Monday, October 23, 2017

Bassmaster Southern Open - Lewis Smith Lake - A Good Ending

The extremely clear, deep waters of Alabama's Lewis Smith Lake reservoir is intimidating to most first time anglers. Don't fret and keep reading.  Being  born in and raised in Florida where our deepest lakes are 20 feet deep, the deep water of Lewis Smith was more challenging than the water clarity.  I found ways to succeed under both conditions and if you follow along in my blog you too can catch more bass.

This was the final Bassmaster Southern Open #3 event of 2017 on Lewis Smith Lake in Jasper, Alabama and the last chance to get out of my 129th place standing.  More importantly, this was my last opportunity to complete the journey of testing my "instinctive fishing" skills in another high-stakes tournament. I accomplished both goals and achieved a 28th place finish in the event, raising my Pro AOY points to 80th place overall on the Bassmaster Southern Open tour. 

Lake Conditions: 
The house my fishing buddies rented was near the Duncan Bridge Marina in Cullman, AL , so I began my scouting from that general area of the Sipsey River.  Water level in the reservoir was about five feet below full pool.  Working my way toward Rock and Ryan Creeks, I noticed the water temperatures were hot (mid 80's), fish were suspended about 15 feet, and lots of trees showed on my Lowrance electronics standing 70-feet tall in over 100 feet of water. Such as contrast from Florida waters!

During my first few days of scouting I realized that extreme water clarity and depth were primary factors to deal with in the event, and the habitat was limited to rocks, docks, sand banks, and open water.  Weather and water temperatures during the week suggested to me that the fish were still dealing with the "dog days of summer".

I didn't like all the suspended bass as they are often inactive and difficult to consistently catch in a tournament. Sure, I knew I could catch my share of three pound spotted bass, but it didn't "feel right" as a winning pattern for a three day Open event.

After two days of scouting, I made the decision to stay shallow and use  "Florida baits" in for wolf packs of spotted and largemouth bass that I observed cruising the shallows. I planned to use my instincts and fish new water every day "that looked good" in order to accomplish a top 12 finish.

Tournament pairing and registration and pairing events are fun!  Getting to see friends from all over the states and have a chance to unwind before the event.

We all have the same goal of winning that trophy.

Day One:
On day one of the tournament, I was drawn out as boat number 25 and paired with a local Alabama angler.

Myself and two other boats ran up the Sipsey River to the Duncan Bridge Marina area.

 During the early-morning conditions, I threw a top water plug for the first time the entire week because it just "seemed right" . I was rewarded with a three pound largemouth that BASS featured on the website and a non-keeper spotted bass.

Throughout the day I worked threw soft and hard jerk baits  and swimbaits to fill out my mix-limit of spotted and largemouth bass. Aquatic plants Stonewort and Waterwillow in the back of pockets played a key role in my fishing pattern.

My first day catch ended up to be 9 pounds and 14 ounces, good for a 23rd start.

Day Two:
On the second day of the tournament I was boat #151 paired fellow angler Jordan McDonald from Georgia. We had been paired together before, and as luck would have it we had another good day fishing together.  While we waiting before the event started, Jordan and I watched first hand when Bassmaster Elite Pro Shaw Grigsby went "live" on Facebook in his boat next to us!

At my first shallow-water stop, the topwater bite over shallow water brushpiles and sand banks didn't happen, but my coangler Jordan hooked a nicer keeper spotted bass and another dozen small bass on a shakeyhead jig.

The bigger bass I had found the day before didn't reload and I realized I had burnt the area of resident fish.  To accomplish my goal I had to search new water and new schools.

I began searching new water along sand pockets and rocky areas with 40-foot depths nearby. By 1 pm I had only caught a few short bass and did not have a single keeper fish in the boat.  My quest and mental resolve was being put the the challenge, but I remained strong with a sense of confidence.

My second move was out to the main river along sand banks near the 80 foot range. This paid off!  My first catch was a 4 pound spotted bass that took my jerkbait away from a smaller spotted bass. As I was fighting the fish I laughed as I  noticed my coangler Jordan captured it on GoPro. The area also produced another two more spotted bass that measured over the 15 inch size limit.

At the end of the second day I was unable to fill out my limit. I ended up with three spotted bass for a total weight of 7 lbs. 2 ounces, putting me in 28th place overall. I finished the event by missing my top-12 goal by four pounds; the equivalent of only two small keepers.

Tournament director Chris Bowes handed me a check that helped solidify a long 2017 and challenging year as I pursued a complete change in my mental fishing theory.

Looking back my ranking felt respectable as It had been two years since I cashed a check in the Bassmaster Southern Opens. While I don't truly understand the reason, my mind seems to thrive on the most difficult fishing and weather conditions.

My theory is that I must subconsciously believe the challenging fishing conditions even up the playing field against locals and full-time pros who spend many more hours than me on the waters finding fish. I guess when abnormal conditions change how the fish react, my "instinctive skills" for finding bass are faster than my competitors.

I will always be an active student of the sport a bass fishing and I continually strive to learn faster methods of finding and catching fish from unfamiliar waters. An angler's best tool is their experience and ability for observation. Learning to trust instincts on choosing the right fishing locations based on observation has totally changed my fishing.  But this is not for the timid angler as it requires tremendous mental strength and resolve.  

Regardless, my fishing this year has been a fun pursuit of discovery that has produced incredible self awareness and positive personal rewards. I think I will continue on this journey in my future tournaments. I hope you will follow along.