UPCOMING EVENT: YETI College Fishing - 2019 - Sam Rayburn Reservoir

FISHING LEAGUE WORLDWIDE

Tossing Topwater with Hays

Despite its impressive productivity throughout the season, 162,000-acre Kentucky Lake can be a tough fishery to unlock come fall, particularly when “typical autumn” weather is temporarily replaced by the season’s first frost and near-freezing temperatures.

I have this in mind when I meet Arkansas pro Dylan Hays in New Johnsonville, Tenn., on the second chilly day of practice for the 2017 Costa FLW Series Championship on the big Tennessee River reservoir.

Hays reports that his first scouting trip produced one keeper ... on one lowly bite on a topwater. It was a cold and windy start to practice, and today’s forecast is for more cold, but also more sun and less wind.

The temperature is in the mid-30s at 7 a.m. when Hays idles his Costa Sunglasses boat away from the ramp and turns north to head under the Highway 70 bridge.

 

A short run

No one complains about a short run on a crisp morning, and Hays has no reason to complain. He doesn’t even get the boat on pad before stopping along the river channel and reaching for a Paycheck Baits Repo Man topwater with the hooks bent over.

“I want to catch them on topwater,” Hays says. “That’s probably all I’ll do.”

Throwing topwater on Kentucky Lake in the fall is far from a secret. It’s one of three or four patterns that win just about every tournament on the lake from September until winter. The most critical piece of the puzzle for pros to figure out is where the big ones are in their seasonal transition, which on this lake is spurred along by a fall drawdown period.

The Repo Man, with bent hooks and all, is the bait that produced Hays’ only keeper the day before. Admittedly, he didn’t learn too much on his first day, but that’s OK because Hays is nearly starting from scratch in this derby anyway. He’s fished Kentucky Lake a few times throughout his career, but mostly as a co-angler. His only recent experience in finding fish on the lake in the fall was a team tournament that he fished in early December 2016, and he came out of that one with a single waypoint worth fishing this time around.

About five minutes after his first cast, Hays convinces a small fish to slash at the bait. He works along a shallow flat adjacent to the channel before easing his way into a creek where his trolling motor stirs up sediment on the bottom each time he turns the boat. Hays spends about 45 minutes here and gets one more weak bite before strapping down a half-dozen or so rods and moving back out to the river channel.

 

Sticking with topwater

2017 has been a milestone year for Hays. After quitting his job at an Arkansas paper mill back in January, Hays went out on the FLW Tour in his rookie campaign, earning a couple of checks and suffering two bombs that cost him a shot at fishing the Forrest Wood Cup.

But he’s also been more active than ever at the Costa FLW Series level. Hays’ original plan was to fish the Southwestern Division, but after a disappointing 76th-place finish at the Tour finale at the Potomac he wasn’t ready to hang it up for the season. Instead, he decided to give it a shot at the Northern Division opener on Lake Champlain to gain some experience fishing for Northern smallmouths. Hays left Champlain with a check, and from there he continued his smallmouth education at 1000 Islands before taking another crack at the Potomac in the Northern Division finale. He finished up in 10th place in the AOY standings. A 12th-place finish in the Southwestern Division double-qualified him for this week’s championship. 

Now, he’s trying to fish his way to the 2018 Forrest Wood Cup on Lake Ouachita, a lake just an hour from his Sheridan, Ark., home where he has quite a lot of experience. He also won't be going it alone in this derby. Hays’ wife, Melinda, also qualified for the championship as a co-angler, and she’ll be making her way to Tennessee in a few days.

On a main-lake bar on the opposite side of the channel, Hays sees plenty he likes. A gull is crashing bait, the water’s dirtier than where he fished up north the day before and he can see the current flowing by a nearby channel marker buoy.

It should be right, but Hays works along the bar for another 30 minutes or so before he finally gets another bite. It’s obviously a small fish, even though he doesn’t hook it.

“Usually you don’t catch many little ones,” he says of his shallow-water topwater approach. “Maybe because it’s the second day after a front they’re not mad at it yet. They’re so spread out [in the fall] that most of the time you just have to cover a lot of water.”

