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Tournament Reports

September 13-15, 2017 BASS Southern Open   Lewis Smith Lake   Jasper, AL

This was the final event in the Southern Division and on a lake where I normally feel really comfortable. Unfortunately, that comfort level came from several visits to Smith in the Winter and early Spring, never in late Summer or Fall.  Ariving at Smith for practice I found the lake level 5 feet below pool with water temps in the low 80’s.  The lake level deal was easily handled by my Garmin electronics; with Gamin I easily changed the map (-5) to match the water level so my units showed the water levels exactly as they were during this event.  The fall patterns on this predominately spotted bass lake were a different deal altogether.  Try as I might I couldn’t put together a pattern or an area that could be repeated.  I caught some really nice spots in practice but could go back to the same area the next day and not get a bite.  I did find a pattern and area for largemouth.  I could catch largemouth on a Zorro Booza Bug with a Zoom Big Salty Chunk trailer in laydowns and brush piles up the river.  I told my practice partner Greg Mauldin that I could catch 18 pounds and day “IF” I was the only boat up the river and “IF” I put every bite in the boat.  Well, I was not the only boat upriver (there were 12 tournament boats) and I didn’t fish perfectly clean.  I did, however, catch a limit; the problem was it took me two days….I had four largemouth on Day 1 and only one on Day 2.  As predicted, there were just not enough largemouth for that many boats over a two day period.  The highlight of the tournament was presenting a TMNT Kid Casters No-Tangler rod to Korbin Hayes from the BASS Open stage.  My 89th place in the final standings put me in the middle of the pack.  I can’t wait to get back next Spring when the FLW Tour visits Smith Lake April 26-29!

Since I didn’t make the Top 12 third day cut I spent the morning showing off my beautiful TMNT Toyota Tundra with its Leer cap at the Jasper, AL Toyota dealer; they invited me back next April when I’m in town for the FLW.

 

Smith 17 SpotSmith 17 WinnerSmith 17 Toyota

 

 

 

 

 

August 11-13, 2017  Forrest Wood Cup     Lake Murray     Columbia, SC

I parked the TMNT Toyota Tundra outside the entrance of the Convention Center and was proud to display my TMNT Ranger in the Evinrude booth.  Evinrude provided custom wrapped “Turtle Shell” panels for the amazing G2.  I was invited to do a fishing seminar on Friday and worked the Evinrude and Kid Casters booths every day of the Cup.  By the way, the Turtles were there with me for the entire show which ended with them helping me present the Kid Casters “Casting Champion” trophy to Jaxon Wood on stage!

FWC 17 Tundra

FWC 17 EvinrudeFWC 17 G2

 

 

 

 

 

FWC 17 Seminar

 

FWC 17 SeminarEvansFWC 17 Legends

 

 

 

 

 

 

FWC 17 ForrestWood

FWC 17 Casting Champ

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

June 15-18, 2017    FLW Tour #7     Potomac River     Marbury, MD

First stop at this event was the Walmart Supercenter in La Plata where the TMNT rig was on display and Mark Rose and I showed customers Kid Casters no-tangle rods:

Potomac Walmart

Potomac Rose Walmart     Potomac Kid Casters

I love fishing the Potomac, but I’m not sure it loves me!  I had a great practice and was around quality fish during the tournament, weighed a limit both days but ended up in 131st place.  How can that happen?  It happens because of execution issues…I lost several quality fish both days and have to a lot better next year.  My Zoom Magnum UV Worm did its job on getting the bites.

May 18-21, 2017     FLW Tour #6     Mississippi River     Lacrosse, WI

First stop at this event was the Walmart Supercenter in Lacrosse where the TMNT rig was on display; Mikey and I talked fishing with customers:

Lacrosse Walmart

I have fished the Mississippi River out of Lacrosse before but never this early in the year and never with the water this high and muddy.  Even with tough conditions the fishing was good, I spent the first day of practice on the lower end of Pool 8, the second day on Pool 9 and the final day on the upper end of Pool 8.  My best day for quality was on Pool 9 and my best day for quantity was the upper end of Pool 8.  Keeping in mind that locking down not only takes about an hour each way and also risks getting locked out by barge traffic I decided to remain on Pool 8 and spend more time with a bait in the water.  My most productive lure:  one of my favorites – a 3/8 Zorro Booza Bug with a Zoom Big Salty Chunk fished around laydowns and flooded trees.

Day 1 produced only four keepers that weighed only 7-11 which put me in 139th place…not the kind of start I needed.  Day 2 went much better and I caught a couple of limits and culled up to 11-12, giving me a total of 19-7 moving me up to 112th place…my lowest finish ever on the Mississippi.

I did Evinrude test rides on both Saturday and Sunday morning and even though it was cold and wet the folks from the Lacrosse area came out to get a ride in my Ranger powered by the amazing Evinrude G2.  After the test rides I worked the Evinrude booth in the Family Fun Zone prior to the weigh-ins where the TMNT rig was on display.  I sure hope the FLW Tour returns to Lacrosse in the future so I have a chance to redeem myself.

April 27-30, 2017     FLW Tour #5     Beaver Lake      Rogers, AR

When I arrived in Rogers for this tournament it was raining and when I left it was raining.  Beaver Lake raised a total of 12 feet during this time.  In a word, the only constant was “change”.  My first stop on Saturday was at the Walmart Supercenter on Walnut Street in Rogers where I along with Jimmy Houston and Larry Nixon greeted Walmart customers and showed them Kid Casters rods and informed them about the FLW tournament coming to town.

Rogers Walmart Crew

The three practice days saw rising water levels and muddy water coming down the river toward the main lake. I concentrated on the mid lake section and discovered that the bass were not moving up with the water levels and would chomp on a Zorro Booza Bug tipped with a Zoom Big Salty Chunk fished slowly between 8-12 feet.  Even this deep I employed a 3/8 ounce jig instead of a 1/2 which would have gotten to the desired depth faster the bass preferred the slower fall of the lighter jig.

After three practice days Cody Kelly, Chase Brooks and I headed to Westside Elementary in Rogers to talk to the 5th grade about the importance of education, water safety and fishing for a living.  We had a blast!

   Rogers Westside team       Rogers Westside lineup       Rogers Westside Assembly

   Rogers Westside rig       Rogers Westside outside       Rogers Westside cards

Day 1 started like the three practice days…the Booza Bug was on fire early.  I had a limit in the first hour; two largemouth over 15″, two smallmouth over 15″ but #5 was a small 12″ spotted bass.  Just like in practice after the initial flurry early the fishing got really tough the rest of the day.  I ended up boating only three more keepers but was able to cull the spot and replace it with another 15″ largemouth.  My limit weighed only 9-9 but that was good enough for 48th place.  All I had to do was catch a eight pound limit on Day 2 and I could leave Beaver with $10,000!  Sounds easy but Beaver Lake is never easy.  The water kept on rising and the fishing changed but I didn’t.  Stayed in the same area, kept throwing the Booza Bug and managed only three keepers.  While the water was rising quickly my standing in the tournament was falling even faster.  No limit, no check.

Even with the bad showing on Day 2 I stayed for Day 3 and 4 to join a couple of my friends (Mikey and Ralph) to bring some sunshine to kids at the Rogers Walmart:

Rogers Walmart Turtles   Rogers Walmart Turtles Kid

April 6-9, 2017     FLW Tour #4     Lake Cumberland     Somerset, KY

After living 33 years on Kentucky Lake. Lake Cumberland is now my new “home lake” so I was really excited when FLW announced the FLW tour would visit Lake Cumberland for the first time.  I started the week doing a promotion for FLW at the Somerset Walmart Supercenter on Saturday the day prior to practice.  I was met by the store manager and invited to park my TMNT Tundra at the entrance.  Inside, I visited with tons of customers and sold every Kid Casters No-Tangler Turtle rods the store had in stock!

Somerset Walmart KC Rods

Somerset Walmart Mgr

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I talked to several Pros prior to the start of practice and gave them all the same advice:  “Don’t get lured in by the Cumberland smallmouth.  Between the 18″ size limit and their reputation as Ghost Fish they can bite you in a tournament.  You can catch 30 smallmouth a day over three pounds and not weigh in a single fish.” That said, the first day of practice I went up and targeted largemouth pitching a Zorro Booza Bug and a Zoom Trick Worm.  At the end of the day I figured this could produce between 12 and 14 pounds a day and would be good enough to make the money and take home $10,000.  I still had two days of practice and didn’t need to stay up river and pound on fish I needed during the tournament so I decided to head down lake the second day and have some fun catching smallmouth.  I had a really good day and decided to spend the final practice day even further down lake.  After two days of catching quality smallmouth I decided “I can win this thing on smallmouth”.

At take-off on Day 1 I headed down lake and the first bass I boated was a beautiful 19 1/2″  brownie!  After that great start I managed only one small Kentucky keeper; together the two weighed 5-4.  I figured it would take  a big bag to get me in the money after the disastrous first day and the only way I could get it was with a bag of smallmouth so I headed down lake on Day 2.  Which leads me to the description of “stupid”:  Repeating the same thing and expecting a different result. Day 2 result one bass that weighed 3-7.  Two days on my home lake – three keepers, 8-11, 147th place:(

I spent the next two days in the Evinrude booth at the Fun Zone talking to fishing fans about the amazing Eviunrude G2.

March 9-12, 2017     FLW Tour #3     Harris Chain     Leesburg, FL

After my first visit to the Harris Chain during the BASS Open in January I felt really comfortable returning again.  I had visited every lake during that event and knew how to get around and how much time it took to idle between lakes and how long it took to lock into Lake Griffin.  I also knew the importance of lighter sinkers and slower bait movement that is key to getting quality bites.

The first day of practice was spent on Lake Harris and Little Lake Harris where I tried my best not to hook any fish on a Zoom Ol Monster (not an easy task) around lilly pads.  I bent my hook down and buried it in the middle of the Ol Monster and even then it wasn’t easy to get the really good fish to drop it.  I was around other competitors all day and was amazed at how many were setting the hook and catching bass during practice; some were even taking pictures of practice bass! I caught one 6 lb on a lipless crankbait in the grass outside of the pads and then put it away.

The second practice day I spent in the Dead River and Lake Eustis.  In Eustis I visited a community spot, the Gator Hole, where my practice partner Baily Boutries  and I took five big bites in one pass and he caught one over 5, we left immediately.  I then plied the pads in the Dead River and didn’t get may bites but the ones I got were giants!  Even with a bent hook point buried deep in the Ol Monster and trying my best to shake him off a 6 refused to drop it and hooked himself!

The final day of practice I launched in Lake Griffin and even though this lake is where I ended up fishing during the BASS Open by noon nothing was clicking for me and I took out and moved back to Lake Harris.  Because of the running, idling and locking time involved in fishing Lake Griffin from the take-off site at Venetian Gardens on Lake Harris you need to be dialed in…I was NOT!  Back on Harris the afternoon of the last day of practice I visited some bedding areas and found one area that had eight beds with some nice fish on them.

My game plan for the tournament was simple:  fish the pads in Little Lake Harris and the Dead River with an Ol Monster with a light RBS tungsten sinker on 14# Lew’s fluorocarbon line.  At the meeting I drew boat #139 paired with Jerry Hayden.  That late boat number modified my plan a little.  I decided to go to the bedding area first and fish the area blind; even though these Florida bass don’t normally pull up on the bed until the sun comes up they stay close to the bed in the deeper water.  Rigged with a six inch Zoom Lizard and light I cast toward the beds and fished the lizard slowly all the way back to the boat.  I was rewarded with one bite: a 6 lb’er that came unbuckled beside the boat – a bad way to start the day.  My second stop on the way to the pads in Little Lake Harris got me my second bite of the day on a Zoom Trick Worm with the same results – another 6 that got away.  Two big bites so far and nothing to show for it.  the pads got me on the board with a limit on the Ol Monster one of which was over 5.  Then it was on to the Dead River pads to finish up the day.  There I broke off one over 6 trying to boat flip her on 14# line (bad idea), caught a 6 and lost another 6 or better.  Total for the day: six big bites, only put two in the boat, a limit that weighed 15 lbs – bad execution but good enough for 32nd place.

Harris Chain Stage

For Day 2 I left in boat #25 with Brandon Barrett and with an early check-in went directly to Little Harris and then to the Dead River.  Finally a day fishing clean:  six bites – six in the boat but zero big bites.  My limit weighed only 8-7 and dropped me from 32nd to 60th…missed the money by seven ounces.

February 16-19, 2017     FLW Tour #2     Lake  Travis     Jonestown, TX

This was my first time to fish Lake Travis.  Located just outside Austin, Texas this canyon reservoir had been in a drought with low water levels for many years allowing trees and brush to grow on exposed banks.  A couple of years ago the lake quickly rose about 40 feet and providing abundant cover for bait fish and bass in which to hide.  During practice many anglers reported to be catching a ton of small bass but were have problems catching keepers.  My practice was amazing!  I was around quality bass all three days and was getting bit shallow on a green pumpkin/blue Zoom Trick Worm Travis shallow and deep on a brown 1/2 ounce Zorro Booza Bug with a green

pumpkin Zoom Big Salty Chunk trailer.  Travis deep2 Even with my hook bent against the shaft the hungry Lake Travis largemouth attacked my baits with a vengeance and refused to let go!  To say I was excited about this tournament is an understatement.  After practice was over on Tuesday I formulated a game plan:  start on my best shallow location and then go to my best deep location later in the day.

A cold front moved in on the final day of practice and by the time the tournament started on Thursday the water temperature had dropped five degrees but I decided to stick to my game plan and was certain that the bass that had moved shallow were committed and would not move.  I drew a fellow Kentuckian Josh Lockhart from Somerset as my co-angler on Day 1 and we headed to my shallow fish (first mistake) where I determined I could make them bite (second mistake) and I stayed there four hours (third mistake) before I finally gave up on them and headed to my deep fish.  When I got there I knew I was behind and pressed to catch up…fishing too fast (fourth mistake).  Josh and I both had three keepers; mine weighed 4-4 and was only good enough for 135th place, very disappointing:(

For Day 2 I drew one of the “best ever” co-anglers, Frank Divis of Fayetteville, Arkansas and this time we headed to the deep fish to start (where I should have started on Day 1).  Frank caught a limit and I had enough hits but had a lot of execution problems and only boated four keepers that moved me up to 115th place.  Lesson to be learned – React to changing conditions, fish in the present not in the past and pay attention to detail; especially line condition.

