Beatin' the Bank with Bernie Schultz: 2018 Lake Martin BASS Elite

Lake Martin is a beautiful lake, deep and clear. It harbors both largemouth and spotted bass, and they are usually receptive to a variety of lures and techniques.

Because the event was scheduled for the first week of February, I wasn’t sure which direction to take — deep or shallow. When I arrived, however, I noticed plenty of stained water with a projected warming trend. I knew then that a shallow approach would be my best bet.

Traveling with fellow Floridian, Cliff Prince, we arrived at our lakeside cabin at the back of Sandy Creek. Once settled in, we prepped our equipment for the long week ahead.

Practice Begins

The first morning of practice, I told Cliff I planned to start near the official take-off site at Wind Creek and that I was more familiar with that part of the lake and wanted to try up river. He opted to stay near Sandy Creek.

By day’s end, neither of us had learned a whole lot. I caught a few small spotted bass using a No. 6 Rapala Shad Rap, but that was it. Cliff never had a strike.

During the day, my boat developed some mechanical problems and I was told it would be another day before the service crew could have them fixed. Hearing that, I asked Cliff if I could ride with him. He welcomed the opportunity.

The next morning, we launched in Sandy Creek. I suggested we start shallow and work our way deep, at least until we ran into some fish. He liked that plan and, on the first stretch of bank we came to, we both started catching fish. Everything came on the Shad Rap or a compact, brown-colored jig tipped with a soft-body Yamamoto Craw.

By day’s end, we had searched the back of several major creeks — including both arms of the Kawaliga. Our confidence was building.

On day 3 — with my boat fully operational — I returned to the upper part of the lake to expand on what I had found earlier. In two creeks near the 280 Bridge, I saw what I was looking for: docks, laydowns and plenty of transition banks. I got bites from all of them.

Laydowns make ideal holding places for pre-spawn bank runners.

Laydowns make ideal holding places for pre-spawn bank runners.

It was in that area where I decided to spend the first day of competition.

Competition Day 1

The next morning was cold and crisp. The air was filled with nervous energy — everyone anxious to get the season underway.

After a slow take-off procession, my boat number was finally called. Once clear of the marina idle zone, I raced north to my starting spot. Soon after arriving, I caught my first fish — a 1½-pound spot.  Two hours later, I finally caught another bare keeper. Both came on the Shad Rap from rocky, sloping banks.

As the sun got higher, I began pitching to the docks and laydowns in that same area … catching a number of small fish from those as well. Things started clicking, but I couldn’t seem to get a good bite. I went through at least 20 small fish.

Before I knew it, the clock had run out and it was time to head for weigh-in. When my limit hit the scale, the weighmaster called out, “Seven pounds, eight ounces!”

I can’t tell you how deflating that was. Of the many competitors in my area of the lake, all weighed bigger stringers. Some were among the leaders. I knew I was in the right area, doing the right things, but I never got the reward.

Soon, I learned that Cliff had had a banner day. He posted a weight of more than 19 pounds and was leading the tournament. Although I was happy for him, it made me feel even lower.

Back at the cabin, he told me how he had caught two 6-pounders on back-to-back casts, from beneath one dock … a dock we fished together in practice, no less.

Although the lake was still at winter pool, some nice largemouth were caught from shallow docks.

Although the lake was still at winter pool, some nice largemouth were caught from shallow docks.

Totally dejected, I went to bed hoping my chance at a big fish would come the next day.

Competition Day 2

The morning was a bit warmer, and the take-off procedure much smoother. When my number was called, I exited Wind Creek State Park and raced, once more, to my starting area,

In minutes, I was catching fish. It felt good. Like a strong comeback might be imminent.

As the morning passed, clouds filled the sky, so I switched to a Hildebrandt Tin Roller spinnerbait — one of my own design. In 30 minutes, I added three decent largemouth to my creel. The bites were aggressive, and I wished I had tried it sooner.

Sometime around noon, I pitched to a long laydown in the back of a creek and my line jumped. After a short battle, I flipped one nearly 4 pounds onto the deck and shouted, “Finally!”

Finally, a respectable size largemouth.

Finally, a respectable size largemouth.

At that point, I knew I was close. I just needed another like it.

It never came. The afternoon yielded only a few more bites from smaller fish. I had put together a decent stringer, but it wasn’t enough. Back at the scales, I recorded a weight of 10 pounds, 11 ounces. My total for two days was just over 18 pounds — the projected cut weight, prior to the event.

After weigh-in concluded, it took more than 20 pounds to make the money.

I soon learned Takahiro Imori had taken the lead. I remember seeing Tak several times both days, fishing in the same part of the lake. And I would soon hear that he was cranking shallow … just like I had been.

Returning to the cabin, I met up with Cliff. He said he had a brutal day, that he caught only three small keepers. I told him to bear down and keep plugging … that tomorrow was another day. And with that, I packed my gear and started for home … reliving a weeklong sequence of events in my head.