Best of the Stren Series

Best of the Stren Series
2006 Stren Series points leaders: Chris McCall (center) and, clockwise from top left, Jimmy Reese, Dave Lefebre, Chad Morgenthaler and Timothy Little.

Multiple wins, tight races, some big bass and steady fishing throughout highlight our divisional points winners' seasons as they look forward to the 2006 Stren Series Championship.

Central Division: Chris McCall

When the Stren Series schedule came out last year, you wouldn't have faulted Jasper, Texas, pro Chris McCall for salivating just a little bit when he took one look at the Central Division: Lake Amistad, Sam Rayburn Reservoir, Lake Texoma and Sam Rayburn again. Four tournaments, all in Texas, and two on his home lake.

"When I finally did get to see the schedule, I didn't go into it thinking, `Man, I can win this thing,'" McCall said. "But it was tough not to think that I can at least do well this year."

McCall didn't just do well; he dominated the Central Division in way that only a pro angler fishing in his backyard can. He set a Stren Series record for Angler of the Year with an astounding 788 points.

A look at the math shows that a pro could amass a possible 800 points in any given division on the Stren Series - that is, if the pro somehow wins all four tournaments. With a victory, two second-place finishes and one finish just outside the top 10, McCall missed that mark by just 12 points. It was a season that brings to mind other notable Stren Series runs like Mark Zona's three runner-up finishes in the 2003 Northern Division, Brent Ehrler's three consecutive third-place finishes in the 2003 Western Division and even Jimmy Reese's Western Division campaign this year (see below). But none of those pros racked up the points like this year's Central Division champion because, even at his worst event of the season, McCall almost put himself into position to win.

"It definitely means a lot to me because the Central Division is stacked with really good fishermen. Plus, we had two chances to fish Rayburn, which doesn't hurt," McCall said. "I just figured if you went out and fished the way you know you can fish, and took care of business, you could do really well."

And, yes, McCall admits that he might have had a small homefield advantage in the 2006 Central, but it didn't start out that way.

The Central Division opened on Lake Amistad in February. The Stren Series' first visit to the vaunted fishery on the Mexican border turned into a record-setting tournament. They caught them like gangbusters, and McCall didn't miss out on the action.

"That tournament was just phenomenal. I have never been on a fishery that good," McCall said. "You caught big ones every day, which was just amazing to me. It was my first time on the lake, and after the first two days, I had 47 pounds and I was in seventh place. That just blew me away. I caught at least one fish over 8 pounds all three days, I think."

Mainly throwing a 1-ounce Santone spinnerbait that week, McCall took 11th place at Amistad, his worst finish of the Central Division season.

After that, he headed home for the next three contests and never looked back. At Sam Rayburn in March, the pro used his local acumen to the fullest effect.

"At that tournament, we'd had some pressure on Rayburn due to the low water level," McCall said. "Fish were on beds trying to spawn, but we had so much pressure and also had a really nice cold front that came through. That led to one thing I love to do at Rayburn: throw a Rat-L-Trap on the grass."

He nailed down his first FLW Outdoors win that week, but he had to make adjustments on the fly to get it done.

"At 1:30 the final day, I only had two fish in the livewell because the Trap bite had died on me," he said. "Then I caught fish on six straight casts on a Gambler Sweebo worm. The last day was calm and slick, and I just couldn't get them to go on Traps. But it all came together in a real short period of time."

From there, McCall notched another stellar tournament at Lake Texoma in April, narrowly missing back-to-back wins with a second-place finish.

"That one was probably the most disappointing tournament of the whole deal because I grew up there and have fished a lot of great tournaments there," McCall said. "That particular time of the year I expected to finish in the top 10, but we had a few rainstorms that Friday night before the last day. I really expected that to work for me, but the guy who won it (Tommy Dickerson), a friend of mine, just went and found the clear water on the last day.

