April 1, 2007 by Rob Newell
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - In Mark Davis' fishing career, there is little he has not accomplished. He is a past BASS Angler of the Year, past Bassmaster Classic champion and a winner of five BASS events.
Today, the well-known Mount Ida, Ark., angler added another major achievement to his long list of fishing accolades: a Wal-Mart FLW Tour win and a $100,000 payday.
An FLW Tour win eluded Davis when he fished the tour during its early years from 1997 to 1999. Then he left the FLW Tour from 2000 to 2005 to focus his fishing efforts solely on BASS competition.
Davis returned to the FLW Tour in 2006, but with limited success. Last year he learned that the bigger fields of 200 boats were going to require some regrouping in his overall fishing approach.
Given that Davis struggled in his first year back in FLW competition, some began to speculate that large fields might be Davis' nemesis.
Today, Davis laid all that speculation to rest when he weighed in three bass for 7 pounds, 14 ounces to win the FLW Tour event on Fort Loudoun and Tellico lakes with a two-day total of 27 pounds, 11 ounces.
Whether it's 50 boats or 200 boats, it's hard to hold back the pure fishing talent, ability and knowledge of a legend like Mark Davis.
"It's taken me a little while to learn what I was doing wrong in these larger-field tournaments," Davis said after his win. "I was running away from the boats and, in turn, running away from the fish. In limited-field tournaments, you have the luxury of finding something all to yourself. That's not the case out here.
"The bottom line is, mentally, I had to accept the fact that there are going to be boats everywhere, every day - during practice and the tournament - and I had to just get in an area and figure out the fish better than the competition."
Davis feels like he really turned the corner at Lake Travis in February, where he finished 16th.
He said, "Instead of investing my practice time running away from boats, I started spending my time studying an area and really understanding what the fish are doing in that area better than the other boats that are going to fish it.
"It's important to understand how the fishing pressure of the other boats will impact the fish over the course of a week and make adjustments for that."
This week was a perfect example of Davis' new strategy. He fished near the lower end of Loudon, a popular spot for many of the other 199 contestants.
He focused his fishing efforts on points and small humps in 4 to 10 feet of water that were adjacent to spawning coves.
"Back when practice started, there were a lot more boats fishing the same water that I was fishing," he said. "But when that big warmup hit, it kind of drew the boats into the pockets to look for spawners. At first, I almost got sucked in too. But then I backed out and decided to spend more time closely patterning prespawn-spawn fish on the outsides that everyone else was leaving in favor of sight-fish."
Davis did sight-fish a few fish off beds during the week, but his main pattern was using wake baits or swirl baits along the surface to catch prespawn fish that were feeding on shad schools in the top layer of the water column.
Using both a Bomber Long A and King Shad by Strike King, Davis crawled the baits along the surface to tease fish up.
The technique helped Davis score a commanding lead after day three with a 19-pound, 13-ounce catch. But today, he left the door open with just three bass.
"I needed calm to catch my fish, and we had wind," he said of being two fish short of a limit. "I had about an hour and a half of calm this morning, and I caught two nice smallmouths. But once the wind got up, I couldn't make it work anymore. And to be quite honest, I just didn't change with the fish today."
In his final remarks about the event, Davis provided some words of wisdom: "After a day like yesterday, I start to feel like I might be gaining a little knowledge on these old fish. But after a day like today, I realize that we are forever students of this game."
Lefebre charges for second
When the final weigh-in ended, Kellogg's pro Dave Lefebre of Union City, Pa., was the closest angler to try to close the gap on Davis.
Lefebre weighed in a five-bass limit today, including four smallmouths, for 13 pounds, 11 ounces to finish the event as runner-up with a two-day total of 25 pounds, 1 ounce worth $50,000.
"I found those four smallmouths on bed yesterday when it was clear and calm," he said. "But I couldn't catch them because they were too finicky, and I didn't have the time to fool with them."
Lefebre essentially ran over the fish yesterday while looking and felt that the time needed to catch the fish would be better spent looking for other ones.
"When you run over them like that, it takes a while for them to settle back down in the bed," he explained. "So instead of fishing for them right then, I carefully cross-triangulated the beds with lineups on the bank. When I returned today, I could make the perfect casts to the beds without the fish even knowing I was there."
After two top-10s in the first two FLW Tour events of the 2007 season, Lefebre now leads the Land O'Lakes Angler of the Year race with 393 points.
Williams finishes third
Land O'Lakes pro Keith Williams of Conway, Ark., finished in the third position with a two-day total of 24 pounds, 12 ounces worth $40,000.
Williams also made a hard charge for Davis in the closing hours of the event by changing with the conditions and catching a five-fish limit for 13 pounds, 13 ounces today.
He started the day finesse fishing near the dam, but then switched to a spinnerbait and a topwater to catch his two biggest fish.
"When the wind really started blowing, I couldn't take that finesse stuff any longer," he said. "I picked up a spinnerbait and caught a nice smallmouth off a point, and then switched to a spook and caught my biggest largemouth.
"This tournament was about shifting gears every day," he added. "I made the top 10 by power fishing up in the river. Then yesterday I finesse fished. And today, I power fished with the wind and rain."
Jones jumps to fourth
National Guard pro Derek Jones of Chicago caught three big bass today for 12 pounds, 14 ounces to finish fourth with a two-day total of 22 pounds, 6 ounces worth $30,000.
Jones revisited his smallmouth hot spot that gave him the day-two lead, but given the weather, he felt like he was spinning his wheels.
"From there, I tied on a Triple Impact topwater bait - it's a large topwater, waking-type bait - and just started running different water," he said "That's how I caught the big smallmouth and big largemouth. Later in the day, I caught one more fish off a lay-down on a Beaver."
Checking in the biggest limit of the day was BP pro Shinichi Fukae of Minneola, Texas.
His five-bass limit weighed 14 pounds, 7 ounces, pushing his two-day total to 22 pounds, 3 ounces for fifth place and $20,000.
After sight-fishing small buck bass yesterday, Fukae changed his tactics with the weather to fish topwaters and Senkos today.
Interestingly and similar to Jones, Fukae mentioned catching his two biggest topwater bass on a Triple Impact made by Shimano.
"I throw the Triple Impact on Yozuri 16-pound Hybrid line," Fukae said. "It helps make a big wake on the surface."
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros in the FLW Tour event in Knoxville, Tenn.:
6th: Jay Yelas of Tyler, Texas, two-day total of 22-3, $19,000
7th: Harmon Davis of Marlow, Okla., two-day total of 21-12, $18,000
8th: John Sappington of Willard, Mo., two-day total of 21-6, $17,000
9th: Darrel Robertson of Jay, Okla., two-day total of 20-5, $16,000
10th: Thanh Le of Las Vegas, two-day total of 12-1, $15,000