By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
John Cox admits to setting the ultra-lofty goal of winning an event on all three top-level tours this year. One down, two to go.
The shallow-water ace from Florida captured his sixth career tour-level victory over the weekend at the Lewis Smith Lake FLW Pro Circuit in Alabama. He averaged 15 1/2 pounds a day on a fishery that was quite stingy as bass were transitioning from their cold-water haunts to shallower pre-spawn locations and eventually to the beds. Seemingly, only the newest arrivals from the depths were in a chewing frame of mind.
Resisting the temptation to sight-fish – a tactic that he loves and is among the world's best at – he disdained the warmest areas of the lake and concentrated on water that was 58 to 60 degrees.
"I tried to follow the water temperatures – I moved through the lake trying to find the perfect pre-spawn temperature," said the sport's only three-tour pro, who began practice for the Pickwick Lake Bassmaster Elite Series the day after his latest triumph. "When the upper part got too warm, I moved farther down to get to the ones that would chase a reaction bait.
"I was fighting with myself to keep from getting sucked in (to sight-fishing). I'd see a bed or see one swimming down the bank and I'd chase it and throw the wacky-rig, then it seemed like the fish would give up and swim out and never come back. I thought about how many times I'd been sucked in when it was the wrong time. I had a little something going, so I put my head down and tried to avoid (the beds)."
He finished with a four-day total of 62-04 total on a venue where he'd performed well on numerous occasions (including two runner-up Pro Circuit showings), but had never before come out on top.
Only nine stringers in excess of 16 pounds were compiled during the event and Cox was responsible for three of them. Spencer Shuffield, who finished 2nd (5 1/2 pounds behind Cox), had two of the other six.
Cox took over the lead on day 2 with his second straight 16-13 haul. He extended his advantage to more than 5 pounds on day 3 despite weighing what was by far his lightest bag of the derby (12-00) and maintained it through the final round, when a 4-pounder from near the launch in Cullman, Ala. with just 7 minutes remaining in the day alleviated a "sick" feeling he was experiencing due to a notion that he didn't have enough weight to close out the win.
He'd been on his way to the docks, but decided to capitalize on the few spare minutes he had and ran into a nearby creek arm. The fish bit on his initial throw.
"Normally when you win something crazy happens, and that solidified it for me. Being so close to takeoff, as I was idling back everybody was yelling from shore. It was awesome."
He caught 19 of the 20 fish he took to the scale on a swimjig. The other was enticed by a wacky-rigged soft stickbait (a Berkley PowerBait MaxScent The General).
"My only cast with it the first day, I caught a 2 1/2-pounder," he said of the wacky rig. "I never caught another fish the rest of the week on it."
About half of his swimjig fish came off of woody cover (mostly laydowns) and the remainder from rocks. None were deeper than 5 feet.
"It was pretty much chunk rock; I don't think they were spawning on it, but I guess they could've been," he said. "I was fishing a laydown where I usually catch one and there was some rock just past it. I threw the jig over there and started swimming it down the rock and I caught one, so I started fishing the rock between each laydown."
He weighed 19 largemouth and a single spotted bass.
"I was kind of bummed because I wanted to go the whole tournament with no spots, but midway through the last day I caught a 3 3/4-pounder. It ate the jig in 1 1/2 feet of water and it got pinned to a tree, and I netted it."
Winning Gear Notes
> Swimjig gear: 7'6" medium-heavy Abu Garcia Fantasista Premier rod, Abu Garcia Revo EXD casting reel, 40-pound Berkley x5 braided line, 1/2-ounce Dirty Jigs swimjig (black/blue), Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Meaty Chunk (black/blue flake).