"I was throwing a spinnerbait on boat docks and swimming a white Santone jig, also on docks. That's a big deal at certain times of year on that lake. I talked to Tommy on the last day, and he also caught all of his fish on one little stretch of docks. He just found cleaner water. I'm glad that he won because I know him, but it was probably the most disappointing tournament I've had. At that point, that made three second-place finishes for me in the Strens and FLWs."

Pro Chris McCall of Jasper, Texas, caught a two-day total of 10 bass weighing 34 pounds, 3 ounces to lead day two of the Stren Series Central Division event on Sam Rayburn Reservoir.McCall would add a fourth when they returned to Sam Rayburn to finish the season. This time, in May, he turned to his topwater baits to wrap up his second consecutive runner-up finish and the points title.

"That particular tournament was probably the funnest tournament I fished all year," he said. "The week before I did pretty well at the FLW tournament at Kentucky Lake. So I came straight home from Kentucky Lake, and I knew what I wanted to do when I got there. I caught them all on a Gambler Cane Toad. All I did was run around to isolated clumps of peppergrass, mark it and come back to it in the tournament."

This week marks his fifth trip to the Stren Series Championship. So what does McCall expect from Wheeler Lake this November?

"I'm just going to try and fish what it gives me," he said. "Wheeler's definitely not a big pattern lake. If they don't pull all the water off the grass, then, yeah, you can pattern it. But if they pull water off the grass, then it's a lot more difficult to do that there than at a lot of lakes. The water level's going to be a big key for me. Going to this tournament, I want to fish grass. But if I can't do that, then I've just got to figure out another way."

Pro standings leader Jimmy Reese stayed consistent by catching 21-4 Wednesday and placing 16th. HeWestern Division: Jimmy Reese

In the world of professional bass fishing, most people would tell you that to be a great angler, it takes two things: wins and a points title. Some fishermen go for the win every time, throwing caution to the wind and just going for the gold. Others prefer to fish more conservatively in the hope that it translates into consistency, which is the path to a points title.

For Stren Series Western Division pro Jimmy Reese, it was all of the above in 2006. The Witter Springs, Calif., pro notched not one but two victories this season en route to earning the Western Division's points title by an impressive 51 points. For Reese, 2006 was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Sure, the wins were fun - Reese was tops at both the California Delta and his home lake, Clear Lake, this year. But trophies and big checks aside, Reese said his proudest moment was definitely the points title.

"That's a pretty good accomplishment, especially with all the good anglers we have out here," Reese said. "It's what we dream of doing. To win an angler-of-the-year title, the whole season has to go right. All the hard work you've put in over the years, that's where it shows."

For Reese, little went wrong in 2006. His two wins were accompanied by a fifth-place finish on tricky Lake Havasu and a 14th-place showing on Lake Shasta. Though Reese is certainly no slouch - his Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League statistics prove that - his previous performances pale in comparison to the effort he put forth this year. What made the difference? The answer, he says, is complex.

"There are a lot of things you look at," he said. "The schedule, Mother Nature ... I think Mother Nature played a big part this year in our tournaments."

Indeed, Lake Havasu's pristine conditions - but tough fishing - gave way to Clear Lake's freezing cold and torrential rains that nevertheless produced humongous bass. Rainy, cool weather at Shasta didn't hurt the fishing, either, and normal weather on the Delta gave way to record-breaking bass. With the weather anything but consistent for Stren Series Western Division anglers this year, Reese's consistency is all the more impressive.

"I think when Mother Nature has an effect on a tournament, your better fishermen come through," Reese said. "They finish better. The luck factor kind of disappears when Mother Nature comes in.

Jimmy Reese of Witter Springs, Calif., celebrates victory on Clear Lake by holding up part of his two-day 40-pound, 8-ounce catch."I look at how I won the Clear Lake tournament this year, and I won it on a dart head, or what they call a Shaky Head. Honestly, over the 15 years I've been fishing tournaments on Clear Lake, I don't think I've ever done it other than 20 minutes here and there. It's never been the dominant presentation I've used in a tournament, but Mother Nature forced me to slow down and do it, and I accepted the fact that I had to do it."

