April 1, 2012 by Brett Carlson
BRANSON, Mo. - Brent Long had no intention of fishing near the takeoff site at the Walmart FLW Tour Major on Table Rock Lake. As a known shallow, dirty-water fisherman, Long had planned on running way up one of the lake's main rivers. But after he missed his exit on the way to the Lighthouse Lodge, his GPS brought him to Long Creek, which was red brown in color. At that moment, the North Carolina pro knew he would spend all of his time in that aptly-named area.
For a lake as massive as Table Rock, one of the most compelling storylines was the fact that all five of the top finishers were basically in the same area - south of the 86 Bridge near Table Rock State Park. Thanks to recent rains, the water there was cooler and dirty - which allowed fishermen to avoid the spawning bass, which were laying everywhere but were nearly impossible to catch.
While most in the area fished crankbaits, Long concentrated on one technique - flipping what he called "trash" for prespawn largemouths. In reality it was a mixture of sticks, stumps and lay-downs - any wood that had washed up on shore since the water came up a week ago. Long flipped the wood with either a black and blue jig made by Ernest Langley (tipped with a Charlie's Chunk) or a Charlie's Worms Flippin' Bug. Long would make several pitches at each piece, starting at the outside and working his way in.
"I grew up watching and idolizing Hank Parker and Denny Brauer; they were dirty, shallow-water fishermen," Long said. "But it's so hard to win a tournament shallow nowadays because those fish get so beat up; you almost have to find a school. But that's what I like to do; that's what I do best."
As the tournament progressed, Long worried that the water was clearing up and that there was less and less cover to probe. In fact, several of the places he caught them the first two days are now high and dry. While Spencer Shuffield mounted a furious charge, a strong morning bite was enough to put the Cornelius, N.C., pro back in the winner's circle.
"I was catching them as they moved up," added the 2010 Lake Guntersville champion. "I was fishing the steeper banks because they had been pulling water all week. I'm glad I don't have to fish tomorrow because the water's getting so low I don't have any more cover in the water and it's clearing up."
Interestingly, Long said the prespawn bass were not relating to the bushes. He could never figure out why, but the cover had to be horizontal, not vertical.
Long's third cast of the day yielded a 6 1/2-pounder. The morning bite all but stalled at 10 a.m. until Long finally coaxed a 5-pounder around lunchtime. His final-day weight registered 19 pounds, 14 ounces, pushing his total to 78 pounds, 13 ounces. The 41-year-old Long earned $125,000.
"When I won Guntersville we decided to start building a new home. I'm a general contractor when I'm not fishing and because the economy has slowed, we had to put those plans on hold. The best part about this is that we just restarted construction so we can really use the money."
Long also said he won for his mother, who celebrated her birthday on day one of the tournament. Compared to his first victory, the fifth-year pro said it's the same unbelievable feeling all over again.
"When you win one, they can say you just got lucky, you are a one-hit wonder. When you win two, I think that solidifies you as a good angler."
Shuffield second by 7 ounces
The younger Shuffield is already making some serious noise in just his fourth tournament as a professional. The 2011 Co-angler of the Year crushed the Table Rock bass this week on a modified umbrella rig called the Swim N' Frenzy. With shorter wires, smaller Keitech Swing Impact swimbaits and tiny willow blades, the entire rig can be thrown and pitched with ease. While Missouri state law allows only three hooks, Shuffield has already won a BFL event on Lake Ouachita with the bigger five-hook version.
Early in the week, the Bismarck, Ark., pro fished the Frenzy around channel swings and standing timber in 8 to 15 feet of water. But on the final day he went shallow and threw it around bushes the way one would work a traditional spinnerbait. Proving its versatility, it worked to the tune of 22 pounds, 13 ounces.
"They got up there last night and started doing their thing and I just instinctively figured it out," said Shuffield. "The last three days all of my fish have been fat and healthy (prespawn) but today they were bloody and had battle scars (from spawning)."
At first, Shuffield didn't like the development of the umbrella rig. But he's learned to embrace it and recently has won several tournaments back home with it. After a disappointing Hartwell event, he worked with Rick Powell on designing a smaller, compact version.
