UPCOMING EVENT: T-H Marine BFL - 2020 - Sam Rayburn Reservoir

FISHING LEAGUE WORLDWIDE

Testing Smith Lake with Birge

Testing Smith Lake with Birge
Zack Birge

After a sophomore slump and a solid third season on the FLW Tour, Zack Birge is cooking this year. The Oklahoma pro has made three cuts in a row and he finished second at Lanier. His streak of success now has him sitting second in the Pennzoil Marine Angler of the Year race behind Bryan Thrift and heading into the fifth stop of the year on Smith Lake. Smith is the site of perhaps the most memorable tournament in Birge’s rookie season – and most disappointing. He led in the second and third rounds, but then faltered the final day when he was one fish shy of a limit and ended up in sixth place with 59-10. This time around, he’s looking for a bit of revenge, and also to keep the Birge express rolling along.  

The Oklahoma pro was kind enough to let me hop aboard his boat to watch him in his attempt to break down Smith for the first time since he fished it in 2015.

Tournament details 

 

I meet Birge at a little ramp on the upper end of one of Lewis Smith’s long, windy arms, and hop in the boat a little after 6 a.m. Amazingly, it isn’t raining yet, but the forecast looks ugly and I drove through a few solid downpours on the way to the ramp.

After parking under a dock long enough to pull out a suite of rods, we idle out and it almost instantly begins to pour. Considering it’s still mostly dark and now extremely wet, Birge pulls over into another dock to wait for the rain to pass. While he’s untying and retying to switch his tackle over from the B.A.S.S. Open on the Arkansas River to clear water and spots, I quiz him about 2015.

Back in Birge’s rookie season, the young pro started off hot, and he went to work on Lewis Smith in style, pacing the field on days two and three. It all fell apart on the final day when his topwater largemouths refused to cooperate and he could muster only four small bass.

“This is my first time back since that last day,” says Birge. “I figured since I let it slip away from me we needed some separation time to get back on good terms. I made some major mistakes that tournament – things that you don’t think about when you’re a rookie, like having a backup plan. I went into that last day with one thing to do.

“If I had a little swimbait with me I could have probably caught 12 pounds of spots off points or something. Of course, I didn’t have any in the boat with me. I remember running up the lake from takeoff and seeing schooling fish busting. I was thinking ‘stop, stop,’ and I just couldn’t. I could have probably won the tournament in five minutes if I had.”


When the weather breaks after about 15 minutes of retying, Birge rolls away from the ramp to a nearby point. Picking up a small swimbait, he goes to work, catching one on his second cast, and then another and another. After working around the point, Birge seems pretty happy with the situation, and idles around a bit before heading off.

 

Our next stop is a small main-lake pocket, and Birge pulls out a topwater and a swim jig to work his way through. It looks great, but it doesn’t produce anything at first. After getting a feeling that it’s going to be a buzzbait sort of day, Birge sits down to hunt through his tackle.

 

As he rummages for just the right buzzbait, I figure it’s time to bug him about the Angler of the Year race – Bryan Thrift is amazing, but Birge being nine points off the lead puts him very much in the running.

“I didn’t think about it until after the last one, that kinda got me thinking about it,” says Birge. “Every one of these tournaments has kinda developed into a good one the day of the tournament. I haven’t been on anything real good, but now it’s definitely on my mind. It’s going to be super hard to beat ol’ Thrifty, but it can be done, I guess. I would definitely like to do it.

“I’m gonna just try to focus on cashing a check and if those cards play out then they play out. If I start thinking about trying to make cuts or top 10s because of AOY I’ll start making decisions I wouldn’t normally make that will end up hurting me. And I’ve done that before.”

 

After finishing out the pocket at the next point with no bites, Birge takes a moment to check up on Kurt Mitchell’s takeover of the FLW Snapchat story and then runs up and across the creek to a main bank leading into a long pocket.