Indeed, Reese's Clear Lake accomplishments are the stuff of legends out West. He currently lives only 10 minutes from a launch ramp there, but says the tournament schedule definitely keeps him off Clear Lake more than he would like.

"Obviously time on the water plays a big part there," he said. "In the summertime, I'm out there quite a bit because there is nothing going on. Because of the tournament schedule, I definitely don't get to fish it as much as I want to."

Next on the agenda for Reese is the Stren Series Championship, an event he qualified for but skipped two years ago. With the event scheduled on Alabama's Wheeler Lake, it's an opportunity for Reese to showcase his skills on the Eastern playground.

"I'm very, very excited about it; I can't wait to be there and be involved with a bunch of great fishermen from across the nation," he said. "Now I have the opportunity to make the Forrest L. Wood Championship. And that would be fun, just being involved with that great caliber of fishermen."

Pro Jimmy Reese of Witter Springs, Calif., won $63,000, including a Ranger 519VX, at the California Delta for his second victory of the year.With the 2006 season behind him and a world of opportunities before him, Reese looks forward to 2007 with the resolve of a true competitor. He is more confident in his abilities than ever before, and now he has the wins - and the points title - to prove it. However, he knows that his dream season of 2006 would be difficult to duplicate, try as he might.

"To get any piece of what I had this year - to win one tournament - that would be my goal," Reese said. "The angler-of-the-year title is always my goal. I'd be content with any part of what happened this year."

To get there, Reese will have to draw on his strengths, and according to him, there is nothing he cannot do.

"My strengths are everything now," he said. "I've learned to fish every way possible, and I've had success with everything, so I'm confident in doing everything. I think in fishing there's a lot of mental - accepting and having the confidence that I can fish any way."

Pro Dave Lefebre of Union City, Pa., finished the Stren Series Lake Erie event in fourth place.Northeast Division: Dave Lefebre

Four years ago a hungry young pro out of Erie, Pa., took the nascent Northern Division by storm in just his second season on tour, leading the points race into the final tournament. That year, Dave Lefebre ended up losing the standings race to Marcel Veenstra in the tour's final days, a blow that can deflate some anglers' career hopes.

But for Lefebre, it only made him want it more.

"I think I was leading the points going into the tournament, so I was really disappointed about that. I think that was my second year fishing that trail, so it would have been nice," Lefebre said. "But you know what? That was four years ago, and he's probably forgotten about it already. So I'd rather win it now when it's fresh."

This year, with the northern circuit of the Stren Series now split into two divisions, Lefebre focused his energies on the fisheries close to home in the Northeast Division: Kerr Lake, Lake Erie, the Potomac River and Lake Champlain. It paid off. He put together three top-10 finishes, including a victory, and edged out perennial northern standings contender Kevin Bishop for the 2006 points title.

It started at Kerr Lake in June, a lake that Lefebre admits isn't his strongest venue. There, he missed the cut out of the opening round but still finished a respectable 41st.

"I think that one's always my worst one. I seem to kind of struggle there, and I'm not sure why. I always go there just trying to salvage a top-50. The rest of the year is the meat and potatoes for me, the part that I really like. So I was really happy with that one because I wasn't totally dialed in," he said. "I just stuck with a jig most of the time and concentrated on a lot deeper water. I was just fishing isolated humps and things like that with a ¾-ounce jig. That was just a tougher deal for me because they catch them on topwaters and stuff like that at Kerr. I just never found any of that."

Things picked up for Lefebre after that and never slowed down. At the July event on Lake Erie, he - along with the rest of the field - battled nasty weather conditions and put together a fourth-place finish.

"That's always a fun one. It's right by my house, so I get to stay at home and drive back and forth to the tournament," he said. "It's one of the highlights of the year, and the city of Cleveland really welcomes us with enthusiasm. It's more like an FLW event even."

Even though the anglers battled heavy seas on Lake Erie for a couple of days, Lefebre managed to work a unique pattern on the big fishery known for its world-class smallmouth bass.

