UPCOMING EVENT: PHOENIX BASS FISHING LEAGUE - 2020 - Ohio River

All-American Updates – Practice

All-American Updates – Practice

This story will be updated throughout the day with more from official practice for the T-H Marine BFL All-American on Pickwick Lake.


After rolling into Florence, Ala., for registration on Tuesday, this morning is the first time some of the T-H Marine FLW Bass Fishing League (BFL) All-American competitors have ever floated a boat in Pickwick Lake. As soon as registration was complete, the boaters headed from the conference center to the boat yard for an orientation on the brand-new Ranger boats with matching Evinrude outboards and Lowrance electronics everyone in the field will run for the tournament. The tournament runs June 1-3, but this last day of May offers everyone in the field a chance to see how Pickwick Lake is shaping up.

One of the true gems of the Tennessee River, Pickwick is a diverse lake, but this time of year it’s best known for the offshore ledges. Some of the best in the world have trained on Pickwick’s ledges, from Randy Haynes and Jason Lambert to local favorite and All-American competitor Lloyd Picket Jr. Ledges aside, there should be opportunities shallow as well – there is plenty of grass in Pickwick and the lake is just a touch high – that means there will be plenty of wood in the water, especially in places like Coffee Slough.

Today, 49 boaters and 49 co-anglers will get about 8 hours on the water to figure things out. With up to $120,000 and a Forrest Wood Cup berth for the boater winner, and up to $60,000 for the co-angler winner on the line there’s a lot of incentive to find some bass and fine tune some presentations. The money on the line is great, but the title of BFL All-American Champion follows you forever – that and the trophy are more than enough motivation.

Meet the All-American field

Practice photos 

 

6:50 – At the boat yard

After getting off the water, competitors re-fueled their boats, re-hydrated and then headed to the boat yard to work on tackle. There, we caught up with a few of the anglers to get a feel for how the single day of official practice treated them.

Chris Kirksey of Fairmont, Ga., had without a doubt one of the more interesting practice days. While Justin Atkins burned 46 gallons and put in 100+ waypoints, Kirksey reports mixed results at best on the ledges.

“Practice was brutal. The high water and the current is a little much for me,” says Kirksey. “I’ve been fishing Hartwell all year, and you have to bring your own water to those tournaments.”

Contrary to the conventional wisdom of summer on the Tennessee River, Kirksey is primed to go shallow.

“I’m gonna flip all day,” reveals Kirksey. “Maybe if the current is minimal I’ll do some ledge fishing, but it’ll be a slow go. I found fish on the ledges today, I just couldn’t get them to bite. But, I caught probably four 4-pounders today flipping different places and my co-angler caught a good one too.”

Chris Aswegan won the BFL Regional last fall on Kentucky Lake, but he’s not ready to count himself among the Tennessee River’s elite.

“I wouldn’t consider myself a Tennessee River fisherman, but the fall sort of lines up for me,” says Aswegan, who is a Mississippi River angler from the Great Lakes Division. “I considered my pre-practice to be pretty decent, but things for me kind of dwindled today. But, we caught some fish and maybe have a plan.”

One angler who is at home on the Tennessee River is Adam Ohms, who qualified out of the LBL Division and has spent plenty of time on the ledges of Kentucky Lake. Ohms managed two days of practice before the cutoff, but knows enough about ledge fishing that he’s not too confident.

“It seemed like everything I found was a lot deeper and a lot further out,” relays Ohms. “I never made a cast on anything today, I’ve just had my heart broken when in the tournament everything you find will have three boats on it. I found some stuff, but you can never find enough.”

Overall, it seems like Pickwick may have fallen a bit short of expectations on the official practice day, but practice is always a tricky thing to gauge. Come tournament morning, with 49 boats blazing off to their best stuff, things are bound to get good, be it shallow or deep. Pickwick is simply too good a fishery to disappoint for long, and early June is one of the best times to be on it. 

 

2:20 – On the water

Working down toward the dam, there were definitely more anglers working the ledges on the lower end of the lake than the upper end. The wind has slicked off a little since the morning as well, so the run back to takeoff should be nice and smooth for the anglers.

