Thursday, April 13, 2017

Old Hickory Lake TN

2017 Ray Scott National Championship in Nashville, TN April 3rd-9th
While my tournament event did not go as expected, Cumberland River's Old Hickory reservoir in Tennessee was a beautiful system to fish the ABA National Champship. Dense angler fishing pressure and abnormal weather conditions threw a wrench in my fishing, eliminated anything I found during my single-day ride around, and shut down the bass bite to a slow crawl.

Bass Pro Shop Outpost in Chattanooga TN

With all three species: largemouth, spotted, and smallmouth bass, the possibilities for catching fish seemed endless.

Scouting
On the Tuesday I arrived water temperatures where reaching 67F degrees.  My plan started with several hours of scouting with my Lowrance Structure Scan unit.  Once I got a feel for the water conditions, I made my first fishing stop along the main river channel along a rocky bluff wall. In water 40ft deep, the logical thing to do would be to fish a jig down the rock outcroppings.
But I'm not logical and I surmised by the conditions that any bass out here would be pre-spawn, feeding in anticipation of soon heading shallow to spawn. With the predicted cold front on the way, this deeper area should hold heat longer.

Using a topwater walking bait, I fished the bluff and caught a good pre-spawn spotted bass that looked to be just under three pounds. So far so good.
First spotted bass of practice on a rock bluff

There was a large crawfish pincher sticking out of the fish's gullet.

My next fishing stop was all the way to the back of a creek to assess the stage of any spawners. I needed to find out if the bass were on beds yet or if they had spawned already.

On my first pass along the shallows I eye-balled five single bass on beds, and two paired with bigger females. No bass fry was present.  The beds were extremely different than our Florida Kissimmee Lake bass beds.  Old Hickory bass made very light colored beds and non-distinct bed on sandy bottoms. Male bass were observed in the middle of the beds and were extremely hard to see.  These bass lacked any mottling and were an almost silver in color.
The lighter color in the center of this sand flat was a bass on a bed
A nice largemouth caught fishing the shallows near beds.
Waterwillow plants were still brown from the winter but new sprouts were starting!
Since I had scouted both extremes (shallow and deep), my third fishing stop was mid-river to find bass closer to the river channel.  This group of bass should be a mix of prespawn/spawning fish but less subjected to the effects of the predicted cold front.  Cold temperatures often pull bass off beds, and may even pushed spawning fish back out to the main river until weather conditions stabilize.
It was in this mid-river area that I found the biggest largemouth and spotted bass. In fact, one largemouth bass-bed deep inside a fallen tree held a six pound female spawning with a three male!!
A six pound bass was seen spawning in the protection of this tree-fall.
Severe Weather
On Wednesday afternoon the American Bass Angler's Ray Scott National Championship registration meeting began. 
Angler registration and pairing meeting in TN Civic Center
 During the event the weather front officially hit Nashville TN. Along with rain and cold temperatures, the front also brought ludicrous-level wind speeds. With 45 mph gusts and small craft wind advisory throughout the night, the tournament organization was forced to cancel the first day of the tournament. The scheduled three-day championship turned into a two-day shootout.
I drew out as boat #29 in flight 2, so all night I wondered how the wind and cold would affect those big spawning bass. I contained my excitement of potentially catching that six pound spawning bass first thing in the morning.








  














Day One
Day one of the tournament started at 4am with predicted winds in the 30mph range and air temperatures in the low 40s.  After a 20 minute run up lake from the Sanders Ferry boat ramp, I could hardly feel my face or work my hands. The wind burn and cracked skin I received is still slowing my ability to type this blog a week later!

My first stop was a wind protected, deepwater bay just off the main river north of the mid-lake bridge. Sunlight was low and the morning was gorgeous. Working a rocky point in the bay I landed my first spotted bass over the required 12 inch limit. After catching a few short spotted bass, I moved to the back of the bay and caught my first keeper largemouth bass over 14 inches. As I was fishing, the sun was breaking the horizon on this bluebird sky day.  The warmth from the bright sunshine felt good and would hopefully warm up the shallows that sat in the mid 50s.  Surface water temperatures had dropped over 12 degrees!