"I was pretty happy because, the last two years since we started fishing at Cleveland, I figured out how to catch largemouths close to home on a jig. And both years I've needed the largemouths to qualify," Lefebre said. "Great Lakes largemouths are a lot different than regular laregemouths. I like the green ones, and when you can catch them on Lake Erie and make the cut with them, it's even more satisfying."

In August, Lefebre picked up his second career Stren Series victory by winning at the Potomac River.

"We were there practicing during the Bassmaster Elite Series tournament, (which started the week before.) As big as it is, it fishes really small, and everyone was on everything. But the neat thing was that I got to look at some of my areas during their tournament day, and I was blown away that no one was fishing what I was," Lefebre said. "I was there a little longer than normal, and I kind of figured something out. A lot of anglers were seeing what the Elite Series anglers were doing and were fishing the same spots. I was aware where people were fishing, but I kind of found something that nobody else fished. I went back into a place where I'd won a BASS tournament a long time ago, up in this creek, and just started pounding them. On that Tuesday before the tournament, I wasn't even going to go out and practice, but it turned out that the stuff I found on that Tuesday ended up being the whole deal."

Dave Lefebre shows off one of his winning baits: a prototype, Sapphire-blue, soft-plastic creature bait with rattles made by Mizmo.Lefebre won the Potomac River event mainly on prototype baits he helped design for Mizmo.

"That was pretty neat. I was just fishing that new jig that my friend Jimmy Lunsford, who makes all my jigs and stuff, gave me. We just got those jigs, made up some skirts in a kind of a unique, weird-looking color. It's kind of cool when you can catch them on something odd," he said. "Plus, Vic (Vatalaro) won that Lake Erie tournament on those new gobies. I gave him 12 of them during the week. That made two wins back to back on Mizmo prototype baits that I designed. So that was pretty cool."

The wind kicked up again for the final event of the year, Lake Champlain, even forcing the cancellation of day two, but Lefebre again weathered the storm and nabbed his third top-10 finish. There, he edged out Bishop for the points title, 750-739.

"I always like to go down south and fish for largemouths there, and this time was no different," Lefebre said. "I spent quite a bit of practice time down there, and I found it was on fire. But on the last day of practice, I went and checked some stuff up north again. That's when I totally changed my game plan. I set the hook on few solid 3- to 3 1/2-pound smallies. I knew if I could get five of those a day to make the cut, I'd be in good shape. Plus, I knew weather wasn't going to be real good, so I stayed close to home.

"Every tournament trail you fish, especially when you're ranked in the top five at the end of the year, you go back and look at what you could have done differently. More often than not, it's just one fish or one moment - out of hours and hours and hours of fishing - that can cost you. You always think about that, even when I was leading going into that last tournament, because you're always nervous, thinking about that one thing.

Pro Dave Lefebre won a Ranger 519VX plus $10,000 cash. He also earned a $10,000 contingency bonus from Ranger for a total of $60,000. This was his second Stren Series victory."I don't take the Strens lightly. It's a supercompetitive trail. It doesn't have as many of the pros, but many of the pros come from the region, and you have all the best locals on those bodies of water. Some could argue that those are the toughest tournaments to do well in. They're tough, so I'm really excited about the points title. I've been up there before and finished second, third, fifth. I've been in the top five, but to finally get it feels good."

Lefebre is making his sixth straight Stren Series Championship appearance this week, and he's looking forward to attacking the familiar waters of Wheeler Lake.

"I'm pretty sure it's going to be a tough tournament like always," he said. "I always come here excited because it has muddy water and current, which is perfect for a jig. I'm really fired up about this one. Ten or 11 pounds will be a super stringer if you can catch it three or four days in a row. Twelve pounds a day will win the whole thing. It's going to be more crowded than normal because we've always been allowed to lock through before. (Anglers are restricted to fishing just Wheeler Lake at this year's championship.) But Wheeler's huge; it's just so big that people will always be able to find stuff. And there'll be a 20-pound stringer or two some days."