The bright spot of this event was a visit to Wiley Middle School in Leander, Texas on our day off.  The seventh and eighth graders were excited to see my TMNT rig and really excited to be with Michael

Travis school2

February 2-5, 2017     FLW Tour #1     Lake Guntersville     Guntersville, AL

The only day with decent weather during this tournament was Wednesday the “off day” which was warm, sunny with light winds.  The three days of practice and the tournament days saw cold temps, rain, snow and non-stop wind…miserable fishing conditions that made this “world class” bass fishing lake as “tough as nails”.  This was the first time in my fishing career that I went three days in practice without a single keeper.  I fished from dam to dam and tried stuff that’s usually automatic on this body of water without success.  During  practice I tried docks, grass, rip rap and bridges and caught a total of three non keepers.  For the tournament I decided to go with my strong suite:  tie on a Zorro Booza Bug with a Zoom Big Salty Chunk trailer and keep it wet.  The set up was critical; a Lew’s Pro Mag reel, a Lew’s Custom Lite Worm & Jig rod and 14# Lew’s fluorocarbon line.  I fished docks and rocks and caught a limit both days 12-1 on Day 1 and 10-12 on Day 2.  That missed the big check by six ounces but was good enough for 52nd place and a $4,000 payday.  Not bad after a forgettable practice!

January 19-21, 2017     BASS Southern Open     Harris Chan     Leesburg, FL

This was my first tournament ever on the Harris Chain of lakes in central Florida but it won’t be my last; the FLW Tour stops here March 9-12.  During practice I visited Lake Harris, Little Lake Harris, Lake Eustis, Lake Dora and Lake Griffin.  Every one of the lakes is unique and getting from one to next is quite a challenge with long no-wake areas and navigating a lock that only handles nine boats to get to Lake Griffin.  Getting to Lake Griffin from the take-off in Lake Harris takes about an hour if there is no delay at the lock.  If Griffin is on your agenda during the tournament it amounts to about two hours during the tournament day without a bait in the water…a big decision to say the least.  Catching bass on these waters was not a problem but getting big bass in the boat was a challenge.  I used a Zoom Trick worm and a Zoom Ultra Vibe worm and caught lots of small keepers.  I weighed in a limit each day of this event but none large enough to get me anywhere near the money.  I learned a lot about fishing this chain and hope it pays off when I return for the FLW Tour  in March.

June 23-26, 2016     FLW Tour #6     Champlain     Plattsburg, NY

What a wonderful place to fish!  Lake Champlain in upstate New York is breathtakingly beautiful…deep, clear water surrounded on both sides by picturesque mountain ranges.  To top it off these waters are chunk full of fearless, hungry bass.  It just doesn’t get much better than this!  All three days of practice were amazing, just tie on a Zoom 3.75 green pumpkin Tube on a 1/4 oz. head and hang on!  The bites during the tournament came just a regular but the size of the fish shrunk…three and four pounders were replaced with two and two and a half pounders.  It took 16 pounds a day to make 5oth place good for $10,000.  My limits weighed 12-5 and 12-2, 144th place.  We’ll get ’em next year! On the final day I displayed the TMNT rig in the Family Fun Zone and worked the Evinrude booth:

Champlain TMNT 16                                    Champlain Evinrude 16

June 9-12 , 2016     FLW Tour #5     Kentucky Lake     Gilbertsville, KY

Even though I no longer live on Kentucky Lake, it is considered my home lake and is my favorite place to fish.  It’s got to be one of the best lakes in the country and continues to produce large numbers of bragging size bass.  Before practice began I started this event with a promotion at the Walmart in Murray, Kentucky with Jeff Sprague and David Dudley:

KY 16 TMNT

KY 16 Walmart

Practice was amazing!  Using my Garmin electronics I found winning size bass on both Kentucky and Barkley; here’s just one of several beauties I put in my Ranger during practice: KY 16 practice

My lure of choice during practice and the tournament – a Zoom ‘Ol Monster rigged on a 7/0 Mustad Pin Hook using 14# fluorocarbon line using a RockyBrook 3/4 oz. tungsten sinker.  Using a Lew’s Pro Mag reel on a Lew’s Custom Lite Magnum Bass rod, I could cast the heavy sinker a mile and still have enough rod to set the hook and enough speed (7.5:1) to keep up with these fast, strong Kentucky bruisers. As is usual on Kentucky Lake, the big fish would bite early and then get really difficult to catch during mid-day and then bite again in the late afternoon when the current picked up for power generation.

On Wednesday, registration day, I took the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Ranger/Toyota rig to I Kids and talked to a ton of kids about fishing, safety on the water, skin protection and the benefits of Kid Casters No-Tangler rods.

KY 16 I Kids TMNT                           KY 16 I Kids

As good as practice was the tournament went exactly the opposite way.  On Day 1 I traveled south on Kentucky to start and caught a quick limit on my first spot but my biggest bass there was smaller than my smallest bass I caught there in practice.  This early limit weighed just 12-10 and even though I caught several  other keepers during the day none were big enough to cull.  Even though I was disappointed with Day 1’s results I was looking forward to Day 2 where I would be in the last flight and get to fish while they were pulling water late in the day.  Day 2 started bad and went downhill from there; my first stop yielded only one keeper and then I went all day without another keeper until the last hour of fishing when the current started moving.  I put three more keepers in the well and lost another and missed another bite altogether.  The result: four keepers, 10-6, 107th place on my home lake 🙁 Every story has a happy ending; lots of kids came by the Family Fun Zone over the weekend to take pictures of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle rig:

KY 16 FFZ

 May 19-21, 2016      BASS Southern Open     Douglas Lake     Dandridge, TN

Douglas is usually at full pool by this time of the year but this trip found this beautiful lake somewhere between four and eight feet below pool.  Most of the areas I usually fish were high and dry and the low water made Douglas fish really small for a tournament with 150 boats.  During practice I found a couple of deep spots that held quality fish and found some good fish shallow.  This beautiful one came shallow on a Zorro Booza Bug rigged with a Zoom Big Salty Chunk:

Douglas practice (2)

On Day 1 I drew Boat #131 and headed for my best deep water spot to throw a Zoom Ol’ Monster but when I got there I found another boat on that spot (not surprising) and headed to my shallow fish.  The area I wanted to fish could easily have held four or five boats but when I got there I could see a dozen boats and found out there were at least 20 boats fishing the same stuff I intended to fish.  I found an area where I could throw my Booza Bug and got to work.  Within 15 minutes I hooked up a good one that looked to be between four to five pounds but failed to get him in the boat. BASS Opens don’t allow dip nets and I still need some practice getting a good one in the boat without one.  Both me and my co-angler caught our limits and culled several times but I didn’t get enough big bites.  My limit weighted 8-14 only good enough for 99th place.  Day 2 went pretty much the same way except my limit came on a Zoom Brush Hog which I shared with my co-angler who also caught a limit.  My Day 2 limit was a little heavier, 9-5 putting me in 93rd for the event and 45th for the year.  The highlight came at Day 2’s weigh-in where a four year old “future Pro” won a Kid Casters TMNT No-Tangler telescopic rod: Douglas TMNT winner

May 5-8, 2016     FLW Tour     Pickwick Lake     Florence, AL

I practiced on both Pickwick and Wilson for this event and found some fish on both lakes but not in the numbers I had hoped.  I decided to spend Day 1 on Pickwick and depending on the results maybe shift to Wilson for “feast or famine” on Day 2.  I had found some big fish on Wilson during practice but didn’t get the number of bites I needed to be confident I could catch a limit. On Wednesday (day off for registration) I took the TMNT rig to Florence Middle School to talk to 7th and 8th graders about boat safety and skin protection while outdoors.  The Turtle rig was a huge hit:

Pickwick School 6Pickwick School 5

On Day 1 I headed to my best area on the upper end of Pickwick and fished shallow cover with a Zoom Trick Worm and a Zorro Booza Bug.  Right away I caught a keeper on the Trick Worm and followed up with 3 1/2 on the Booza Bug…a pretty good start!  But then the momentum stalled – the rest of the day I had three more hits on the Booza Bug.  I missed two out of three.  Results for Day 1:  five bites, three keepers that weighed 7-5 only good enough for 94th place. As planned I locked up to Wilson, where I had two giant bass during practice, for Day 2.  I started where I had caught a smallmouth over six pounds on a Booza Bug and immediately put a 2-2 smallmouth in the boat…That was it, only I keeper bite all day.  What a disappointment.  The 141st place finish on Pickwick destroyed my chances of qualifying for the Forrest Wood Cup this year.  The good news is that I love the last two stops (KY Lake and Lake Champlain) and expect to add a couple of checks on these fun places to fish.

April 28-30, 2016     FLW Costa Series     KY Lake     Paris, TN

This tournament has been an annual event for Jerry McKinnis (BASS owner) and me for years.  We both signed up earlier in the year but when Jerry had to withdraw due to other commitments I decided to fish it anyway since Kentucky Lake is my “home lake”.  I really do love Kentucky Lake and have had some success there over the years, but this year threw me a curveball.  Usually April finds water levels high and the fish shallow in buck bushes and around yellow flowers.  During practice I found a few fish shallow but not in the numbers I expected.  I also tried deeper but without success.  The only pattern that worked at all was fishing a Zorro Booza Bug on deeper riprap.  That produced a limit on Day 1 but Day 2 every bass I caught was just short of the 15″ size limit…bummer!

April 14-17, 2016     FLW Tour     Beaver Lake     Rogers, AR

Over the years Beaver has become my favorite tournament stop.  One of the reasons is the hectic schedule of appearances associated with this event.  Even before practice started I took the TMNT Toyota to the Walmart Supercenter in Springdale, AR to join Barry Wilson and eventual tournament winner Scott Cantebury for an in-store promotion of the FLW Tour event and to pro mote Kid Casters rods and reels to Walmart customers.

TMNT Springdale2Walmart Springdale

On the off day for registration I took the TMNT rig to Westside Elementary to talk to fourth and fifth graders about the importance of education and safety on the water. Westside Rogers After the second day of completion I joined the entire Kid Casters team and the Tennage Mutant Ninja Turtles at Mercy Hospital in Rogers.  We met with over 250 kids and their parents where we signed autographs, took pictures and gave every kid a Kid Casters No-Tangler rod.

Mercy Rogers                           TMNT Mercy

Saturday morning I took the TMNT rig to a grand opening for a new Walmart Market in Fayetteville

TMNT Fayetteville          Fayetteville Maket From Fayetteville I headed to the Walmart Supercenter in Rogers where FLW had set up for the final weigh-ins and the accompanying family fun zone.  I parked the TMNT rig in front of the store and was joined in the Kid Casters booth by a couple of the Turtles and Hello Kitty.

Walmart Rogers           TMNT Walmart RogersHello Kitty

After the final weigh-in on Sunday I headed for the dinner and silent auction for the Bill Kerr Memorial Will Fish for Kids tournament to raise funds for the Arkansas Children’s Hospital.  The tournament was held on Monday where FLW Tour Pros stayed over to take sponsors fishing on Beaver Lake.  The event was record setting…over $200,000 was raised! Now, on to the tournament.  On Day 1 I caught a 12.1 limit on a Zorro Booza Bug tipped with a Zoom Big Salty Chunk.  On Day 2 my water cleared some and I switched to a Zoom Trick Worm to get a 10.11 limit.  That was good enough for 54th place and a check for $4,000. After a busy week I stopped by the new Lew’s headquarters in Springfield.

TMNT Lew's

 

March 31-April 2, 2016      BASS Southern Open     Smith Lake     Jasper, AL When I think of Smith Lake I think of giant spotted bass!  My friend Bill Taylor (FLW Tournament Director) had a couple of days off work and offered to fish with me on Smith Lake on the Friday and Saturday the week before the tournament.  Bill is arguably the best in the world with a Zorro Booza Bug and I jumped at the opportunity to spend a couple of days in my boat with him.  We have fished Smith Lake together for years during the winter because it is full of big, mean spots.  On Friday we had the best day of fishing on Smith Lake ever!  We caught about 40 spots over four pounds and Bill also added a 5 1/2 largemouth – all on “The Bug”.  Here is a shot of one of these beautiful spotted bass: Smith Spot The formula for giant spots has been the same for all the years we have been fishing Smith Lake: a 3/8 oz. Black & Blue Zorro Booza Bug with a Zoom Big Salty Chunk trailer rigged on 12# fluorocarbon and then…”Just Add Water”!  I use a Lew’s Pro Magnesium reel because it is light (5.3 ounces) and fast (7.5:1) which is extremely important because these giant spots are lightning fast when you set the hook.  If you don’t have a fast retrieve you can’t keep up with them and even a little slack line will mean a lost spot.  I mount my Lew’s reel on a Lew’s Custom Lite Speed Stick (7.0′ Magnum Bass Medium Heavy) for a perfectly balanced outfit that is sensitive and strong enough to handle these brutes. Day 1 was cancelled because of dangerous weather which caused a change in patterns and locations.  I went out early in boat #26 on the first day of competition with a 2:45 check-in.  The fishing was a lot tougher than it was in practice but I was able to catch nine keepers out of 10 bites that weighed 13-13 good enough for 43rd place.  The one I lost got hung up in a brush pile and pulled loose. The next day I didn’t have to check I  until 4:30 and I needed the extra time; the fishing was even tougher.  I started in the creek where I lost a good one the day before and believe I put the same spot in the boat this time!  It was the largest of eight keepers I put in the boat. My best five weighed 13-7 giving me a total of 27-4, good enough to make the money in 27th place. At the weigh-in I gave away a Kid Casters TMNT telescopic rod to a kid in the audience between the ages of two and ten with a birthday in April with ties broken by age.  The winner was Gabriel Gomez who wanted his picture with his new rod taken in the “Turtle Rig”: Smith Winner   March 17-20, 2016     FLW Tour #2     Lake Hartwell     Anderson, SC “THE BEST OF TIMES…THE WORST OF TIMES”  This event was a real roller coaster!  In the three days of practice the mornings were terrible; I couldn’t buy a bite no matter where I went or what I tried.  In the afternoons it was like a switch was flipped and the Lake Hartwell giants just showed up out of nowhere and they would fight over a Zoom Trick Worm. On Wednesday I took the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle rig to Lakeside Middle School in Anderson and along with Mike Boyles, Blake Smith and Jimmy Reese talked to 8th graders and showed them our rigs: Hartwell 3     Hartwell 2Hartwell 9Hartwell 8Hartwell 7Hartwell 1       Hartwell 4    Hartwell 5Hartwell 6                   On Day 1 I fished with Jackson Bean and drew boat #136 with a 4:45 check-in.  Just like practice I struggled early and had only one bite (a tiny spot that weighed less than a pound) until about 3 pm.  Between 3 and 4:25 when I had to leave for check-in I had 8 more bites on my Zoom Trick Worm and boated 8 more keepers.  Undoubtedly my best tournament day ever: nine bites, nine keepers in the boat with my best five weighing in at 18-12.  Good enough for 4th place at the end of the day, my highest placement ever!  Here’s the story from Bass Fan: 4th: Evans Tricked ‘Em > Day 1: 5, 18-12 Evans departed his high-ranking post at FLW in 2010 and began fishing the Tour as a co-angler the following year. He moved to the front of the boat in 2012 and has compiled one Top-10 finish in 27 starts. Day 1 was one of his best days as a pro. He did all of his damage in the afternoon. He had a 5-12 specimen in his all largemouth sack, which he went through nine keepers to compile. He caught them on all Zoom Trick Worms. “My first keeper was a spot that weighed about 10 ounces and it was almost noon when I caught it,” he said. “At 2 o’clock I still only had that one fish and I had to leave my place at 4:20 to get back in time.