As the sun rose, I noticed the water in the bay was dirty, and rising. My first thought was "Wholly crap, the main river was swelling due to rain and the lack of hydro-generation”. I fished all the rocky bluffs, creeks and bays I scouted as well as new ones with no success. Between the 12 degree temperature drop and incoming dirty water, my bass got lock-jaw.   My first day weigh-in at 3:15pm consisted of two bass for a miserable 130th place standing out of 156 pros.
video

Day Two
On the second tournament day it was even colder at 4am with frost all over my boat and Mercury engine. Being physically worn down from the cold at this point, I donned four layers of shirts and my BassProShop’s heavy duty rain suit.
My Triton/Mercury Marine rig was cold and covered with frost


My first fishing stop was again in the deep water bay where I caught my two bass on day one. I found the water up half a foot higher and dirty water from the main Cumberland river all the way back in my bay. After fishing for 40 minutes my coangler and I never got a bite so I called an audible.
Heading back out to the deep water of the main river I found parts of the river was clearing. Fishing the clear side along the river shoals, my coangler caught the first keeper bass off a wood laydown.  I had my first clue of the day.  But after working main river wood for an hour neither one of us got bit again.  “Some clues lead anglers in the wrong direction.”


Given the conditions, I moved to fish the deepest water in the largest protected creeks way off the main river.  My first stop was a large marina surrounded by 20 feet of water. Large schools of shad were swimming around the marina docks and my coangler caught his second keeper largemouth bass on a jerkbait. I worked hard with a jerkbait, shakeyhead, worm, and sinko around every dock and only managed to draw strikes from two short bass. 

Large, deepwater marinas held the shad and a few bass.

Fishing sinkos wacky-style earn a few bites but no keeper bass
Things just did not go my way and I ended the day officially skunked. First time I have been fishless in over 15 years fishing as a pro angler. Very disappointing to me and I felt I let my family and sponsors down. I wanted to do so much more for the Kids in Support of Soldiers.  All the yearlong effort to qualify for the national championship and miles of travel, everything at the time seemed worthless.  The highs and low of tournament fishing hurt, but that pain builds toughness, and the ability to shake it off is something tournament angler know all too well.  
On the 10-hour drive home I was able to review the event and shake off the pain and humility I experienced.

Internal Dialog
On the bright side, the ten-ton gorilla is off my back! The experience of being skunked allowed me to push through my fear of failure and stand tall despite my poor results.  Being skunked did not cause the world to end, people didn't laugh, sponsors didn't drop me, and no one posted ridicule on social media.  Wow!  Life continued…

As I write this summary, I am concurrently preparing for the second stop of the Bassmaster Southern Open trail on Tennessee's Lake Chickamauga!  Our Florida strain bass were stocked there beginning in 2000 and the bigger females are now making the local newspapers. Huge 30 and 40 pound bags of bass are winning tournaments in the area. Lake Chickamauga is set up to be a much different fishery than Old Hickory!





The lessons learned from Old Hickory Lake have greatly helped me understand the bass of Tennessee.   Stay tuned, I'll post my Bassmaster Southern Open experiences and results in the next blog.



I hope this helps you catch more bass on Old Hickory Lake.   Jeff

Monday, November 28, 2016

A New Psyche to Fishing

After four years on the Bassmaster Southern Open bass tournament circuit I learned first-hand how important it was for anglers to fish instinctively. Balancing a family life, career, and competitive fishing life takes constant work. With all the family events, work duties, tournament travel miles, sponsor obligations, charity work, and social media production, there is little time left to spend on the water before each tournament. 

For me, fishing patterns found in practice are over rated. In nearly every major tournament event I have participated in, the fishing pressure and weather encountered during the tournament week cancelled out any fishing patterns I developed in practice anyway. So why should I stress about practice?  I always found myself developing new fishing patterns each tournament day anyhow.  

To prove my point, my highest finish over my four-years on Bassmaster Southern Open Tour was on Douglas Lake, TN in April 2013. This was a reservoir I had never fished or seen before. It was a deep reservoir that fluctuated 40 feet annually. I drove up on Saturday and managed three days for practice before the Thursday start. I found cold water temperatures and lethargic bass, a massive shad die-off, and extremely cold weather. My Florida-style of fishing only landed me one keeper bass in three anxiety-filled days of practice. I felt horrible about my chances, but I never felt out if the game. 

