June 9, 2007 by Patrick Baker
COLUMBUS, Miss. - Greg Bohannan quit his job last March to start fishing professionally full time, a story often heard from many anglers who make the same sacrifice in pursuit of their dreams. That story doesn't always have a happy ending, but for the Rogers, Ark., pro who just won the Stren Series Central event on the Columbus Pool, Saturday marked a bright new beginning.
Bohannan credited two things in particular for his hard-fought $25,000 win: trusting his instincts and a black War Eagle buzzbait. Bohannan's four-day weight of 44 pounds, 7 ounces bested a field of 136 tough pros, including 9 other finalists who all made a valiant effort to claim victory. In the end, he needed every pound of his 11-3 limit on the final day to beat local runner-up Gene Brown, whom he outfished by nearly 2 pounds.
`Fish your instincts'
It was almost reminiscent of a much-loved 1977 summer blockbuster, in which a master passes words of advice to his pupil about trusting his instincts: "Use the Force." But this is the summer of 2007, and the setting wasn't outer space; it was the scorching hot Tombigbee Waterway near Columbus, Miss.
The pupil in this case was of course Bohannan; the sage was longtime bass pro Mark Rose, who happened to finish this Stren Central event in fourth place before speeding away to get in some practice time on the Potomac River before next week's Wal-Mart FLW Tour event there. Bohannan said the two have been friends for years and that they travel and room together.
"Mark's been doing this about 10 years, and he's always saying, `Fish your instincts,'" Bohannan said.
Those words of advice were ringing in his head on day two after fishing a sunny day one, when he sacked 8-13 with a hand-painted buzzbait.
"I locked down (to Aliceville Pool) every day," Bohannan said. "Each day I was making about a 30-mile run, 60 round-trip. I was fishing grass."
When his grassy area only coughed up a tiny keeper under overcast skies in windy conditions on day two, Bohannan said he listened to Rose's advice and went with his gut, searching for new grass despite having had considerable success during practice in his sweet spot. He also decided to switch over to a black War Eagle buzzbait, which he said wasn't necessarily a textbook move.
"I just went to some new grass and started burning the buzzbait after I caught that first little keeper," he said of his success on the second day.
Within two hours he had a limit, anchored by a monster 7-10 kicker that led to a 20-pound sack; that fish and bag were the heaviest of the entire tournament.
"I had one of the best days I've ever had on day two this week," Bohannan said. "The fish absolutely blasted (the black buzzbait). I had one of the biggest explosions I've ever had on that.
"I knew when I caught that big fish ... that's the pattern you need to go with. I may come back here again just to throw that buzzbait."
Each day Bohannan said he would lock back up to Columbus Pool at around noon to be on the safe side in terms of returning to weigh-in on time. On days one, three and four, he was able to cull out one fish a day on Columbus, fishing "on a small river ledge about 5 feet deep" not far from the takeoff site with a Bandit crankbait.
"It feels absolutely great," said the first-time Stren Series winner. "When I decided to quit my job to fish as a pro, I chose to go with FLW because of what FLW stands for. I'll continue to fish the FLW side."
His journey will continue when the Wal-Mart FLW Series visits Lake Champlain in September, followed by the final Stren Central event of the year on Lake of the Ozarks later that month. He is currently ranked third in the Stren Central points standings behind - you guessed it - Rose.
Brown rebounds to second
Local pro Gene Brown of West Point, Miss., was a threat to win all week long, and never more so than today. Brown started the tourney in third with 12-5, ended day two in fourth after weighing 10-7, fell to sixth yesterday with a 9-2 contribution and came on strong to finish out the event with 10-12 today, for a cumulative weight of 42-10. Brown earned $7,462 as runner-up plus a $3,000 Ranger Cup award.
Brown fished the 2- to 8-foot depths of a wide array of holes on Columbus Pool all week after locating fish on each on during practice. But yesterday he reported that he was down to only one that he hadn't yet tapped.
"I tried to stay off each one of my holes after catching some decent fish there," he said, in hopes that he could keep good bass spread across his milk run throughout the duration of the tournament. "Yesterday was tough, so I just went junk-fishing after that."
The junk-fishing came largely by spinnerbaits and crankbaits, but it was the success of another local fisherman on day one that carried him through the first couple of days. On day one he was paired with co-angler Bill Bowen, this week's winner from the back of the boat, who outfished Brown by 3 1/2 pounds flipping a Zoom lizard to shallow grass.
"After Bill schooled me there the first day, I went back to the old school," Brown said. "When your co-angler boats a 7-pounder from the back of the boat, you change your ways real quick."
Schoenrock takes rocket ride to third
Pro Shan Schoenrock of nearby Aliceville, Ala., climbed from the bottom depths of the top-10 cut yesterday via a 13-4 limit today - the heaviest of the day - to ultimately finish in third, worth $6,716. His four-day total weighed 41 pounds, 13 ounces.
"I've enjoyed fishing here all week, regardless of if I'd win or not; this just topped the cake," he said after assuming the leader's seat at the weigh-in, which he held until Brown weighed his fish.
"I didn't have a fish on at 10 a.m. as usual," he said of how the day began, adding that his crankbait holes from practice wouldn't start producing until "later in the day."
He reported catching his bass on a Rapala DT06 crankbait.
Rose takes fourth
Pro Mark Rose of Marion, Ark., was influential in his friend's win today, but admitted yesterday that his head wasn't entirely in the Stren Central game this week, not that you could tell by his performance here on the Columbus Pool. In fact, he literally left immediately after he weighed his bag today to make the long trek to the Potomac to get in some practice time for the FLW Tour event that starts Thursday.
"You know, I had a sweet little spot over there the first couple of days - near the launch - but on the third day I went there, and there was another angler there; Joseph was there in my spot" Rose said, referring to Joseph Webster, who finished fifth. "To avoid any confusion or anything, I moved to my own spot."
Rose, who earned $5,970 with a total weight of 39-14, flipped and pitched to catch his bass from 2 to 8 feet of water all week long. His limit today weighed in at 7-7, a 4-ounce improvement from Friday. His baits included "a big worm," tubes and "a littler worm today."
Webster holds on to fifth
Joseph Webster of Fulton, Miss., climbed to fifth place Friday and finished there Saturday with a five-bass limit that weighed 7 pounds, 5 ounces. His four-day total came in at 39-9, worth $5,224.
Webster keyed on stumps this week, flipping a Zoom Horny Toad to grass on day one at Columbus and fishing a Carolina rig on day two after locking north to the Aberdeen Pool. As reported earlier, he went back to Columbus Pool on day three to fish near the launch site.
"Today I went back there," he said, until his bite waned. "Then I went junk-fishing for the rest of the day."
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pro finalists at the Stren Central finals at Columbus, Miss.:
6th: Robert Robinson, Mobile, Ala., 20 bass, 39-0, $4,477
7th: Yancy Windham, Gordo, Ala., 17 bass, 36-7, $4,106
8th: Jeff Evans, Benton, Ky., 15 bass, 35-6, $3,732
9th: Kenneth Sheets, Lake Saint Louis, Mo., 15 bass, 32-15, $3,358
10th: Kevin Reynolds, Bentonville, Ark., 15 bass, 29-14, $2,986
The final Stren Series Central event of 2007 is slated for Sept. 19-22 on Lake of the Ozarks.