June 8, 2014 by Curtis Niedermier
FLORENCE, Ala. – Greg Hackney set the tone for the Walmart FLW Tour event on Pickwick Lake when he weighed in a 31-pound, 6-ounce stringer on day two and took a commanding 6-pound, 1-ounce lead over the next closest competitor. He expanded his lead to 7-13 on Saturday, and today locked up his first regular-season Tour victory with a four-day total of 97-7. For the full story of Hackney’s win, click here.
As for the rest of the top 10 anglers at this event, which is presented by Straight Talk Wireless and hosted by the Florence/Lauderdale Tourism Bureau, here’s a rundown of how they made it to the top of the standings.
“I gave it a run,” says Michael Neal.
The Dayton, Tenn., pro weighed in day four’s heaviest stringer, a 25-pound, 9-ounce limit that boosted him to the runner-up spot. He fell short of Hackney’s four-day total by 4 pounds, 1 ounce. Like everyone else, Neal dealt with heavy boat traffic throughout the tournament, and that prevented him from getting on a particular school he wanted to fish – until today.
“Every fish I wound up putting in the livewell came off that one spot,” Neal says. “It’s 8 feet on top and 18 feet on the bottom, and I caught most of my fish 10 to 14 feet deep. It’s a transition area. They won’t be there all summer long.
“It’s a spot where you can cast here, you can cast here, and you can cast in between,” he adds. “You can almost fish 180 degrees. They were all right on bottom. On DownScan, I could see them stacked really tight. It was one of the best days I’ve had fishing deep.”
He experienced a flurry of action early while the current was really ripping, then ignited another bite at around 10 when the current slacked off – the change in flow being the trigger to make them bite. Neal spent the entire tournament fishing between the Natchez Trace bridge and Bear Creek. He did most of his damage with a football-head jig and a Lunkerhunt Saltwater Swim Bento swimbait. Today, he also caught some fish by long-lining a crankbait.
3rd – Brent Ehrler – 92 pounds, 11 ounces – $25,000
California pro Brent Ehrler seemed to get stronger as the week progressed, thanks to the reduction in fishing pressure that allowed him to further explore his milk run of offshore schools. Many of Ehrler’s schools seemed eager to bite today, so he opted for a hit-and-run type of system. He pulled up, snatched four or five off the school, and the second the action slowed, he moved on to the next spot. However, on one school this morning, it took awhile for the action to ever slow down. Ehrler caught 40 fish there, including six 4-pounders. He actually caught two other 4-pounders from that spot earlier in the week.
“There are so many down there that one guy can’t hurt them in a couple of days of fishing,” Ehrler says. “Even when they stop biting, I look and they’re everywhere down there. It’s like every bass in five miles is on there. It’s got to be something current-related.”
Ehrler fished from the bridge to Bear Creek and back twice today but ended up weighing fish from three spots, each of which had three key ingredients: bait, rock and some type of structural current break. He also found a large school on a flat up above a ledge, rather than right on the edge of the drop. For 20 minutes, he caught a fish on every cast.
A variety of lures produced for the former Forrest Wood Cup champ this week, including a BOSS jig, a drop-shot, a BOSS shaky head, a swimbait and a Lucky Craft deep-diving crankbait.
As to be expected from the electronics expert, Ehrler says that being able to find his fish on a depth finder in practice and relocate them in the tournament before he even made a cast was a key to his success.
“Every bass I caught I found with a Humminbird,” he says. “If I didn’t see them, I didn’t fish. On a few spots, I knew the spot and the cast well enough that I could just pull up and cast. But after it slowed down, I’d idle around and use the graph to see if they moved.”
Day three was a big one for Troy Morrow. He weighed 27 pounds, the day’s biggest limit, and put himself in contention – albeit a long shot – to catch Hackney. Today, his 20-pound, 10-ounce limit just wasn’t enough to catch the leader.
Morrow caught all his keepers from two spots on a well-known community hole, each located on opposite ends of a pipeline running out from a power plant.