In that tournament I was forced to find bass in the coldest, muddiest water (47F) I had ever fished. I successfully developed a technique and lure combination using a bait I never used before, a jig. Knowing that northern anglers rely on jigs in the wintertime, I tied one on in the cold rain and slowly worked steep rock bluffs down to 45 feet deep. I was rewarded with two days of solid limits of bass and a 22nd place finish out of 182 pro anglers!  The pros I beat that day were Bassmaster Classic Champions and Elite pro's: Casey Ashley, Randy Howell, and Paul Elias, Aaron Martens, Gerald Swindle, Brandon Palaniuk, and Kieth Poche! 


https://www.bassmaster.com/results/tournaments/2013-bass-pro-shops-southern-open-2/1





I didn't realize it at the time, but that was my first major success fishing instinctively and with an open mind! 


In 2016, I decided to take the year to work on my mental fishing game and market my sponsors to a more local, yet large grassroots audience. The long-term value to developing my instinctive style of fishing will pay off in the future. The pure fishing philosophies showcased by Major League Fishing Selects and Bassmaster Elite Bracket events are the wave of the future. 


I now find greater focus in my practice  for getting a sense of where to find good bass habitat and clean water quality. The habitat conditions always revolve around finding aquatic plant communities that bass would likely use. 








My scouting days on a lake or river now utilize the power of my Lowrance HDS9-Touch Gen3 unit to help understand lake conditions and fish movements.  The technology has advanced so well it easily helps me find bass and bait-fish in the areas I intend to fish. 

The other factor in my scouting has been to follow the teachings of Bassmaster Elite professional Rick Clunn in how I scout for bass. His theories covered all seasons (winter, spring, summer and fall) as bass are fairly predictable in their seasonal life cycles.  Click here to read the UltimaterBass.com copy of Rick Clunn's theories.



How deep I fish each season is closely based on Buck Perry's structure fishing theories: 1) the home of the fish is located in deep water, and 2) 90% of the big bass are in 10% of the water.  


Hooking Bass In Practice
Another way my new approach helps me is in the fact that I don't hook a lot of my fish in practice. Most of my tournaments occur on Saturdays on lakes that get fished heavily by a lot of anglers. These highly-pressured bass are already weary of anglers, so why would I hook bass and make them wise to my lures in practice? I have done that before, and while I may have "won in practice", the results rarely transferred over into my tournaments. The goal is for me win on tournament day, not in practice. 

My tournament competitors are typically younger pro anglers, local guides, and a variety of anglers with tremendous time on their hands. They normally have an advantage during stable conditions due to their vast time on the water. If any aspect of the weather, wind, or current changes, those anglers are commonly lost for a few hours. I feel my "open-minded" approach helps me evaluate the bass quicker and gives ME the advantage. 

My approach is nothing new, just look at the similar challenges the bass pros are faced with in Major League Fishing. Their rules force them to fish unknown waters with no practice or previous research!  Check out the show here if you've never seen it. 
Full-time Elite anglers always seem to know what the fish are doing and how to catch them.  Not the case with me: I may know about aquatic plants, have a good understanding of lake biology, but bass behavior still eludes my full comprehension. I still have those days where I get beat in tournaments and leave the water not sure where I went wrong. But those days are fewer, and my quest for a free-style fishing approach has raised my confidence level higher than I ever dreamed possible. 


My free-style approach is a mental wreck - get through the smoke and may be in the lead
However, I warn other anglers that this journey is only for hard-core fish heads. It will totally mess up your psyche and play more mind games than you ever imagined in a tournament!  



The journey will be similar to a multi-car wreck in a NASCAR race, once you drive through the smoke of the mental wreck, you may just come out as the lead car! 


In this and future blogs, I will continue share my journey for mastering the technique of "instinctive fishing" that leads more to "fishing in the moment".










Please stay with me on this journey!  Jeff

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Lake Kissimmee Bass Fishing in the Summer



The Kissimmee River runs 134 miles long and is fed from Lake Kissimmee and four other navigable lakes.  Can you name them all? (Answer at the end of this article)




In this post I share my recent bass tournament experiences on the famous Kissimmee Chain of Lakes. This information successfully earned money in one event and a top 35-finish in another. The combined events should provide anglers insight into how Florida's largemouth bass transition from one seasonal pattern to another. 


The event was held on the upper portion of the chain on Lake Tohopekaliga, managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.  The weather conditions in April had bass in a post-spawn mode. Forage fish such as shiners, lake chubsuckers, shad, and sunfish were spawning. 

Hydrilla control treatments by State agencies were mostly complete. Native eelgrass and peppergrasses plants were finally relieved of the choking pressure from hydrilla and beginning to grow back. For anglers that want to understand more about aquatic plants and control measures, download the free publication "Biology and Control Of Aquatic Plants", or visit www.aquatics.org.


