June 7, 2014 by Curtis Niedermier
FLORENCE, Ala. - There was no 30-pound mega-limit weighed in today in Florence, Ala., but tournament leader Greg Hackney still hauled in a 22-pound, 4-ounce stringer from Pickwick Lake on a day that nine of the top 10 pros described as a grind. Hackney's three-day total is 75 pounds, 14 ounces, which extends his lead to 7-13 over California ace Brent Ehrler, who weighed an identical limit as Hackney's today. Hackney will be boat No. 1 on the final day of this Walmart FLW Tour showdown, which is presented by Straight Talk Wireless. Interestingly, the one piece of the puzzle that most anglers have been looking for this week is current, and today the Tennessee River was ripping in the wake of two afternoon thunderstorms that drenched the Tennessee Valley at the end of the workweek. Coupled with a water-level rise, the current turned out to be too much of a good thing, and Hackney's magic 30-pound spot didn't fire today like it did yesterday. "There was a lot of current," Hackney says. "You'd think that would have helped. Maybe I caught too many [yesterday]. It was OK today, but it took me all day to catch them." The Gonzales, La., pro revealed a few more details about his best spot today. It's a 1 1/2-foot break topped with a "live" mussel shell bed. He knows it's a live one because he'll occasionally catch snails, and when he does, he knows he's on the juice. Mussel beds are nothing new to ledge fisherman on the Tennessee River, but this one has an extra ingredient that sweetens the deal for Pickwick's biggest largemouths: giant gizzard shad. As in, gizzard shad so big that Hackney hasn't even found a bait big enough to "match the hatch." The 5-pound-plus "hammers" are choking down the jumbo baitfish whenever they slide up onto the structure. When it goes down, Hackney fires in with one of two unidentified lures, and the action is extremely fast. In Hackney's experience, gizzard shad most often swim in small packs. On this spot, there have been hundreds. Today, however, instead of piling onto the 15-yard sweet spot, the gizzard shad seemed to vanish, and Hackney had to spread out his search down a 200-yard stretch of structure. "I never saw any bait activity," says Hackney. "I saw some skipjack, but they're usually singles. The big gizzard shad just never got there." Hackney committed to his primary spot almost the entire day, culling just one fish on a secondary area in the afternoon. The slower bite forced him to expand out and learn more about how the fish are setting up, which could help him on Sunday if the school doesn't fire like it did earlier in the week. "Today's the first one that I've spent any time on them," he says. "[Yesterday], it happened so quick. I had probably fished four hours there the first two days. Today it was `normal,' and I was still at it at the end of the day. In the last hour, I made a big loop, hoping to uncover some type of little subtlety." Hackney left the spot on day two with 4-pounders still biting like crazy. Today, he hauled in more than 22 pounds. So he knows the spot has potential again tomorrow, though if the gizzard shad activity doesn't pick up again, he says the spot will just become one more in the rotation. "I've got a couple other spots I can go to," he says. "A couple I was really excited about. I just didn't need them [earlier in the week]." 2nd place - Brent Ehrler - 68 pounds, 1 ounce Most pros expected angling pressure to dissipate over the weekend, with all but the top 20 Tour pros on the water on Saturday and just 10 on Sunday. However, former Forrest Wood Cup champion Brent Ehrler, who caught 22 pounds, 4 ounces today, actually experienced an increase in angling pressure from anglers competing in local tournaments, along with recreational anglers taking advantage of this wonderful fishery. Ehrler says he's rotating through a series of about 15 spots. His fish aren't roaming, like they are on some of the larger ledges that house Pickwick's mega-schools. Instead, they're pegged on precise sweet spots that are holding the schools tight. As a result, the extra pressure is wearing on the bass and him. "I thought the spots were going to rest, but I showed a lot of good spots to people," Ehrler says. Also concerning for him is the location of his best spots. He's fishing two areas that are separated by a long boat ride, so if he wants to escape the crowd, he has to dedicate a big chunk of fishing time to travel. As for the fishing, Ehrler's among the group that believes the current was actually too strong today. "We had a lot of current, and I thought they'd snap today," he says. "But there was too much current for too long. It ran last night, and they pulled a lot. If they'd started it in the morning, the sudden change could have helped the bite." Ehrler's doing his best to key on out-of-the-way structures that aren't obvious on the map. Swimbaits and other staple ledge lures have done all his damage, and tomorrow, he plans to re-work his best stuff, along with a few schools he hasn't touched yet. "I haven't hit two spots that have a lot of fish on them," he says. "I've definitely saved some areas, but I don't know how big they are on those spots." 