By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Lake Cumberland presented the FLW Tour field with a lot of variables last week, but Scott Martin was determined to avoid running all over the massive Kentucky impoundment searching for solutions to a continually evolving puzzle.
"I stayed within about a five-mile range," said the Floridian who extended his career record for Tour wins with his seventh triumph. "It had some creeks and pockets with a lot of variety – pea gravel, bluff walls and then trees and little brush piles all the way in the back.
"I was able to fish for all three species without having to move around very much. I could start at the mouth and fish for smallmouth, then maybe pick up a couple of spots on the way in, and then the largemouth would be in the back. I'd just do it over and over again and run all new water every day."
The tournament-best 19-07 stringer he caught on day 1 laid a strong foundation for the 60-01 total he compiled over four days that featured dramatically different weather conditions, which resulted in a highly inconsistent bite. His 13-12 stringer on day 4, which was the heaviest of any of the 10 competitors who made the final cut, left him with a 1-11 margin over runner-up Barry Wilson.
Following are some of the specifics on how Martin approached a venue that hadn't hosted a top-level derby since 2006.
Martin opened practice exploring the mid-lake region and didn't encounter a great deal of success. Later that day he had a discussion with fellow pro Matt Arey, with whom he frequently shares information. Arey relayed that he'd gotten some quality jerkbait bites on the lower end.
"I'd planned to look around down there anyways, but he really keyed me in on the jerkbait thing," Martin said. "We weren't fishing the same water for the most part, but when I got down there I eventually got into a rhythm with the jerkbait and got dialed into what I needed to look for. On the second day of practice I got several nice bites, and then the same thing again on the third day."
He tried a jig on the third day and the Tour co-angler who was practicing with him threw dropshots and shaky-heads. The fish showed little enthusiasm for any of those offerings.
"That told me that there wasn't much of a bite on the bottom. The lake was slowly rising every day and the water temperature was falling a little bit every day. When you have that situation, it's going to make the fish suspend, so I focused on that."
> Day 1: 5, 19-07
> Day 2: 5, 12-00
> Day 3: 5, 14-14
> Day 4: 5, 13-12
> Total = 20, 60-01
Day 1 was beset by bitterly cold temperatures, powerful winds and driving rain, but it also presented the best conditions for catching smallmouths, which are the predominant tournament species at Cumberland. There's a big catch regarding the brown fish, though – the must measure at least 18 inches to be reduced to possession, and many that the anglers connected with were just shy of that standard.
Martin caught four keeper bronzebacks that day, including a 5-pounder, and capped off his stringer with a solid largemouth to put a half-pound of distance between himself and the rest of the 164-angler field. He knew that such a performance would be tough to repeat, however, was set to gradually gravitate toward chamber-of-commerce status.
He caught just 12 pounds on day 2 and dropped to 5th place, almost four pounds behind new leader Clark Wendlandt. He lost a couple of good bites and caught his only two keeper smallmouths toward the end of the day.
He gained back three positions in the standings on day 3, when the wind died down considerably, with a 14-14 bag that was a strong haul for the day. Missed opportunities were an issue again and he went into the final day trailing Wendlandt by 3-11.
Martin caught mixed-species bags on each day of the event.
Wendlandt did the other nine day-4 qualifiers a favor by failing to catch a keeper and Martin narrowly outdueled Wilson to capture the top prize. His sack included one big smallmouth, but it was a 3-pound largemouth that he caught on his final cast with the jerkbait to replace a dinky spotted bass that may have given him his winning margin.
"One of the biggest things (on day 4) was my Garmin Panoptix," he said. "I used it to see two fish come out of a sunken tree and then go back in, so I started making a bunch of casts from different angles and a 3-pounder finally bit.
"If I hadn't seen that, I'd have made one or two casts on each side of the tree and then moved on. Without that fish, I wouldn't have won for sure."
The tournament required anglers to constantly adjust in order to achieve consistency, and Martin responded to that challenge.
"When the fish changed, I changed with them," he said. "There'd be little shifts in their migration based on the weather and I noticed some things that allowed me to stay on them."
He said the fish he caught were all pre-spawners. They were scattered at depths from 10 to 25 feet, with some of the largemouths shallower. The most productive range was 15 to 20 feet.
He made long casts with a slow-sinking jerkbait. He'd count it down to about 10 feet and then execute slow pulls with long pauses in between.
He usually prefers to throw a jerkbait on 10-pound fluorocarbon line, but opted for 12-pound P-Line Tactical fluorocarbon this time.
"The No. 1 thing was being efficient and keeping my rhythm going," he said. "The 12-pound Tactical is a small, thin-diameter line, but it's strong. If the bait got hung up, I could just break off the branch or tear it out of a bush and cast right back to that same spot and possibly catch a fish."
He spent a good portion of day 4 throwing an old Bomber Long A wakebait that he scrounged up on a whim because he thought it suited the day's serene conditions. It produced a few good bites, including a 3-pounder that he knocked off with the rim of his net while attempting to scoop it up.
He caught a couple of fish on a 1/2-ounce M-Pack Flippin' Jig on day 1. "After that cold really set in, I couldn't get bit on the bottom anymore."
Winning Gear Notes
> Jerkbait gear: 6'8" medium-action Okuma EVX rod, Okuma TCS casting reel (6.8:1 ratio), 12-pound P-Line Tactical fluorocarbon line, unnamed jerkbait (transluscent shad).
> Wakebait gear: 7' Okuma TCS Scott Martin signature series rod, same reel (8:1 ratio), 15-pound Okuma CXX monofilament line, Bomber Long A (bone).
> Jig gear: 7'6" heavy-action Okuma TCS Scott Martin signature series rod, same reel (8:1), 20-pound P-Line Tactical fluorocarbon, 1/2-ounce M-Pack Flippin' Jig (green-pumpkin), unnamed chunk trailer (green-pumpkin).
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in his success – "I really consolidated the area I wanted to fish."
> Performance edge – "The Garmin Panoptix was so crucial, especially on day 4 when the bait showed back up in the pockets. I was able to see the clouds of bait and I could throw right to where the clouds were and catch the fish. It also told me the position of the fish each day – I'd start on the points and work my way in and every day the fish moved. As soon as I could see activity on the Panoptix, I knew that was the zone I had to focus on."