Even though winter winds were easing and southern winds dominated the weather forecasts, water clarity on the upper chain lakes such as Toho, Cypress, and Hatchineha remained dingy.

Dock talk was circulating that bass were feeding and easy to catch in practice on the clearer waters of Lake Kissimmee. The situation was announced that the Army Corp's navigational lock leading from Lake Toho to the lower lakes was being limited to nine boats at a time. Worries of heavy boat congestion and long wait times at the locks were the top concerns on angler's list of uncontrollable factors, including my own. 



First stop in the morning I fished an edge of a Kissimmee grassline. This mixed habitat included torpedograss and knotgrass and is great for finding post-spawn bass. 


"Kissimmee grass"
The morning started fun even though I caught numerous chain pickerel and only two small bass (14") using swimbaits.  I love catching fish and the small pike added a nice start to my day.  After moving to other grasslines, I was able to fill out a small five-bass limit by mid-day. I searched the main lake for clear water and found one area where I caught a few more bass and culled up by mere ounces. I still needed to find bigger fish.

My new mental approach of fishing without pre-conceived notions enabled me to keep an open-mind and totally change my fishing pattern. I have to admit it was unnerving to fish new water (meaning areas I had not fished before) in a tournament. It put me outside my comfort zone and made me leave the fishing pattern that had produced bass throughout the day. I was constantly battled my inner voice which kept telling me "never leave fish to find fish".  

Pushing through my mental war, I spent the last hours of my day fishing shallow water areas that appeared to be older spawning flats.  I was rewarded with catching two big bass on swimbaits, each nearly four pounds apiece! Talk about positive reinforcement! Those two bass really helped increase my 5-fish limit and gained me a final weight of 13.39 pounds.

 
Accepting a paycheck from ABA Tournament Director for 14th place
While the weight was not impressive, it was enough on a tough tournament day to earn me 14th-place money among a field of 73 pro anglers. More reinforcement for my new mental game plan! 



ABA Open Series weigh-in at Camp Mack's River Resort 
Two months later, the June event was held in the heat of summer on the lower section of the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes.  Most of the lake's bass population had moved into their summer deep water pattern. The shallows were teeming with newly born juvenile fish, and underwater plants were green and growing. Above the water, the sun was bright, air was hot, and the humidity challenged most angler's ability to focus in the summer sun. 

Before this event I was able to spend a few morning hours scouting the three lower lakes: Cypress, Hatchineha, and Kissimmee. Winds and evening rainstorms kept most of the lakes muddy. Lightening storms moved in and ran me off the lake by noon.

For this event we launched out of Camp Mack's River Resort & Fish Camp near Lake Wales on Lake Kissimmee.  Being on the lower end of the change eliminated the need to navigate the #ArmyCorp lock system. 

Launching out on tournament morning as boat 53 put me at a disadvantage for finding any fishing spots in the flowing water canals. Like in practice, overnight storms and winds continued to muddy the water.  I eventually stopped in an area that had good habitat but poor water clarity forced me to move shallower than I wanted. 

I worked the edge of bulrush to catch a quick limit of bass on worms. Both my coangler and I had small limits bass in the first hour. My first stop was a good choice and  set the tone for a fun fishing day.
Bulrush plants provided the habitat for a quick limit of bass
As the sun rose higher in the sky, I began moving around but was discouraged by even muddier water and lack of bass activity. I finally manage to entice a big bass about five pounds to hit a frog lure but lost it when the fish jumped completely out of the water and threw the bait. It would have made for some great TV footage!  In the end it hurt my feelings but fired me up to keep searching. 

Like the tournament before, I knew I had to leave my comfort zone and fish new water In order to catch bigger fish. 

After and hour of searching I finally found clearer water and started fishing this new area. My coangler Wayne earned the first bite on a swimbait and landed a three-pound bass. My first cast drew a hit but I missed the bass. My second cast with a worm picked up a 3lb bass that culled out a small fish.  The fish activity died quickly and I continued the search.  

With two hours left to fish, I picked up my flipping rod and began picking apart the plant habitat. Using a creature bait I found a few more bass resting under mats of heavy plants and debri. My biggest bass was about four pounds and really helped boost my small limit of bass up to 12.21 pounds.  
Keeping an open mind allowed me to switch fishing patterns and rewarded me with a few big fish to cull with.
Back at the weigh-in tanks anglers were talking about the good flipping bite they experienced in heavy plant mats. It always amazing me how similar bass act all across the water. 

