figuring I’d live or die there.
On the first day of competition the weather stayed true to form and once again it was nasty and wet. In other words, a perfect Alabama Rig day. I started off throwing it early and had four or five bites on it first thing in the morning before I caught a nice spotted bass. That was pretty much the last bite I got on it, though. I switched to cranking a Wiggle Wart on 10 lb. Toray fluorocarbon and it was game on the rest of the day. Four of the five fish I weighed in came on the crankbait, but I struggled to get quality bites. At the last minute I finally had a 4 pound largemouth slap at it, but he was barely hooked and when he came up near the boat he spit the lure back in my face. I ended the day with 11-09, which was enough to keep me in the hunt but in order to move up I’d likely need to add a kicker or two on Friday.
I was pretty jacked up to start the second day of competition. The conditions were completely different than those on Day One – sunshine and no wind, and the water had cleaned up. I picked up where I’d left off the day before, with the cranking stick in my hand, and I caught a nice largemouth right out of the gate. By 10:30, though, I hadn’t caught anything else and I was starting to get pretty frustrated. I’m sure it was the conditions. They just don’t bite that crankbait as well when it slicks off like that.
With the crankbait bite pretty much dead, I pulled out the A-Rig and decided to fish some new places. Specifically, I went out a lot deeper than I’d been fishing and started to get bites almost immediately. With a short day (2pm weigh-in), I had to make it happen quickly, and I did, but once again I had trouble with some of the bigger bites. One of the lost fish was my fault, but the other one was not. I had a wire on my A-Rig break and the fish came off. I suppose I could have checked to see if that was likely to happen, but it’s not a problem I’ve had before so I had no reason to think it would bite me during the tournament.
Once again, I weighed in 11-09 and ended up in 25th place, just about two pounds out of the top 12 cut. I don’t think I was around the fish to win, so I’m not as disappointed as I might normally be in that situation. More importantly, I’m pleased with the adjustments that I’m making on the water. I switched things up each time the conditions changed and that’s what you need to do in order to succeed at this level. It leaves me headed into the Elite Series season with a lot of confidence.
For the Alabama Rig, I used an 8-foot extra-extra-heavy Carrot Stix rod with a Lew’s Super Duty reel and 20 pound test Toray Fluorocarbon. The best rig I’ve found is the Lunker Lure Gill Raker and with Missile Baits Shockwaves on the back it’s deadly. I fished my Wiggle Wart on a 6’9” Carrot Stix medium action rod with a Team Lew’s baitcasting reel spooled with 10 pound test Toray fluorocarbon. Those two combos did almost all of the heavy lifting and helped me to maximize my chances. The other piece of equipment that really helped was my Humminbird 1198 side-imaging unit. With limited practice time, I literally just had to drive around and look for bunches of fish, often without making a cast. The fish were grouped up. You couldn’t necessarily make every group bite on tournament day, but it made it easy to eliminate unproductive water.
Next up is the Elite Series season opener on Seminole. I expect that it’s going to be a sight fishing blowout and that has me extremely excited. I’m glad to be back with B.A.S.S.