August 5, 2010 by Brett Carlson
GAINESVILLE, Ga. - For 78 of the best bass pros in the world, day one of the 2010 Forrest Wood Cup felt like an oven. Temperatures soared into the mid-90s, and the bite, which was OK during practice, took a turn for the worse. But a few anglers dialed in on Lanier's nomadic spotted bass. And not surprisingly, the leader after day one was a local. But unexpectedly, he doesn't have the surname Mann or Meninger.
Lake Lanier transplant Kevin Hawk qualified for the Cup via the 2009 FLW Series Western Division. With berth in hand, he moved east and fished the 2010 FLW Tour as a co-angler. When he wasn't away on Tour, he was spending all his free time on Lanier learning how to catch its magnum spots. On day one, it paid off to the tune of a 14-pound, 12-ounce stringer.
"I hit my best big-fish spots today," said Hawk, who is originally from Ramona, Calif., and practices with National Guard pro Brent Ehrler. "I know these places are going to get beat up pretty good, so I wanted to go and capitalize early."
Hawk said he sampled 35 to 40 areas today. Depending on the spot, he'd make approximately five to 10 casts and then move on. He's targeting brush and timber in the middle and bottom of the water column. He described his strategy as running hard and fishing slow.
"It's a matter of fishing enough spots to come across a few better fish. Some are positioned on the top (of the structure), some on the sides and some on the bottom. It seems like in the morning they're higher up."
Hawk caught 12 keepers on the day, all of which came on a white, 1/2-ounce Fish Head Spin. He had his limit by 10:30 a.m. and all of his weigh fish by noon. If not for an 8-ounce dead fish penalty, his lead would be even greater.
"Fishing this lake as much as I do, I had a good understanding of what was going on. But I was shaking off a lot of fish, so I didn't exactly know what to expect weightwise. I thought maybe I was on about 12 pounds. I just knew I wanted to catch as much as I could today."
With his year-long journey finally coming to fruition, the 31-year-old Hawk momentarily reflected.
"I'm pretty pumped right now, but I realize it's only day one."
Christie stunned with second-place sack
In second place is Park Hill, Okla., pro Jason Christie, who caught a limit of spots worth 14 pounds, 8 ounces. A noted shallow-water fisherman, Christie was pleasantly surprised with his day-one performance.
"I was averaging probably 9 or 10 pounds a day in practice, and those are 15-hour days," he said. "But I caught a 2 1/2-pounder right off the bat, and that gave me some momentum. From there I just about caught one everywhere I stopped; I think I finished with nine or 10 keepers. But as good as it was today, I'll tell you right now that I could not get a bite tomorrow and it wouldn't surprise me."
To see Christie fishing in 35 feet of water with finesse tackle is a rare sight. In fact, today was the first tournament limit he ever caught on a spinning rod. His bait of choice was a 4-inch Yum Dinger, which he fished wacky style with a nail weight pushed in the side.
"I'd drop it down, and as soon as I'd pick it up they'd be there. I think these are reaction bites, because if I don't catch them right away, that's it.
"For some reason I think they moved deeper today. They say the thermocline is right around 30 feet, but these were just below that. I don't even know how they get oxygen down there."
Since winning the American Fishing Series event on Lake of the Ozarks back in 2007, Christie has successfully established himself as a top-end Tour pro.
"It's a mind-set. I now really believe that I can compete with these guys. I've led - that's a three-letter word - several times, but I want to win at this level. And the Cup would be a good one to win."
JT Kenney may be best known for his flipping prowess on Lake Okeechobee, but he's making a statement this week that he's a well-rounded angler. With an eye on his electronics and drop-shot in hand, he's making even the best finesse fishermen blush.
"I got this nickname, the Flipping King, so everybody thinks I only fish shallow," said Kenney. "But I like fishing deep; I like using a drop-shot and looking down at my graph. And I've made three or four cuts fishing that way.
"Today actually went according to plan for a change," he added. "I started on some shallow fish, and then I moved down the lake and fished deeper stuff."
Kenney weighed all spotted bass, but his first spot in the back of a cove was supposed to be a largemouth area.
"In practice they were largemouths, but today they were spots. Believe me, I was largemouth fishing."
Of the five Kenney weighed, two came from shallow water. In total, he culled five or six times. When he's probing deep water, the Palm Bay, Fla., pro is drop-shotting with either a Gambler Stud or a Berkley hand-poured finesse worm. The baits are working fine, but the key to his deep-water pattern is closely monitoring his graph.
"I think I know what it looks like when the fish are feeding."
Meyer fourth, Defoe fifth
After finishing third at last year's Forrest Wood Cup, pro Cody Meyer is once again in contention. Using his vast spotted bass experience on Western lakes like Shasta and Oroville, Meyer caught a limit worth 14 pounds, 3 ounces. With one perished fish, his raw weight was 14 pounds, 11 ounces.
"Lanier is very similar to Shasta and Oroville," said the Grass Valley, Calif., native. "The fish are suspending in 20 to 25 feet over water 50 to 70 feet deep."
Meyer is alternating between a swimbait and a drop-shot with a Jackall Cross Tail Shad. Between the two, he managed a total of 10 keepers - the biggest weighing 3 1/2 pounds. Like Hawk, he shook off so many fish during practice, he wasn't sure what kind of quality he was around. Interestingly, his practice partner, JR Wright, is leading the Co-angler Division with 12-5.
"I bounced around a lot today, but I have two spots that produced the best."
Meyer is using last year's Cup as motivation in the humid, 95-degree heat.
"I was so close; I think about that tournament every day."
While Meyer fished deep main-lake structure, fifth-place pro Ott Defoe ran 25 miles up the Chattahoochee River and fished in ankle-deep water. Certain stretches of the river are loaded with treacherous rock, so Defoe has had to switch out his normal tournament boat for an 18-foot tunnel-hull aluminum.
"I was very fortunate today," said the Knoxville, Tenn., pro. "I caught a 3 1/2-pounder on my fifth cast. I didn't catch another one until 11, but it was a 3-pounder too."
Despite catching several shoal bass, Defoe weighed only spots. He said even the spots position themselves like normal river fish on current breaks.
"The nice thing is that I have the area all to myself, and I don't have to finesse-fish."
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros at the Forrest Wood Cup after day one:
6th: Jason Meninger of Gainesville, Ga., five bass, 13-3
7th: Brian Travis of Conover, N.C., five bass, 13-2
8th: Larry Nixon of Bee Branch, Ark., five bass, 12-10
9th: Brent Ehrler of Redlands, Calif., five bass, 12-9
10th: David Dudley of Lynchburg, Va., five bass, 11-14
Tomorrow's takeoff is scheduled for 7 a.m. Eastern time from Laurel Park, located at 3100 Old Cleveland Highway in Gainesville, Ga.