April 25, 2010 by Brett Carlson
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Early in the week, bedding smallmouths were the talk of the FLW Tour qualifier on the Fort Loudoun-Tellico lakes. Several pros were catching hefty limits of these aggressive bass while they spawned over pea gravel. But smallmouths are notorious for being unreliable. And as they dwindled throughout the tournament, Glenn Browne stayed true to his shallow-water largemouth pattern. Mid-afternoon on the last day of practice, Brown ran up Fort Loudoun Lake to an area known as I.C. King Park. He'd never fished this place in two previous visits to Loudoun-Tellico, but it immediately passed the eye test. Then in the next hour he received 10 bites and knew he would start the event there. But what he didn't know was that this 5-acre area, located approximately 30 miles from the ramp, would produce enough to win. "Basically they were going in there to spawn," Browne said. "I was just trying to catch them while they were coming in." This area consisted of log lay-downs, docks and, most importantly, fallen bushy pine trees. Unlike other pockets, Browne's was basically a shallow flat. The area was only a couple feet deep, and the water was dirty - just the way Browne prefers it. The Ocala, Fla., pro fished this cover mostly with a 4-inch Gambler flipping tube in black neon/chartreuse. On day one he caught a couple key fish on a Gambler Big E-Z swimbait, and on day three he dialed into a little shad spawn with a white 3/8-ounce War Eagle spinnerbait. Saturday he caught only five keepers and they all came on the tube, which he matched with a 5/16-ounce weight and 20-pound-test fluorocarbon line. "That black neon/chartreuse is the color I use everywhere. That and green pumpkin/chartreuse is all you need." Browne's limits weighed 17-0, 16-15, 13-14 and 12-0. Of the 20 bass he weighed this week, every single one of them was a largemouth. He essentially exploited this single pocket as it replenished each day. In fact, the 34-year-old caught fish off the same trees day after day. "This lake just really fit my style this week. The shallower and dirtier, the better." Browne attempted some sight-fishing in practice but was unsuccessful. In the back of his mind, he knew smallmouths wouldn't likely go the distance. "I just didn't find them, so I went to do what I do best - flip trees. I also figured a sight-fish bite is real hard to hold up for four days unless you're on Champlain." For a total weight of 59 pounds, 13 ounces, Browne earned $100,000. He also earned $25,000 from the Ranger Cup program. Most importantly, his wife, mother and two boys drove through the night to be there to celebrate the milestone. "I've been fishing the Tour since 2004, and I've made several top-10s. I wanted to win one bad. This is what we strive for. Everything went perfect, and that's what it takes to win one of these. I finally had the bites to seal the deal." Grigsby second Considering his smallmouth program basically ran dry after day two, pro Chad Grigsby did an admirable job staying near the top of the leaderboard. Despite only catching four bass Saturday, Grigsby rose from third to second. His day-four stringer weighed 11 pounds, 8 ounces and pushed his total weight to 55 pounds, 13 ounces. Three of those four keepers were largemouths - the other a bruising smallie that was on bed. "I worked that one for about 10 minutes, and then I fished the entire pocket," he said. "On the way out I came back to it, and it bit on the first cast. That's probably the biggest one I've ever caught on the Tennessee River. It feels really good because I lost that fish on day two." While Grigsby also fished Loudoun, he was only 15 miles from the Tellico Recreational Area Ramp. When smallmouth fishing, he mainly used a drop-shot with a Berkley Gulp minnow. The drop-shot only had 5 or 6 inches of line attached so that the bait would come right across the fish's head as it sat on the nest. "A lot of these guys look for these fish (smallmouths) on the bank. They're not on the bank; they're off where it drops from 3 to 4 feet." Rarely did Grigsby have enough visibility to actually see the fish. Instead, he looked for a dark spot. That task was made easier with the bright sunshine experienced early in the week. When he was targeting largemouths, the Twin Cities resident basically went junk-fishing - throwing everything from shaky heads to swimbaits. Like he does so well down in Florida, he also spent considerable time flipping. His second-place finish