I’ve spent a some time this year chasing the Bassmaster Elite Series professional bass anglers around on lakes like Guntersville and Dardanelle and the FLW Tour guys recently on Kentucky Lake. I noticed some fishing trends and had some thoughts on those as well as some observations about professional tournament fishing at the highest levels.
And I’m very interested to hear what you think about any and all of these so please comment below or on Facebook.
Here are 5 trends or observations I’ve had chasing the pros around so far in 2014:
Ledge tournaments good or bad for professional fishing?
I’ll go on record and say, I am not a fan of ledge fishing tournaments with big fields. Don’t get me wrong, I love ledge fishing, likely due to the fact that I live on one of the best ledge fishing lakes in the country. But when you know the fish are going to get on about 80 ledge spots on a given fishery and your field is 100 or 150 boats in size, what happens then is probably not the best for the sport.
Now practices like hole jumping and hole sitting start to rear their ugly heads. Hole jumping is when anglers pull in on other anglers already fishing a spot because “they supposedly also found the bass” here in practice. Unfortunately it’s hard to tell who “really” found them in practice and who saw someone else fishing there in practice or worse yet in the tournament. And worse yet is hole sitting where someone parks their boat on a good fishing spot to protect it, and when a competitor boat pulls in, they leave so they can fish it. I didn’t witness this first hand but unfortunately I heard two accounts of this happening in the last event.
The problem you have with ledge tournaments is not easily solved. There are anglers who were raised that you didn’t pull in on another angler because it was not only discourteous but also made you look like you couldn’t find your own fish. So there was your own credibility at stake. Another generation of anglers seems to believe this is the way tournaments are fished. You just go to the places with the boats and mix it up. While still many anglers will find the same schools of fish in practice and go there if boats are there or not.
The problem comes with the fact that in a ledge tournament, there just simply aren’t enough spots for every boat to have their own spot. So then it becomes who gets a good draw. Then what are the later boats supposed to do? Just not catch fish that day?
Never mind the local pressure that is always evident, especially along the TVA. I saw locals fishing on spots after pros left during the tournament, and pros unable to get on spots on the weekend because locals who followed them Thursday and Friday were locked on the spot come Saturday before a pro had even launched yet.
But I’m a local on a popular ledge lake, and while I make a point not to fish or even turn my sonar or GPS on during a tournament while I’m filming, I also know the pros don’t own the lakes or spots they fish. Sharing the lake is hard on the pros and the locals in these events.
Do ledge tournaments make for fun stats or weigh-in photos? Maybe. It also unfortunately makes for lost friendships, confrontations, and anomosity among the competitors as well as an underlying speculation of dishonest fishing.
There are guys that are very uncomfortable about getting too close to another angler out of respect. There are other anglers who have no problem coming within 10 yards of another angler and setting their boat down off pad and dropping the trolling motor. Whether its because they believe thats how you have to fish to survive on trail or they really don’t care about the other anglers, it quickly becomes a case of the haves and the have-nots with anglers trying to take the morally high road at the losing end.
The tournament organizations have somewhat facilitated that this is acceptable behavior for ledge fishing tournaments because there is not a rule that you can’t come in on another competitor other than the anchoring rule. And nothing is ever said or made of these on-the-water confrontations and practices. But then we complain when locals who watch pros do this do the very same thing.
I personally would like to see these tournaments go to Guntersville or Pickwick in March or April and Kentucky Lake in early May. Spread the fields out and have guys have to fish for fish instead of scan for fish or other anglers. But like I said I don’t have a good answer how to work around the issues you have in these tournaments which is why I’m not in favor of them.
Keeping it simple still works
I’ve seen a lot of tournaments won recently by doing very simple things in very simple places. Hackney won grinding a shallow crankbait on a shallow flat on Pickwick to win a ledge dominated event. I watched Wesley Strader bust 23 pounds including one bass nearly 8 pounds on a spot 3 feet deep during the Kentucky Lake FLW Tour event. Brett Hite has won twice this year throwing the bait he’s now synonymous with, the Chatterbait.
And Skip Johnson just won the FLW Tour throwing a worm and a jig when the rest of the field was throwing prototype magnum crankbaits, swimbaits, gargantuan spoons, and 30 year old hair jigs. So there is something to be said for just sticking to one spot, throwing the lures you have confidence with and riding it out to the end without following the dock talk or preconceived notions for a fishery.
Confidence is still king in tournament fishing
Did you hear about this guy Anthony Gagliardi getting DQed at the first FLW Tour event earlier this year? Yep. And the championship just happens to be on his home lake. Bummer right? Well, some say a blow like that can kill an angler’s confidence if they let it. Even end a career maybe.
So what did Gagliardi do? He pulled up his big boy pants and went on to qualify for the Forrest Wood Cup anyway … in just 5 events. Now you can say there have been other cases of anglers having a horrible near last or dead last first tournament and still qualify for a year-end championship. But the emotional battle that ensues is what is of interest. To convince yourself you’re never out of it. Even when you finish near 50th in an event or two. That’s just incredible to me.
How about Brett Hite winning an FLW Tour event and an Elite Series event this year. Just doing what he does. That’s pretty impressive. What was more impressive to me was 2012 was the worst year of Brett Hite’s career, and I can remember how dejected he was that year at ICAST about not making the championship and only making a couple of checks along the way. His confidence was tested. Fast forward to this year where he’s already bank rolled around $300,000 in winnings. And he’ll tell you, he’s really not doing that much different.