FLW

Photo: FLW Former FLW CEO Charlie Evans had one of his best days as a pro.

“At about 3 I really started working on them and they were still biting when I left.” He’s in an earlier flight on day 2, so catching another big bag could be a problem. “Once the water warms up it’s like the light switch gets turned on and it’s big-time fun, but I’m struggling early. I’m boat (No.) 18 tomorrow, so I’ve got to figure something out. I haven’t unlocked anything that works, so I’ll try some more stuff tomorrow. “I fished clean today and that’s probably what I’m most proud of. As good as Day 1 was I knew in advance that Day 2 would be more difficult.  I fished with Paul Lefleur and went out in boat #32 with a 3:15 check-in.  For the fifth day on Hartwell I couldn’t put together an early bite and with the early check-in was only able to catch one small bass and fell from 4th place to 110th place…my worst day ever! Feb 4-7, 2016      FLW Tour #1      Lake Okeechobee      Clewiston FL I don’t think I have ever fished Okeechobee above 16 feet; if I did its been so long ago I can’t remember!  When I got out on the water the first day of practice it was like I was fishing a lake for the first time.  Every waypoint on my GARMIN GPS where I had caught fish in the past may have well been on the moon…not a bite to be had; way too deep!  I ended up going to my favorite areas and heading in to shallow water – places that I couldn’t even get to in the past because of dense vegetation.  When I got into shallow water I could get multiple bites on three of my favorite Zoom baits:  Junebug UV Speed Worms, Green Pumpkin Trick Worms and Candy Bug Ol Monsters. On Wednesday (day off for registration) I took the TMNT Ranger to Eastside Elementary School in Clewiston where I joined Bill McDonald and Chase Brooks to meet with a couple hundred third and fifth grade students to talk about on-the-water safety and show them our boats: Okeechobee School 2                       Okeechobee School 3                         Okeechobee School 4                         Okeechobee School 1 On Day 1 I drew out with Evan Barnes and we both caught limits on Junebug Zoom UV Worms using 1/8 RockyBrook tungsten sinkers and casting to holes in the grass.  My limit consisted of small males and weighed only 8-7 putting me in 111th place – way out of the money.  Evan had a good day on Day 2 also and ended up getting  the 50th place co-angler check. Day 2 changed completely; a cold front moved in lowering water temps and accompanied by high winds.  The result – tough fishing for the entire field.  I started on the same place where both me and my partner caught limits on Day 1 and could only manage two small keepers while my partner Chad Parks couldn’t get a bite.  I moved to my second area and added another small keeper; again, no bites for Chad.  With the day half over I realized that what I was doing wasn’t going to get it done so I told Chad we were changing locations and techniques.  I tied on a Zoom Ol Monster with a 1/4 RBS tungsten sinker and headed for deeper, clearer water.  I was able to cull all three of my small keepers and Chad was able to put a limit in the boat on Ol Monsters.  Chad ended up in 16th place and my limit weighed 12-6 giving me a total of 20-13 good enough for 59th place and the final check given out! Jan 28-30, 2016      BASS Southern Open      Lake Kissimmee      Kissimmee, FL It seems like years since the final tournament last year!  Since then picked up my new Ranger, traded my tow vehicle for a new Toyota and had them both wrapped at Wrap Enterprises in Hendersonville, TN. Here’s a look at the best looking rig in the business: TMNT BPS2016 Toyota Tundra Limited 4×4 equipped with a Leer 100XQ top with Keyless Remote and Leer Locker towing a 2016 Ranger Z521c powered by Evinrude G2 250 HO equipped with GARMIN electronics (GPSMap7610xsv on the bow, GPSMap7612xsv mounted in the dash and the all new PS21-TR Panoptix attached on the MinnKota trolling motor shaft), anchored by twin PowerPole Blades.   Even though my new Evinrude G2 doesn’t need a break-in period (it’s ready to go out of the box), I headed to Kissimmee earlier than usual to make sure all my equipment was tournament ready.  It didn’t hurt to get away from a Kentucky winter to visit sunny and warm Florida!  I was also anxious to throw my new Team Lew’s Pro Magnesium reels mounted on Lew’s Custom Lite Speed Sticks. quu I wasn’t disappointed with any of my equipment or the fishing on Kissimmee in warm weather.  Here’s a Kissimmee gal that fell for Zoom UV Speed Worm during practice: Kissimmee 1           Thanks to Ward Curry for introducing me to his Weed Chopper, a must for fishing in Florida or anywhere where aquatic vegetation is present.  This amazing tool slices weeds that gather on the trolling motor shaft and they fall off on either side…its as simple as that.  This tool attaches in less than 5 minutes.  During the three weeks I fished in Florida at Kissimmee and Okeechobee I didn’t have to raise my MinnKota one time to get weeds off!    WeedChopper Following practice I determined that my tournament time would be best spend locking down to Kissimmee and using a combination of  Zoom UV Speed Worms and Zoom Trick Worms.  On Day 1 both my co-angler and I weighed in limits and I was in decent shape in 58th place.  Day 2 witnessed a dreaded cold front with an accompanying water temperature drop and a really tough day for me with only two keepers.  I ended up in 105th place with 7 bass that weighed 16-9; not the kind of start I needed, but I look forward to moving up at Smith Lake in March.     Sept 24 & 25, 2015     BASS Northern Open     Lake Erie     Sandusky, OH This was the final event of the BASS Northern Opens and held on one of the best smallmouth fisheries anywhere.  Lake Erie if chunk full of giant smallmouth that are fun to hook up with and extremely difficult to get in the boat; especially without a net which is a rule in BASS events.  The other major obstacle to catching the brown monsters is being able to get to them…Lake Erie is world renowned for not only giant smallmouth but also giant waves.  I sure was glad to be riding in a Ranger, the safest and smoothest riding boat in the world.  During practice I located one giant school of smallmouth on the eastern side of Pelee island in Canadian waters and also found several places that held some quality smallies. On Day 1 I was paired with Mike Kiester, a really good Lake St. Clair smallmouth angler.  We drew boat # 102 and woke up to a stiff northeast wind (the worst direction for an event coming out of Sandusky), I decided to stop on a few places on the way to the giant school of smallmouth….a really, really bad idea!  None of the stops on the way to my number one spot produced even a hit.  That combined with the slow travel time because of the giant waves ate up a lot of time and I didn’t arrive on my best spot until after noon and had to leave a couple of hours later in order to make it back to check-in in time.  Even with a short window and giant waves pounding into my spot Mike was able to boat a solid three fish limit and I took two decent ones to the scales. Day 2 saw the same weather as the day prior for me and my co-angler Barry Brandt from Newport News, Virginia.  This time I was a little smarter and went directly to my best spot where we both caught our limit and returned safely to the weigh-in. My primary deal was drop-shoting green pumpkin Twitch Tail Minnows using RockyBrook drop-shot sinkers.  My gear was a Lew’s spinning reel on Denali Kovert spinning rod, 10 pound Tuf-Line SuperCast braid with 8 pound Vicious fluorocarbon leader.  I ended the tournament in 76th place and in 77th place in the AOY standings.  I can’t wait to get started next year! Aug 20-23, 2015     Forest Wood Cup     Hot Springs, AR The championship of the FLW Tour is the Forrest Wood Cup.  I’ve attended every single Cup in some capacity…as the MC from 1996 through 2010 (the 2001 Forrest Wood Cup was cancelled on 9/11), as a co-angler competitor in 2011 and working the Outdoor show for sponsors from 2012 through 2015.  It is my intention to qualify for the Cup in 2016! This was my first Forrest Wood Cup as a part of the Nickelodeon and Kid Casters team and there was no doubt the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles “stole the show”.  The TMNT tow vehicle was on display just inside the entrance of the arena where the weigh-ins took place:

NICKchevy

The TMNT Ranger was on display on the main floor:                                                                       Nickranger           The Turtles also made an appearance and posed for some photos with kids in attendance and also with a couple of “not so young” kids: Forrest&Charlie     My all-time favorite photo – Forrest L. Wood with me and a couple of Turtles at the Forrest Wood Cup         The Turtles opened the show at the weigh-ins both Saturday and Sunday and the Kid Casters casting champion at the Forrest Wood Cup was crowned on stage in front of a full house: FWCcasting champ Aug 6 & 7, 2015       BASS Northern Open     Lake Oneida     Syracuse, NY The first time I fished this lake was two years ago when the BASS Opens had it on their schedule.  This was my second visit.  There were two differences this time around: (1) the first time I caught all my fish on an A-rig and this time the A-rig was banned and (2) the first time my co-angler netted all my fish and this time landing nets were banned.  I didn’t do a very good job adapting to the changes! I had a good practice catching largemouth shallow in the mornings on a wacky rigged floating Zoom Trick Worm and then going deeper with shad colored Kiteck Swing Impact on a drop shot rig using a RockyBrook tungsten drop shot sinker.  My back-up plan was a Cumberland Craw Zorro Booza Bug with a Zoom big salty chunk trailer. On Day 1 I started shallow fishing the floating worm for largemouth in my best shallow water area and bombed…not a single hit while my co-angler, Hayden Bell caught a nice largemouth on a chatterbait.  I abandoned the shallow water and headed to my closest smallmouth hump where I again went without a bite while Hayden landed another largemouth (on a place where I have never caught a largemouth)on a drop shot rig.  I moved to my next smallmouth area and finally had a bite; in fact I had two bites and caught two decent largemouth on the drop shot rig.  With a early check-in, half the day gone and boats on most of the places I had located in practice, I decided to initiate my back-up plan; pull out the Booza Bug and fish shallow wood targets.  On my first stop Hayden caught a nice smallmouth and finished his three bass limit, soon thereafter I caught two more smallmouth on the Booza Bug but that was it…four bites, four smallmouth, one shy of a limit. On Day 2 I drew out with Carson Orellana and we again started shallow (I’m sometimes a little hardheaded) with the same results – no bites.  Again I headed to my drop shot smallmouth and it was more of the same – no bites for me, one bite for Carson that ended bad for him (broken line on a giant).  I headed for my Booza Bug smallmouth and was rewarded with my first hit quickly but lost it beside the boat when I tried to boat flip it before it was ready.  Bottom line on the Booza Bug smallmouth – six keeper hits, three keepers in the boat…bad execution.  I finished 131st out of 196 boats; put this one behind me and get ready for Lake Erie! ICAST      July 15 – 17, 2015     Orange County Convention Center     Orlando, FL After finishing up the James River tournament on Friday, I left Richmond, VA Saturday morning and drove to Orlando, FL for ICAST.  This was an amazing day – I knew that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle rig looked really good but I never expected the response it gets as I travel.  At least half of the vehicles I encounter on the road has someone in it that takes a picture of it!  Even a car with just a driver takes a picture while driving!  Folks, please be careful.  I don’t want you to have an accident. When I stop for fuel or to get something to eat it takes at least half an hour to accommodate the folks that want a picture of the Turtle rig.  The response of the public to a bass boat with the Ninja Turtle wrap is nothing short of magical!  Thanks everyone, I really appreciate it and am happy to accommodate you and have no problem with letting your kids get in the Turtle boat for a photo. When I got to Orlando I was invited by ICAST to put the TMNT rig at the entrance to the show, the most coveted space available at the largest tackle show in the world!  Here’s a shot of the rig with some of my closest friends that joined me there:

ICAST

 What an amazing show it was, for three days I visited the booths of the companies that support me and worked the Lil Anglers booth along with the Ninja Turtles.  I am truly blessed!  The week was topped off by the Lil Anglers winning “Best of Show” in the kids category for the Steinhauser No Tangler kids fishing combo.  Thanks again to Nickelodeon and Lil Anglers for allowing me to be a part of something that is making a difference in kids lives. July 9 & 10, 2015       BASS Northern Open     James River     Richmond, VA This was the first of three events in the Northern Division.  Win one of these and qualify for the Bassmasters Classic!  The James is a tidal river as is the Chickahominy, about a 45 minute run downstream from the take-off, and that presents some unique problems for those of us that seldom fish tidal waters.  Finding fish during practice doesn’t mean they will be at the same place during the tournament.  More important that place is tide status when you find fish…is it coming up, going down, at high tide or at low tide.  The fish on the James and Chick turn on and shut of like a light switch depending on tide conditions.  To do good here you have to be throwing the right bait at the right place at the right time – not that easy to do. My two primary weapons for this tournament were a Zorro Booza Bug and Zoom Trick Worm.  I used a 3/8 black and blue Booza Bug on 14 lb Vicious Pro Elite Fluorocarbon and used 10 lb Tuf-Line SuperCast braid for the wacky rigged Trick Worm.  I targeted wood (cypress trees and docks) and rip rap when the tide was moving either in or out.  Catching bass wasn’t a problem, getting quality bass into the boat was the issue.  I caught a limit both days but my 10 bass weighed only 14 pounds and I had to settle for a 96th place finish out of 192 boats in the event.

