While driving back to Alabama with uncertainty of what to expect for the third stop of FLW BFL Bama division on Lake Mitchell, I was thinking one thing, finish in top 50 and move on to the next event. Long time friend, David Wright, has preached to me to look at the end, not at the year. Focus on the big picture, qualifying for the regional where you have the best chance to win the most.
This is hard for most fishermen to have that mental picture because of our nature, we want to win or get a check. After arriving in town late Wednesday evening, my travel partner said we might as well go to the lake to see what we’re up against. When we launched the ZDecals Georgia Ovarian Cancer Alliance / T-H Marine boat powered by Evinrude, my partner was approached by two locals. They asked if we were fishing the upcoming Alabama Power tournament, we said no.
They proceeded to tell him what we needed to try. Most of us never pay them any attention, however, out of all our travels, the people of Alabama are the nicest we have run across. My partner was told there was a shad spawn in the mornings for about 20 minutes and of course, the famous Coosa River bank grass.
Having just a few hours under my wing that first evening allowed me just enough time to get clued in on what the lake was doing. I got 11 bites in two hours -mainly on seawalls and deep dock corners. Being a spotted bass fishermen I tried to keep it as simple as possible, a War Eagle 1/4 ounce shaky head and my drop shot. It was an unorthodox approach but for me, it’s in my wheel house. I knew with my shaky head, after the first two hours, a check was possible due to size of what I was catching so quickly but I needed to expand on it over the next few days of practice. I had both of my Kistler Rods paired with the new Quantum Smoke 30 hi-speed spinning reels, spooled with 6 pound test Hi-Seas Quattro fluorocarbon line.
The next morning, I went out looking for a shad spawn that never surfaced. I had to back up and punt along with the developing weather. During the morning, the wind increased to 20 mph with higher gusts later that afternoon so I decided to revamp my approach. Trying to stay on the deeper corners, I tied on two jigs. One was a Greenfish Tackle 3/8 Creeper Head paired with a Zoom UV Speed Craw and the other was 1/2 ounce Greenfish Tackle skipping jig paired with the new Zoom Z-Craw Jr. I had several key bites that kept my attention on what I was doing but by mid afternoon, fishing in the high wind, I had had enough. I moved into a pocket for a break from the wind, poled down and made a PBJ sandwich. This is where I noticed part of the puzzle that I feel most over looked, a spawning bass at a base of seawall. However, I was not too excited about it. I knew it was late in the year and with the wind blowing hard the next few days, the chances of me finding enough to do good on was very slim. With that thought, I headed back out into the main lake to continue my search.
The next morning, it was slow to start due to the tournament that was already going on so we stopped for breakfast. We were hoping the traffic would clear from the small park from where we were launching. When we got out on the water, I decided to look one last time for the shad spawn. Lo and behold, I cracked ’em. In the midst of all the traffic from the other derby, I sacked up 14 pounds just short of six stops. I knew this was special but short lived. I had eyes on me everywhere from other fishermen so my chances of repeating this the next morning were slim to non-existent due to my boat draw of 90.
On tournament morning, we determined to get a spot at Higgins Ferry Ramp we would need to get an earlier start than normal. Upon our arrival we were greeted by bright red brake lights of others with a similar plan. As we waited our turn to launch, you could see what appeared to be a fog bank rolling in to stop our progress. After boat check, I found a spot on the dock to wait for my partner, and wait we did. For nearly two hours we sat, thinking of what we were missing, what could have been, what to do now. My hopes were not fading though, on the contrary, they were only getting brighter! For me, I had been here before, just a few weeks ago in another state, in another fog delay. I have learned to love them while others tend to get mad at the director for not letting us go early. I knew with the shorter day other fishermen would be fishing faster thinking they were behind which they were, however, this gave me a better chance.
I started out in the grass, chasing the over and gone shad spawn, hoping for one big bite to get my day started. It was a let down. By 10:30 I was sitting on zero keepers, two short bites and a whirlwind of emotions that spun me out. I got mad at them (the fish), my team partner jokes about this quite often but it’s what it took to get me moving in the right direction. The early mornings and late days will take its toll on you. I was tired and brain fried but knew I could not zero. I sat down again packed up my grass baits, kept my frog out (just in case) and made another PBJ, one for a little energy, but more importantly just to get calmed down. I told my partner to sit tight, we would be getting after it quickly, 3-4 casts per deep corner and move on. From 11am to 1pm, I managed to put together a solid limit of about 8 pounds. With time ticking away my nerves were calming, knowing I had caught enough to get the valuable points needed to qualify for the regional which will be in my backyard. I was thinking two things, stay close so I make it back for weigh in or run up the river chasing a few big bites in hopes of getting a check. I chose the safer bet, staying close. I then ran over to where my saga began earlier in the week.
As I rounded the corner, peeping into the pocket where I first started Wednesday, I noticed there wasn’t a boat in there so decided to finish out my day in what I knew was used water. I idled back to the corner where I told my co-angler I had caught three the first evening. I threw my shaky head over by the corner of the first dock and landed my first good cull. From there I eased on in, looking and hoping for one more big bite, not knowing what was down the bank as I had not explored back in the pockets. I ran up on the first of many spawners, not having much in the boat to catch one I opted to move on to find a bream bed in the far back with a few three pounders on it. I was sick, how did I overlook this all week. My first thought, I could have cracked them had I known about this, my second one was, tick tock, time is nearing, keep moving. As I rounded the next corner, I saw what appeared to be another big spawner 30 yards down the bank against the seawall. I glanced at my Lowrance to check the time, 2:42 and I was due in at 3:00. I had one shot, please don’t blow it. I whaled my shaky head upon the seawall and slid it off just in front of her, she spun around and started swimming towards me. My first thought was she’s spooked, my next was, oh my, she has it as I saw my line with a bow in it. I thank goodness for that high speed spinning reel. I was able to quickly take up the slack only to jerk it out of her mouth as she neared the bow of the boat. I looked like Canterbury at the Cup as I jumped higher than any high jumper in the world to land on the deck, my hopes crushed as I blew it. Little did I know, my co-angler had watched her swim right down the bank, back to where it all started. He informed me while on my knees, she’s back up there. Quick to my feet, fixing my curled up worm, I spun around and threw my bait back to her, where she inhaled it. I asked for the net while setting the hook. She jumped and we discovered her to be much larger than we thought. Going from defeated to hearing cheering fans on the bank, I was pumped, making the last minute cull with a 3.43 Coosa giant. Without a minute to spare, we jumped down and rushed back to weigh in. There were only a few people in line to weigh. I knew I was on the last flight and I had what would be a solid finish.
My hats off to my co-angler for not throwing to that fish as it swam back down the bank. This picture is from the first evening, how fitting to end on the same spot!