March 22, 2010
On the drive from the Delta up to
I did poorly when the Elite Series went to Clear Lake three years ago, finishing 101st out of a 104 competitors. That memory combined with last week’s sorry finish on the Delta didn’t offer a lot of encouragement. But this time, I was determined to make the outcome different.
Although record catches were made the last time the Elite Series visited
I went in with the mindset to do things completely different from last time.
Three years ago I fished in Rodman Slough on the northern end of the lake. I learned that unless you’re dead on the right spot, it’s not a good bet. Rodman
Three years ago Guy Eaker found the hottest spot in Rodman Slough—a small area where he cranked his way to a top 10 finish. I drove by that spot in practice but I didn’t feel justified in fishing there. It didn’t seem right. And though I got a few bites flipping farther up the slough, I decided to continue my search farther down the lake.
On the second day of practice I headed south, only to discover colder water and fewer fish. I put in a 13 hour day with hardly any results. With warmer water temps on the northern end, that is where I decided to concentrate my efforts.
I was staying at a lodge on the water near the state park, so on the third and final day of practice I started fishing right from the hotel’s marina, working my way down the tulle edge with a 3/8-ounce Hildebrandt Tin Roller spinnerbait (the same one I had used at the Delta). It was barely daylight and I immediately started catching fish…quality fish. The bite lasted until the sun got up over the mountain. I don’t think many anglers consider Clear Lake to be a spinnerbait lake, but I can tell you first hand that fish in clear water will bite a spinnerbait, provided the conditions are right. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, watch out!
Because the water temperatures were in the low 50s, I slow-rolled the bait through the tulles—all the hits came just as the bait broke free of the edge. With a strong morning bite figured out, I then focused on various point patterns, for when the sun got high. Those, too, proved productive.
On the first morning of competition I discovered I was fishing a bank just inside Byron Velvick. He was keyed on a flat in the mouth of a small bay that led to a creek and a canal system—both good springtime magnets for bass. Although I had practiced the creek and the canals, I had no clue about the open water area he targeted. When I idled across that bay in practice, it appeared featureless—just flat bottom with no cover. Little did I know it would harbor the winning stringer of bass.
Byron and I spoke to each other, we were that close. He never bothered me and I never bothered him. By the time the sun had crept above the mountain, my spinnerbait pattern yielded four fish to Byron’s one. At the time, I genuinely believed he would die with the big swimbait he was throwing.
At the weigh-in, I learned he had caught 29 pounds and was leading the event. Since I had left him in the mid-morning hours, I wasn’t sure if he had caught them there or somewhere else. We both started in the same location again on Day 2, and things went pretty much the same. He told me the bite got better in the afternoon, and that it was an all-day grind for six or seven bites.
That really stung…to find out that I was that close but somehow missed the winning deal.
Again Byron pounded out 20-plus pounds to maintain his lead. Even so, between my morning spinnerbait bite and afternoon point pattern, I had made the money cut…which after the Delta, was a huge relief.
On Day 3, with half the field eliminated, I headed once more to my starting spot. There I found Byron fishing his way up my shoreline. I was stunned. Each morning I had respected his water, and now he was on mine. When he got close enough, he asked if he could have the bank too. After some thought, I decided to let him have it—only because he was leading the tournament and it seemed like the right thing to do. If I had been in his shoes, I might have made the same request.
Each day after the morning spinnerbait bite slowed, I ran points using a variety of lures and presentations. Among them were a Carolina-rig Zoom Fluke, a drop-shot Thin Senko, and a Tru-Tungsten ½ ounce football jig with a Yamamoto Twin Tail Grub. My color preferences were for variations of watermelon or green pumpkin.
Something else that worked well for me was the Rapala X-Rap. I jerked it over 8-12 feet of water on those same points. I learned that pausing the bait for long periods was crucial. About the time I’d be ready to give up on the pause, that’s when it would load up. I love jerkbaits and these fish made it fun!
After catching the more aggressive fish with the jerkbait, I then began probing the bottom. In doing so, I learned something else. The few points I chose were obvious, and consequently received considerable angling pressure. To outfish the competition, I knew I needed to find a way to catch fish in a crowd. It didn’t take long to figure out that an uphill retrieve was the best approach. Seeing how the other anglers positioned their boats, it was clear the fish didn’t see that angle of retrieve very often. The others sat directly over the fish with a drop-shot, or they cast to the shallows pulling deep. Although I was using essentially the same lures, my presentation was just different enough to keep the bite going.
Although the effort yielded a check for 10K and some badly needed points, to be honest, I almost feel denied—to have caught so many fish throughout the competition without ever getting a big bite. That’s just plain unlucky, especially on a lake so abundant with big bass.
I avoided disaster and got out of