The Inside Line

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Beatin' the Bank with Bernie Schultz - 2017 Ross Barnett BASS Elite

Ross Barnett Reservoir covers approximately 33,000 surface acres. That’s considerably smaller in comparison to the other fisheries our tour visits.

Having competed there years ago, I knew it would be difficult to find fishable waters to myself.

Five weeks prior to the actual competition, I scouted the lake for two days. At that time, the water was a bit lower and much cooler. It was also clearer. That was early spring, prior to the spawn.

When I came back for the tournament, everything had changed … for the worse.

Practice Begins

I trailered to Tommy’s Landing just above the Hwy. 43 Bridge the first morning of practice. Using that vantage point, I could eliminate a lot of running time and access what I believed was the most productive part of the lake.

I started across the bay on a bank lined with sawgrass and gator weed. It looked good and eventually I caught a fish or two, but it wasn’t nearly as productive as I expected.

Leaving there, I hopped the channel and tried another large flat covered in stumps and lily pads. The minutes rolled into hours and all I had to show for the effort were a few undersized bass and a gar. I decided to go further up river.

Stopping in an oxbow on the east side, I found some cleaner water and a few bass. Most struck a D-Shad skipped beneath overhanging trees. The pattern was steady and reliable, but most of the fish were too short.

The next morning, I decided to access the lake at the dam and test the waters there. The clarity was decent, so I figured I might find bass feeding on a shad spawn.

With each cast to the shoreline, I could feel shad bumping my lure during the retrieve. Nearer to the boat, I could see they were quite small — less than two inches in length. Not the size normally conducive to a major feed. With no results there, I decided to move up the lake and try the “Seven” area.

Lily pads and other forms of vegetation abound on Ross Barnett.

Considered one of the best sections of the lake, this series of small bays is covered in lily pads and various types of pond weed. I spent the rest of the morning there expecting to find a group of fish. I never did. I wasn’t alone either. Numerous other boats were in the area, yet I never observed a single hookset.

From there, I ventured to Tommy’s Landing and tried the release area near the marina. Touted as a consistent producer, I expected to find some easy fish but that wasn’t the case. I had one bite, and it was a bare keeper.

From there I tried some adjacent creeks and canals but those, too, proved worthless. Eventually it was time to head in and regroup.

On day three, I decided to return to the main river and ply the headwaters. I wanted to expand on my day-one findings.

My first stop was to a series of laydown trees near a creekmouth. Immediately, I caught two nice fish by flipping a ½-ounce jig with Fat Baby Craw trailer. From there, I moved into the creek itself, probing some matted cover and shaded banks. Again, I got bit.

From there, I moved further upriver hoping to repeat that success. It never happened. With little time remaining, I decided to pull out and head to the service yard for a few repairs. Once those were complete, I dropped the boat and tried the marina basin where the service crews had set up.

It was a good decision. I immediately caught two nice fish, one weighing four pounds. I decided then, if I got an early draw I would begin the first day of competition inside the marina.

Tournament Time

As luck would have it, I drew out boat number 12. I knew I would at least get some part of the marina basin to myself.

Staged for take-off, a short idle from my starting spot. - photo by James Overstreet, courtesy of BASSMASTER.com

Once my number was called, I proceeded through check out and crossed the marina to the same shoreline where I had found fish the day prior.

In minutes I was hooked up. The first two were short of the 14-inch size minimum, but then a keeper came aboard. Then another.

Both fell for a ½-ounce Hildebrandt Tin Roller spinnerbait with tandem-willow blades. The lure was silver with a white-crystalline skirt — a perfect match for the shad the bass were targeting.

Moments later, I stuck a 4-pounder. The fish jumped twice then sounded. I believed the fight was about over when, inexplicably, it made one last surge and pulled free. I was fit to be tied. Four pounders are hard to come by, and this was not how I wanted to start the day.

As time passed, other competitors tried accessing my area. I defended it aggressively, knowing there was a good chance I could finish my limit there.

As the cloud cover increased, I switched to a Rapala X-Pop, chugging it along the waterline. Slowly I filled out a decent limit. I was ecstatic. It was the first day since arriving that I was able to put a limit of 14-inch bass in the boat. They didn’t weigh a whole lot, but I had five and they were mine.

My starting spot inside the marina - photo by Dawn Ottman

Back at weigh-in, I learned that everyone had caught them. My 8-pound, 9-ounce stringer left me in 85th place. Any feeling of achievement quickly faded. I knew I would have to do better.

The next morning, I idled again to my starting spot. Upon arrival, I found another competitor had beaten me there. I took an adjacent area, hoping he would leave, and he did. I immediately moved in.

It took a while, but I eventually put two keepers in the box. I told my Marshal we were heading upriver to finish the day. The wind was howling, but I knew I had to make the move anyway.

Reaching the main lake, we encountered a sloppy 3-foot chop. Both of us took a pounding, but we eventually reached my upriver flipping bank — the same stretch where I had caught two nice ones in practice. Quickly, I put two nice fish in the box — one of which was three pounds.

Continuing along the main river, I began to encounter other boats. Some were competitors, others recreational fishermen. All were seeking relief from the wind. With everything occupied, I opted to move into a nearby creek — the same one I had luck in skipping a D-Shad beneath overhanging trees.

It was a good decision. By the time we had to leave, I finished my limit and added a 4-pounder.

Winding our way downriver to the 43 Bridge and open water, I could see the wind had stacked the waves even higher. It was a muddy, choppy mess, so we prepared for the worse.

ARE pro Adrian Avena battling the waves on Day-2. - photo by James Overstreet, courtesy of BASSMASTER.com

After 45 minutes of steady pounding, we finally reached weigh-in.

At the scales, my stringer totaled just over 11 pounds and moved me up 20 places in the standings, but it wasn’t enough to make the cut. I was two pounds shy and, once more, I was going home early.

Like most of the other events this season, this one had left me a little short. I’m now behind the eight ball with only five events remaining. Hopefully things will improve at BASSfest.

Stay tuned!  

YAMAMOTO PRODUCT IN THIS ARTICLE

D-Shad

Fat Baby Craw