Fishing down the lake, Brad Leifermann reported a pretty satisfactory morning of ledge exploration.

“I think we are both feeling like we can catch a limit tomorrow,” says Leifermann, who has never before fished Pickwick. “It hasn’t been gangbusters, but it seems like every place we’ve pulled up on we’ve caught a fish or two.”

Though Leifermann and co-angler Trey Shaw hadn’t caught any big ones, they remain committed to the ledges.

“We haven’t gone shallow at all,” says Leifermann. “We’re going to stay out deep looking for that mega-school.”

Jeff Hager reported having a few bites as well, and says he has spilt his day between idling to find fish and then throwing at them for a bit to determine their disposition.

Ronald Nutter says he practice pretty extensively prior to cutoff and has been spending his time bounding between main-river stuff and more secondary ledges and catching a few along the way.

“It’s a little different today than it was a couple weeks ago,” relays Nutter. “I think they are out a little deeper and right now the bite doesn’t seem as good.”

With time winding down on practice, this will be the last update from the lake, but we’ll have more from this boatyard this evening. 

 

Brandon Gray and Sport Smith

11:00 – It's a beauty of a day on the lake

So far it’s been a pristine morning on Pickwick. After a calm start, the wind has increased enough to keep the temperature perfect and the water ruffled, but not enough to negatively impact the fishing or idling in any major way. To top it off, the TVA is pulling more than 80,000 CFS, which should be great for the ledge bite.

On the water, we’ve spotted a number of anglers idling determinably up the lake from the Natchez Trace bridge, but not many fishing. One of the folks who is fishing is Drew Boggs, who loves fishing shallow and is likely to find a home in the upper end of the lake.

We found him fishing shallow bars between some of the islands, but he says “I almost hope I don’t get any bites,” and plans to pursue some flipping opportunities in the afternoon. According to Boggs, flipping shallow was money in practice, and he’d like to make that happen again.

Brandon Gray and co-angler Sport Smith were fishing offshore down near the bridge late in the morning, and Gray says they had caught two keepers and lost one. Gray says they’ve been doing more idling than fishing, and that jives with our observations of the pair as well.

Ty Faber was fishing when we ran into him, working fairly deliberately along the river ledge. Faber qualified out of the TBF National Championship and hails from Colorado, so he’s probably a little new to the Tennessee River. Nonetheless, he’s happy with his practice so far.

“It’s perfect,” says Faber, who seems happy to save his success for game day. “We ain’t caught no 5-pounders yet. We’re just hitting spot to spot running on down and then we’ll turn back I guess.”

 

7:00 – Official practice takeoff

Though most pros and co-anglers loaded the boats the night before, there was still some last-minute prep to be done by a few anglers. Aside from that, takeoff was a well-organized and leisurely affair, with Folgers coffee, donuts and plenty of time to anticipate the day and revel in a perfect Alabama morning. Because the All-American is so hard to qualify for, it always provides and interesting mix of veterans and first-timers – though some of the first-time qualifiers like Justin Atkins are instant favorites, others have very little experience on Pickwick or the Tennessee River.

“I’ve wanted to qualify ever since I started fishing the BFLs when I was 16,” says Sheldon Collings of Grove, Okla. “I’m 19 now, so it’s taken me quite a while. It’s unbelievable, you get treated like royalty here. I’m just here to have fun whether I win it or not, but if I do win I don’t know what I’d say. On the way down here we passed Jacob Wheeler, and he won it in 2011 and he’s the number one in the world now. I’m just hoping that someday that can be me, and right here this weekend is when it can start.”

Collings primarily fishes the Okie Division and calls Grand Lake home, so he’s not exactly experienced on the Tennessee River.

“I fished the Mississippi Division BFL at the beginning of the month and I was here for four or five days for that,” says Collings, who finished 31st in that event. “That’s the only practice I had. I figured out where the fish are going to be at for this event, so I kinda have an idea of what I’m going to do and where I’m gonna go.”

Like many others, Collings is committed to the ledge fishing game despite it being new to him.

