By Todd Ceisner
Having won the Lake Okeechobee Southeastern FLW Series in January didn’t help Jason Lambert much last week in how he fished during the Kentucky Lake FLW Tour. The two lakes are complete opposites of each other.
What it did do, though, was give him the confidence that if he found himself in contention again, he knew he had the ability to close out a win.
And boy, did he ever close this past Sunday at Kentucky Lake.
Of Lambert’s 13 Top-10 finishes across various levels of FLW competition prior to last week, five of them had come at Kentucky Lake, but he was lacking a victory he so dearly coveted. After seeing his weights go up each of the first 3 days, he blew the rest of the finalists away with a 29-00 bag on Sunday to finish with 97-02.
He sampled areas up and down the lake throughout the event and had success the first 3 days focusing on smaller groups of fish that he believed splintered away from larger schools. On the final day, with the field down to 10 boats and the local traffic not as intense, he had free reign on some key community holes where the bigger groups had time to rejuvenate.
“Winning a tournament like (Okeechobee), it lets you know that you can close it out,” he said. “I’d like to think there was an advantage to having that happen.”
It also helps having the experience on a body of water the size of Kentucky Lake to be able to move around and adjust with the conditions, which remained consistent (and hot) throughout the tournament.
“The best thing that could’ve happened was the heat,” he said. “That’s what pushes them out there. It’s been such a strange spring, but I think this heat really triggered them to get moving.”
Here’s how he did it.
Lambert spent very little time on the front deck during the 3-day practice session. With his iPod blaring a catalog of Eric Church songs, he idled for up to 13 hours per day, staring at his Garmin electronics and hoping to find the key pieces to the post-spawn puzzle.
FLW Tour pros are permitted to practice with a co-angler who’s competing in the event, but Lambert chose to practice alone. He was careful when and where he decided to make a cast because he didn’t want to give away anything to nearby competitors. Such is life now on the Tennessee River.
“It’s hard to stop anywhere because if you do, somebody will be fixing to hit that button,” he said.
What he saw were groups of fish on the move and they were showing up each day on different places.
“I knew they were coming out,” he said. “There were fish I didn’t see Sunday or Monday that I saw Tuesday. I knew they were starting to pour out there.”
While there were areas around the lake that held fish shallow and around docks, Lambert was committed to fishing the ledges for the schools that had already made their post-spawn migration.
> Day 1: 5, 18-09
> Day 2: 5, 24-04
> Day 3: 5, 25-05
> Day 4: 5, 29-00
> Total = 20, 97-02
Lambert spent the first 2 days starting with a crankbait, then transitioning to a 3-ounce, 8-inch spoon when the plug quit producing. If the spoon didn’t fire up the groups he was targeting, he’d throw a 10-inch finesse worm on a big shaky-head jig.
He started each day of the event on a big school that fellow finalists Bryan Thrift and Terry Bolton also started on. The 18-09 he caught on day 1 was not the start he was hoping for, but he was able to fine-tune the tactic that eventually won him the tournament that afternoon.
“I spent lot of time on day 1 caught up in history and throwing the spoon and cranking,” he said, alluding to how well the magnum-sized spoons worked during the 2014 Tour event. “I caught a lot on the spoon, but it was a strategic change to go to the swimbait.”
He played around with a 7-inch straight-tail swimbait rigged on a big scrounger head on Thursday afternoon, just to see if he could figure out the cadence required to trigger bites. It’s a set-up he’s used in the past, but hasn’t talked about much.
After catching 24-04 Friday to move into 2nd place – he caught three of his weigh-in fish on the swimbait – he figured the single-hook lure would be a better option on the weekend when he’d have to net his own fish.
“The single-hook bait was a better way to get them in than a crankbait with trebles,” he said.
Continuing to target smaller groups of fish on the outskirts of areas that held much larger schools, Lambert surged into the lead on Saturday with a 25-05 bag. He focused his efforts Saturday in the mid-lake section.
“Saturday was kind of a test for the swimbait,” he said. “I didn’t want to crank or throw the spoon because I knew my chances of losing fish were greater. I caught a 5-pounder and two 4s on the swimbait in the morning and that built my confidence in it.”
With a 1 1/2-pound lead over Brandon Hunter entering Sunday, Lambert figured the lake would be mostly wide open on the final day. That meant he’d have access to popular community holes that he’d avoided because they’d been heavily pressured earlier in the tournament.
Lambert spent a good bit of time idling during the tournament trying to relocate smaller groups of fish that had splintered off from bigger schools.
He started Sunday 3 miles from the dam on the same place he’d been sharing with Thrift and Bolton, but came away without a keeper bite. Then he headed south and spent the majority of his day between Jonathan Creek to past Paris Landing.
He checked an area where he’d marked a school on Tuesday. They hadn’t been there since, but they were there Sunday morning and he caught a 5-pounder. He picked up some 2-pounders a couple spots later and then a 7-pounder to give himself roughly 18 pounds before 11 a.m.
“From 11 on, it got crazy,” he added.
He sorted through roughly 30 fish and threw back an estimated 20 pounds.
“At one point, when I boat-flipped a 5 1/2-pounder, I told my camera guy, ‘This is getting ridiculous,’” he said. “The lake was wide open. I could get on anything at any time.”
His decision to leave the smaller groups of fish that he’d worked on the first 3 days was based on the thinking that the bigger schools had had some time to regroup from the fishing pressure.
“I fished the big community holes because nobody was on the water,” he said. “When those fish have time to rest, you can smash ‘em.”
Winning Pattern Notes
> Lambert said the key to getting bites on the scrounger/swimbait combo was maintaining bottom contact. “It had to be grinding along the bottom,” he added. “I had to slow it down and work it so slow. If it lost contact with the bottom, I would not get bit.”
> Based on the appearance of the fish he caught on the weekend, it was apparent the fish had just finished up spawning. “The almost 7-pounder I caught Sunday, I promise she hadn’t been out there more than 2 days,” he said. “They’re coming every day. My big fish Saturday and two biggest on Sunday all bled on my carpet.”
Winning Gear Notes
> Swimbait gear: 7’10” extra-heavy Duckett Fishing Micro Magic casting rod, Duckett Fishing 360 casting reel (6.3:1 ratio), 17-pound Vicious fluorocarbon line, 1-oz. scrounger jighead, 7” Castaic Jerky J (green shad).
> Spurning the traditional paddletail swimbait for a scrounger head is something Lambert has done for a while. “It’s been pretty effective for a long time,” he said. “I’ve tried to be real secretive about it, but I guess it’s out of the box now.”
> Spoon gear: 7’8” double extra-heavy Duckett Fishing White Ice Terry Scroggins flipping rod, same reel (7.1:1 ratio), same line (20-pound), 8” Castaic Heavy Metal Flutter Spoon (nickel).
> The presentation on the spoon was simple: “Just throw it out and let it go to the bottom, then jerk the crap out of it,” Lambert said.
> Worm gear: 7’6” medium-heavy Duckett Fishing Micro Magic casting rod, same reel and lineas swimbait, 5/8-oz. V&M Baits Pacemaker Series Mega Shakey Head, 10” V&M Baits J-Mag Worm (redbug).
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in his success – “Fishing up there enough to know which schools have better quality in them and knowing when some of those fish are showing up and also knowing where to look when you haven’t seen them.”
> Performance edge – “My Garmin electronics. It was all about finding as many schools as you could find.”
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