James Watson ended the 2016 season on a high note with his win at the Norris Lake FLW Tour Invitational in October, a victory that clinched him a spot in this year’s Forrest Wood Cup.
Since then, it’s been a bit of a downhill slide for the Nixa, Mo., resident.
He failed to weigh a fish (and earned zero points) at the Lake Guntersville FLW Tour season opener, then finished 159th at Lake Travis. Before heading to Florida for last week’s Harris Chain FLW Tour, he competed in the Table Rock Lake Bassmaster Central Open. He was 22nd after day 1, but opted to target a big stringer on day 2 and slipped to 64th. It wasn’t the outcome he’d hoped for – he’d won an Open at Table Rock in 2015 – but he sensed things were starting to turn around.
He took a step backward on day 1 at the Harris Chain, where he figured a 10- or 11-pound stringer would put him in the 50s of 60s on the leaderboard. Instead, his 10-10 limit had him in 99th. He bounced back with 17-01 on day 2 and finished 27th.
While Watson didn’t make the largest jump up the leaderboard at the Harris Chain – that distinction belonged to Jay Yelas, who talked about his 101-spot rally on day 2 – his 72-spot improvement the most significant improvement in the context of how his season had gone so far.
“I didn’t have a good practice. I never do,” Watson said. “I tried to find a few clues I could develop and on the last day of practice, I found a stretch of hydrilla that was good and clean and green. I had 3 Rat-L-Trap bites in it. They were nothing big, but it had some decent fish in it.”
He caught one on a rattlebait there on day 1, but when he saw his co-angler yank a 4-pounder from the grass with a worm, he promptly changed to a Luck E Strike Con Man worm.
“It didn’t take me long to change,” he said. “That re-assured me there were still good fish there.”
He returned on day 2 with the mindset that he was going to comb through that hydrilla patch as thoroughly as possible.
“I knew the area I was fishing had potential, but I had to fish different than I like to fish,” he said. “I had to slow down and be methodical and maximize my fishing time.”
He started his day 25 yards shy of where he started day 1. He put his Power-Poles down and fan-casted the whole area with a worm, rigged behind a 1/8- or 3/16 oz. Swagger Tackle tungsten worm weight.
His first three fish each weighed 4 pounds and he continued to do laps around the grass patch, using the tracks on his Lowrance to make sure he didn’t double back on a pass he’d made the previous day.
“I found there was a 30-yard radius that the fish were really using,” he said. “The critical thing was getting that first bite. Two more made me settle in there even longer. When I’m fishing offshore like that, it’s hard without those trails. I used red trails for day 1 and green on day 2. Waypoints are great, but trails are better when you’re fishing slow like that.”
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