By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
The fish were considerably larger on average, but the high-water scenario at last week's Pickwick Lake Bassmaster Elite Series was quite familiar to Bill Lowen.
"I literally fished just like I did growing up on the Ohio River when it flooded," he said. "The only difference was those fish were 12-inchers and this time they were 3- and 4-pounders.
"I never got spun out. I just put my head down and went fishing."
In his 159th Bassmaster outing, Lowen claimed his first victory with a 4-day total of 83-05 in a derby that was delayed two days due to torrential rain in Alabama in the days leading up to the scheduled start. Three of his stringers surpassed 20 pounds as he eclipsed runner-up Brock Mosley by 2 1/2 pounds.
It was a long-awaited initial triumph for an angler who's competed on the Elite Series since 2006 and has qualified for 11 Bassmaster Classics.
"It's been wide open," he said of the aftermath. "I knew it'd be crazy if I ever won, but I didn't know it'd be this crazy with all the calls and texts and interviews and everything that comes along with it."
Hunted 'Em Down
Lowen had a pretty good practice, but that went for naught with the Tennessee Valley Authority sending more than 150,000 cubic feet per second of water through the Wilson Lake dam once the tournament got under way. He'd found some quality fish on grass flats behind Koger Island, but they'd relocated in the face of all the additional current.
He solved the puzzle fairly quickly on day 1.
"I knew they'd pushed somewhere, either to the docks on one side or the island on the other side," he said. "I got a bite on the first tree I fished (on the island side) and missed it, then the second tree I pulled up to, I caught one. After that I just kept on going.
"Almost everything I weighed (over the first three days) either came off the island or a couple of reed pockets. On the last day I had to scratch all that (due to falling water level) and I ran deeper, bluff stuff. I was fortunate that it worked out the way it did."
He caught 19 of the 20 fish he took to the scale on a flipping stick, with either his signature Lure Parts Online jig or a Strike King Rodent on the business end. The lone outlier was enticed by a spinnerbait.
He primarily fished cover that was visible from above the surface, but caught some fish on the second day using his Humminbird 360 electronics to pinpoint isolated wood. The majority of his catches were pulled from depths of 2 to 4 feet.
"I don't think those fish on the river were spawning, but the ones in the flat reeds or sawgrass, they were getting ready."
He started the final day in a tie with Chad Pipkens and responded with his third 20-pound bag, which was enough to hold off Mosley's big charge (a day-best 22-14) . Pipkens slipped to 9th with a two-fish, 6-04 haul.
His day-4 bag included an 8-05 largemouth that came from a brush pile underneath a dock. He had virtually no company throughout the week.
"I saw Brandon Palaniuk for just a little bit on the third day, but that was it."
Winning Gear Notes
> Flipping gear: 7'6" heavy-action Lew's Custom Speed Stick, Team Lew's Lite casting reel (7.5:1 ratio), 20-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon line, 3/8-ounce Lure Parts Online Bill Lowen Signature Series jig (black/blue flash), generic plastic chunk trailer (black/blue).
> When flipping the 4-inch Rodent (green-pumpkin or blue bug with tentacles dyed orange), he employed a 5/16-ounce Reins Tungsten weight and a 5/0 straight-shank Hayabusa flipping hook.