"I know the downsizing made all the difference. I had co-anglers throw the standard version behind me and they weren't catching nearly the same amount I was."
Shuffield also weighed four bass this week by sight-fishing with Typhoon sunglasses. He purposely targeted deeper beds because those bass were more apt to bite. Shuffield mostly fished in Cow Creek.
For finishing in second place with a total weight of 78 pounds, 6 ounces, he earned $35,000.
"I was close. Looking back, there were so many opportunities lost. I thought I was going to do it and I kept telling my cameraman I needed one more 4-pounder and it just never came."
Morrow rises to third
After a disappointing day one in which he finished 97th, Troy Morrow steadily climbed the leaderboard the rest of the week. After catching a 21-pound, 13-ounce stringer Sunday he rose from eighth all the way to third and finished with a total weight of 70 pounds, 13 ounces, earning $30,000.
"My goal today was to make the top five," said the Eastanollee, Ga., pro. "First thing this morning I stopped a couple hundred yards from takeoff on a smallmouth. I caught her and then I had a limit with a big fish by 8 this morning."
Morrow worked both the clear and the dirty water near the State Park. On day one, he sampled the clear water and struggled. He thrived in the dirty water on days two and three but a gut instinct told him to return to the clear water Sunday due to the boat pressure in the dirty water. It turned out to be the right decision.
"In the clear water, I was using an original Wiggle Wart painted by Xtreme Lure Creations in a green pumpkin crawfish pattern," said Morrow. "What can you say about the Wiggle Wart? We keep throwing them and the bass don't seem to figure it out because they keep eating them."
In dirty-water areas, Morrow would opt for standard squarebill crankbaits.
"Other than missing some fish on day one, I'm really happy with how it played out. I had a good practice with three things going - the Wart, a Swarm (umbrella rig) and the squarebills. I weighed one Swarm fish, four Wart fish and 14 squarebill fish."
Brownlee adjusts, rises to fourth
Clint Brownlee caught a hefty 18-pound, 8-ounce stringer Sunday and climbed from ninth to finish the tournament in fourth place. His total weight was 67 pounds, 6 ounces - earning $25,000.
"I was catching most of my fish out a bit in the 5- to 10-foot range," said the Tifton, Ga., pro. "When the water started dropping, I decided to fish steeper banks."
Brownlee said he felt most comfortable in the dirty water and never had inclination to play the sight-fishing game in the clear water. His key baits were Strike King 3XD and a Lucky Craft 1.5 crankbait in browns and crawfish colors.
"It's been a fun week but my shoulder is tired. I've never done well before on Table Rock so were expecting to leave Friday."
Brownlee too fished the lower end of the lake near the State Park Marina in Brush Creek and Long Creek among others.
Hometown King falls to fifth
After a brutally tough practice, Stacey King was happy to dial into a solid prespawn pattern - targeting flat points in 8 to 10 feet of dirty water. He threw a Rapala DT in both red crawdad and brown crawdad color and his bite was particularly effective when the wind blew from the south.
"It was a good program, but I think stuck with it too long," said the veteran pro. "I knew we were coming up on the tail end, but all those staging fish evaporated today. It's tough to leave something that's been that good to you. You're constantly thinking your next cast will be that big bite that you need."
The local Reeds Spring, Mo., resident caught four bass worth 7 pounds, 14 ounces Sunday - by far his lightest sack of the week. King's four-day cumulative weight registered 63 pounds, 13 ounces, good enough for fifth place and $20,000. King's 8-pounder from day two officially goes in the books as the heaviest bass of the tournament.
"I've exceeded my expectations in this tournament. I said after the first two days that if I didn't catch another bass in the finals I'd be happy and I am."
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros at the FLW Tour event on Table Rock Lake:
6th: Anthony Gagliardi of Prosperity, S.C., 62-9, $17,000
7th: Chris Baumgardner of Gastonia, N.C., 62-1, $16,000
8th: Jason Christie of Park Hill, Okla., 61-11, $15,000
9th: Kyle Welcher of Opelika, Ala., 60-2, $14,000
10th: Clent Davis of Montevallo, Ala., 56-5, $13,000
The next FLW Tour event is slated for Beaver Lake in Rogers, Ark., April 26-29, the third of six Majors.