James

The highlight of this tournament was the unbelievable performance of my Evinrude G2 powered Ranger Z520c.  The G2 was simply amazing…I was able to travel downriver from Osborne landing on the James to the head of the Chick and back (with several stops up and down the river) without refueling!  In past years at the James I had to sacrifice about 20 minutes each day to stop and refuel.  This all new Evinrude G2 is absolutely the best outboard ever! June 25-28, 2015             FLW Tour           Potomac River           La Plata, MD The day before practice started I participated in FLW’s “Meet the Pros” at the Walmart in Fredricksburg, VA.  Once again the Turtle truck outside the Walmart was surrounded by amateur photographers.  I’m sure that by the end of the year the TMNT rig will be the most photographed boat and tow vehicle in the history of this sport!  Inside I showed customers the latest KidCasters outfit.                        FredricksburgVA                                                            FredricksburgWM A huge storm hit the Potomac River the night before practice started and really shook things up.  I saw more muddy water than I had ever seen on the river.  The result was the toughest practice ever – I had two keeper bites in the three days of practice.   One bite in a weedbed and the other on a boat dock.  My game plan for the tournament was pretty simple…throw a white 3/8 Buckeye swim jig in that weedbed and a green pumpkin wacky rigged Zoom Trick worm at every dock in the creek where I got my other bite. On Day 1 I had seven keeper bites in my two areas but only converted four of them for 11-0.  On Day 2 my two areas produced a limit that weighed 10-14.  My total was 11 ounces out of the money.  My 2015 FLW is in the books; I’ll be at the Forrest Wood Cup in Hot Springs, AR but in the KidCasters booth, not as a competitor.  I promise next year will be different. Over the weekend I worked the Evinrude booth in the Fun Zone at the La Plata, MD Walmart.  I love showing folks the all new G2.

Laplata

June 11-14, 2015                 FLW Tour            Lake Chickamauga       Dayton, TN I spent two days on Chickamauga pre-practicing before the cut-off; one day shallow and one day deep.  Both days were absolutely fantastic!  Not only did I catch lots of fish, I caught lots of big fish and left looking forward to coming back for the tournament. The day before practice started I participated in FLW’s “Meet the Pros” at the Walmart in Cleveland, TN.  I had a blast talking fishing with the customers and showing them the latest KidCasters outfit.  The Turtles Rig parked outside was the center of attention!

ClevelandWMCleveland_0457

        There is no doubt that I had the best three days of practice in my life.  As in pre-practice I caught ’em both shallow and deep but opted to concentrate shallow to both play to my strengths and to avoid the crowds on the ledges.  I usually bend the hook on my Zorro Booza Bugs during practice but did set the hook on a couple of good ones including this giant over 10 pounds:

Chickamauga_0466

The tournament went exactly the opposite way…I made bad mistakes both mentally and execution wise and had the worst finish of my career finishing in last place.  I know someone always has to finish last but I hope this is my last time. May 14 – 17, 2015                 FLW Tour                Lake Eufaula          Eufaula, AL While most of the field headed for the ledges on Eufaula, I opted to pull out one of my favorite shallow water lures and fish shallow.  The 3/8 Zorro Booza Bug teamed with a Zoom Big Salty Chunk is always a deadly combination when plying shallow cover.  The lure did its job, I however fell a little short on execution.  I only caught four keepers on Day 1 even though I had three other opportunities.  On Day 2 I had 10 keeper bites, landed 8 of them and missed the opportunity on two “giant” bites.  Either of which would have made up the three pounds five ounces that I missed making $10,000 :(.  I finished in 92 place and moved down to 84th place in the standing with two events remaining on the schedule.  Time to  “Get ‘R Done”. I worked the Evinrude booth with Peter T and David Fritts at Walmart on the final day and thoroughly enjoyed telling lots of folks about the all new G2; far and away the most amazing outboard ever built!

 Eufaula

May 7 & 8, 2015                    Rayovac Series      Kentucky Lake    Gilbertsv”ille, KY Not originally on my 2015 I squeezed in this event on my home lake hoping to find lots of bass still in shallow water.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  A three foot drop in water levels and several days of hot weather had the bass headed deeper but not fully committed to their usual summer haunts.  I settled on fishing on Lake Barkley for the few remaining shallow fish.  I struggled on Day 1 trying to cover too much water and settled in on Day 2 and caught a good stringer including the Big Bass of the day which moved me up to 54th place and a check for $1,500.  I caught all my fish in this event fishing riprap with a green pumpkin Zoom Trick Worm with chartreuse Spike-It on the tail. April 23 – 26, 2015               FLW Tour               Beaver Lake      Rogers, AR

NickRig

Beaver Lake was the site of the debut of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles rig!  Without a doubt this will be the most photographed rig in the history of the sport.  Now to the fishing on Beaver; In practice I spend on day up river and caught a lot of small bass, one day around the dam area with the same results and one day in the mid section of the lake…same thing.  So, I decided to spend my tournament time fishing in the mid section rather than running up or down the lake. Day 1 I was paired with Ken Harp who lives in the area and fishes primarily in the river.  He was a master with the shaky head. He used a Buckeye Spot Remover rigged with a Zoom Trick Worm and caught a limit, which included a 4-11, and ended the day in second place just 3 ounces out of the lead (even though he drew a blank on Day 2 he made the money).  I also caught my limit on a Zoom Trick Worm but threw mine wacky rigged.  My best five weighed in at a little over 11 pounds; a pretty good day for both of us. Day 2 I fished with Jim Austin and we returned to the same area and again both of us caught a limit and made a check!  Jim used a senko rigged on a FlickShake and I stuck with the Zoom Trick Worm.  I finished in 38th place with 10 bass weighing 20-3 that earned me $10,000. The TMNT rig was on display at the outdoor show on Days 3&4 and attracted a lot of attention, but the most attention it received was when the Turtles themselves showed up:

NickTurtles

The Turtles were the stars of the show and even made an appearance on stage prior to the weigh-in.  I spent the majority of my time at the Kid Casters booth watching a ton of youngsters taking their turn casting the TangleFree rods at targets – that was a blast!

NickCastingKids

I stayed over for the Bill Kerr Memorial “Will Fish For Kids” charity tournament on Monday.  This Children’s Miracle Network event raises money for the Arkansas Children’s Hospital.  I spent the day in the Turtle Ranger with Kevin Martin from Nickelodeon and Anthony Tolliver, a professional basketball player with the Detroit Pistons.  We caught 10 keepers during the day and finished in 11th place.  Kevin and Anthony were great partners and we had a good time on the water. March 26 27, 2015          FLW Tour #2         Smith Lake       Jasper, AL Fishing lessons are expensive!  Smith Lake is one of my favorite places to fish; it is full of chunky spotted bass that love Zorro Booza Bugs.  I have made several trips down there during the winter months when the water is cold and the fishing is red hot.  I make a trip to Smith before the cutoff and caught a ton of big, fat spots still on their winter pattern so I figured that even though the water would be approaching 60 degrees by the time the tournament rolled around there would be enough deep spots to do good in this event.  Practice went pretty good and I was able to find two areas where some big spots were still hanging around before heading to the shallows to spawn. On Wednesday (a day off the water for tournament registration) I joined nine other FLW Tour Pros that volunteered to help 50 members of the Dream Team (an inclusive, special-needs baseball team) go fishing at a pond in Memorial Park in Jasper.  The fishing was great…the catching “not so good”. Smith2 Smith4 Smith1 Day 1, I drew out with Ronnie Green, a retired Marine (who ended up with a limit).  He caught his on a swim bait and a shaky head while I only managed three keepers on a Zorro Booza Bug with a Zoom Big Salty Chunk trailer.  I had several more hits that I didn’t connect with but nowhere near the bites I had in the same area during practice.  Day 2, I drew Timothy Curran and spent the majority of the day in my second area and was able to catch a limit on my Booza Bug but had only one big bite which came loose.  Total for two days – 7 bass that weighed 12 -8, 147th place; my worst finish ever!  In twenty-twenty hindsight, I was behind the fish the entire tournament – fishing where the fish had been instead of where they were. The best part of this tournament:  It was the first event where I used my new 2015 Ranger Z520c Hero Package powered by the all new Evinrude G2 and equipped with Garmin electronics and PowerPole Blades.  It was fantastic!  Absolutely the best performing and most beautiful boat I have ever set foot in!2015 Ranger Hero Saturday morning I participated in the Evinrude Test Rides where interested folks could take a ride with me in my Ranger and see all the advantages of the new G2: more torque, better hole shot, improved fuel economy, 500 hours before scheduled maintenance, five year warranty and almost unlimited color choices to match your boat and/or tow vehicle.  At noon I helped with another kids fishing event on Smith Lake at the weigh-in site by the dam.  These two young ladies were delighted to receive their own Tangle-FREE outfits from Kid Casters:   SmithLakeKids Sunday provided another opportunity to take more folks out in my Ranger for Evinrude Test Rides.  I had a blast, Evinrude will offer test rides at every FLW Tour event this year, if we are in your area stop by and take a test ride, you won’t be sorry! Evinrude Test Ride March 5 & 6, 2015         FLW Tour #1         Lake Toho          Kissimmee, FL Because this was my first tournament on this body of water I spent a day before the cut-off on Kissimmee with my friend Mike Rudder who spends the winter there.  We had a blast and Mike showed me a bunch of good spots and keyed me in on how much the Kissimmee bass “love” a watermelon red flake Zoom UV Speed Worm.  Rigged with a RockyBrook 1/8 tungsten sinker and fished on 12# Vicious ProElite fluorocarbon we caught a ton of bass like this one: Kissimmee I left Florida expecting to spend three days of practice and the entire tournament on Kissimmee.  When I arrived in Kissimmee for the tournament I found out that there was going to be 200 plus boat tournament on Kissimmee the first day of practice so I elected to stay on Toho to avoid the crowds.  I also figured I needed to find at least a couple of places on Toho to fish while waiting on the lock.  I found a really good area on Toho where I had a limit of hits on the Zoom UV Speed Worm and also got some hits on a Zorro Booza Bug, my favorite jig.  For the second day of practice I decided I needed to put in at Big Toho Marina and go through the lock and make the trip down to Kissimmee to get an idea of how much time and fuel it would take.  Good plan but conditions dictated a change, it was too foggy to run down to the lock so I just fished close to the marina until the fog lifted around 11:00.  The trip through the lock and canals to Kissimmee went good but when I started fishing the places that only two weeks before were on fire I couldn’t get anything going.  In  hind sight  I think I was fishing way too fast; trying to squeeze a full day of fishing into half a day.  Having bombed out on Kissimmee on the second day of practice I decided to spend the final day of practice on Toho to try to expand on the best area I had found on the first day.  Bottom line – really confident going in, totally confused after three days of practice. At the pre-tournament meeting I was paired with Aaron Smith from Kentucky and drew Boat # 26 which meant a short day, out early, in early.  At that point I decided to spend the first day on Toho (starting on my best area) and if I didn’t do any good there to go to Kissimmee on Day 2 where it is possible to catch up in a hurry.  My best Toho area was less than a five minute run and we hadn’t been there five minutes when Aaron caught a good three pounder on a Junebug Senko and shortly after that I boated a solid two on the Speed Worm.  Alright!  Things were going as planned, the area where I was sure I could catch a limit in the first hour had produced two good keepers in 10 minutes.  I caught just two more small keepers over the next four hours.  Before I knew it, it was noon and my best area had only yielded four keepers, three for me and one for Aaron.  Time to make a change so I headed to my Booza Bug area, the first bite I had resulted in one of the legs of my Zoom Big Salty Chunk bitten off and when the second bite came I had a little too much adrenaline going and broke the line on the hook set.  I switched to a green pumpkin blue flake Zoom Trick Worm which I threw on a Denali N2 spinning rod rigged with 10# Tuf-Line SuperCast braid and finished up my limit and culled a couple of times.  I shared my Trick Worms with Aaron and he also caught a limit.  My limit weighed in at 9-13; Aaron put it on me from the back of the boat weighing in almost 12 pounds, enough to get him in the money!  I really enjoyed fishing with Aaron – he is going to be a good one. Day 2 I was paired with Todd Lee from Jasper,  Alabama.  I had fished with Todd on Lake Champlain a couple of years ago; he is a “stick” and a blast to fish with! We had a long day so my plan was to spend the first hour on Toho and if something didn’t happen real fast to head to Kissimmee.  About the time I was getting ready to head to the lock my trolling motor batteries gave up.  Even on 100 the prop barely turned, there was no way I could maneuver through the hydrilla, lily pads and Kissimmee grass on Lake Kissimmee.  There was not enough wind to drift across the weeds so I had no choice but to stay on Toho and use my Evinrude ETEC to get to the area where I had caught fish the day before and use my  PowerPoles Blades to hold the boat in place.  The Zoom Trick worm worked even better than the day before and produced a couple of five pounders and a limit weighing 16-3; vaulting me up the standings to 38th place and $10,000!  Todd also caught a good limit and finished in 37th place on the co-angler side.  Sometimes a problem turns out to be an asset, having to slow down and down size was the key to getting off to a good start in 2015.  Smith Lake is next. I stayed over on Saturday along with Scott Martin, David Dudley and some other Pros to help with a Kid’s fishing outing at Big Toho Marina put on by FLW Outdoors and Florida Fish and Wildlife.  A lot of kids got to go fishing and leave with a fishing pole thanks to the folks at Lil Anglers that sent over 400 Kids Casters tangle-free rods and reels for this event. TohoKids TohoKids3   TohoKids2 September 4 & 5, 2014     BASS Northern Open    Lake St Clair     Detroit, MI Another great smallmouth lake!  I decided before I left Kentucky that I would spend my entire practice and tournament on St Clair and not take the travel time along with rough water to get to Lake Erie.  In hindsight, I made the right decision on where to fish but really missed on the decision making process on Day 1 of this event. During practice I found four schools of smallmouth in four different depths ranging from six to 18 feet.  I also found out pretty quick that I needed to be throwing only a couple of baits, a tube and a drop shot.  The smallmouth could be seen on my Lowrance electronics and if I went through an area with a drop shot and didn’t get any hits I changed to a tube and vice-versa.  I threw a big green pumpkin tube with a 3/8 oz jighead on 12# Vicious ProElite fluorocarbon line.  On the drop shot rig I used  10# Tuf-Line SuperCast braid attached to a 14 inch 10# ProElite leader with a 3/8 oz RockyBrook tungsten sinker. On Day 1 I had a first fight draw and was able to be first to what I thought was my best area in 12 feet of water.  I started with a drop shot rig and quickly caught several non-keepers where I had found monsters during practice.  I switched to the tube and on the first cast hooked up to a three plus which came unbuttoned beside the boat.  After that I went 30 minutes without a bite and left that area for greener pastures at my second area in 17 feet.  After a bumpy ride out to my second stop I found a big guide boat setting dead on top of my spot and smoking ’em.  After watching those guys loading up on some beautiful smallmouth while I fished outside the sweet spot with no success I moved on to my third spot in shallow water that ranged from six to eight feet.  I started with the drop shot rig again and immediately put a 4 1/2 beauty in the boat and shortly thereafter another keeper.  My co-angler lost a couple during this time frame and then I made a REALLY BAD decision…I left fish (thought that I wasn’t getting enough bites) for an area that I thought would really pay off.  Under the windy conditions I knew that it would take me an hour to get to my fourth spot and then would have to allow an hour to get to check-in.  Off we went and man was it rough!  As bad as the ride there was it was nothing compared to how I felt when I got there and found a tournament boat on my spot (he ended up making the Top 12 cut on that place).  I went to a similar spot a couple of miles from there and caught my third keeper and after hitting a couple of other spots in the area had to head to the weigh-in without a limit.  Mu three keepers weighed 9-7 and left me in 114 place. On Day 2 I determined to not make the same mistake and went straight to the shallow area and stayed all day.  Both me and my co-angler (he made his first check ever) caught a limit and culled several times.  My limit weighed in at a respectable 17-15 and moved me up to 66 place. After the three Northern Opens I ended the year in 60th place.  I’ll get ’em next year!