3rd place - Michael Neal - 67 pounds, 13 ounces "A lot of current and no bites." That's how sophomore pro Michael Neal described his morning today. "I thought when we took off it was going to be real good," says Neal, who weighed in 20 pounds, 4 ounces today. "I wish it [the current] wasn't ripping that much because I'm sitting at the bottom of a ledge and casting up on top. It's hard to line up the cast to get it to land on the spot." The current was sweeping so hard across Neal's ledges today that it pulled his line and sinking lure off the sweet spots where the fish are set up before it hit bottom. That's a challenge, considering the size of the targets he's trying to hit. "The schools are big, but not in a great big area," he explains. "When you see them on the graph, they're stacked up 5, 6, even 7 feet up, but the school's not but 20 feet wide." Neal countered the slow bite this morning with a drop-shot and other slower-moving lures, picking up one fish here and one fish there. His break finally came in late morning when he ignited a school with a swimbait. "I was really scratching my head at 10:30," he says. "Then I had one little flurry and caught everything I weighed." Neal's fish today came from spots he'd been hoping to fish all week, but couldn't get on with the full field on the water. He ran all the way to Tennessee waters at Pickwick's lower end the first two days. He opted to stay farther upstream today because the extreme lower end, while it has great schools of fish, has fewer schools of fish. Neal accurately anticipated an increase in traffic from local tournaments today and decided to stay where he'd have more schools to himself. Tomorrow, however, he's making the long run once again and hoping to get on the mid-20-pound bite he uncovered Thursday and Friday. 4th place - Troy Morrow - 65 pounds, 11 ounces If day three was moving day, Georgia pro Troy Morrow made the longest haul of all. He caught a 27-pound limit to rocket up the standings from 18th place to fourth and secured himself a spot on Sunday. Morrow's limit today was easily the biggest in the field, but when this derby ends he might be kicking himself about what could have been. On Thursday, he stopped in an area upstream of the Natchez Trace Parkway where two schools of fish are set up on very subtle structures. Morrow sacked up 16 pounds, 1 ounce then made the long run down to Pickwick's lower end, burning more than $100 in fuel and failing to upgrade his limit. On Friday, Morrow committed himself to the two schools all day and weighed 22 pounds, 10 ounces. He did the same today, camping on the spot so long that when he went from one school to the other, he fired up his big motor and made a few laps just to give his cranking/electronics battery a charge. The results speak to the quality of fish he's found. "I was catching them really good in the morning, then a couple here and there," he says, indicating that the fish are not staying put all day long. "You just hope you make the little move at the right time, and today I made the right cast late in the day and caught two big ones." The most interesting part about Morrow's schools is how he found them. In practice, he noticed individual fish on his graph - not the big schools most anglers are finding. Often, he thinks anglers mistake those isolated marks to be bass, when they're really catfish or drum, or they ignore them in favor of the more obvious schools. He's gotten pretty good at identifying fish species using Lowrance DownScan but still prefers to drop an underwater camera for verification. What he saw when he dunked the camera was a school of big bass. "There's rock on one spot," Morrow explains. "That's the reason it's so hard to see them on the depth finder." In case you didn't know it, Morrow is a whiz with an underwater camera. He used one to find his Walmart Bass Fishing League All-American winning