Apr.18 - Apr. 21, Bull Shoals Lake - B.A.S.S. Elite Series #3
A short 5 day trip to Table Rock for some R&R and writing was the agenda between Douglas Lake and my next tournament, the Elite Series event at Bull Shoals. I have never been to Bull Shoals prior to this event and I was excited because I typically do well at venues I have never fished. It really just keeps my mind open to fish what is in front of me and not what I have heard I should be doing or checking out. There is a freedom to go with the flow that generally leads to success.
Apr 18 - Apr. 21, Bull Shoals Lake - B.A.S.S. Elite Series #3
This is the first tournament I had ever fished in the state of Arkansas. I was surprised of the beauty of North Arkansas and the surrounding area of Bull Shoals Lake. It reminded me of my home state of Virginia in many ways. I felt comfortable there and looked forward to a great tournament.
As stated before, I had very little pre-conceived notions going into Bull Shoals. As soon as I launched the boat I noticed just how clear the water was. You could see down 15+ feet… actually not so different from Lake Amistad where I guide when not on the tournament trail. I was hoping to find some fish up and in the shallows and sight fish once I processed the water temps and fish behavior. They did not disappoint!
The water temperatures hovered around 58-59 on the first practice day and got up to the mid 60’s by the 3rd practice day. It was crazy how many fish you could see cruising in the back of pockets and male bass that were setting up on beds. The downer was the predicted cold front that was to come in the first day of the tournament. The predicted weather was going to hurt the sight fishing bite. I was also finding as practice progressed that many of the fish on beds were very skittish as it was apparent they had just arrived and not many big females were up and settled in yet. During most of the practice period we had very slick calm water conditions with some sun and clouds. That led me to fishing mostly finesse techniques and using my trolling motor to cruise around and visually look for areas with large concentrations of bass. I hoped that with the front coming in I could stay around those areas and capitalize on those bass I had seen during the tournament days.
Day 1 of the event was postponed due to severe weather so we did not get to fish the day the front blew in (usually the best fishing day) but rather after the front had almost already passed through and a very cold high pressure was going to be settling into the region.
Event Day 1: 5 Bass / 12bs 0oz - 43rd place of 100
With the tournament starting as the end of the front blew by I decided to go after the fish with a complete 180 approach compared to practice. Instead of finesse fishing, I was going with power and looking for reaction strikes. The wind and cloud cover in the morning would be perfect to camouflage me and my reaction techniques in the clear water of Bull Shoals. Immediately I boated 4 good keeper fish in the first hour on an ima flit jerkbait in the back of wind blow coves where I had seen lots of cruising fish in practice. My plan was coming together perfectly! Then I went on a little dry spell catching some none keepers and trying to work a few of the bigger bedding bass I saw in practice… too no avail.
I went back to my practice technique of finesse fishing as the sun got high and started catching keepers again in the back of the pockets where I had again located fish visually in practice. I had to alter my approach some with the finesse tactic and used a weighted Zappu inchy wacky tungsten weighted hook to land some of my bigger bass that day. I paired the Zappu head with either an El Grande Lures hatch-match stick or other soft sick bait with impregnated salt. The wind blew 10-20 miles per hour that day and the Zappu head enabled me to keep with the finesse approach in the strong winds and I felt that was critical in the clear water.
Event Day 2: 5 Bass / 10lbs 1oz – 51st place of 100
Day 2 was going to be a completely different ball game. No wind and bluebird skies. I had no worries as I knew my finesse tactics would prevail! I started fishing weightless stick baits first thing in the morning and basically stuck with it throughout the day other than working a few bed fish at mid-day. I caught 2 very nice keepers on my first stop that morning. I then ran through several coves where I saw fish in practice but were now vacant of bass. I was perplexed but moved on with confidence. I had to run some of the same water down by the dam as I did the first day to finish up my limit around noon. I tried to re-connect with 2 of the better sight fish that were still relating to their spawning beds but could not get them to bite quickly so I moved on. With about 1 hour to go I had 3 nice keepers and 2 smaller spotted bass. I had a gut feeling I needed one more good fish to have a decent showing and stay in the top 50 cut and be able to fish day 3. Sure enough with a few minutes remaining before I was to be checked in for weigh-in I got the bite! I was smiling as I brought it toward the boat… thinking about flipping it over the side on 7lb test, I thought better to just lip it at the edge of the boat… I touch the 2lb+ fish and it made a small surge and the hook pulled free… I couldn’t believe it! Not having much time I quickly and calmly make two more casts trying to get another chance before I had to head back to the docks.
I finish 51st and miss the cut by 4oz! Brutal! I was disappointed for sure and recalled how I finished 51st twice in my Rookie season back in 2006. There are 3 places you don’t want to finish in the Elites Series… 2nd, 13th, and 51st. It really hurts no matter where in that bunch you finish… the bottom line is if you play with fire your gonna get burned… I got burned at Bull Shoals because I just didn’t catch them good enough to steer clear of that cut line. I just need to catch them better.
Event Total - 10 Bass / 22lbs 1oz / 51st place of 100.
Next blog - Bassmaster Elite Series Event #4, West Point Lake May 2-5