May 29, 2014 by Curtis Niedermier
It's a chess match on Kentucky Lake this week for stop No. 2 of the Rayovac FLW Series Central Division, and Benton, Ky., pro Brandon Hunter has all his pieces in the right place. Hunter opened the tournament with a 27-pound, 9-ounce limit and a lead of nearly 2 pounds. He heads up a field of ledge-fishing experts that brought in stringers of more than 20 pounds through 29th place.
Weights that high suggest that catching quality stringers is easy right now, but that's not entirely true. Finding schools and getting bites has been a breeze, but finding the kind of bass that can win and protecting those schools is a challenge.
Anglers are facing constant pressure from each other as they jockey for position on prime ledges, and pressure from competitors practicing for a major 300-boat tournament that begins tomorrow and launches out of Paris, Tenn., has made it nearly impossible to keep a good ledge spot secret.
The challenge now for Hunter is executing a perfect game plan to stay on the bite for three straight days. Though for now, he's simply happy celebrating what turned out to be a surprisingly good day on the water.
"I had no idea I could catch that kind of weight," Hunter admits, "but I thought I could catch a pretty good bag from my first spot. I actually lost two 5-pounders, so I could have been knocking on 30 [pounds]."
Hunter says he has a GPS full of good waypoints, though he only fished four key areas today.
"On the place that I started, I probably had 22 pounds by 7 a.m.," Hunter says. "I caught them fast, and every fish was at least a 4-pounder. The winning fish are right there, no question about that. But I had an early draw this morning, and I have a late draw tomorrow. This morning, I got `the juice' early.
"The fish are moving around every time I go there," he adds. "I have to find them each time; I have to graph them."
Hunter says his top spot is not a typical summertime ledge and didn't attract as much attention from other anglers, though he wasn't revealing any more details about it. He's using the standard array of ledge-fishing lures - no secrets there, he admits. Once he left his best spot today, Hunter ran to a few of his other schools and was able to put a couple of big kickers in the boat to cull up later in the day.
Tomorrow, he hopes to be able to get on his best spots when the bite windows open up - timing is critical.
"They're not pulling a lot of water [current], so they're not chewing," Hunter says. "If they pull water tomorrow, there's no telling what I can catch."
2nd place - Todd Hollowell - 25-11
Decision-making and reacting to pressure were the keys to Todd Hollowell's second-place effort on day one. Relying on about a dozen spots, Hollowell climbed his way up to a 25-pound, 11-ounce limit midday and spent the rest of his time hunting for a jumbo bite that could cull out his smallest fish, a 4-pounder. Even though he didn't get it, he's in a prime spot to win on a lake where many consider the Hoosier angler to be a favorite.
"I don't know if I can duplicate that," he says. "Kentucky Lake is all about pulling up on the right spot at the right time, and when you do, it's magic."
Hollowell's fish are spread out from the main river channel to some of the secondary ledges, and he's targeting bass in depths ranging from 12 to 25 feet deep. Even his lure selection is wide-ranging.
"I started the day with 12 rods on the deck, and I caught them on every rod," he says.
Having a variety of options has helped Hollowell fish through the heavy pressure that the lake is experiencing this week. Coupled with his experience on Kentucky Lake, he stands a good chance to ride this day-one momentum into the cut.
"I think the fish are biting funny," Hollowell says. "You've got to know how to catch them. Today, I fished behind a guy and caught a 5-pounder. So I don't mind fishing behind other anglers."
3rd place - Randy Haynes - 25-01
Nobody was surprised to see Randy Haynes near the top of the standings in this derby. He's one of the most accomplished ledge fishermen in the business, and he's within striking distance of the win again this week.
"It went awesome today," Haynes says. "It started off slow. After I got a 5-pounder early, I only had two in the bag at 9 a.m. Then I caught a couple of 3 1/2-pounders."
Haynes already made the Rayovac FLW Series Championship by finishing fifth in the Southeast Division standings, so he says he's in it to win it this week. That means tossing back 2-pound keepers without even considering putting them in the livewell, which would require wasting time culling them out later.
His key lure today was a prototype crankbait by Profound Outdoors called the Z-Boss 20. He has the only two in existence right now. What makes the Z-Boss so effective is its subtle action, which Haynes says allows him to go behind other anglers and still get fish to bite.
"I fished about 30 spots today," Haynes says. "If I had the opportunity, I'd have fished 50. But I was able to fish everything I wanted to today. My timing was perfect."
Haynes spent a week practicing for this tournament, and that time on the water has helped him fill up his GPS with school locations. He should have plenty to fish for the rest of the week. That's bad news for anyone ahead of him in the standings, because no one is better at reading bass on electronics and fending off the hoards on crowded ledges.
4th place - Tom Redington - 24-12
Texas pro Tom Redington made the long trip north to start a three-tournament Tennessee River swing that includes the Rayovac FLW Series event on Kentucky Lake this week and the final two Walmart FLW Tour events on Pickwick Lake and Kentucky Lake in June. He's started his trip off strong with a limit of 24 pounds, 12 ounces today.