St Clair

  July 31 & August 1, 2014     BASS Northern Open     Lake Champlain     Plattsburgh, NY I love Lake Champlain!  If you have never fished there you need to.  Upstate New York is absolutely beautiful and Lake Champlain is chunk full of both largemouth and smallmouth bass.  If it were left to me I would fish a tournament there every year. Practice for this tournament went great!  Beside a couple of really nasty days of weather (which makes it tough to get around) the fishing was fantastic on the North end.  We caught fish drop shotting 1/2 ounce RockyBrook limestone sinkers and Zoom Finesse worms, Texas rigging Zoom Big Salty Tubes mounted on Mustad 5/0 tube hooks and 3/8 ounce RockyBrook tungsten sinkers.  We also caught a ton of fish on Zorro Booza Bugs, Zorro Aggravator spinnerbaits and slinging a 1/2 ounce Buckeye Jiggin Blade. I drew Barb Elliott on Day 1 and she was a “stick”; if memory serves me correctly on our first stop she caught two big smallmouth on back-to-back casts and finished her three bass limit before I had my first bite.  I was able to get my limit during the day but then disaster hit at my last stop.  I had allowed an extra five minutes to get back to check-in and when I hit the start button on my Evinrude powered Ranger the engine wouldn’t turn over.  I figured since I had ran the aerators and oxygen system since the first stop that my starting battery could be running low.  No problem, just flip the switch to “Jump Start” and away you go…but not this time, still nothing.  Nothing hurts more than you and your partner releasing your limit that would have put you both in good position going into Day 2.  Next move, call the 800 number for Boat US Angler and TowBoatU.S. was on their way to get me back to the ramp.  I have unlimited Water Towing and Trailer Assist insurance through Boat US Anger; every tournament angler should have it! The Evinrude service technician was waiting for me and quickly replace the defective starter, these guys are GOOD! Day 2 I was paired with Tim Hamburger (another great angler) who weighed in two nice smallmouth and one largemouth that totaled over 10 pounds and almost made the top 12 cut.  My Day 2 limit weighed 12-6. Put this one behind and get ready for St. Clair next, another smallmouth factory! June 26 & 27, 2014     FLW Tour    Kentucky Lake     Paris, TN Fishing your home lake is always a challenge; you have too much history and know too many places that have held good fish in the past.  This year I tried my best to practice for this tournament like it was my first time on this huge body of water.  I decided to not only find some schools on ledges (the normal pattern this time of year) but to also try to locate some shallow bass where it would be less crowded.  Practice went really well except for having to find shelter from some pretty nasty storms. On Day 1 I started shallow with a 3/8 ounce Zorro Booza Bug and caught a solid limit that I thought was about 12 pounds and then went to the ledges with a Zoom Ol Monster and culled up to 16-11 (61st place) thanks mostly to a six pounder that came in my last fifteen minutes of fishing.  For both methods I used a Lew’s BB1 Pro reel mounted on a Denali Noirwood Worm & Jig rod spooled with 14 # Vicious Pro Elite Fluorocarbon line.  I used both a 1/2 ounce RockyBrook  tungsten sinker and a 1/2 ounce Freedom Lures Rogue.  On both rigs I employed a 7/0 Mustad Pin hook. On Day 2 I had only one rod on the deck of my RockyBrook Ranger Z520c; the one rigged with a Zoom Ol Monster.  Both me and my co-angler (Ronnie Green from Florida) caught our limits on the Ol Monster on ledges.  While I fished clean on Day 1, I missed three opportunities to upgrade on Day 2.  I also had a four ounce dead fish penalty on Day 2 which ending up costing me $6,000.  My limit weighed 16-3 giving me a total of 32-14 which put me in a tie for 60th place.  I lost the tie breaker (largest one day stringer) which moved me to 61st place.  60th paid $10,000, 61st paid $4,000…ouch!! My 2014 FLW Tour is complete; I got a check in three of the six events – not good enough to qualify for the Forrest Wood Cup.  We’ll get ’em next year! June 11 – 13, 2014     BassFest     Lake Chickamauga     Dayton, TN Three tournaments in three weeks, fun but exhausting!  I qualified for this inaugural BASS event by competing in the 2013 BASS Northern Opens.  The Top 20 Pros from each of the three Open divisions were invited to join the 2014 BASS Elite anglers on one of the best lakes in the country.  It was a great experience.  The format was neat – make the top 50 after two days and continue, miss and you get a second chance to join the top 50 anglers by finishing in the top 10 in a one day shoot-out on Nickajack. To get away from the crowds I practiced shallow for this tournament in weed beds (Zoom swimming fluke) and around wood cover (Zorro Booza Bug).  All I needed to do was to fish clean, make the Top 50 and walk away with $10,000 in my first BASS Elite event!  Easier said than done, I lost two quality fish each of the first two days that kept me out of the cut.  My Day 1 limit weighed 10 pounds but I was only 3-13 off the cut line.  Day 2 I only had four keepers that weighed 9-1.  My total weight of 19-1 was 7 pounds 2 ounces off the pace;  you just can’t lose fish at this level and make the cut. Day 3 on Nickajack was my first time on this body of water and I elected to stay on the upper end of the lake and fish a Zoom Trick Worm.  I caught four keepers (two largemouth and two spots) nowhere near the 10th place weight (13-12) needed to get back to Chickamauga.  I sure hope that BASS does this event again next year. June 5 & 6, 2014     FLW Tour     Pickwick Lake     Florence, AL The last time I had been on Pickwick was as a co-angler in 2010 and that was an extremely valuable experience.  In preparation for that event I was fortunate to get to practice with Brent Ehrler who gave me a first hand look at the best way to search the ledges for schools of bass using map chips and StructureScan.  Then my good fortune continued when I drew one of the best shallow water Pros in the business, George Cochran, on  Day 1 and followed that by drawing a top notch deep-water crankbait specialist, Jim Tutt, on Day 2.  It was a fantastic learning experience from start to finish.  If you are thinking about trying your hand as a professional angler I would highly recommend some time in the back of the boat as a co-angler.  It’s the greatest training you can get and you still have the opportunity to win money as you learn from the best anglers in the world. My practice plan was to try both shallow and deep.  I found shallow bass from one end of Pickwick to the other.  The shallow fish were really aggressive and eager to hit both a Zorro Booza Bug and a Zoom Trick Worm rigged wacky style.  Finding ledge fish with my Lowrance StructureScan was also pretty easy but finding a ledge with bass on it that had not been found by three quarters of the field was nearly impossible.  After practice was over I decided that shallow was the best fit for me. Day 1 was a good day with one exception; for the second time in two weeks I lost a four plus by rushing the bass resulting in a thrown lure.  Other than that I fished clean and weighed in a limit that weighed 15-10.  My Day 2 limit weighted 12-7 giving me a total of 28-1, good enough for 66th place and a check for $4,000.  I missed the big check ($10,000) by 11 ounces.  The fish I lost on Day 1 cost me $6,000 – ouch! May 29 & 30, 2014     BASS Northern Open     Douglas Lake     Dandridge, TN Douglas was the first of three events for the Northern Division; it was important to get off to a good start.  It was also the first time I had been on this lake in over 40 years!  Even though conventional wisdom had said this event would be won in deep water I opted to practice in shallow water and my first day of practice told me that was a good decision.  I started up river and immediately began getting lots of hits on a Zorro Booza Bug with a Zoom Chunk trailer.  The next day I practiced on the other end of the lake at the dam; same result!  The following day I spent in the mid-lake section of Douglas and again got lots of hits on “the bug”.  I was satisfied I could catch a solid limit of bass fishing shallow but the big decision was where to fish during the tournament. On Day 1 I decided to head up the lake where I caught a decent limit which weighed  11-14, good enough for 51st place.  It was a good day…I fished clean; caught every bass that hit and culled four times. Day 2 was a repeat of Day 1 except I lost a really good bass (over 4) by pushing him too hard.  It was the only fish I lost during the tournament, but at this level mistakes cost.  My limit weighed 11-1 giving me a total of 22-15 (43rd place) only 4 ounces out of the money! April 10 & 11, 2014     FLW Tour     Beaver Lake     Rogers, AR Beaver Lake is a regular stop on the FLW Tour.  We fish it every year and it never fishes the same.  This year was no exception.  Even though we normally should have hit Beaver in the middle of spawn by this time of the year, the water temperatures were in the low 50’s (about 10 degrees below normal).  Add to that muddy water flowing into the lake from both the White River and War Eagle Creek and it’s a formula for some really tough fishing. During the three practice days we traveled from one end to the other and could not get on anything that made me feel comfortable.  The most promising area was the upper end of War Eagle where I found water that was 57 degrees, four degrees warmer than any other place I had been.  That’s where I spent the two tournament days. Day 1 started pretty good with the first bank producing six fish (two of which were keepers – one a 12 1/4″ spotted bass and the other a 15″ largemouth).  Those fish and as a matter of fact every fish I caught during this tournament came of a Zorro Booza Big with a Zoom chunk.  The next stop produced a four pounder for my co-angler.  The next stop produced a largemouth that I guessed at about five pounds followed quickly with a 2 1/2 largemouth.  That was it for Day 1 – four keepers that weighed 9-11; good enough for 69th place. Day 2 I headed back to the area that produced my four keepers on Day 1 and was excited to find that water temps had warmed up to nearly 60 degrees.  I expected the area to load up with a ton of largemouth headed to the shallow cover to spawn.  Sure enough, I boated about 40 bass on the Booza Bug and measured nearly 30 of them but not one made the 15″ minimum size limit for largemouth.  My first “goose egg” on the FLW Tour dropped me to 143rd place for this event. March 27 & 28, 2014     FLW Tour     Lake Sam Rayburn     Lufkin, TX Although I have ran several tournaments on Rayburn over the years this was my first time on this fantastic fishery.  Rayburn is a huge body of water and usually produces a lot of big bags and several double digit hogs.  While I was really excited about fishing Rayburn I have to admit I was more than a little intimidated by the standing timber that demolished more than a few props and lower units during this event.  I was fortunate to get through three days of practice and two tournament days without doing any damage to my Evinrude ETEC. I stayed at Jackson Hill Marina located just across the bridge from the Cassels-Boykin County Park.  While it was a little scary running across the lake before daylight I enjoyed having my RockyBrook Ranger in a covered slip.  Terry Sympson and his wife Connie were great hosts and they also have cook up some really good food in the restaurant at Jackson Hill. After doing my homework looking at lake maps and Google Earth I decided to fish close by to spend more time fishing than running and to try to learn how to get back and forth without tearing up my equipment on one of the thousands of trees that have broken off inches below the surface.  With water temps in the 50’s in the mornings and warming up to near 60 during the day I felt  the fish would be heading shallow looking for places to spawn.  On the first day of practice I started in  in a little ditch just off the main lake I had picked out on my Lowrance chart that looked good; Bingo Front Row!  Seven strong bites (I bend my hook down during practice) on a Zorro Booza Bug with a Zoom trailer; what a way to start the day!  The next five stops in similar ditches close by also produced strikes.  I spent the next two days of practice in a giant spawning flat that was protected from the wind that East Texas is famous for this time of the year.  It had lots of shallow cover and plenty of aquatic vegetation.  It was “Game On” the Booza Bug was like magic!  There were not just lots of fish in the spawning area, but lots of big fish!  I did allow my co-angler practice partner Brook Pauley catch one on the second day of practice and man did he ever catch one: Rayburn Needless to say I was pretty excited about my chances, I couldn’t wait for the tournament to start. On Day 1 I headed to my best bank in the spawning area and was really concerned as I idled into the area.  The cypress trees had about a six inch wet area on their trunk that was not the result of waves; the water had dropped which could really make it tough on the shallow cover where the bass had been in practice.  Within five minutes I put two 15 inch keepers in the boat on the Booza Bug which led me to believe the fish were still in the shallow cover even though the water had dropped.  While I was happy to get two keepers on my first spot I was concerned, I was sure I could catch a limit of at least three pounders there.  I went to my second stop in the area and nothing, then on to the next stop and the next stop and the next stop……nothing.  Finally after five hours and not another bite it finally clicked in my hard head that the falling water had indeed pulled the bass off the bank.  I picked up a Zoom Magnum Lizard and was able to fill my limit with three keepers that were just over the 14 inch size limit.  Bad start – five bass, eight pounds two ounces, 111th place. For Day 2 I decided to spend the first hour in the ditches I had found on the first day of practice.  I started getting bites right away but I guess I was fishing too fast and pressing too much.  I caught four keepers (two little ones and two threes) and missed on four other opportunities.  To further compound my mistakes I decided to head back to the spawning area to see if the big fish had moved up there like they were in the ditches.  I broke one of my basic rules: “Never leave fish to go and find fish”.  I fished the area shallow and then pulled off the bank with the lizard and caught a bunch on non-keepers.  With  a little over an hour left to fish I finally got smart enough to head back to the ditches but wasn’t smart enough to slow down; I lost a five right beside the boat that would have put me in the money and missed a couple more before finally putting my limit fish in the boat just before time to head to weigh in.  Five bass 10 1/2 pounds, giving me a total of 18-10 only good enough for 99th place.  Sure would like a “do over” on this one. March 6 & 7, 2014     FLW Tour     Lake Hartwell     Clemson, SC This was my second stop on Hartwell since fishing on the Pro side.  My first time around was pretty disappointing so I was determined to do better this time.  