earned him $37,197. Thrift falls to third After catching sizeable limits each of the first two days, pro Bryan Thrift limped to the finish line with stringers of 10-5 and 8-9. On days one and two, nearly all of his fish were smallmouths. On days three and four, that trend reversed itself. Thrift finished with a four-day total of 55 pounds even. For third place, the Lake Norman champion earned $27,864. For most of the tournament, Thrift sight-fished for spawning smallmouths on Tellico Lake. He spotted six in practice and caught five of them the first day for 20 pounds, 3 ounces. Anchoring that day-one stringer was a 6-pound, 2-ounce donkey - the biggest smallmouth of Thrift's life. To his delight, the area replenished on day two, and the 2007 Rookie of the Year caught another 15 pounds, 15 ounces. Nearly all of these bed fish were caught with a Texas-rigged Damiki Hydra (green-pumpkin) on 15-pound fluorocarbon line. "The Hydra is a great sight-fishing bait because the tentacles stay open when the bait is still," Thrift explained. "That was one of my keys this week." Instead of heading back to Tellico Saturday to beat a dead horse, Thrift looked at the forecast and made a judgment to frog-fish the Sinking Creek area of Loudoun. He would pitch the Spro way under overhanging limbs. For an impromptu decision, the pattern worked well. "I figured the frog was my next-best program. I probably got 40 bites, but I never got a good one." With three of the five regular-season events in the books, Thrift leads the Angler of the Year race with 595 points. Dating back to the 2009 Forrest Wood Cup, the Shelby, N.C., native has notched four consecutive top-10 finishes. He's so hot, not even a dip in the lake can cool him off. (Editor's note: Thrift slipped and fell off the bow early Saturday morning. Other than a slightly bruised ego, he was uninjured.) Baumgardner fourth Rising one place to fourth was Gastonia, N.C., pro Chris Baumgardner. After sacking limits of 14-5, 10-15 and 12-0, Baumgardner managed another five bass Saturday that weighed 12 pounds, 2 ounces to finish with 49-6. Like Grigsby and Thrift, Baumgardner started his tournament on spawning smallmouths. Unlike those two, he wasn't looking at them. "I wasn't sight-fishing, but those ones I caught the first two days - I knew they were there," he said. Baumgardner's bait of choice for bed fish was a Zoom Magnum Trick Worm. Over the final two days, he tapped into a shad spawn on a natural rock bank. "The fish weren't on them good, but you could catch a few. I tried to expand on that today, but it was tough. I only caught five." Friday and Saturday Baumgardner used a new Brian's Bees wakebait called a Long Wake Bee. Throughout the tournament he fished a midlake area in Loudoun. "After Norman, I was pretty down about not doing well on my home lake. So this feels pretty good. I was never on any of those 16- to 20-pound bags. I caught what I could catch." The 2007 FLW Tour champion on the Potomac River earned $18,531. Coulter fifth Local pro Brandon Coulter received the loudest applause Saturday from a sizeable Knoxville-area crowd, but he weighed the smallest bag. Only managing three keepers, Coulter's day-four catch weighed 5 pounds, 11 ounces - pushing his total weight to 46 pounds even. For fifth place, he earned $16,664. Coulter described his fishing this week as "taking what the lake gave him." Early on he sight-fished for spawning smallmouths. When those ran out he changed to throwing a Rebel P70 Pop-R in extremely shallow water. "These fish were so shallow if you threw anything in there, they would spook off," Coulter said. "So I did my best to quietly place the Pop-R where everyone else would pitch a jig. "These fish were spooky because they want to go spawn, but they can't because the water is so low. When they're in a foot of water, they can't help but look up." Yesterday he caught his best fish on a Quake & Shake, a ChatterBait-style lure. Today, he switched up again and fished a homemade flat-side crankbait along riprap. "This time of year they're moving a lot, so I had to change up," added Coulter, who finished fourth at the 2008 FLW Tour qualifier on Loudoun-Tellico. Coulter fished Loudoun exclusively. He picked off a few at the east end and eventually made his way to the midlake region near the Little River and Duncan Branch areas. "There just weren't enough pockets in my area, and they weren't replenishing. I think that was my mistake." The next FLW Tour event is slated for Lake Ouachita in Hot Springs, Ark., May 26-29.