At around 8:30, he tries to get something going by swapping the Repo Man for a River2Sea Whopper Plopper. A few casts later, a gizzard shad swirls around the Plopper and gets temporarily hooked before pulling loose.

Seeing big gizzards in the area is a good sign, but the Plopper only gets about 10 minutes of play before Hays swaps back to a walking bait. He spends another 10 minutes on the bar and then idles along to another stretch.

Hays might seem a little stubborn for sticking with the topwater, but he’s fishing with foresight. The weather forecast is calling for an increase in temperature during tournament week, and he suspects the topwater bite will turn on again. The water temperature is still around 64 degrees, so his suspicions are reasonable.

Eventually, Hays picks up his third topwater bait – a pencil popper – and fires away.

“I’m gonna find this bite,” he says. “It might take me all week. I’m probably making this too difficult. It shouldn’t be this difficult.”

About that time, Hays spots a swirl up in just inches of water.

“Look, look, look,” he says. “That’s what I’ve been looking for this whole time.”

He fires in, works his bait and can’t even get a sniff.

“Huh … that’s disheartening.”

 

Moving to a memory

It’s about 9:30 before Hays has had enough of the main-lake bar game.

“I’ve about decided the fish don’t live here,” he says. “I wish I could get a couple bites so I could just roll with it. Or something so I can narrow it down a little bit.”

That in mind, he rolls across to the opposite side of the river channel to try something new.

“I don’t think it matters what topwater you throw,” he adds. “I think if a fish is up there in a foot of water, he’s up there for one reason … even though I have five topwaters tied on.”

His next move is to a point near the mouth of a creek. He gets a bite pretty quickly on the Repo Man with the bent hooks.

“It wasn’t that impressive. I’m waiting for one to eat it. But I could’ve caught that one,” he says.

A few minutes later, fellow pro Billy McDonald idles up to Hays’ boat. He’s there to expand Hays’ topwater arsenal and delivers a big Evergreen Shower Blows pencil popper that Hays ordered from Evan Barnes, whose family owns a tackle shop back in Arkansas.

Hays slings a variety of topwater baits around the point and an adjacent pocket – the spot he fished last fall with decent success. He even works in a spinnerbait.

It’s the Whopper Plopper that finally connects on a small fish that was hunkered down in a laydown. Hays shows off the runt for a photo, fires again and gets another slash near a smaller piece of wood.

 

Finding his way

The pocket Hays is fishing is protected by a narrow island and divided by a shallow ridge that Hays can’t troll across. But he wants into the back of it.

At winter pool, Kentucky Lake is so shallow that access into this type of area isn’t always easy. He has to scrounge around awhile to figure out how to get around the island and over the bar. He takes his time and spends about two hours picking apart every bit of shoreline, eventually finding his way back to where he fished last season in the back of the pocket.  

Along the way, he experiments some more, trying a much slower walking retrieve – it worked for him last year – and working the splashy jumbo Shower Blows.  

The spot doesn’t even produce a bite.

“I’m trying not to fish too much history, but I wanted to check it out,” he says of the spot. “I saw a shad flicker. Last time there was a ton of shad. It’s so calm in here that you could see them ball up real good.”

By noon, Hays is still scratching his head. He believes he’s still on the right track for quality keepers, but without a solid bite to show for it, he’s not sure where to turn next.

“I know they live out here on these bars,” he adds.

His plan is to move to a section of the main lake a few miles to the north and spend a couple of hours picking the area apart before reversing course and heading upstream to Kentucky Lake’s more riverine portions. I’ve got photos to process, so before he heads north, Hays hauls me back to the ramp.

He’s still as calm as can be. Confident, really, despite the slow action. He seems to know he’s on the right track. It’s just a matter of time and effort to get a few bites and begin deciphering a pattern that could give him a shot at the Forrest Wood Cup.