The first two days of practice went good and I was able to locate some quality shallow bass.  The third day of practice was brutally cold and completely stopped the migration to shallow water. Day 1 saw the cold front continue in full force but I felt that even though not many new fish would move up until the weather got better the ones that were shallow were committed to stay shallow and that with the proper lure and presentation they would bite.  The lure of choice was a 3/8 Zorro Booza Bug with a Zoom Big Salty Chunk trailer sprayed with Spike-It garlic spray and rigged on 12# Vicious Pro Elite Fluorocarbon line.  This combination around shallow wood cover is deadly in the early spring.  My first stop produced a solid 2 pounder, my second stop didn’t work but my third stop produced a small keeper, my fourth area gave me and limit and my last stop produced  four culls including one over 4 pounds.  My limit weighed in at 10-13 good enough for 57th place (in the money-FLW pays $10,000 down to 60th place). The weather on Day 2 was brutally cold and wet with sleet falling at take-off but the weather  improved slightly after noon and I actually saw the sun for the first time since the second day of practice.  I fished the same areas but changed my order and completely left off the second stop from day one that didn’t produce.  The first stop produce four keepers, to for me and two for my co-angler Scott Cooke.  My second stop gave me a limit and added two more for Scott.  The third stop got was on fire and produced several culls for me and a limit and a couple of culls for Scott.  Scott was a fantastic net man and fun to fish with!  He finished in 26th place on the co-angler side and my Day 2 limit weighed 12-6 giving me a total of 23-3 good enough for 30th place and $10,000 just 1-12 out of the cut…good deal! February 6 & 7, 2014     FLW Tour     Lake Okeechobee     Clewiston, FL I had a really good practice this year, found three areas that I thought I could catch a 15 pound limit and one area that I thought had the potential for 20 pounds.  The main producer in practice was a Zoom ‘Ol Monster teamed with a RockyBrook tungsten sinker and fished on 30# Tuf-Line SuperCast braid tied to a 7.0 Mustad UltraPoint hook using a Lew’s BB1 Pro reel on a Denali Noirwood worm & jig rod. Day 1 started with a 2 hour fog delay which encouraged me to start on the closest area (which was also the area I thought could produce 20 pounds).  The action started as soon as I got there (good) but with one small problem (bad).  In practice I was catching plenty of 4 to 5 pounders with the smallest fish going over 2 pounds.  This day started with plenty of hookups but instead of chunks they produced dinks.  I mean small dinks!  But, since I was catching lots of little fish  and I knew good ones were there before I told myself to hang tough the good ones would show up.  Hang in there I did, catching several limits and culling up to a record setting Okeechobee limit of 5 bass weighing 6 pounds 1 ounce.  The only problem was the record was for the smallest limit ever weighed in on Okeechobee…bad deal! Call me hard headed.  I was so convinced that my best area could produce a big stringer (even though the first day was a disaster) I started there again on Day 2.  Same area – same result, my first pass through the area produced a limit of babies so I was out of there.  My next stop produced  slightly larger keepers and I was able to cull all the babies I had caught in my primary area.  I lost a solid 3 pounder and spooked another 3 off a bed and figured I could probably catch 15 pounds if I spent the rest of the day there but knew that 15 pounds wouldn’t get me a check so I left and went searching for something that would produce 20 pounds (I never found it).  My Day 2 limit went only 9-1 giving me 2 day total of 10 bass for 15-2 putting me in 170th place; the worst finish in my career. In this game the outcome depends primarily on two things: decision making and execution.  At Okeechobee my execution was good but I made some really bad decisions.  The bright part of the first event of the year was my equipment, I can’t say enough about my new RockyBrook Ranger Z520c powered by av250 Evinrude ETEC rigged with PowerPole Blades, 36 volt MinnKota and Lowrance electronics.  I was also really satisfied with my decision to switch from BB1’s to BB1 Pro Lew’s and was impressed with the new Kovert series of Denali rods. October 17 & 18, 2013    BASS Central Open     Ross Barnett     Jackson, MS This lake fit me like a glove, I love to fish shallow and on Ross Barnett in the fall the fish are definitely shallow.  I found a good concentration of fish on the first day of practice using a 3/8 Zorro Booza Bug tipped with a Zoom trailer rigged on 12# Vicious Pro Elite Fluorocarbon.  I was using a Denali Noirwood rod with a Lew’s BB1 reel.  on Day 1 both me and my co-angler Eddie Laster caught limits and were in great shape in the standings.  My limit weighed in at 11-3 and put me in 12th place going into Day 2.  Day 2 started with a fog delay but I was still able to get to my fish and get 10 keeper bites but I only landed 1 of the 10 bass…WHAT A DISASTER!   I guess I need to spend the off season in training; I let this one get away. September 19 & 20, 2013   BASS Central Open     Arkansas River     Muskogee, OK This event was back-to-back with the Lake Erie tournament which meant driving straight from Sandusky, Ohio to Muckogee, Oklahoma.  A 14 hour drive which turned into a 17 hour drive with the interstate closed in Indianapolis and a flat tire on my RangerTrail trailer in St. Louis.  I must have hit something in the road which punctured my tire but thankfully I had BoatUS Towing Service insurance.  Take note:  If you fish tournaments and don’t have BoatUS you need to get it NOW!  BoatUS will get you off the water if you have a breakdown and come to your assistance if you have problems on the road while towing.  It costs less than $100 and can save you thousands of dollars.  All the flat cost me was some time in St. Louis.  I arrived at the Comfort Inn in Muskogee a little later than expected but my quiet, clean room was waiting. I had ran an All-American event on the Arkansas River years ago but had never had fished it before.  Locking is always a risk with commercial barges having first priority and with only two practice day available I decided to stay on the pool at Muskogee rather than lock up or down the river.  I had a limit of keepers bites both practice days fishing shallow wood with my favorite baits – a Zorro Booza Bug with a Zoom chunk trailer, a Zoom Finesse worm and a Zorro Aggravator spinnerbait with a Zoom Fat Albert trailer. The tournament did not go as good as practice (I do think I wrapped up the Practice Angler-of-the-Year title here), I fished hard but didn’t get nearly as many bites and caught only three keepers the first day and only one on Day 2. Now I’m down to the last BASS Central Open scheduled on Ross Barnett in Jackson, Mississippi…get the frogs out! September 12 – 14, 2013   BASS Northern Open     Lake Erie     Sandusky, OH I love Lake Erie!  I love fishing for smallmouth and Lake Erie smallmouth may very well be the strongest and meanest critters swimming, period!  This was the final stop of the Northern Opens and I arrived there in 27th place in the standings and with a outside shot at qualifying for the Elites if I could put together a couple of 20 pound stringers.  Lake Erie is chunk full of smallmouth, huge schools of smallmouth and finding several schools of three pounders is not too difficult but I needed to find four-plus pounders, get them to hit and then the really difficult part…put them in the boat!  Did I mention that Lake Erie is huge?  It’s like an ocean out there and wind speed and direction dictate where you can fish and how far and how fast you can go to get to your fish.  A lot of anglers are intimidated by the size of the lake and the size of the waves even a 10 mph wind can create.  Here’s my two cents worth about running big water:  It’s impossible to compete at this level without a lot of confidence and total concentration; it is imperative to have equipment that you know will get you there and back safely and to realize that you cannot beat Erie down, you must roll with the punches, and take your time – on Erie the shortest distance between two points is not always a straight line.  I run the safest boat made; my Ranger Z520C is unsinkable, even if I make a mistake, drive into the middle of a wave and fill it with water it will remain level and upright.  And it is equipped with not one but two bilge pumps, one that I can switch on and one that kicks on automatically.  My Evinrude powered Ranger lets me drive on big water with confidence, not anxiety!  On Erie its important to realize that the take-off is not a boat race, getting to my starting place first is not nearly as important as getting there without damaging my rods and reels, my Lowrance electronics, my MinnKota and most importantly my co-angler or myself!  Experience on big water helps but even a first timer can maneuver safely if they take their time, run the troughs between the waves, run between 15 and 20 mph and take advantage of the lee side of islands which serve as windbreaks. During practice we concentrated on Canadian water and searched for smallmouth schools containing fish in the four pound range.  We wanted to establish patterns and methods in different depths so that we could adjust to changing weather and wind conditions.   We found a school of good fish in shallow water (2-5 ft.) using an umbrella rig equipped with Zoom Swimming Flukes mounted on 1/8 oz. Buckeye Lures jig heads.  We had success in midrange (10-12 ft.) casting a Buckeye Jiggin’ Blade.  Our biggest fish came on deep humps (20-28 ft.) on drop-shot rigs but the numbers out deep were not as good as they were in the shallower water.  Here’s my drop-shot setup – I used a Lew’s Speed Spin reel mounted on a Denali Noirwood spinning rod spooled with 10# TufLine SuperCast braid tipped with 8# Vicious Fluorocarbon leader.  I nose hooked a Zoom Fluke on a 1/0 RockyBrook drop-shot hook and used a 3/8 oz  RockyBrook Limestone Sinker.  Here’s a monster over six I caught on the drop-shot rig during practice: Lake Erie My co-angler on Day 1 was Drew Sokolowski from Ontario, Canada.  This was his first major tournament and man does this young angler have tremendous potential!  I learned a lot from him; Drew is a smallmouth specialist and beat me like a drum all day.  He culled several fish larger than anything I had and ended up in 3rd place after Day 1.  I started on my deep fish but the spot was pounded by 6-8 ft. waves and was hard to stay on it properly.  I was able to put a couple of smallies close to four pounds in the boat and lost a monster before abandoning this spot and heading for my shallow water spot.  When we got there it was game on!  I finished up my limit and culled up a little but the ones I put in the boat were less that three pounds…it seemed every giant I hooked up with I lost.  At one point I had a 2 1/2 on and a 6 followed it all the way to the boat and stayed there while my partner netted it (I still had 3 open hooks available).  My best five weighed only 15-9.  Drew was automatic and his three best weighed over 14 pounds! BASS cancelled Day 2 because of high winds blowing out of the North so I spent the day polishing the RockyBrook Sinkers Ranger and getting rigged for the final day on Saturday. The final day I drew Jeff Domonkos, a Lake Erie regular (most of his time has been spent on the Eastern part of the lake from Cleveland to Buffalo).  The trip to my deep water starting spot took over an hour in the rough water but once we arrived the spot was somewhat protected and very fishable.  I caught three nice fish on the drop-shot rig and had one jump off and another pull off.  Instead of leaving the deep water spot with five keepers weighing 20 pounds I left with three that would go about 12.  Like the first day of the tournament I headed to the shallow water spot but when we arrived there it was beat up by the waves and the school of big fish that were there the before were nowhere to be found.  I headed to my midrange depth spot and pulled out the Buckeye Jiggin’ Blade and it was game on!  There was a big school of 3-5 pounders around about a 100 yard stretch that were in the feeding mood.  Getting the giants to hit the Jiggin’ Blade was not a problem…getting them into the boat was another matter all together!  It was fun but frustrating, both Jeff and Ilimited with no problem but I lost more 4 plus smallmouth that I care to remember.  My best five weighed a respectable 18-5 giving me a total of 33-14 which put me in 47th place, one pound eight ounces out of the money.  Overall I finished the Northern Division in 19th place out of 240 Pros that fished that division; not good enough. August 1 & 2, 2013     BASS Northern Open     Lake Oneida     Syracuse, NY Oneida was the second of three stops for the Northern Opens and the first time I had visited this beautiful lake in New York.  I had heard this small, clear, weed infested lake was chunk-full of hungry smallmouth and that everyone would catch a limit…if that was true we must have hit this lake at the wrong time – the fishing on Oneida was TOUGH and the weather was even tougher.  Every single day of practice and the competition saw different weather conditions and even though this is a small body of water even a light wind resulted in rough water conditions. On the first day of practice, at my first stop, we found a huge school of smallmouth close to the take-off in 12 feet of water with scattered grass.  I think I had over 30 strong bites out of this school in less than an hour…it was easy!  These brown fish would just crush a Texas rigged Zoom 3.75 inch Big Salty Tube rigged with a 3/8 ounce RockyBrook Tungsten sinker on 10# Vicious Pro Elite Fluorocarbon line.  It was all down hill from there – I struggled from that point on in practice; I tried everything I knew to try without much success. Day 1 of the tournament I started in the area where I had found the big school on the first day of practice…nothing, not a single bite, the school had moved.  I moved from 12′ out to 16′ and tied on a drop shot rig with a small Zoom tube with a 1/2 oz. RockyBrook Limestone Sinker and picked up a one pound smallmouth.  Apparently he was a loner; I spend another 30 minutes out deep without any success.  My next stop was the only place where I had more than one hit during practice (I had two hits there) and caught a nice 3 pounder on the Texas rig tube.  Two stops, two keepers – not a bad start!  Then the wheels ran off…I ran all over Oneida hitting every spot where I had a bite in practice without success.  With one hour to go before check-in I had had two hits and my co-angler from Pennsylvania, Chad Wolfe hadn’t had a single bite!  I tied on a StrikePro A-rig with Zoom Swimming Fluke Jr.’s and started slinging it using a Denali Flippin Stick paired with a Lew’s 6.4:1 spooled with 25# Vicious Pro Elite Fluorocarbon line.  Within minutes I had a 2 1/2 and shortly after that I caught a double, one about 2 1/2 and one about 3 1/2!  A good way to end the day – 2 bites, three keepers!  So, Day 1 was weird…only four bites but a five fish limit that weighed in at 13-7, just out of the money by ounces.