“The key to the spot wasn’t too obvious,” Morrow says. “Everyone knew where they were in the morning when they moved up on a bar into 17 feet. But not everyone knew where they’d be after that. I was catching them 25 feet deep.”
The spots didn’t hold big schools, but they held quality fish, which Morrow verified in practice by dropping down an underwater camera after spotting a few marks on his Lowrance unit. He found fish hunkered down tight to bottom within some rocks.
He got one keeper bite each day with a crankbait but caught the rest of his weigh-in fish with a Texas-rigged Zoom Magnum Ol’ Monster worm and a Zoom Trick Worm.
“You had to be ready quick in the morning because it happened fast,” he says. “I was done at 7:20 today. Then it slowed down, and I had a flurry at the end of the day, within the last 15 minutes. But I had a good one that broke me off.”
5th – Robbie Dodson – 85 pounds, 15 ounces – $19,000
Robbie Dodson finished strong on day four at Pickwick with a 24-pound, 12-ounce limit. He just struggled throughout the week to find real kickers. Today, he caught 100 fish off one spot. And on day two, he spent two hours on one school, and his lure never reached the bottom before being eaten. All that action is fun, but when you have to weed through 30 or 40 little ones to get one quality bite, it’s tough to fish efficiently.
Dodson had a good milk run of spots, including seven or eight that were off the beaten path, but all of his weigh-in fish ended up coming from three spots located between the Natchez Trace bridge and the Tennessee state line.
“Two were shallow, about 8 to 10 feet on top, falling into 14 to 15 feet,” Dodson says. “One was deep, about 15 to 20 feet.”
Dodson relied on a 3/4-ounce football jig and an 8-inch worm to feel his way across patches of mussel beds. When he pulled from mucky bottom to hard, he knew he was on the sweet spot.
The award for most fish caught might go to Spencer Shuffield. He was practically fighting them off his football jig this week. The action started each day with a morning flurry, and today, that flurry really lasted.
“I never really got off of it,” Shuffield says. “I probably caught 125 fish today. I caught the snot out of them. Every spot I pulled up on I caught five to eight fish. Every one was a 3 1/2-pounder.”
The lack of better-quality bites was eventually Shuffield’s undoing. He just couldn’t figure out how to catch a kicker.
Most of Shuffield’s fish this week were set up in schools on the upcurrent side of shell beds on main-lake bars that are 12 to 14 feet deep on top with steep-dropping sides. Instead of sitting in the deep water and casting to the top of the bar, he cast all the way across the bar and dragged the jig up and over. The presentation allowed him to more easily maintain bottom contact down in the 18-foot range where he got most of his bites. To stay glued to bottom while strictly dragging downhill would have required a slower retrieve. Dragging uphill was more efficient. Shuffield used a variety of jig retrieves, from a simple drag to a hard rip. He launched long casts to his bigger schools. For the smaller groups of fish, he sometimes made a short cast and drifted along the spot, dragging the jig back to the boat along the way.
The only hiccup in Shuffield’s program was that he wasn’t aggressive enough the first day. He quit when he had almost 19 pounds because he thought that would be enough to contend for the win. It wasn’t, and he might have left a 22-pound limit out there.
Michael Wooley made his second Tennessee River top 10 in as many weeks by following up a seventh-place finish at the Kentucky Lake Rayovac FLW Series event with a matching seventh-place finish on Pickwick. Wooley caught all his keepers from a single spot in Yellow Creek.
“I sat there until 11 today,” he says. “I got down there, and first thing this morning the big ones were busting on top on big gizzard shad. It started out fast, but I just couldn’t keep them on.”
The school Wooley targeted was set up on the pointed tip of a shallow bar in about 12 feet of water. It had a very subtle drop, slight enough that Wooley’s boat was only over 15 feet when he cast. He caught most of his keepers with a Strike King KVD Finesse Worm rigged on a 1/2-ounce shaky head. A few came on a Strike King 10XD.
“Every day they’d move like 50 yards,” he adds. “It took me about five minutes to find them. I’d throw a buoy and start out catching them. Then I’d stay there until they quit.”