“I’m more about just pulling up on a main lake point and you catch some fish there, but I have Lowrance electronics on my boat, that’s all I’ve ever ran. I’m not the best at it, but we’ll figure something out.”

On the opposite end of the age spectrum from Collings is Richard Phillips, who is fishing his first All-American this week and hails from the Savannah River Division.

“I retired in 2003 and started fishing the BFL’s then, I couldn’t do it before, I just fished club stuff. It’s a humbling experience,” says Phillips. “I set two goals when I started fishing – I’d like to win a tournament and make the All-American. I’ve had a second and a third and couldn’t quite win one, but I did make the All-American.”

Phillips also made it down Pickwick to practice, and it was his first time ever on the big Tennessee River impoundment.

“I came down for 10 days and got in seven full days of practice, so I won’t get lost. It went pretty well, I had 15 to 17 pounds five days, which is not great for here, but I caught some fish,” says Phillips, who plans on re-checking some of his water today. “Half the day I’m going to go find new places, and in the afternoon I’m going to check some of the places I found them in practice.”

 

Notes from registration

Hailing from the Ozark Division, Jeremy Lawyer has finished second and first in the last two All-Americans – he’s been tearing it up as a pro on the FLW Tour this year, and he’s eager to defend his title.

“I’m super excited,” says Lawyer of his chance to go back-to-back. “This one here is probably more exciting than any of them because of the fact that you’ve already done it and the pressure is off, it’s on the Tennessee River and you’re defending your title.”

Like many, Lawyer is looking to tap into some ledge fish and predicts that 90 to 95 percent of his practice day will be spent idling.

“I came down here for two days a couple weeks ago before we went to La Crosse for the Tour event and that’s the first I’d seen it,” says Lawyer. “When I was here before there wasn’t very many fish out, and I really hope there are some more out. I’m just going to try to locate some schools and see if I can get a few to bite a bit. I’m probably not going to fish very much at all – you can usually tell by how they set up if they’ll bite and I’ll just try and figure them out on game day.”

Robert Crosnoe picked up the co-angler win in the 2008 BFL All-American on Clarks Hill, and he’s been a regular these last few years on the boater side. Just making the championship is a monumental task, but Crosnoe would like to lock down a W from the front of the boat as well.

“I’ve been improving in every single one of them,” says the Gator Division stick. “I just need to keep improving.”

Crosnoe put some serious practice time in before off-limits started, and he’s got a multi-pronged approach in mind for official practice.

“I think I’m going to do a little bit of both,” says Crosnoe of the ledge vs. shallow decision. “I’m going to fish shallow, and I’ll probably mix some ledges in in the afternoon. I came for six days before cutoff, we had some mixed weather which makes the bite kind of tough, but I had three good days and two just alright days.”

Regarded with Lloyd Pickett Jr. as one of the men to beat, Justin Atkins is in the midst of a great rookie season on the FLW Tour, almost as though he’s been riding a wave of momentum since his third-place finish in the BFL Regional last fall on Lake Dardanelle.

“This is something I’ve always wanted to fish since I was 16 or 17 years old when I started fishing BFLs. This is one on my bucket list that I’ve wanted to scratch off for sure,” says the young pro. “I feel good about it. I’m not saying that I’m gonna win or whatever, but it feels good. Fishing all year on Tour, you have three days on a place you’ve never seen. I’ve been practicing for this one for 15 years – I have a good idea of what’s going on.”

Atkins has a pair of top 10 finishes to his credit in BFL competition on Pickwick – he’s essentially fishing at home this week. Like most raised on the Tennessee River, he loves to fish offshore ledges and plans to leverage those skills to the utmost.

“In July a lot of your big fish will get back in that grass, but right now that’s not going to be a player,” says Atkins. “When Buddy [Gross] won that was a shad spawn deal, shad like to spawn around that eel grass, but that’s not going to be a player now. I won’t make very many casts tomorrow – there are going to be a few shallow places that I’ll cast on to see if I can get a bite, but most of it will be idling.”

Tags: jody-white  headline-story  2017-06-01-pickwick-lake 

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