While I solved the angler's puzzle of lure and location, it happened too late in the day. My one lost bass cost me a paycheck. Had I landed that five pound bass, I would have culled out a 13 inch bass and gained another four pounds in total weight. 

In the end, my stringer earned me 35th place out of 72 pro anglers. 
Video summary of the Kissimmee tournaments 2016
Direct link to my video summary of the pre-spawn fishing conditions on the Kissimmee chain: 
https://youtu.be/CHyuQlA1k8Q?list=PLB048ACEF1C040D01  


With these two tournaments over, the regular season of the ABA Open Series ended. Top ranked anglers move on to the higher level, two-day championship round.  I am happy to post that I will be among those competing in September. I remain ranked 10th place overall for the year in the American Bass Anglers Florida Central Division Open Series. 

I am really starting to settle into my new fishing approach and gaining confidence in finding bass in a short amount of time. This gives me hope that my journey to becoming a more natural and instinctive angler is moving in the right direction.  

Nice pre-spawn bass caught flipping heavy vegetation
Keep checking back as I share my work on instinctive angling!  Maybe you should give it a try as well. 
Remember to visit the angler plant identification guide presented by TVA.gov,
Jeff     

Answer to question: The navigable lakes that feed the Kissimmee River are West Lake Tohopekaligo, Lake Cypress, Lake Hatchineha, Tiger Lake, and Lake Kissimmee. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Lake Harris Chain For Two

Finally, the Harris Chain of lakes was consistently good to me! Tournament schedules in March for both the FL Bass Nation State qualifier and American Bass Angler's Ram Open ProAm series lined up on sequential weekends. 

First Event: FL Bass Nation Central Division qualifier was held on Lake Harris Hickory Point Recreational Facility in Tavares, FL. Due to family schedules I entered the event without having been in the water to practice or learn the conditions. I had to rely on pre-tournament research and past knowledge of seasonal patterns.

The time of the year told me that bass should be pre-spawn, with maybe a few early spawners. MyFWC guide also confirmed this to be a solid pattern.

After listening to the singing of the national anthem in the early dawn hour, my boat number was called and I raced to my starting area on the main lake Harris.  I began by using powerbaits on the main lake but only caught one bass for about three pounds.   I moved shallower and pitched weedless plastic baits into thick vegetation.  I caught a buck bass that showed common signs (red under fins) of a fish making a bed. This bass was my second keeper bass over 14 inches and gave me an important clue.  

Water lily in shallows of Harris Chain
I made the decision to move into a community spawning canal to look for any spawning bass.  I was fishing behind about eight other boats also looking for bedding bass. 

On my first pass I found lots of buck bass making fresh beds. An hour later on another pass down the bank I noticed three and four pound bass paired up with those buck bass.

Video of bass bed  from FWC study
This is when my skills and training from Shaw Grigsby kicked in and I filled out my limit.   

NOTE: Bed fishing in FL has repeatedly been studied and found not to impact the overall population of bass, mainly due to the long spawning season and high number of bass spawning events.  Read the latest study by myFWC here

At the end of the tournament my five-bass limit weighed 15.11 lbs and was good for third place in the Bass Nation Central Division ProAm qualifier. Not a bad start to my year.


Video summarizing my fishing pattern

Second Event: American Bass Anglers (ABA) Ram Truck Open series tournament was held at the Hickory Point  Recreation facility in Tavares, FL, same as the previous tournament.

Weather in Tavares had been consistently windy and unstable. Cold fronts and high winds rocked the area during the week and held the water temperature down.  After careful consideration, I made the decision in this tournament to fish the same pattern of targeting spawning bass. My backup pattern was to fish the prespawn areas if bass moved off the beds and back out to deeper water. 

My boat launch number of 26 meant I had the potential of fishing behind a lot more anglers in the community canals. When I arrived at my first canal I indeed had four other angers ahead of me sight fishing for bedding bass. Low light conditions in the early morning hours hampered the other angler's ability to see the beds.  Surprisingly, they missed a lot of bass and gave me a good chance for catching a nice limit. 