Working down the bank and around and behind some of Smith’s many docks, Birge gets a few bites on a Fluke and a buzzbait, but can’t get one to stick. Picking up a little swimbait for the point, he fishes it and strikes out again – things seem to have slowed down.

 

Birge continues on into the adjoining pocket – this one is quite a bit longer than the first pocket we hit and looks very fishy. Unfortunately, if it is they aren’t very interested in biting.

“If I had to bet I would have said there’d be one in here. Let’s go back out to the main stuff; there’s a reason they’re biting out there,” says Birge. “I was thinking we’d be catching the tail end of the spawn. I thought it might be the reverse of Lanier. There I was catching them on the points going into the pockets. I bought here I might be able to catch them coming out.”

 

The next stop is a steep, bluffy point. Pulling out his small swimbait again, Birge fires away a few times on the point before working down the bank into the next creek. At least part of his decision to move on is based on getting away from a pod of gar he can see surfacing on one side of the point. Either way, it doesn’t result in any fish.

 

Through the morning, Birge has kept a healthy selection of Falcon rods and a mixed bag of Shimano and Daiwa reels on deck. Most of them are baitcasters, but he’s got some spinning sticks in the mix as well. He came out of Oklahoma with a reputation for power fishing, but he’s proven himself to be about as versatile as they come in recent years.

 

As Birge gets ready to roll, Jordan Osborne shows up for a quick chat. Pros talking with each other is part of the game in practice, and Birge has been popular this morning – Jason Lambert pulled up earlier to warn him that the upper stretches of the creek we’re in are packed, and Aaron Britt stops by at the next spot. As usual, Britt has plenty to say and plenty of questions – though the spotted bass in Smith Lake seeded the California lakes Britt has grown up fishing, he’s never been here before. After borrowing a buzzbait from Birge, the two part ways.

Finally out of the crowd, Birge gets back to casting a swimbait over a point that’s basically identical to where he started the day so hot. After one bite and one breaking fish spotted, he makes a move.

 

The next stop is another point, but instead of staying off it, Birge picks up a bigger swimbait and starts paralleling the bank. As he eases by a dock, a fish throttles his bait. After a brief battle, he swings aboard a primo spotted bass.

 

Continuing on, now with some decent rain falling, Birge gets another bite on the swimbait at his next point, and connects again with a Ned rig on the point after that. Immediately after saying the Ned rig only catches small fish, his bait starts swimming away and he’s hooked up again. This one turns out to big as well, and Birge is all of a sudden working on a pretty good limit.

 

With the rain seemingly quitting again, Birge hits one more point in our current section. Again, he rustles a bite on it, but this one doesn’t get in the boat. After finishing out the point, he pulls the trolling motor and packs up for little run farther down the lake.

 

Running down the lake, Birge pulls into a pocket lined with riprap and settles down with the swimbait again. He’s consistently getting bites on it and having quite a bit of fun. There’s no telling if it will work on derby day in the sun, but it’s working this morning. Almost on cue, he gets another decent bite and wrestles it into the boat.

“It’d be nice if I wasn’t getting as many bites, but they were all like that first one,” Birge says of his developing swimbait pattern. “Because I know other ways I could probably get more bites.”

It’s a good day when you’re kind of complaining about 2-pound spotted bass.

 

Ditching the points, Birge next rolls over to a steep bluffy bank and begins to parallel it. Minutes in to the exercise he sticks what he thinks is a huge one. It turns out to merely be a good one, but it’s still welcome to come to the party.

“He freakin’ crushed it,” exclaims Birge. “This is so fun.”

 

After working to the end of the bluffy bank and into a nearby pocket with no more fish, Birge picks up and runs. Our next stop is fairly plain-looking back with some docks near the mouth of a pretty big creek. After marking some fish under one of the docks and swimbaiting a little with no success, Birge decides to roll. As it’s nearing 11:30 a.m. and he wants to move farther down the lake, it’s time for me to hop out.

 

After a quick run back to the ramp, I hop out and Birge busts out a sandwich. At least based on the first few hours of practice, it looks like this stop at Smith Lake could be another good one for Birge.