Pro Timothy Little of Acworth, Ga., is in fourth place with a limit weighing 16-14.Southeast Division: Timothy Little

Fishing his first full year of Stren events in the Southeast Division, Timothy Little of Acworth, Ga., captured the 2006 points title after four events with 760 points.

"I got fortunate in the way the events lined up this year," Little said. "I'm a shallow-water fisherman, and we went to a lot of good lakes right around the prespawn, spawn time when fish are primarily shallow. I was able to power-fish all season and didn't have to drag out a spinning rod."

At Lake Okeechobee in January, Little used a Senko to catch fish that were moving up on beds to score a season-starting 11th-place finish.

A month later, at a cold-front-wrought West Point Lake in Georgia, he used shallow-running crankbaits and flipped soft plastics to fish his way to a seventh-place finish.

In March, the Series made a stop at Lake Eufaula, and Little relied on tournament bass fishing's hottest lure at the time, the Chatterbait, to post his best finish of the year, fourth place.

Going down the homestretch at Santee Cooper lakes, Little sight-fished for two days to finish 22nd.

In all, the Georgia pro collected $17,940 in Stren Series winnings this season.

Pro Timothy Little of Acworth, Ga., finished fourth with a two-day total of 29-10.Going into the championship at Wheeler, Little is pleased to be fishing a lake known for shallow-water patterns.

"You can fish just about any way you want at Wheeler," Little said. "Plus it's a big lake, so it spreads anglers out pretty well."

Looking ahead to next season, Little says he will fish the Stren Southeast Division again and the FLW Series Eastern Division. He declined his FLW Tour invitation based on time constraints.

"I have a commercial painting business at home that I must tend to," Little said. "To me, the FLW Tour is a full-time commitment. With so many events so close together, I think you really need to be fishing full-time in order to successfully compete. The Stren Series and the FLW Series gives me eight events, spread out over the year, and I'm comfortable with that."

And if this year is any indication, keep an eye out for Timothy Little in 2007.

Pro Chad Morgenthaler and weighmaster Chris Jones enjoy a laugh during the day-three weigh-in. Morgenthaler begins day four from the fifth position.Midwest Division: Chad Morgenthaler

Pro angler Chad Morgenthaler describes himself as a shallow-water power fisherman. All things considered, he'd simply prefer to find the heaviest vegetation possible and pull out the heavy line and the big flipping stick. But to become one of best in the sport, Morgenthaler knew he had weaknesses he needed to overcome. So when the 2006 Stren Series Midwest Division schedule first came out, Morgenthaler saw a rare opportunity to both gain experience on new water as well as fish to his strengths.

The first event of the season took the Coulterville, Ill., pro to Kentucky Lake. Like the majority of seasoned pros, Morgenthaler had a preconceived notion that the fish were going to be positioned on Kentucky Lake's famous ledges. He committed himself to fishing deep with a jig, but he stayed away from the heavy boat traffic, instead choosing to wet his line in Barkley Lake. With that strategy in mind, Morgenthaler boated a limit each day of the tournament and finished in 33rd place.

"I walked away from that tournament very happy," he said. "I was just trying to survive it."

From there, the veteran pro went north to the first of two stops along the Mississippi River. Having never been to the La Crosse, Wis., area, Morgenthaler didn't exactly know what to expect.

"When I got to La Crosse, I was in heaven. There was vegetation, there were backwater sloughs with current, just cover everywhere. I knew, if things panned out, that I would do pretty well."

On that first day of practice he caught roughly 60 to 80 bass without really knowing what he was doing. He fine-tuned his pattern during practice and finished the tournament in 15th place.

Roughly 300 miles downstream in Fort Madison, Iowa, Morgenthaler once again quickly located solid schools of fish. As was the case with most of the top finishers, he concentrated his efforts in the Montrose, Iowa, area of the river - the key again being suitable vegetation.

"During practice, I figured out the feeding times. Every day I got bit like crazy from 12:30 to 2:30 in the afternoon. The fish would just come up on this flat and feed like crazy."