"It started off slow," Redington says. "There were so many people out in practice that I really couldn't press my best spots. I kind of had to go re-fish it today and actually see if there were big ones. The big ones were mixed in with smaller fish."
Redington fished about a half-dozen spots today, but, like most anglers near the top of the standings, he has plenty of other places to visit this week. Having options is important because not every ledge produces each time Redington pulls up.
"It's a timing deal," he says. "On a given day or given hour, my best spot today might be my worst spot tomorrow. I just pull up and take a look, and I can usually see if they're in `attack formation.'
"My spots are real diverse," he adds. "They're from the main river to the creeks to in between. They're still in that transition."
Redington says his morning bite was slower due to lack of current, but it picks up in the afternoon.
"These weights are a statement to how good this lake is," he says. "Normally you need the current to catch them."
As for his go-to lures this week, Redington says he's got no secrets. He's throwing the same crankbaits, jigs and other ledge tools as everyone else. It's where, when and how you use them that make a difference.
5th place - Barry Wilson - 24-10
One lure. That's all Barry Wilson needed to fish his way into the top five on day one of competition. Wilson was predictably mum about his chosen bait, but it's definitely a producer. Once he had his limit, Wilson handed one of the lures to his co-angler, Donald Oksanen, who used it to catch 21 pounds for third place in the co-angler division.
Wilson caught about 30 keepers total today, even though a crowd of anglers was already assembled on his best spot when he arrived in the morning.
"I was heading to it, but I was boat No. 78," he says. "I was 1 mile away when I saw five boats on it. I peeled off to another spot and caught them for two hours straight."
Tomorrow he says he's heading in a different direction from takeoff, toward a second "mega-school" where he hopes to sack up enough weight to make it into the weekend.
"What can hurt is sunshine and no wind," Wilson says. "Actually, the sun is OK, but I want some wind.
"It's just ledge fishing 101 out there," he adds. "The reason I'm catching them so well is because of what I'm throwing."
Rest of the best
6th place (tie) - Jason Lambert - 24-06
6th place (tie) - Sam Lashlee - 24-06
8th place (tie) - Brent Anderson - 24-02
8th place (tie) - Michael Wooley - 24-02
10th place - Phillip Bates - 24-00
Click here for full results.
Overton catches 21-08, takes early co-angler lead
Shawn Overton of Coal Valley, Ill., got to experience all that Kentucky Lake has to offer on day one. Fishing with pro Chris Blackwell, Overton sacked up an impressive 21-pound, 8-ounce limit to sneak into the lead ahead of Tim Webb of Olpe, Kan., by just 3 ounces.
Overton caught a limit by 9 a.m., tossed back "too many 3-pounders to count" throughout the day and culled up to his final limit weight at around 2 p.m.
"I definitely learned some stuff today that'll help me tomorrow," he says. "I learned some techniques and lure colors that should work with whoever I get paired with. I feel pretty confident. It seems like they're really biting."
This is Overton's second trip to Kentucky Lake as a co-angler. His first was the 2013 Walmart Bass Fishing League Regional, where he finished 23rd.
"I love it here," he says. "This lake's been really good to me."
Big Bass Awards
Pro: Wells Kaiser - 8 pounds, 1 ounce
Co-angler: Brandon Bray - 6 pounds, 15 ounces
Rayovac FLW Series event information
Location: Kenlake Resort State Park, 524 Kenlake Road, Hardin, Ky.
Time: 6 a.m.
Days 1 and 2 location: Kenlake Resort State Park, 524 Kenlake Road, Hardin, Ky.
Days 1 and 2 time: 2 p.m.
Day 3 location: Country Chevrolet, 104 W. 5th St., Benton, Ky.
Day 3 time: 4 p.m.
For those who can't catch the weigh-in action in person, FLWOutdoors.com offers FLW Live, an online application that brings fans real-time weigh-in results, streaming video and audio.
Pros will fish for a top award of $40,000 plus a Ranger Z518C with a 200-hp Evinrude or Mercury outboard if Ranger Cup guidelines are met. Co-anglers are competing for a top award of a Ranger Z117 with 90-hp Evinrude or Mercury outboard and $5,000 if Ranger Cup guidelines are met.
The Rayovac FLW Series consists of five divisions - Central, Northern, Southeast, Texas and Western. Each division consists of three tournaments, and competitors will be vying for valuable points in each division that could earn them the opportunity to fish in the Rayovac FLW Series Championship, to be held Oct. 30-Nov. 1 on Wheeler Lake in Rogersville, Ala.
The Rayovac FLW Series tournament on Kentucky Lake is being hosted by the Marshall County Tourist Commission.
For regular updates, photos, tournament news and more, follow the Rayovac FLW Series on Facebook at Facebook.com/FLWFishing and on Twitter at Twitter.com/FLWFishing.