There were more than a few similarities between last week's Table Rock FLW Tour and the Lay Lake Bassmaster Classic held 2 weeks ago. Both Table Rock and Lay Lake were extraordinarily cold. In the case of Table Rock, morning water temperatures were in the high-30s. Despite longer daylight hours and a full-moon cycle, the fish remained pretty much parked in their winter haunts.
And like the Classic, certain portions of Table Rock did have active fish, and Brent Ehrler found one of them up the White River.
He won the event by a staggering 13-pound margin and bested the 3rd-place finisher by an astounding 23 pounds.
Here's how he did it.
The field practiced under brutally cold conditions. Boat-decks were icy all morning, rod guides froze up, and it was just an all-around miserable experience.
Ehrler struggled just as much as the rest of the field, many of whom reported just one or two keeper bites across 3 days of practice.
He found what would become the winning area on the second night of practice. It happened as he was running back out of the White.
"I saw something on my Lowrance and thought 'Whoa! Let's check that out,'" he noted. "It was timber adjacent to a creek-channel bend. We pulled in there and caught a bunch of shorts, then 30 minutes later I caught a keeper on a grub. Two minutes later the co-angler practicing with me caught a keeper, then we left.
"Even though we only caught two keepers, it just had that feel like there was a lot of fish there."
When competition neared, however, Ehrler was genuinely torn. He'd also located an area up the James River that he considered his primary area, and he couldn't fish it and the White in the same day.
But he drew boat No. 6, which meant he'd likely have the White River area to himself on day 1, so he decided to go.
> Day 1: 5, 16-06
> Day 2: 5, 22-02
> Day 3: 5, 14-06
< Day 4: 5, 16-13
> Total = 20, 69-11
The morning of day 1, Ehrler ran to his White River spot and nailed a 2 1/2- to 3-pounder on his first cast. Two casts later, he bagged another keeper.
"I had my limit in 45 minutes," he said. "Then I left and started looking for more stuff. I looked all day long and never found anything better."
The next day, he caught a short on his first cast and a keeper on his second cast. He caught an early limit again and went looking somewhere else.
"I started running a pattern with a Lucky Craft Pointer 100DD (jerkbait)," he noted. "I was running bluff ends it was a secondary thing and I ended up catching a 6 1/2-pounder."
He improved by 5 pounds with that fish, which pushed his day-2 bag to over 22 pounds.
He pulled into his White River spot the morning of day 3 and it was a little tougher. "It took me a little bit. I started fishing around and it took about 10 minutes to catch a keeper. Then I had a little flurry and caught two keepers.
"I changed up a little, like before," he added. "The first day I caught most of them on a grub. The second day it was a grub and the jerkbait. The third day it was a Swimming Senko and a crankbait."
About the crank, he noted: "The second night, I was sitting there in my boat and thinking, 'Man, I have to figure something else out.' They were suspended in the tops of the trees, and I was doing tackle and looked down and there was a crankbait box. I thought, 'I betcha they'd bite that RC 2.5DD."
He rigged it up on a separate rod, laid it on the deck, and after he fished the Swimming Senko on day 3, he threw the crank and whacked a 5 1/2-pounder on his second cast with it.
After that fish, he caught a few more shorts on the grub, then finished his limit with a regular Senko.
On day 4, he started with the grub and caught four keepers, then changed again and threw a jig. He caught three on the jig and culled for the last time at approximately 11:00.
Winning Pattern Notes
About his primary area in the White, Ehrler said: "It was a creek-channel bend that just had a lot of underwater timber. It was basically a staging area. The fish were pulling in from the main lake and they stopped on the bend. Their next step would be to go all the way back to the shallow part of the creek. That's why the fish were there every day it was a staging spot and it was one of those areas that replenished.
"I had my boat over 30 to 35 feet of water and would make long casts up onto the flat," he added. "The bait would land in 12 to 15 feet, so it broke from 12 to 15 out to 35. When it made that break up where the bait was landing there weren't any trees. All the trees were closer to where the boat was in deeper water. I'd get that grub up there, let it hit bottom, then swim it like a swimbait the bait would stay in the 12- to 15-foot depth where the fish were sitting."
Also, he had two spots within the area.
"It was actually two spots that were close to one another. I'd get my limit off the first spot, then roll around the corner and cull one out. I did that the first and second day."
Ehrler's key baits included, from top, the Lucky Craft Pointer 100DD, 5" Yamamoto Single Tail grub, Lucky Craft RC 2.5DD and Yamamoto Swimming Senko. Not shown is the Pepper jig he threw on day 4.
Winning Gear Notes
> Grub gear: 7' heavy-action extra-fast Lucky Craft shakey-head rod, Abu Garcia Soron SX40 spinning reel, 12-pound Sunline PE braid, 8-pound Sunline FC Sniper fluorocarbon leader, 1/4-ounce ballhead jig, 5" Yamamoto Single-Tail grub (smoke) and 4" Yamamoto Single-Tail grub (natural shad).
> He used the same gear to throw the natural-shad Yamamoto Swimming Senko.
> Jerkbait gear: 6'11" medium-action Lucky Craft Power Pointer rod, Abu Garcia Revo Premier casting reel, 10-pound FC Sniper, Lucky Craft Pointer 100DD (pearl wakasagi).
> Crankbait gear: 7 1/2' medium-action Lucky Craft Deep Strike cranking rod, Abu Garcia Revo Winch casting reel, 10-pound FC sniper, Lucky Craft RC 2.5DD (ghost minnow).
> The jig he threw on day 4 was a 1/2-ounce Pepper jig (Delta special) tipped with a 5" Yamamoto Double Tail grub (color 301).
The Bottom Line
> This was Ehrler's second win in as many tournaments. He won the Shasta Western FLW Series to start the year.
> His career FLW Outdoors winnings total well over $1 million, but his tour-level winnings mark is quickly approaching $1 million.
> Ehrler ended the 2009 season ranked No. 2 in the world. After the Bassmaster Classic he slipped to No. 4, behind Skeet Reese and Alton Jones. A new edition of the BassFan World Rankings, which incorporates the Table Rock FLW Tour, will be published soon.
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