fish back in 2010, used it again to make the top 10 at the 2010 Forrest Wood Cup and has relied on it in just about every clear-water tournament he's fished since. Morrow is dragging the bass off his spots with a Zoom Magnum Ol' Monster ribbon-tail worm in the mornings, grinding it out for about one keeper per day on a crankbait, then filling in with a Carolina rig and shaky head as needed. As for tomorrow, Morrow knows where to find some fish at the lower end, and there's temptation to go try and catch them. But he's not giving in unless he has to. "I don't think I want to do that," he says. "I think I want to live or die on this spot, and be a hero or a zero. Obviously, they're moving in and out. I hope they're replenishing. I don't know where they're coming from if they are replenishing, but I hope they are." 5th place - Jason Lambert - 61 pounds, 6 ounces Local pro Jason Lambert made his second FLW top 10 on the Tennessee River in as many weeks. He finished second in last week's Rayovac FLW Series event on Kentucky Lake and goes into the final day on Pickwick in fifth place thanks to a 21-pound, 14-ounce limit caught today. Much like Neal, Lambert didn't experience much action early. "It was slow until about 12," he says. "Then I started catching them pretty good for two hours. I had about 13 pounds at 12, then I caught a 6 1/2 and a 3." The key to Lambert's grind today was old-school endurance: Keep a lure in the water as much as possible, and when they fire, catch them as fast as you can. He fished 40 schools today, including three or four that he had all to himself. On each stop, Lambert never made a cast until he found the school with his electronics, then he reached first for a swimbait. What he's looking for on his electronics is a wadded-up school because when they're bunched, they're more likely to be active. "They're big schools on small spots," he says. "If they're spread out, most of the time I don't fish for them." Lambert's waypoints are on a variety of traditional summertime structures: points, shell beds, creek mouths, ridges, etc. Most of his attention is directed toward the down-current side. Going into Sunday, the Pickwick Lake local is facing an almost insurmountable deficit of 14 pounds, 8 ounces behind tournament-leader Greg Hackney. But he's not changing up anything. This spring, Pickwick was on fire, according to Lambert. And yesterday, the big limits brought in were reminiscent of what was going down on this lake just a few weeks ago. Knowing that the potential for a big bag is out there, Lambert's going to sample as many schools as he can and see if he can make some noise from the middle of the pack. "I'm going to cover a lot of water and hit a bunch of places until I find something to get them fired up," he says. The rest of the best 6th place - Robbie Dodson - 61 pounds, 3 ounces 7th place - Spencer Shuffield - 60 pounds, 13 ounces 8th place - Michael Wooley - 60 pounds, 1 ounce 9th place - Casey Ashley - 58 pounds, 13 ounces 10th place - Shad Schenck - 58 pounds, 13 ounces Full results For full results, click here. Competition format In Walmart FLW Tour competition, pros and co-anglers are randomly paired each day, with pros supplying the boat, controlling boat movement and competing against other pros. Co-anglers fish from the back deck against other co-anglers. The full field competes in the two-day opening round. After day two the field is pared to the top 20 pros and co-anglers. The co-angler competition concludes at Saturday's weigh-in, and the top 10 pros continue competition Sunday, with the winner determined by the heaviest accumulated weight from all four days. For more coverage 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. In addition to FLW Live, FLWOutdoors.com offers real-time updates from the water. Simply click on the tournament ID within the "On the Water" banner at the top of the FLW or Walmart FLW Tour home pages. Walmart FLW Tour event information Takeoff Location: McFarland Park, 200 James M. Spain Drive, Florence, Ala. Time: 6:30 a.m. Weekend weigh-ins Location: Walmart, 2701 Cloverdale Road, Florence, Ala. Time: 4 p.m. FLW Expo Date: Saturday and Sunday, June 7-8 Location: Walmart, 2701 Cloverdale Road, Florence, Ala. Time: noon to 4 p.m. Admission: FREE Free Concert: See country star Chris Janson live in concert Sunday at 3 p.m. Admission is free. Follow FLW For regular updates, photos, tournament news and more, follow the Walmart FLW Tour on Facebook at Facebook.com/FLWFishing and on Twitter at Twitter.com/FLWFishing.