Pro Chad Morgenthaler of Coulterville, Ill., caught a limit of 15 pounds, 8 ounces and tied for second place.To hear him describe it, this was clearly Morgenthaler's best opportunity at a Stren victory.

"I should have won that tournament. On the last day, the river had dropped 6 inches overnight. That morning I started getting fish right away. It was good to be getting extra bites, but I knew something was up. Seven times that day I had the winning fish blow up my bait. I couldn't get them to come back on anything either. Falling water will do that to you every time, especially on a topwater bite."

Even though victory eluded him, his fourth-place finish put him third overall in the points race with one event left. Leading at the time was Russellville, Ala., pro William Davis and Jim Jones of Big Bend, Wis., was second.

"After that tournament, I knew it was Davis' and Jones' to lose, and mine to win."

Unfortunately for Morgenthaler, the final qualifying tournament was held on Lake Erie, a venue he had never visited before.

For those who have never fished Lake Erie, the first trip can be an eye-opening, if not stomach-opening, experience. Morgenthaler had his bases covered though. He and fellow pro Chris Cox made an arrangement earlier in the year to help each other out. Cox, an upper-Mississippi and Lake Erie expert, would help Morgenthaler in return for advice on Pools 18, 19 and 20 of the Big Muddy.

"He really got me on what I needed to do. That first day I caught 23 pounds within the first hour, and then I probably culled another 20 pounds."

On day one of the Lake Erie event, he drew boat No. 5. Day two was much different, and as boat No. 133, he already 15 boats on his spot by the time he got there. At noon, he didn't have a single fish in his livewell. Davis and Jones, the two anglers ahead of him in the standings, struggled mightily on day one. But charging hard in the rear-view mirror was angling legend Stacey King. Morgenthaler then decided to scramble to a few spots he had pinpointed that were on the way in to the landing. He ended up scratching out four smallmouths that weighed over 12 pounds to save his season.

"I caught every fish dragging a tube. Stacey was close enough behind me that, had I not got those last few fish, he'd be doing this interview right now instead of me.

"I'm flattered to have won AOY. It was a goal of mine, but it was almost like I didn't see it coming. It just develops. I never had a bad tournament. I think what helped me in the Series more than anything was the break between events. I had time to relax and reflect. I wasn't over-practicing, I was refreshed. My next goal is to win AOY on the FLW Tour."

As for the upcoming championship, Morgenthaler said Wheeler Lake hasn't necessarily been good or bad to him in the past.

"I'm going to Wheeler with a completely open mind. I'll look at the conditions and develop a plan from there."

If his Stren performances in 2006 were any indication, expect that plan to be a wise one.


Stren Series Championship preview: Wheeler Lake

Tags: brett-carlson-rob-newell-jeff-schroeder-and-jennifer-simmons  pre-tournament  2006-11-01-flw-all-american-series-championship 

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Several Patterns in Play at Ouachita BFL

Several Patterns in Play at Ouachita BFL

FLW has a long history of hosting multiple-day summertime tournaments on Lake Ouachita, where pros have to grind it out for three days in what are usually tough conditions. On June 27, when the Phoenix Bass Fishing League presented by T-H Marine Arkie Division takes to Ouachita, the Natural State’s best bass anglers will need to game plan a little differently. With only one day to fish and a three-bass limit, they’ll have to swing for the fences with big-bass patterns to have a shot at winning. READ MORE »

Hoosier Division Kicks off with Doubleheader

Hoosier Division Kicks off with Doubleheader

The Phoenix Bass Fishing League presented by T-H Marine Hoosier Division starts its season with back-to-back tournaments on Indiana’s Lake Monroe June 27 and 28, and it’s looking like big bags will be on tap. READ MORE »

Shenandoah Div. Restarts on the Potomac

Shenandoah Div. Restarts on the Potomac

Competition in the Shenandoah Division presented by A.R.E. Truck Caps of the Phoenix Bass Fishing League presented by T-H Marine will restart at the Potomac River on June 27. With the river’s bass fully into the postspawn now, the event should be a classic summertime Potomac derby. READ MORE »