Tags: jody-white  pre-tournament  2018-04-26-smith-lake 

Make a Tiny Swimbait Your Winter Go-To

Make a Tiny Swimbait Your Winter Go-To

Wintertime and late fall fishing can be super fun, especially up north, when smallmouths are often fat and fairly grouped up. However, it’s not the time of year when you want a ton of rods on deck, and having a confidence bait or two is a must. For Casey Smith, the go-to winter weapon is super simple: a little bitty swimbait on a jighead. READ MORE »

Miller Wins Wild Card on Kentucky Lake

Miller Wins Wild Card on Kentucky Lake

Weighing limits of 15 pounds, 13 ounces on day one and 15-3 on day two, Michael Miller of Greenville, S.C., overcame a tough-fishing Kentucky Lake to win the T-H Marine Bass Fishing League (BFL) Wild Card and qualify for the All-American. READ MORE »

How to Rock Fall Largemouths

How to Rock Fall Largemouths

Smith says that the best time for fall largemouth fishing happens after the first big cold snap, when the water finally drops below 60 degrees.   READ MORE »

Cumberland Practice with Bryan New

Cumberland Practice with Bryan New

Bryan New has steadily been making a case to be considered one of the brightest rising stars of the sport. Five top 10s in T-H Marine Bass Fishing League (BFL) and Costa FLW Series events this year proves it, as does his inclusion in the Costa FLW Series Championship field. New gives an inside look at how he’s been tackling the puzzle that is the FLW Series Championship on what might prove to be an unusually stingy fishery. READ MORE »

Olson Scouts Cumberland

Olson Scouts Cumberland

At just 19 years old, Lane Olson is fishing in the Costa FLW Series Championship. Were he from Alabama or Texas or any number of other southern states known for their bass fishing, that wouldn’t be too surprising. But Olson is schlepping all the way to Kentucky from Oregon, where he finished second in the Western Division Angler of the Year standings, missing out on the top spot by just one point. READ MORE »

Roaming Cumberland with Davidson

Roaming Cumberland with Davidson

Davidson, a West Virginia native, qualified for the Costa FLW Series Championship out of the Northern Division and has fished the T-H Marine Bass Fishing League (BFL) Mountain Division quite a bit. He’s spent a lot of time on Cumberland and nearby Dale Hollow in the cooler months. As such, he’s one of a handful that pundits are definitely keeping an eye on heading into the championship, and he was kind enough to let me tag along for part of the second practice day on the Kentucky reservoir. READ MORE »

2019 Costa FLW Series Championship Roster

2019 Costa FLW Series Championship Roster

The 2019 Costa FLW Series Championship brings together anglers from all over the world to compete for a top prize worth $100,000 on the pro side and $35,000 on the co-angler side. Qualifying from the T-H Marine Bass Fishing League (BFL) All-American, the International Division and five standard FLW Series divisions, a total of 193 pros and 193 co-anglers will descend on Lake Cumberland for a fall showdown to wrap up the fishing season. READ MORE »

The Layout of Lake Cumberland

The Layout of Lake Cumberland

The ninth largest reservoir in the U.S., Lake Cumberland is a perfect stage for the Costa FLW Series Championship. Home to all three bass species and over 1000 miles of shoreline, the lake can swallow up a big field with relative ease, and with the fall bite starting to pick up in earnest and the water level lower than usual, the fishing should be pretty good. READ MORE »

Previewing the Costa Championship

Previewing the Costa Championship

When 200 pros (and 200 co-anglers) descend on the southern Kentucky reservoir for the Costa FLW Series Championship, they’ll be facing conditions that might look nothing like what they’ll see as the official practice period opens this weekend. Forecasts call for ample rain over the weekend, and lake levels are likely to fluctuate as a result. READ MORE »