When he left his school each day, Wooley tried to avoid coming back to them. However, he had to re-fish the school on day two in order to make it through the top-20 cut.
Local pro Jason Lambert’s final day started on a down note with a mechanical problem followed by several lost fish right from the get-go.
“I lost a big one on a 10XD that just pulled off, lost another on a DT-20 that pulled off right at the boat and had another come off on a swimbait,” he says.
The crankbaits mentioned produced a few keepers for Lambert this week, however, his go-to lure was the same one that he used to finish second at last week’s Rayovac FLW Series event on Kentucky Lake: a Yank-Um Custom Tackle vibrating jighead rigged with a Castaic Jerky J Series straight-tail minnow or Jerky J Swim Series swimbait.
Lambert spent his week on Pickwick’s lower end targeting 50 to 60 schools of bass that are set up on main-lake structure about 22 feet deep.
“Most of my schools are big schools, but you still have to throw to a specific spot [to get them to fire],” he says. “I just couldn’t get them fired up.”
This week, Lambert had to modify the preferred approach to ledge fishing, which is to locate a school with quality fish and really study it during competition, milking it for all it’s worth. With the boat traffic this week, he opted for a run-and-gun strategy that he says is actually more efficient.
“When you have this many boats and that kind of pressure, that’s what you have to do,” he says. “The biggest thing is finding a school that’ll bite.”
Shad Schenck is a patient man. He fished one spot and one spot only for three straight days and only left it for a very short period of time the final day. He also shared it all week long with fellow pro Casey Ashley.
“We were right next to each other,” says Schenck. “We caught more than 270 pounds of bass from one area this week. It was phenomenal. Of course, it was easy to work with Casey.
“I fished one other place today – a shell bed where I caught one with a swimbait,” Schenck adds. “But it [his main spot] was so awesome that I went back this afternoon, and after all those fish we caught, still had a 4-pound smallmouth jump off at the boat and caught a 5-pounder right at the end.”
“The deal” on his spot was a shell bed on an underwater point positioned in such a way that the current hit it just right. It’s not the most obvious place, says Schenck, but it has all the right ingredients of bait, current and a hard bottom. He caught his fish in two spots within the structure – one break from 20 to 25 feet, and another from 10 to 15 feet.
In practice, Schenck caught fish there with a swimbait, but within 30 minutes the first morning, he realized that the fish had slid off into deeper water. A quick switch to fishing vertically with a drop-shot Roboworm in Aaron’s morning dawn color did the trick. He also caught bass on a worm fished on a football-head jig.
“Casey made fun of me for awhile for throwing the drop-shot,” Schenck says, “but even he picked one up eventually.”
“I got tired of watching him catch them,” Ashley jokes.
Sharing water with Shad Schenck all week long meant that Casey Ashley had to willingly give up some of the quality bass that lived in the school on his primary spot. The sportsmanship was fantastic, and a sign of both anglers’ class, but the school just couldn’t sustain that kind of pressure and still produce enough weight for Schenck or Ashley to keep up with the pros higher up the top-10 standings.
“It just played out,” Ashley says. “We caught entirely too many fish off that spot.”
Ashley says he did run around a little during the tournament, mostly just to clear his mind and help fill his limit. Then he returned to the spot to upgrade with bigger fish. Oddly enough, he wasn’t really expecting to fish the spot. As boat No. 138 on day one, Ashley figured the school would have been covered up with boats, but it was apparently less obvious than he realized. And it was better than he realized too.
“I don’t think anyone knew how good it could be,” Ashley says. “I pulled up and caught 18 pounds in 15 minutes [the first day]. It wasn’t a one-cast deal. There was probably a 75-yard stretch that you had to work down. There were a few little sections there that were real good. And there were definitely waves of fish coming in to feed.”
Ashley caught most of his keepers with a Jewell football jig rigged with either a Zoom Super Chunk or a Zoom Fat Albert Twin Tail Grub, and with a green pumpkin purple Zoom Trick Worm rigged on a 3/16-ounce shaky head.
For complete results, click here.