February 4, 2012 by David A. Brown
DEL RIO, Texas - In the waning minutes of day one, Brackettville, Texas, pro J.J. Ducharme made a key discovery that positioned him for a come-from-behind victory in the EverStart Series Texas Division on Lake Amistad.
"I found my fish with 15 minutes left in the first day and yesterday we just clobbered them," he said. "On day two, my co-angler and I went in there and we had like 45 pounds between the two of us."
After placing 12th on day one with 18-5, Ducharme earned his final-round berth by fishing his new area - a large bay crossed with ditches - sacking up 21-11 and surging up to fourth. Today, he added an even 23, tallied a three-day score of 63 pounds and took home the victory by a narrow margin of just 6 ounces.
Sounds easy enough, but when Ducharme returned to his key spot today, he found a dramatically altered scene. On a day that saw an arriving cold front deliver winds of 20-25 mph and send daytime air temperatures tumbling into the 50s, Ducharme made a key adjustment to potentially ruinous conditions.
"There were 3-footers rolling in there and it was all chocolate milk," he said. "So basically, what I did was move to the outside where the clear water was and caught them. The fish couldn't see the bait up there in the mud."
Armed with 7-6 heavy-action Power Tackle rods and Shimano Curado reels carrying 20-pound XPS fluorocarbon, Ducharme caught his fish on perch-colored Strike King crankbaits (Series 5 and 6) and a 3/4-ounce Revenge spinnerbait. He rigged the latter with a Reaction Innovation's Skinny Dipper trailer for a larger profile.
"I just cut the head off (the Skinny Dipper) and used it as a trailer to make the spinnerbait look like a perch with a little tail back there," he said.
This bait strategy worked throughout the day, but Ducharme's spinnerbait proved particularly attractive to a toad that went approximately 10 1/2 pounds. (The fish was not individually weighed, but Ducharme's first four fish weighed approximately 12 1/2 pounds. Adding a huge fifth fish gave him 23 pounds.)
A quick look at the stats shows why Ducharme took home the trophy:
He weighed the biggest bag of day three.
He was the only angler to catch a double-digit bass.
He was one of only two anglers (also second-place pro Todd Castledine) to catch two bags of 20-plus pounds.
He was the only final-round pro to turn in progressively larger sacks each day.
Perhaps the most meaningful statistic: Ducharme was the only pro accompanied onstage by a beautiful girl. His 4-year-old daughter Madeleine joined him on the hot seat after her dad took the lead.
Who needs a trophy when you have that?
Mechanical woes drops Castledine to second
Entering day three in first place, Todd Castledine of Nacogdoches, Texas, suffered a mid-morning engine problem that robbed him of about two hours of fishing time. Once he returned to action, he put together a respectable catch, but the lost time - and his only lost fish of the week - left him just 6 ounces short of the top spot and he finished second with 62-10. His daily scores were 21-1, 24-2 and 17-7.
Castledine caught all of his tournament fish on a prototype Strike Pro crankbait. He dialed in this bait selection during practice and never threw anything else.
"I started off today in area that I go to just to get numbers and I caught four, so I said `I think they're biting," Castledine recalled. "I went to where I caught them all yesterday and when I pulled up, it was 4-footers. It was just so nasty; I stayed five minutes and left. I ran back down to where I caught them earlier (today) and that's when I broke down."
Castledine said the breakdown left him vulnerable to rough conditions that threatened to wash him ashore. Fortunately, fellow competitor Austin Terry towed him to a safe location where he was able to rectify the mechanical issue. He started catching fish soon after returning to action, but time expired before he could amass the weight he needed.
Stricklin rises to third
James Stricklin Jr. of Texarkana, Texas, started day three in sixth place, but a sack weighing 21-11 nudged him up three notches to third with a tournament total of 59-10. He, too, endured mechanical challenges, but he was able to improvise and remain active the entire day.
"I got out there and right off the bat, they were biting," Stricklin said. "The wind was blowing like crazy and it was hard to hold on my spot. My trolling motor broke at 9 a.m. I had to idle (ahead of my spot), throw an anchor out and drift by my spot until the anchor came tight. I did that from 9 until 2:30 p.m.
"I didn't want to leave. The fish were really fired up. I was thankful for what I had."
Stricklin caught his day-three fish on a swimbait. He caught 19-12 on day one and followed with 21-11 on day two.
Morton slips to fourth
For Justin Morton, of Etoile, Texas, it was all about the drop - specifically, a heavy spinnerbait dropping off the side of a ledge. He fished a 1 1/2-ounce Stanley Big Shot spinnerbait in tilapia color and caught a final-round limit weighing 18-8 to finish fourth with 58-11.
"Lonnie Stanley has been building spinnerbaits for over 30 years and he builds one of the finest on the market," Morton said.
The key to his presentation was casting his bait onto ledges in 18 to 19 feet of water and slow rolling it off the edges. Most of his strikes occurred on the drop.
Morton placed seventh on day one with 18-15 and improved to third a day later when he sacked up 21 pounds, 4 ounces.
Huckaby retains fifth
Day-one leader Trent Huckaby of Fort Stockton, Texas, got off to a strong start with 21-1 in the opening round. He slipped to fifth on day two with a limit catch of 18-4 and remained there today after his final catch of 16-13 gave him a 56-7 total.
Huckaby caught his fish on a Norman Deep Little N and a Rock Crawler football jig. Although he found some quality fish, he said he had difficulty locating big bites on days two and three.
"I bounced around from deep water to shallow water and I had a couple of patterns on ledges and shallow grass," he said. "I tried to stay patient and not just run around everywhere.
"The first day, I was fortunate to catch a big bag but then I struggled the past two days," Huckaby said. "The fish just wouldn't bite the first half of the day, but then they would just turn on in the afternoon."
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top-10 pros at the EverStart Series Lake Amistad event:
6th: Stewart Herndon of Graham, Texas, 55-5
7th: Buz Craft of Vidalia, La., 55-1
8th: Philip Crelia of Center, Texas, 54-8
9th: Austin Terry of San Angelo, Texas, 52-11
10th: Terry L. Adams of Berwick, La., 49-7