Elite pro Shaw Grigsby is a master at sight fishing

I owe #Bassmaster Elite pro Shaw Grigsby the credit on my success. Due to his training on how to spot bedding bass and how to quickly assess their potential for biting, I was able to overcome the crowded fishing conditions.  I even found a bass over 8lbs siting near a bed.   
View of the bed holding a bass over 8lbs. See underwater video here

I was able to spot and catch several bass in the three pound range. However, many of the bass I found were definitely pressured and very skittish. The ones I landed fell victim to my Bitter's craw bait

After leaving the community canal, I ran to another dozen canals and picked up one or two bass to cull my weight up by ounces. Like most fishing story, I lost a four pound bass that would have really helped my bag. When bed fishing on finicky bass they often pick up crawfish baits by the pinchers to move it off the bed without eating the bait.  

Unfortunately, bed fishing often results in briefly hooked, and lost bass. After several attempts at catching the big 8+ lb female I spotted earlier, I was forced to leave her as I could not get her interested in my baits. That was a bummer...

At the end of the day, I weighed 11.06 lbs in the ABA Open ProAm and finished in 18th place. Had I landed the fish I hooked, I could have finished much higher. As a competitor the potential of a higher finish made me disappointed with my overall performance in this event. 


In reality, two good events on the Harris Chain of Lakes with limits in both tournaments was an accomplishment for me! 

This chain of lakes has always challenged me in being consistent.  The other challenge was going  into those events without any practice beforehand, and I was blessed it worked out. 
Follow me at www.jeffhollandfishing.com







With the boat cleaned up and stored in my garage, I will be working on my pre-tournament research for the upcoming Bass Nation and ABA Open series tournaments on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes. Again these events are lined up sequentially on back to back weekends.

The massive Lake Toho and Kissimmee waterbodies provide anglers over 53,000 acres to fish. This is an intimidating amount of water to breakdown in a single day.  

Keep following along my blog for fishing tips and details on how I catch bass in the next events on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes.       Good luck catching, Jeff 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Reflecting on Fishing Tips from 2015

As you can see from the lack of posts, after I fished the final Bassmaster Southern Open tournament of 2015 on Lake Seminole, I didn't look back. The year marked one of my most challenging years on the tournament tour, one I needed to let go of.

As I take time to reflect back and write this blog, I realized it wasn't anything to do with the lakes: we fished some good lakes with beautiful scenery. It wasn't anything to do with people: every town we visited the people were friendly and anglers courteous. It was likely to do with my lure selection and fishing techniques not matching the fishing conditions.

There are certain lures that can be used to catch fish in high pressure situations.  As I review my 2015 season, I will share those lures that I found successful, and the ones that died under the pressure.

1) The first Bassmaster Southern Open was held in January on Lake Toho in Kimmissee, FL. That week we experienced a cold weather front, high winds, and ice on the boats in the morning.  Ice in Florida?..ugh..only during a tournament!  I found bass were extremely aggressive at the beginning of the week before the front. Bass would eat my lipless crankbaits, swimbaits, topwater, and soft plastic baits pitched and flipped to plants like torpedograss, cattails, and bulrush. Color didn't seem to matter, and I used the classics: black/silver hardbaits and junebug soft plastic baits.
bass fishing in Florida tip: Be careful in the small locks
My Triton/Mercury Marine rig in Lake Toho lock going to Lake Kissimmee

The high winds that came through on the last day of practice stirred up the lake bottom and ruined all my openwater areas. I found this out the next day at the start of the tournament .  This muddy water forced all the anglers to fish in the limited, wind-protected, clear water areas.  Of all my practice lures, I found that only my swimbait produced bites in the cramped fishing areas on tournament day. To entice the finicky bass to bite, I had to slow down my retrieve to half the lure speed that I used in practice.  In the afternoon, I found some bass spawning, and plastic baits worked good on catching the male, buck-bass around spawning beds.

aquatic plants, knowing them is the best bass fishing tip
Mix of cattail and bulrush often hold groups of bass

One patch of mixed cattail and bulrush produced a half-dozen bites from big female bass. Unfortunately, the bass were finicky and I failed to land any of them. It still amazes me how big bass can be so precise in biting only the punchers on my 3" crawfish bait, and never eating the full bait. It was a sure indication that these bass had already seen a few lures over the week. 

I ended the 2-day tournament in 122nd place, top 61%, only 9.5 pounds of the top 40 cut.


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2) Bassmater Southern Open event #2 was on Alabama River in Prattville, AL in April. This section of river is impounded by a dam, with three dams feeding water in: two dams on the Coosa River, and one on the Tallapoosa River. Water fluctuations were extreme, and while largemouth bass lived in the Alabama River, a species of Coosa River spotted bass was the prey we were hunting. This whole situation was new to this Florida angler.