Keepers #4 & #5

Keepers #4 & #5

Look real close, I’m headed to the livewell with a smallmouth while my co-angler unhooks a second one from my StrikePro A-rig! Day 2 I was paired with another angler from Pennsylvania, Jerry Norakus who started the day with a solid keeper on his first cast!  The first thing I had in my hand after lowering my MinnKota was the net.  Then it was back to a repeat of Day 1 – lots of fishing and no catching.  We took off at 5:45 and were due in at 3:15…at 1:30 I still didn’t have a single hit and outside of his first cast Jerry had the same success.  We fished hard and tried plenty of places with different depths without a bite.  With a little over an hour to go we returned to the area where I had caught three keepers on the StrikePro A-rig the day before.  As soon as we got there Jerry caught fire, he finished up his three fish limit in no time and then started culling.  If I remember right he caught four doubles and over 20 keepers.  I struggled with everything but the net.  I caught four keepers on the StrikePro A-rig but couldn’t get the fifth hit to finish my limit.  My four keepers weighed 11-3 giving me a total of 24-10, 55th place.  One pound three ounces out of the money! My first trip to Oneida showed me I have a lot to learn about this lake – two tournament days, four hits each day…eight total hits, nine keepers.  Combined with my finish just out of the money at the James River I moved up to 27th place in the overall standing with one tournament remaining on Lake Erie in September.  Stay tuned…. June 27 & 28, 2013     FLW Tour     Lake Chickamauga     Dayton, TN Chickamauga was the sixth and final FLW Tour event for 2013.  My first time I fished it was in the spring of 2011 as a co-angler; this was my second time on the lake and my first time fishing Lake Chickamauga during the summer.  Since Chickamauga is not a huge body of water I decided to cover the entire lake during the three days of official practice.  I also decided to look shallow instead of trying to fight for a spot on one few ledges that usually hold fish.  On the first practice day I elected to fish the upper end of the lake to avoid the weekend boat traffic on the main lake.  I threw a lot of baits during practice but relied primarily on a Zorro Booza Bug on the first day.  I found on one ditch just off the river that was loaded with 2 to 3 pounders but couldn’t duplicate that pattern in other ditches on the upper end.  On the second practice day I headed to the lower end and fished with Zoom Ol’ Monsters and Zoom Trick Worms.  We got a lot of bites shallow and felt the lower end could produce a 12 to 15 pound limit during the tournament.  On the final practice day I fished the center section of the lake and had my best practice day throwing the Ol’ Monster and the Booza Bug…I had four big bites (over four pounds) that I was able to pull up far enough to get a good look at and had about 30 total keeper bites – I had found the area I wanted to spend my time on during this event! Day 1 of the event I drew second flight, boat # 33 and the day started out pretty good; I had a limit by 10:00 and had fished clean.  I culled a couple of times so that all five keepers in my RockyBrook Ranger’s livewell were over two pounds…but I hadn’t had a big bite like I had in practice.  When my opportunity came I made my only mistake of the day – I pitched my Zorro Booza Bug up next to a tree root on an undercut bank and in the clear water watched as a two pounder swirled at the jig and missed it.  Then, out of nowhere, a five pound hog came after my Booza Bug and I saw it disappear into its mouth!  My brain shut down and adrenalin took over…I set the hook hard before feeling the strike and jerked the jig away from the big bass before it could close its mouth on the jig.  After missing the strike I quickly reeled my lure back to the boat to make another cast to the tree and didn’t notice that the bass was chasing the jig trying to catch and eat it!  By the time I saw the bass my Booza Bug was already out of the water.   BAD DEAL!  My limit weighed in at 11-12 and put me in 86th place. I was boat #113 for Day 2 with a 4:45 check-in and looking forward to a long day to play catch-up and end up in the money.  I caught my first keeper on a Zorro Aggravator spinnerbait, the next two on a Zoom Ol’ Monster and finished up my limit on a Zorro Booza Bug.  I had a limit but it included two small spots (12″ limit on spots).  I was able to cull one of the spots with a two pound largemouth but lost a 2 1/2 spot; both on the Booza Bug.  My limit on Day 2 weighed 10-1 and only moved me up one position to 85th. June 13 & 14, 2013     BASS Northern Open     James River     Richmond, VA It was a long drive from Grove, OK to Richmond, VA but I had plenty of time and miles to show off my RockyBrook Sinkers wrapped Ranger and Chevy Suburban.  The wraps were designed and installed by H2O HydroWrap in Nashville, TN and sure get a lot of attention driving down the highway. Because of the back-to-back events and the long drive I only had two days of practice on the James but felt like that was enough (I fished the same tournament on the river at the same time last year).  The first day of practice I spent in a creek off the lower James and had some good hits on a Zoom Trick Worm and also on a Zorro Booza Bug.  The second day of practice was spent in the Chickahominy River checking out the places where I had found fish in 2012.  I was not disappointed – the fish were on the same places at the same tides. Day 1 of the tournament got off to a rough start…after practice I fueled up my Evinrude powered Ranger at an “out-of-the-way” gas station that apparently had some water in their tanks and less that a mile from take-off my Evinrude shut down; not a good thing when you have over a 60 mile run to your first spot.  I finally got my engine started again but was terrified that it would not make it to the head of the Chick and back.  It would run good for a couple of miles and then the RPM’s would drop a thousand for a couple of miles.  I fueled at a marina in the Chick and didn’t have any further problems.  My first stop also gave mixed results – my first cast with a wacky rigged Zoom Trick Worm yielded a 2 1/2, my second cast  was a keeper, and on my third cast I hooked into a “GIANT”, the monster headed down and ran under a cypress root.  I kept pressure on the monster hoping it would swim back out but it went further into the roots instead and eventually pulled off…HEARTBREAK…a 6 pounder at the James is a difference maker – bad deal!  My second stop was even better; two keepers for me (including a 4 pounder that made the Bassmaster.com photo gallery) and one for my co-angler.  My third stop gave me a limit.  My fourth stop was built for a Zorro Aggravator spinnerbait, culled twice and caught five more keepers.  All-in-all, Day 1 was great with the exception of losing the big fish.  My limit weighed 12-10 and put me in 21st place – in the money and well within striking distance of making the Top 12 cut. Day 2 started great – no fuel problems  and a smooth one hour ride to the Chick and to the area where I lost the monster on Day 1.  I started about 50 yards from where the big fish hit to get settled in and was hoping she would be there.  I was still dreaming of throwing to the “money spot” when my Denali rod was nearly jerked out of my hand…asleep at the wheel – my first (and only) execution mistake in this tournament.  The honey hole yielded another 2+ on the first cast but while I was landing it and putting it in the livewell I let my boat float right on top of the hot spot.  BAD mistake…especially since my RockyBrook Ranger is equipped with dual PowerPoles.  But the PowerPoles won’t deploy unless the operator pushes the button!!!  I worked really hard for the next two keepers (one a 2+ and the other just a keeper).  I seemed that my timing was off – I was at the right places at the wrong time and the wrong places at the right time.  With about 3 hours of fishing time left before the long run back up the river to Osborne Landing and only 3 keepers in the boat (and none for my co-angler) I decided it was time for a change.  I fueled up and left the Chick for the creek where I had spent the first practice day.  My first stop yielded keeper #4 and while I was putting it in the livewell my co-angler caught one over 2 from the same spot my 12 inch keeper came from.  The second stop in the creek was a good stop for my co-angler, he caught two more 2 pounders behind me.  His 3 fish limit guaranteed him a check but I still had work to do; I was one fish short of a limit and while I had two decent fish I also had two just keepers.  I fished the creek thoroughly, hitting every spot where I had a hit in practice to no avail.  As the time to head back neared I knew I was one good keeper from the money.  We left the creek allowing plenty of time for the return trip so not to beat up our fish.  When we got close to the check-in we still had about 10 minutes of fishing time left so I stopped on a spot where I had some hits in practice the year before.  With one minute of fishing time left I finally got my fifth keeper, it was just 12 inches but better than a sharp stick in the eye! My small limit weight just over 7 pounds and dropped me from 21st to 47th – one pound and one ounce out of the money!!!  I’m still learning June 6 & 7, 2013     FLW Tour     Grand Lake     Grove, OK Grand Lake of the Cherokees was about 8 1/2 feet over pool when practice started, the upper end of the main lake was muddy and there were “a million” logs floating everywhere.  Trying to move around was like running a demolition derby.   But even in those tough conditions some of the major creeks had great color and I had the best practice so far this year.  I was able to get lots of hits on Zoom Trick Worms rigged either wacky style or on a 1/8 Zorro shaky head with a 1/32 RockyBrook Sinker sliding on the line above the head.  We bent the hooks so not to stick any bass but was able to see a lot of the bass that hit; some were so shallow that I could see them when they got the trick worm, others would hold on so good that I could literally pull them up far enough to see them before they would drop the worm.  I estimated that I could have easily had over 15 pounds every day of practice and was extremely excited about getting started! Day 1 went pretty good, even though I didn’t fish entirely clean I had no problem getting a limit that weighed 11-9 but felt like I could have weighed more if I hadn’t lost a couple of solid fish on the shaky head Zoom Trick Worm. Day 2 was a “train wreck” – some of my best areas didn’t produce and on the ones that still held fish I went “brain dead”, I broke off twice (the first time this year), had some solid fish jump off, pull off and just plain missed some good hits.  All in all on Day 2 I fished like a beginner – 3 keepers for 5 pounds.  Only good enough for 137th place. On the bright side, I had two great co-anglers and for the first time this year I felt good about my practice and had enough bites on my pattern to have a good event.  I just have to resolve some execution issues before Chickamauga. May 16 & 17, 2013     FLW Tour     Lake Eufaula     Eufaula, AL My hat is off to everyone who caught ’em at Eufaula!  We hit this fantastic lake at its toughest… for the most part the major spawn was over and the fish were in transition from the spawning areas to their summer drops and really hard for me to keep up with. During practice the shallow fish were really easy to find – just chunk a Zorro Aggravator spinnerbait with a Zoom Fat Albert trailer around the plentiful river grass near main lake points and hang on!  We figured out real quick that the Tuf-Line SuperCast braid I usually use for the Aggravator was not as effective on these shallow Eufaula bass as “fluoro” so we rigged up 17 # Vicious Pro Elite Fluourcarbon and it was “game on”, especially early in the morning during the shad spawn.  There were a couple of problems with this pattern though: (1) everyone in the tournament knew this and the shallow fish were really pressured during practice, and (2) this pattern was on  its last legs by the time the tournament started.  I tried to find places where the shallow fish were headed to without success so it was go with what was working. Day 1 went pretty good, I caught 8 keepers on three baits: 2 on the Zorro Aggravator early, 2 on a Buckeye swimjig (using SuperCast braid) when the spinnerbait bite slowed down and 4 on a Zoom ‘Ol Monster fishing rocks in 10’ of water after noon.  All in all I felt pretty good; I thought I had around 12 pounds and had finally caught some fish that were not shallow.  The worm fish were also pretty decent size, I caught my limit fish and then culled three shallow caught fish.  My co-angler, Chuck Bellerby, also caught 2 keepers including one nearly 5 on the deep fish using the ‘Ol Monster. On the way to weigh-in I ran full speed too close to the bridge (no wake) before shutting down and slid into the no wake zone.  For my  mistake I received a well deserved 3 pound penalty and ended up with 8-15 for the day.  I apologize to everyone for my carelessness and promise it will never happen again! Day 2 started pretty good; a keeper on my first spot and a three pounder on my second spot – both on the Buckeye swimjig.  Then the wheels fell off…all my other shallow areas and my deep fish area which was so good the day before yielded nothing,  the three pounder ended up being my last hit of the day.  My co-angler, Spiro Agouros, caught 2 keepers late in the day on a frog in an area close to the check-in where I had caught a keeper during practice. My prayers are for the folks in Oklahoma where the tornados hit yesterday and today…that makes my concerns about not catching fish seem not to matte April 25 & 26, 2013     BASS Central Open    Red River     Shreveport, LA The “Sophomore Slump” continues…finished 161st at a place I love to fish.  The Red River offers so many choices of locations and patterns to catch bass.  It is one of the most fun places to fish anywhere.  Brook Pauley, my co-angler practice partner (and my boss at RockyBrook Sinkers) and I had a great practice. We found quality fish in pool 4 in three different places on three different patterns.  We also found fish in pool 5 in three places on three patterns.  The best deal we found was in a pad field close to take-off that involved the shad spawn-it was game on both in the morning and later in the afternoon.  My decision was easy – my biggest fish were where I could spend the most time with a bait in the water…start there, stay there, catch 5 monsters each day and walk away with a  win!  Then comes a cold front just before the first day of the tournament; I get to my spot…no shad spawn…my plan doesn’t work – I stick it out all day hoping the big fish that were there in practice show up.  Two keeper bites, I lose one in the pads and the other weighs 1-3.  Not exactly the start I needed. My partner for the second day had a tough day 1 also, no hits at all.   I change locations and run upriver pitching a 3/8 oz. Zorro Booza Bug with a Zoom chunk at every piece of cover available; the action was fast and furious and after the second keeper I talked my co-angler into trying the Booza Bug.  Between the two of us we must have had over 100 hits…it was FUN!  The only problem was size, all the bass we caught were small but we both caught limits and culled many times. I was using a 7.1:1 Lew’s BB1 spooled with 14 pound Vicious Pro Elite Fluorocarbon line mounted on a Denali Noirwood  worm and jig rod. Headed to Lake Eufaula for the 4th FLW of the season in two weeks, I need to turn this ship around there! April 11 & 12, 2013     FLW Tour     Beaver Lake     Rogers, AR What a difference a year makes!  Last year I finished 7th at this event (my top finish as a Pro), this year I limped into 121st place…painful. There were some bright spots though – this was my first tournament with Lew’s Reels; they were “AWESOME”!  I threw a Zorro Tin Head umbrella rig on the 6.4:1 BB1 spooled with 30# Tuf-Line SuperCast braid on a Denali Rosewood Flippin Stick. I threw a Zorro Booza Bug on the 7.1:1 BB1 spooled with  12# Vicious Pro Elite Fluorocarbon.  I employed the Lew’s Speed Spin spinning reels for my finesse presentations in clear water.  For both shaky head and drop-shot I spooled 6# Tuf-Line SuperCast braid with a 8# Vicious Pro Elite Fluorocarbon leader.  I mentioned it on stage but if you missed it I will mention it again:  “When fishing light lines in clear water, a smooth drag is super important and the Lew’s Speed Spin’s drag is the best I’ve ever used”. During practice I found some quality largemouth on the upper end of Beaver but not in the numbers that made me feel real confident.  All my hits came on a either a Zorro Booza Bug tipped with a Zoom Chunk trailer or a green pumpkin Zoom Finesse Worm with the tail treated with a garlic chartreuse Spike-It marker.  On the lower end of Beaver I got “a ton” of spotted bass hits on the Zorro Tin Head umbrella rig using pearl Zoom Jr. Swimming Flukes and drop-shotting Zoom Green Weenie Meat Head worms using two RockyBrook Sinkers.  I use a 6′, 8# Vicious Pro Elite Fluorocarbon leader, a #6 RockyBrook drop-shot hook 18″ above the limestone sinkers (3/16 oz. sliding on the line and 1/4 oz. tied on the bottom) which results in a clicking noise that drives spots crazy!  The problem with this pattern was size…my biggest spot was 1 1/2 pounds. I drew boat # 12 for the first day  of competition and decided to swing for the fences – head to the upper end of the lake hoping to get enough hits to catch a limit of largemouth and have a shot at winning instead of going down for the guaranteed limit of spots that would probably go between 8 or 9 pounds.  Sometimes when you swing for the fence you strike out!  Only 6 hits, 2 keepers and 4 that were short of the 15″ size limit.  Two keepers that weighed 3-15 and landed me in 144th place.  My partner on Day 2 was in 12th place so I decided to keep him around enough fish to do good so I spent most of the day on the lower end.  As predicted I caught a limit of spots on a Zoom Finesse Worm that weighed 8-7 and finished in 121st place.