Tags: curtis-niedermier  pre-tournament  2017-11-02-championship-kentucky-lake 

/tips/2019-02-13-how-to-fish-power-plant-lakes-in-winter

How to Fish Power Plant Lakes in Winter

Some of the power-plant lakes throughout the Midwest are borderline legendary. If you live near one or are willing to travel to keep your open-water season alive, Colby Schrumpf’s system could work on just about any of them that have grass. READ MORE »

/news/2019-02-11-top-10-patterns-from-lake-toho

Top 10 Patterns from Lake Toho

While the Lake Toho FLW Tour event presented by Ranger Boats fell basically right on top of a wave of spawning bass piling into the shallows, many of the top finishers targeted bass that were staging out or transitioning to or from their beds. READ MORE »

/news/2019-02-11-top-10-baits-from-toho

Top 10 Baits from Toho

The second stop of the 2019 FLW Tour landed right on the spawn on Lake Toho and the other lakes on the Kissimmee Chain. Top finishers caught bass in all phases of the spawn. Collectively, they used just about every bait you’ll ever need if you want to catch a bass this time of year in the Sunshine State. READ MORE »

/news/2019-02-10-gross-wins-second-tour-title

Gross Wins Second Tour Title

Buddy Gross of Chickamauga, Ga., won the 2019 FLW Tour event presented by Ranger Boats at Lake Toho in Kissimmee, Fla., with a four-day total of 20 bass that weighed 85 pounds, 12 ounces. READ MORE »

/news/2019-02-09-gross-grabs-toho-lead

Gross Grabs Toho Lead

Day three of the FLW Tour presented by Ranger Boats on Lake Toho was tough on the leaders, but Buddy Gross stayed steady, rising to first from fifth with 19 pounds, 12 ounces. In total, Gross has amassed 62 pounds even through three days, which is just about a pound ahead of Darrell Davis, who caught 25-12 for a 60-15 total and rocketed up to second from 13th. Going into the final day, everyone in the top six is within 5 pounds of the lead, and the way the Kissimmee Chain is pumping out big ones, that counts as the slimmest of margins. READ MORE »

/news/2019-02-08-cox-stays-ahead-on-toho

Cox Stays Ahead on Toho

Day two of the FLW Tour presented by Ranger on Lake Toho featured not one, but TWO 10-pounders, one caught by Casey Scanlon and the other by Jamie Horton. READ MORE »

/news/2019-02-07-cox-leads-toho-slugfest

Cox Leads Toho Slugfest

Day one of the FLW Tour presented by Ranger Boats on Lake Toho was the slugfest many expected. Leading the way is sight-fishing extraordinaire John Cox, who caught 31 pounds, 9 ounces and the day one big bass – a giant that went 10-9.  In second, John Voyles wrangled up 24-15, and Scott Martin is close behind him with 24-12. READ MORE »

/news/2019-02-06-roaming-kissimmee-with-douglas

Roaming Kissimmee with Douglas

Hailing from Minnesota, Josh Douglas is in his third year on the FLW Tour and looking for his first FLW Cup qualification. Were it not for a disqualification in the final event of the year at St. Clair in 2018, Douglas would have sailed into the Cup. After a tough start to the year at Rayburn, he’s planning to get back on track at the FLW Tour event presented by Ranger on Lake Toho. READ MORE »

/news/2019-02-05-burghoff-checks-out-toho-on-day-2

Burghoff Checks Out Toho on Day 2

FLW Tour rookie Miles “Sonar” Burghoff kicked off his freshman season with a strong performance on Sam Rayburn, where he just missed fishing the final day with a 12th-place finish. Now, the Tour is on a system he is more than familiar with, having spent countless hours on Lakes Toho and Kissimmee while attending college at the University of Central Florida. READ MORE »

/news/2019-02-04-a-look-at-lake-toho

A Look at Lake Toho

Stop No. 2 of the 2019 FLW Tour takes us to Lake Toho and the several other lakes strung along the Kissimmee River. Presented by Ranger Boats, the tournament will take off from Big Toho Marina on the north end of the namesake lake, but competitors will be able to spread out down the Kissimmee River into Cypress Lake, Lake Hatchineha (Hatch), Lake Kissimmee, and perhaps even Tiger Lake and Lake Rosalie if they’re feeling adventurous. READ MORE »