Bass fishing Alabama BassMaster Open trees holding bass
Water levels changes: trees out of water overnight
My pre-tournament research allowed me to understand the water stages.  Yet, getting used to water movements of nearly four feet overnight was a challenge.  Fallen trees I would find holding bass during practice would be out of the water the next day.

Fishing for the aggressive Coosa River spotted bass reminded me of fishing for saltwater jack crevalle. When they hit your bait, they hit hard and pulled like our inshore saltwater fish. The setup of the Alabama river with its three inflowing streams produced a constant flow of water that positioned bass nicely. I really could get used to that!
Mercury marine, biology, and fishing on Alabama river
Backwater areas off the Alabama River held good largemouth bass
My practice lures which caught both largemouth and spotted bass were spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, shakeyhead worms, and hard jerkbaits. The backwater areas mostly held largemouth bass and the swift current eddies supported more spotted bass.

Since I was not familiar with all the fish species and how each one hit, I was forced to catch a few fish in the practice to confirm the species and size. Drum, catfish, and other non-tournament fish will often mislead anglers to believing they found a large school of bass.

A muddy main river had me searching for clear water creeks
Changes in river flow and clarity, along with fishing pressure, unfortunately pushed the bass into deep water areas, 30-40 foot. Local angler knowledge dominated this tournament, and knowing which deep water holes held the best bass was the key I missed.  There just was not enough time in three days of practice to explore all the deep holes and fish as slow as needed. To compensate,

A large Coosa River spotted bass caught in the tournament on a chatterbait
I sought out the highest flowing, clear-water stream in search of feeding bass. My success was limited, but I left the Alabama River with a better undstanding of how the Coosa River spotted bass behave. The hard jerkbiat and shakeyhead finesse worm were the best lures during the event.  I finished in 123rd place, top 67%, just 8.9 pounds out of the top 40 cutoff.


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3) Last stop of the Bassmaster Southern Open was on Lake Seminole out of Bainbridge, GA in October. Lake Seminole was created by Army Corps as a reservoir for hydoelectric power generation, catching the Chattahoochee River, Flint River, Spring Creek, and Fish Pond tributaries.
Took my Triton Boat up the rocky Flint River for shoal bass fishing
Boating on the rocky Flint River was a thrill ride but catching shoal bass was fun  

The Flint River holds a unique species of bass known as the Shoal Bass. This fish prefers to feed on crawfish in rocky rapids, and this stream is ranked as one of the more dangerous rocky streams.  Navigating my Triton fiberglass boat and Mercury ProXS over the shallow rocks took some careful driving.

The river has to be one of the most pristine rivers I have ever fished. Shoal bass are much smaller than their largemouth bass cousins, and fishing for them was only a backup plan.

Bassmaster bass fishing needs AERF biology for fishing tips and plant identifications
Aquatic plants are prime habitat for bass
The reservoir had been fishing extremely tough over the summer months and local tournament winners were reporting low historic weights. Hydrilla was dominating the lower end of the system, but nothing out of the ordinary could explain the low fish catch rates.

During my summertime practice on Lake Seminole, I was able to identify a lot of aquatic plants and catch some nice largemouth bass out of them.

Fishing pressure added to the difficult fishing conditions during the official practice week of the tournament, I had not ever witnessed so many local anglers on the water fishing during the work week as I did on Lake Seminole. The fishing pressure was over the top.

bass fishing and plant identification tips for bass fishing in Florida
Aquatic plants found on Lake Seminole (videos click here)
Flipping is always a strong fishing technique in plant filled lakes and I knew this method would dominate this event. Anglers could spend days flipping soft plastic baits into the large variety of floating plants and abundant submersed plants like hydrilla, coontail, sago pondweed, and fanwort. Flipping for days is exactly what I did in practice!

Click here to visit the UF IFAS video webpage and learn more about aquatic plants

Unfortunately I was only able to entice a bass or two per day to bite, I was not alone as my fellow competitors were also reporting low numbers of bites in practice.