BEAVER LAKE SPOTS

BEAVER LAKE SPOTS

I worked the RockyBrook Sinkers booth at the Outdoor Show overt the weekend and stayed over for the Children’s Miracle Network charity  tournament on Monday.  I fished with my good friend Bill Kerr from Outdoor Cap.  Bill was on his game and I was great with the net!  Our (or should I say Bill’s) limit weighed in at 11 pounds and was good enough for 12th place.  All proceeds from this event went to the Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock.  Thanks to everyone involved in this event titled “Will Fish for Kids”; I can’t wait until next year to do it again! March 7 & 8, 2013      FLW Tour      Smith Lake      Jasper, AL Smith2 I was really excited about the tour’s second stop at Smith Lake.  I spent two days there before Okeechobee and stopped by for two days on the way back from Okeechobee.  All four days were fantastic!  Catching a limit between 15 and 20 pounds on a Zorro Booza Bug with a Zoom trailer was pretty easy all four days.  When I arrived for the three official practice  days my excitement peaked right away – the water level and the water temperature was almost exactly as it was in pre-practice.  I bent the tip of the hook on the Booza Bug all the way to the shank so it was impossible to hook a fish (I knew I would need every fish I could get during the tournament).  In the first two hours of the first practice day I had 10 really good bites…the Alabama spotted bass would not let go of my bug!  Then the bottom fell out just like someone flipped a switch; I only had one more bite the rest of the day.  The second day of practice I switched areas and hit a lot of different types of places in an effort to determine a pattern.  I had only five bites and every one of them on different stuff; the only thing in common was every bite came on the Booza Bug.  Day three of practice was much warmer at daylight than the previous two days but that didn’t last long – the wind picked up, the clouds rolled in, the temperature dropped and it started raining.  I really struggled to get three bites and two of the three came out of one 35′ brush pile (that I had caught some big spots in pre-practice) a couple of miles from take-off, all three bites came on the Booza Bug. My game plan for Day 1 was to throw a Booza Bug, start on the brush pile where I had two bites and then run to the area where I had 11 bites on the first day of practice.  I drew out with my good friend Dave Lauer and even though my practice didn’t go well I was still very optimistic about the day.  As planned I started on the brush pile and worked it really good, but without success.  We picked up and headed for my best area; we slowly worked over every area where I had caught fish in pre-practice and really concentrated on places where I had hits on the first practice day.  My first bite came about 10:00 about 12′ deep in about 25′ of water and wasn’t really a hit…it felt like I had a leaf on my Booza Bug.  Point number one-if it feels different – set the hook!  Turned out to be a four plus pound spot, a great way to start the day!  My second hit came an hour later and man was it a big time hit; as I worked the Booza Bug down to about 20′ the line jumped a foot and I connected with a solid three pound spot.  My third bite came around noon and again wasn’t really a hit – I had thrown my Bug on a 50′ deep rock wall and was just letting it fall straight down when at about 15′ it stopped falling and went completely limp like someone had cut my line…point number two-when that happens a bass has hit the lure from below and is heading up, reel quickly to take up the slack and set the hook hard!  Another three pound spot in the boat, three hits, three keepers so far and over 10 pounds in the livewell.  After trying several more places like the ones where I got hits I returned to the scene of the first crime and worked it again.  I was rewarded with the strongest bite of the day, I had visions of a six pound spot as I set the hook.  At first I thought I had missed the hit, then I realized I was still connected and then thought the big bass was heading toward the boat faster than I could reel but alas, when I finally saw my monster I saw why I was deceived…it was a tiny spot, probably not even a 12″ keeper.  I didn’t weigh him but I’m sure this 12 1/2″ spot wouldn’t have weighed six ounces!  Into the livewell he went, four bites, four keepers that I guessed at about 10 pounds with 4 hours to go until check-in….not great but not a bad deal.  Turns out that was it, no more hits.  I finished up on the brush pile where I started but still no hits on my favorite spot.  My four keepers weighed 10-11 which put me in 51st place –  in the money and just one place out of a $10,000 check! I guess I must be really hard headed, I started on the same brush pile on Day 2 with the same results-no bites.  Headed back to the area where I caught four keepers on Day 1, fished the three places where I caught them with no success.  Around 10:00 I stopped on a place where I had a bite on the first day of practice and picked up a 14″ spot.  Around 11:00 I went to the exact place where I had caught a 6 pound spot and a 4 pound spot on two casts in pre-practice and had visions of a repeat when my line jumped as the Booza Bug fell down the rock bluff.  Turned out to be a 2 1/2 largemouth, a little disappointed but glad to have him.  So far two hits, two fish in the livewell that would go about 3 1/2 and still over fours hours to go till check-in.  The next two hours…nothing.  With a little over an hour to go I fished a tree top on a bluff wall that looked great, no bites so I cast on down the wall.  My partner, David Counts from Missouri, pitched his jig into the tree top as the boat passed it and a five pound spot ate it and headed back down into the tree.  I guess David had a little too much adrenalin going after seeing the big bass grab his jig and broke him off on the hook set.  Bad deal, that bass would have put him in the money.  Shortly after that I had a good hit, lowered my rod, cranked in the slack and set the hook…nothing!  My guess is that I set the hook at the exact moment the bass spit the Bug out and before it sucked it  back in again.  If you have ever watched a bass eat a crawdad it is not unusual for him to do that in order to get rid of the pinchers before eating the crawdad.  Bad luck or lack of talent?  I’m not sure, but either way I missed a hit for the first time in this tournament and it hurt. That was it, three bites, two keepers that weighed 3-11s bringing my total to 14-8; only good enough for 99th place.  Every bite in practice and in the tournament came on a 3/8 Pumpkin Zorro Booza Bug tipped with a Zoom green pumpkin chunk that had been marinated in a zip lock plastic bag with Spike-It Garlic spray.  I used a Denali Noirwood 7 1/2′ medium-heavy Worm and Jig rod.  In the clear water of Smith Lake I rigged the Boooza Bug on 6 pound Tuf-Line SuperCast braid. Time to tuck tail and run home to Kentucky.  Looking back now I never did figure them out at Smith and now have to look forward to the next stop at Beaver Lake where I made  the Top 10 cut last year! February 7 & 8, 2013     FLW Tour     Lake Okeechobee     Clewiston, FL   The first stop on the 2013 FLW Tour was tough on me but there were a couple of bright spots.  My new Ranger Z520C was AWESOME!  There is no doubt about it, this is the best  bass boat ever built.  Powered by an Evinrude 250 HO, it literally jumps up on pad, handles like a dream and is a “Rocket Ship” at top end.  I love everything about this boat, but one thing that stands out for me – the adjustable driver’s seat; made especially for those of us that are vertically challenged.

Evinrude Test Ride The second  bright spot was being one of five FLW Pros that were invited to bring our boats to the Westside Elementary School in Clewiston on Wednesday.  The excitement of the kids as they crawled all over the boats was contagious!  That was FUN!   During the three days of practice we covered nearly every part of the “Big O” but didn’t find anything that made me feel comfortable.  My best two locations were the West Wall and the Monkey Box so I decided to concentrate on those two areas during the tournament. On Day 1 I started on the West Wall with a Zoom ‘Ol Monster but was only able to catch one small keeper.  I moved about a half mile up the lake to a clump of tullies where I had some bites during practice and caught two more small keepers on the ‘Ol Monster.  I then moved to the Monkey Box and finished up my limit and even culled a couple of times but just couldn’t boat any quality fish.  At the weigh-in my five keepers weighed just 7-4…very disappointing. On Day 2 I decided to start in the Monkey Box and the day started real fast; my co-angler made his first cast while I was lowering my MinnKota and immediately hooked up so instead of reaching for my rod I reached for the dip net.  We both threw Zorro Aggravator spinnerbaits and we both caught a limit pretty quick and culled several times.  The numbers were certainly better than the first day but the size was still not what we needed.  My Day 2 limit was just slightly better at 8-8, giving me a total of 15-12 and landing me in 150th place…talking about digging a deep hole to climb out of! Smith Lake in Alabama is next and hopefully will be much better for the “Limestone Cowboy”!  But one thing for sure, if the tournament was decided on the best looking boat wraps instead of total weight I would have definitely finished in the “Top 10”. November 24, 2012     Lake Cumberland     Taylor/McClure Thanksgiving Tournament This buddy tournament is held the Saturday after Thanksgiving out of Conley Bottom Boat Dock near Somerset, Kentucky.  Started by Bill Taylor and Ron McClure back in the 70’s this annual event is now put on by Pittsburg Marine, the Ranger dealer in London, Kentucky.  Bill Taylor and I have teamed up since it began and have never missed an event.  If memory serves me right we have won eight and been  in the money all but two times…we like Lake Cumberland in the late fall! It was 27 degrees at take-off and the 20 minute ride up the lake was cold!  We both tied on Zorro Booza Bugs with Zoom trailers and never threw anything else all day.  This was my first tournament using Tuf-Line SuperCast braid and did it ever make a difference in my fishing!  I spooled up green 10 pound test and fell in love at the first cast.  There was no need for a fluorocarbon leader, this braid is practically invisible in 10 pound test.  It did take me a few casts to adjust to the fact that it takes less effort to cast the same distance (I could cast it a mile), it came off the spool real smooth.  The sensitivity  was absolutely unbelievable,  I could feel every move my jig made and every bite was detectable.  Probably the most impressive thing was the increased hook setting power, I didn’t loose a single fish.  Do yourself a favor…try this Tuf-Line SuperCast braid, you’ll  be hooked too. Lake Cumberland has a 18″ limit on smallmouth, a 15″ limit on largemouth and a 12″ limit on spotted bass.  We caught a lot of fish all day long but didn’t have any keeper smallmouth and only two keeper largemouth.  I think we caught about 18 keeper spots and our tournament limit weighed almost 1o pounds…not good enough to win (it took over 16 pounds) but good enough for a 8th place payday. We’ll get ’em next year! November 6, 2012     Kentucky Lake     Tuesday Night Shoot-Out Championship Fishing out of Moor’s Resort in Gilbertsville every Tuesday night from time change to time change this buddy tournament draws some of the biggest names in bass fishing.  The rules are pretty simple…bring $40 in cash (no checks or credit cards here), bring your best game and leave your reputation and ego at home!  The hours for regular events are from 6:00 – 10:oo pm; if you don’t make it back by 10:00 you’re out of luck.  Bring in your best five live bass (no dead fish allowed) and make sure they’re 15 inches long (a short bass will get your entire catch disqualified).  Fish in at least eight regular events during the year and your team qualifies for the Championship which adds another two hours to the format, fishing from 4:00 – 10:00 pm. My partner for many years has been Billy “Basser” Taylor, the head of tournaments for FLW Outdoors and man do we have a ton of fun every time we get into the boat.  This year’s Championship was no exception; we determined that our best chance of coming out on top was to “keep it wet” so at take-off we ran just over a mile and stayed in the same area until time to return to check-in.  Our strategy once we lowered the trolling motor is one we use most of the time we fish together – Bill throws his favorite bait, a 3/8 ounce Zorro Booza Bug and I employ my favorite, a Zoom Trick Worm tipped with Spike-It Chartreuse Garlic scent, rigged wacky style.  We caught a bunch of bass from start to finish and ended up with nine keepers (I remember catching five and Bill four, Bill remembers catching five and me four) that weighed 15 something.  Pretty good but not good enough…we ended up in 3rd place.  It took over 22 pounds to win and 17 something for 2nd place.  Overall the fishing was pretty tough for Kentucky Lake, only the top three teams weighed in a limit and both 1st and 2nd place did not cull, catching only five keepers each.  At any rate Bill and I headed home with some cash in our pockets and as I have been know to say, “In tournament fishing if you make the money you win and if you don’t make the money you lose…we won!  I can’t wait until next March to get started again.  If you’re ever in the Kentucky Lake area on a Tuesday evening bring a partner and join in the fun, Bill and I will be glad to lighten up your pockets!