/news/2019-01-29-spawn-on-the-horizon-at-okeechobee

Spawn on the Horizon at Okeechobee

Florida is a familiar place for FLW competition, and Lake Okeechobee is probably the best-known fishery the Sunshine State has to offer. So there shouldn’t be many surprises when the Costa FLW Series Southeastern Division kicks off the season Jan. 31–Feb. 2 on the Big O with an event presented by Power-Pole. READ MORE »

/news/2019-01-29-by-the-numbers-lake-toho

By the Numbers: Lake Toho

The FLW Tour season opener on Sam Rayburn was a slugfest for sure. Fortunately for fans and anglers alike, the second stop of the season could be just as good, as the Tour heads to Central Florida and Lake Toho and the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes in Kissimmee, Fla., on February 7. READ MORE »

/news/2019-01-25-2019-lake-toho-preview

2019 Lake Toho Preview

Lake Tohopekaliga (Toho for short) is the first of four lakes on the menu for pros in the second stop of the FLW Tour. At the south end of Toho, a lock and a series of canals leads to Cypress Lake, Lake Hatchineha (Hatch) and Lake Kissimmee, which are all fair game for the pros. READ MORE »

/tips/2019-01-22-2019-bfl-season-kicks-off-this-weekend

2019 BFL Season Kicks Off This Weekend

While much of the northern United States is locked in a deep freeze, Southern bass anglers will be kicking off their 2019 T-H Marine FLW Bass Fishing League season with the Gator Division tournament at Lake Okeechobee in Clewiston, Fla., and the Cowboy Division tournament at Toledo Bend Reservoir in Many, La. READ MORE »

/tips/2019-01-17-pro-tip-how-wes-logan-ties-a-jig

Pro Tip: How Wes Logan Ties a Jig

Wes Logan is particular about his jigs. So particular that he pours his own heads and ties his own skirts. Logan’s tying method keeps the skirt from slipping down or spinning around – a pet peeve of his. Some folks do the same with wire, but Logan prefers using light braided line. READ MORE »

/news/2019-01-15-beight-rings-in-marshal-program-in-big-way

Beight Rings in Marshal Program in Big Way

Timmy Beight won the FLW Tour Sam Rayburn Marshal prize after marshaling for Jordan Osborne and Terry Bolton. READ MORE »

/news/2019-01-09-cecil-s-final-morning-of-practice

Cecil’s Final Morning of Practice

Russell Cecil is one of a number of standout Texas anglers fishing the FLW Tour opener this week on Sam Rayburn. After a lackluster rookie campaign in 2018, fishing near home is a great opportunity for the Willis, Texas, pro to get the year started off strong. Though the conditions are far from normal, a few hours on the final day of practice reveal that Cecil certainly has a read on the bass. READ MORE »

/news/2019-01-08-flw-live-schedule-for-sam-rayburn

FLW Live Schedule for Sam Rayburn

The 2019 FLW Live seasons kicks off on the big bass factory of Sam Rayburn Reservoir in Brookeland, Texas. Watch your favorite stars such as Scott Martin and Bryan Thrift weigh-in at the FLW Tour season opener, and then follow the weekend action live with the top pros. READ MORE »

/news/2019-01-07-figuring-out-rayburn-with-powell

Figuring Out Rayburn with Powell

Hensley Powell has quickly and quietly amassed quite a record with FLW. In just three years fishing the Costa FLW Series, he’s earned over $90,000, and he got a win at Table Rock in the Central Division in 2018. READ MORE »

/news/2019-01-07-sam-rayburn-lake-tour

Sam Rayburn Lake Tour

This year, the FLW Tour kicks off in Texas with a showdown presented by Polaris on Sam Rayburn. Big Sam hasn’t hosted too many FLW Tour events in the past, but it’s loaded with bass and bass fishing history. The lake is much higher than normal right now, which will no doubt produce different fishing than is typical for winter on Rayburn. READ MORE »