I took the chance of not knowing whether the bites were from bass or mudfish since I didn't use hooks in practice, Hitchhiker screwrigs are a great lure invention for holding baits on fishing line with actually hooking fish. I felt I couldn't afford to hook the limited number of bass willing to eat with all the angler fishing pressure,

Roomates Jimmy Keith, Darrel Pons Sr, Paul Elias, and Shaw Grigsby Jr.
bass fishing with Triton Boat pros fishing florida
Here I sit between Jimmy and Darrel, along with Shaw Grigsby Jr and Charlie Hartley
This last tournament of the year was special for me as I was able to house with my good friends Shaw Grigsby Jr, Paul Elias, Darrel Pons Sr, and Jimmy Keith. These Elite pros and seasoned anglers have traveled the country, and it is fun to hang out with them.  Not to mention I always gain from their insight and experiences!

The camaraderie and friends you make on the tournament trail is another benefit to the Bassmaster orginization, whether it be the Bass Nation or Open trails.

The BASS organization encourages us to post photos and video during practice.  My practice experience was out shadowed by a few guys posting photos of giant bass ten to twelve pounds caught during the week. I was obviously out of touch with the fishing conditions.

Bass fishing on Lake Seminole learning plants and biology to catch fish
Anglers at Bainbridge GA ramp waiting for their launch numbers to be called

On the first day of the tournament I navigated my AERF-wrapped Triton Boat down the stump filled Flint River, to the lower end near the dam. I started off fishing a large hydrilla bed next to an open-water main lake channel where I had found bass in practice.

I noticed a small flurry of active bass first thing in the morning, and other than that it was a slow bite. I felt the trolling and outboard motor noises cutting through the grassbeds had probably kept the bass and baitfish on the move, and constantly alert them to angler presence.
biology of lake seminole offers different fishing tips for bass fishing
First bass of tournament was a nice five pound largemouth 
After flipping the grass for nearly an hour I switched baits and caught my first, and biggest bass, of the tournament. I  caught it working a spinnerbait over a hole in deep hydrilla, I was surprised the fish hit a powerbait when the fishing was so slow.  It made me believe the fish were suspended in the grass and would indeed hit a reaction bait. I alternated between the spinnerbait and flipping a black and blue creature bait all day. It was not a fancy or exciting way to fish, just required making thousands of flips into miles of hydrilla and coontail beds growing along the main river. My fishes areas in the lower end failed to give up anymore bass. For the last hour of the tournament, I ran up the Flint river to try and fill out a five-bass limit. Cranks baits produced some small bass, and while I managed to catch both largemouth and shoal bass in the event, they never weighed enough.

Video clip of day one weigh-in on Lake Seminole, by AERF
I ended up finishing in 92nd place, top 55%, a mere 7.9 pounds out of the top 40 cutoff.

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Insight Genesis maps help my bass fishing on my AERF Triton boat
Relaxing in the off season and reflecting on my tournament year
During my winter break from tournament competition, I relaxed in my home state of Florida while thinking back on my season.  My tournament record for 2015 was good, but not great.

I ended up 93rd in the Angler of the Year standings (out of 230 pros), equal to the top 45%.  I guess I am happy, given the high level of pro competition on the Bassmaster Open trail.

I was out of my comfort zone the entire time: fishing out-of-state lakes, practicing only two and a half days each event, angling for species of bass I rarely get a chance to catch, and competing against the best local anglers and Bassmaster Elite pros.

Yes, I got beat by a lot of anglers, but I equally beat some of the best local anglers and biggest names in the business. I experienced the core of tournament bass fishing, a sport that offers a roller coaster ride of emotions from highest of highs to lowest of lows. 

With 2015 behind me, I push forward into a new year with high hopes and renewed energy. My blog, website, and social media reached an all time peak in viewers and set the bar. Sharing information about fishing tips, bass and lake biology, and aquatic plant identification has become a second passion along with my tournament angling.  Each tournament situation is different, and I really enjoyed sharing the sights and stories through social media such as my Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and Pinterest,

AERF Mercury Marine Insight Genesis logos
Bassmaster Open photo by JO
Knowing aquatic plants allowed me to fish them better, and research on plants was supported by the Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Foundation (AERF). I proudly wear their logo on my tournament jersey to help anglers learn about aquatic plants.

Additional support from Insight Genesis and GoFree Social Maps  really helped me maximize my Lowrance mapping features. Visit my website for links and upcoming how-to videos.

None of our recreational activities would be possible without our troops fighting to keep America free and safe. Please visit Kids In Support of Soldiers to learn how you can help them send monthly care packages to actively deployed soldiers defending our country.

Please check back with my blog monthly as I share new adventures and new fishing tips to make your fishing better and more enjoyable.

I hope you learned something new along with way! 

Thanks for following along,  Jeff Holland  
www.jeffhollandfishing.com