B. Lat, MDJ Win Pan Am

B. Lat, MDJ Win Pan Am

Brian Latimer and Mark Daniels Jr. are best friends off the water, and it looks like they’ve got the makings of a deadly team on the water. Weighing five smallmouths for 21.16 pounds in the first session and 23.92 pounds in the second session, the pair totaled 45.08 pounds to win the individual competition in the Pan American Bass Championship on Lake St. Francis. READ MORE »

Canada Wins Gold at Pan Am

Canada Wins Gold at Pan Am

Though Team USA locked up the top three places, Team Canada placed six teams in the top 10 and averaged 38.98 pounds to win the Pan American Bass Championship on Lake St. Francis. Results were tallied based on the average weight brought in by each team in the two sessions of fishing, which almost guaranteed an extremely close finish. Earning a silver medal, Team USA finished just a hundredth of a pound back with a 38.97 average. READ MORE »

Canada Leads at Pan Am

Canada Leads at Pan Am

The first session of competition in the Pan American Bass Championship on Lake St. Francis was a roaring success. After the morning weigh-in, Team Canada is leading with an average of 21.16 pounds, Team USA is in second with a 19.6 average, Team Akwesasne First Nation is in third with 18.62 and Mexico had an up and down morning to accrue a 17.24-pound average. READ MORE »

Do you need a generator for bass fishing?

Do you need a generator for bass fishing?

Austin Felix has been running a generator for a few years now, and his primary use is during the spring in the North, when he’s spending mega-days on the water practicing for tournaments that feature bedding smallmouths. READ MORE »

Day 1 Delayed at Pan Am

Day 1 Delayed at Pan Am

Because of steady rain and hard winds at around 20 mph or more, day one of the Pan American Bass Championship has been canceled. With gusts up to 40 mph in the forecast, the organizers have decided to fish two sessions on Friday instead. READ MORE »

Pan Am Gets Underway in Canada

Pan Am Gets Underway in Canada

With the official training day in the rearview, the Pan American Bass Championship starts Thursday, Oct. 16, on Lake St. Francis in Cornwall, Ontario. Teams from Mexico, the Akwesasne First Nation, Canada and the United States will be competing the next two days for glory and country, but also to help along the movement to make bass fishing an Olympic sport. READ MORE »

Umbrella Rigs for Great Lakes Smallies   

Umbrella Rigs for Great Lakes Smallies   

The days of catching seemingly infinite bass on an umbrella rig are mostly gone, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't fish with one. The rig is a great tool for catching fall smallmouth bass on the big waters of the Great Lakes and elsewhere up north. READ MORE »

Hunting Big Bronze in Wisconsin

Hunting Big Bronze in Wisconsin

“On a normal day, if the best five aren’t over 25 pounds, it isn’t a good day,” Stefan says. “My best days with a buddy have been where the best five have gone 29 to 32 pounds. We get lots of 6-pounders a year, and we’ve caught some right at the 7-pound mark. I’ve had a few on that we haven’t landed that were bigger.” READ MORE »

Eyes on the Weather at Lake of the Ozarks

Eyes on the Weather at Lake of the Ozarks

Wrapping up the Costa FLW Series Central Division with an early fall stop at Lake of the Ozarks has become a tradition over the last few years. This year, the final stop of the season is presented by Evinrude and takes place Oct. 10-12, which should be good timing for a number of patterns to play. READ MORE »

How to Fish a Blade Bait for Smallmouth

How to Fish a Blade Bait for Smallmouth

You can catch smallmouths on a lot of baits in the early fall, but one of the most consistent producers later in the year is a blade bait, and Scott Dobson is an expert with it. His go-to is the old-fashioned Silver Buddy, but he has some distinct preferences and tweaks for better success. READ MORE »

Transition Time at Grand Lake

Transition Time at Grand Lake

Grand Lake has been flooded for most of the summer, and, as a result, it hasn’t received as much fishing pressure as is typical for one of the premier fisheries in the region. Weights for the Costa FLW Series Southwestern Division finale, presented by T-H Marine, have the potential to be outstanding for this time of year, but it may all come down to what the weather decides to do leading up to the event. READ MORE »