What about Andy Morgan? Back-to-back FLW Tour Angler of the Year Titles is pretty impressive. Or is it more impressive that he hasn’t been outside the top 10 in the Angler of the Year race since 2006. Morgan might be the epitome of confidence in professional fishing.
Oh yeah then there is this Mark Davis fellow. He just finished in the top 5 in 4 of the first 6 Elite Series events. With Greg Hackney one point behind him, who subsequently has also bankrolled more than $225,000 between BASS and FLW competitions this year.
What do they all have in common. Confidence. They feel good about how they are fishing. When you fish like that, you do well. When you question your decisions and your confidence wanes, you struggle. When your confidence returns, it carries from tournament to tournament.
Big spoons got a lot bigger
The buzz at the recent FLW Tour event was more about a big hunk of shiny metal that wasn’t the winners trophy. Namely discussions and parking lot bartering centered around the new Ben Parker Magnum Spoons from Nichols Lures. Parker had gotten his first shipment in just before the start of practice and got several out to pros fishing in the event.
The spoon measures 8-inches in length and weighs more than 3 ounces. They simply dwarf what most people thought was already a big spoon for fishing deep ledges on lakes with big shad and other forage.
I saw a lot of anglers throwing the spoon and I’ve thrown it a bit myself now. It certainly will attract a big fish and average fish to bite it alike. I found, however, what didn’t happen with the spoon more intriguing. It didn’t win the FLW Tour event. In fact, to my knowledge, the winner never even threw a spoon.
It did, however, account for several big catches and several more lost fish. In fact one could probably argue that the big spoon cost a few anglers the win. Not that it wasn’t the right bait. But keeping a bass hooked up on an 8-inch, 3-ounce piece of metal proves to be very difficult.
So there is going to be a learning curve around not only learning how to throw and work the bigger spoon to trigger bites, but more importantly how to get the fish from bite to boat effectively. One might say right now, in its infancy, that it’s the hollow-bodied frog of deepwater fishing.
By that I mean it gets crazy cool strikes, but it will break your heart as much as it will wow you.
I know I had 35 private messages in the last two weeks asking me for a hook up on the spoons or to sell the few I had. I gave one to Terry Bolton to test out and kept the other one for myself. But I know guys are clamoring to get their hands on them after the FLW Tour event, the College BASS event that Bethel won on Pickwick that same week, and photos like the one Randy Haynes posted of his 35-pound catch a week later on Pickwick. Hopefully those spoons show up this week so my inbox will clear up.
The sociology and psychology around new lure introductions always fascinates me. Kudos to Ben for the buzz he created, literally.
I’ll save you a little time and tell you if you’re not around good fish to begin with, you won’t get big bites on the spoon. And the two schools of thought on landing the fish are to either a) baby the fish after you set the hook hard like you would a crankbait bass you don’t want to jump or b) turn the handle as hard as you can and wrench them into the net like those big swimbait guys do out west, taking total control of the bass.
Big hair is in again
No. I don’t mean the “poofy hairdos” our girlfriends had in the 1980s. I’m talking about hair jigs, specifically a hair jig called the “Preacher Jig” that became very popular and sought out in the 1980s when a bunch of big ledge fishing tournaments were being won down on Eufaula.
The hair jigs incorporate both feather and bucktail into 1/2 ounce to 3/4 ounce jig that is around 6 inches long. The jig was originally tied by an old preacher in Alabama for anglers before being bought by Mann’s Bait Company. After learning how labor intensive it was to build the jigs and declining sales, Mann’s discontinued them. And, like many lures in bass fishing, they became probably more well guarded and sought out by professional anglers as “another cricket” for fooling bass.
The FLW Tour events on Pickwick Lake and Kentucky Lake, and the BASSFest on Chickamauga Lake made it clear that the hair jig is back as another weapon in the arsenal of professional anglers for catching bass on ledges.
Jacob Wheeler caught several of his key fish on a homemade hair jig as did Kevin VanDam at BASSFest. Many of the top finishers at both Pickwick and Kentucky Lakes had hair jigs on their deck and on film catching bass on them. Personally I’ve been throwing a hair jig a lot more this year. It’s another good presentation for bass that may not be tight to the bottom but feeding on shad. It’s always nice to have another lure in the rotation to try to trigger one more fish to bite before moving to the next school.
I’ve caught several bass on one that is a pretty good replica of the original Preacher Jig called a Prayer Jig from Cumberland Pro Lures. You can see some video of it in action here.
There is always a lot about bass fishing that comes from following the trends aired by professional fishing tournaments. And the dynamics that surround the sport of catching the 5 best bass each day are always fascinating. Fishing trends can be anything from hot new lures or techniques, to how anglers conduct themselves on the water.
At any rate, I consider myself a student of fishing — bass, crappie, bluegill or otherwise. I’m always trying to learn more and I think we should all avoid living in a vacuum when it comes to improving sport fishing from the common angler, to the professional angler, to the tournament organizations and the media that covers it all. We should all be looking for ways to get better.
What do you think of these trends or observations and what other ones have you seen this year?