Adapted from my monthly column in Coastal Angler/The Angler magazine
Growing up in southern middle Tennessee I was very fortunate to have a lot of really good fisheries within a couple hours of my house. I had my choice between the Tennessee River lakes like Guntersville, Wheeler, and Wilson or the typical highland reservoirs located in the hills of Tennessee. I spent many days on all those places fishing club events and trying to absorb every bit of knowledge I possibly could. Having all those different fisheries at my disposal really helped me to become a versatile angler and also helped me to stay in tune with the seasonal movements of bass. I also learned how fish relate to current and how precise a person has to be when presenting a bait to fish in a current situation. I learned how finicky smallmouth can be on a Tennessee reservoir and how you have to be ready to change with the conditions every hour because they move around a lot. All these things combined helped prepare me for the situations I would later face on the Bassmaster Elite Series.
I remember my very first Elite Series event was at Lake Seminole. I had never been to the lake before and honestly didn’t know a thing about it. After a tough first day of practice I remember thinking to myself I’m going to run way up the Flint River and see if I can find something up there all to myself. What I found was a couple of small backwaters with clear water and fish that were setting up to spawn. These places had been completely overlooked by everyone else and I was able to finish in 21st place in that tournament. I caught almost every fish on a floating worm, something that is very popular during the spawn around my home waters. That tournament and many others since then taught me that no matter where you go in the country, or what body of water you’re on, there will always be something that fits your fishing style. It may not always be the winning pattern but more times than not I would much rather be fishing for less fish with more confidence than more fish with less confidence. After all, the very best lure in any tournament fisherman’s tackle box is confidence.
So now that we’ve talked about taking what you already know and applying it other places, let’s look at it from the opposite angle. How can you apply what you learn elsewhere to your home bodies of water. These days to be a successful tournament angler we have to keep up with the latest trends in bass fishing. Lures, line, rods, reels, and etc. are constantly evolving and it helps to stay on the forefront of all that. As I travel the country with the elite series I get to learn a lot of new techniques and learn about new baits that work in a particular region.
Most every time I go to a tournament and a new technique arises that I’m not familiar with or comfortable with the first thing I will do when I get home is take it to a nearby lake and try to learn it. In my opinion when trying to learn something new it’s best to do it on a places you know hold fish. A good example of this was at the first Elite Series event of this year at Lake Cherokee. Cherokee is in East Tennessee but it is much different than the lakes I am use to fishing in middle Tennessee. There is a hot new trend among the locals there called the “Damiki rig” that is dynamite for catching smallmouth that are relating to baitfish. I had heard about the rig leading up to the tournament and tried it a good bit on practice but I just never could figure it out.
Our tournament was actually won on that rig and come to find out several of the top guys were doing it. After that tournament was over I went straight home and the very next day I spent the whole day on my home lake with nothing but that new rig in my hand. I wanted to learn everything there was to know about it because I guarantee that’s not the last time in my career that a tournament will be won on that rig. I went on to catch some big smallmouth on my home lake with it and although I still don’t consider myself an expert I feel like I can catch them on it next time the opportunity arises.
With all these new techniques, I take it to the next level by matching my rod and reel to it. I use MHX Rods and supplies from Mud Hole Custom Tackle. Check out all my rod building kits and their uses here.