By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Most multi-day professional bass fishing tournaments are studies in adaptability. A lot of variables can change from day to day or even a lot faster than that and anglers must make the right adjustments or get left far behind in the weight column by their competitors who do.
One of those variables is water level, as it frequently determines where bass will position themselves. Rapid, drastic changes in that department often mess with the pea-sized brains that bass possess. When confronted with considerably more or less water than they'd become accustomed to, they might go somewhere else that suits them better for the time being, or perhaps they'll just stop eating until they've acclimated to the new conditions.
Beaver Lake just kept getting bigger and bigger last week due to a series of powerful storms that swept through northwest Arkansas. The level rose about 12 feet between the start of practice and the conclusion of the derby, and a lot of game plans that were hatched during the three-day practice period went by the wayside. Some of the fish moved toward the new shoreline, some hung around the old one and others sought even deeper haunts. And as always at Beaver, what worked one day usually didn't the next.
Winner Johnny McCombs caught 19 of his 20 weigh-in fish by throwing a buzzbait along the water's edge. Various plastics offered up in a variety of ways at different depths produced best for those who finished directly behind him.
Following are some pattern details for the other top finishers.
2nd: Jason Reyes
> Day 1: 5, 13-13
> Day 2: 5, 14-09
> Day 3: 5, 11-03
> Day 4: 3, 5-02
> Total = 18, 44-11
Jason Reyes, whose runner-up finish was his career-best in 14 seasons as a pro, knew that he'd pretty much be starting over when competition got under way.
"After practice, the lake came up (more than) 3 1/2 feet before we ever fished it again," he said. "Because of that, practice was somewhat of a myth. It was already time to adapt on day 1.
He focused on the depths that comprised the shoreline that was present when practice started, targeting post-spawn fish that were guarding fry. Those fish, of course, got more and more water over their heads as the derby progressed.
"I could still see some of the cover I got bit on in practice. There were literally islands with bushes on them that were completely flooded by the end of the tournament. I've never been part of an event where the water came up that fast in that short of a time."
He primarily threw a Texas-rigged Senko and a wacky worm for the first two days. A shaky-head proved more effective on the weekend.
> Senko gear: 7'1" G. Loomis NRX Jig & Worm casting rod, Shimano Metanium MGL casting reel (7.4:1 ratio), 12-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon line, unnamed 4/0 round-bend worm hook, 5" Yamamoto Senko (green-pumpkin).
> Wacky-rig gear: Same rod, reel and line, 2/0 Roboworm ReBarb hook, Zoom Trick Worm (green-pumpkin or watermelon magic).
> Shaky-head gear: 7'1" medium-heavy G. Loomis NRX Jig & Worm spinning rod, Shimano Stella 2500 spinning reel, 6- or 8-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon line, 1/8-ounce homemade jighead, Zoom Finesse Worm (green-pumpkin).
Main factor in his success "I'd say it was sticking with the original shorelines that was there when we got there and fishing very slow."
Performance edge "The way that 6-pound line let the bait go down was just so naturally. I don't like using braid with a leader without it, the bait falls more naturally, you can feel it a little better and the fluorocarbon doesn't float. In those windy, rainy conditions it was important to keep good contact with the bottom."
Bryan Thrift fished a lot of history en route to his latest single-digit finish.
3rd: Bryan Thrift
> Day 1: 5, 12-15
> Day 2: 5, 10-10
> Day 3: 5, 9-09
> Day 4: 3, 10-01
> Total = 20, 43-03
Thrift, the No. 1 angler in the BassFan World Rankings who opened up an even more commanding lead in the Angler of the Year (AOY) race, fished a lot of history and, as usual, moved around at a frenetic pace. He estimated that he made between 20 and 40 stops each day.
"I've got a lot of history at Beaver and there's a lot of places I don't fish in practice, ever," he said. "I know I'm going to fish them in the tournament regardless.
"I caught some fish from (new) places where I'd gotten bites in practice, but I had to slow down and be more thorough. I might have to expand the area or go a little farther down the bank."
He stayed close to dry land and most often paralleled the bank with extremely long casts. A Damiki Stinger soft stickbait produced all but one of his fish over the first 3 days, then he employed a swimbait on the final day.
> Stickbait gear: 6'9" medium-action Fitzgerald Stunner spinning rod, unnamed spinning reel, 15-pound P-Line TBCX braided line, 8-pound P-Line fluorocarbon leader (8'), 1/8-ounce homemade jighead, 4" Damiki Stinger (watermelon candy or baby bass).
> Swimbait gear: 7' medium-heavy Fitzgerald Stunner casting rod, unnamed casting reel, 10-pound P-Line Tactical fluorocarbon, 4" Damiki Anchovy Shad (pro blue anchovy) or unnamed 4" swimbait (shad).
"In clear water or when it was slick, I'd throw the Anchovy Shad," he said. "If the wind got up or the water had a little tint to it, I'd throw the other swimbait."
Main factor in his success "Just slowing down and being thorough."
Performance edge "I'd say that Stinger and the P-Line Tactical. I had confidence that I could catch fish with them in that clear water."
Keith Bryan was the only angler other than Thrift to catch a limit on all four days.
4th: Keith Bryan
> Day 1: 5, 13-05
> Day 2: 5, 9-13
> Day 3: 5, 9-04
> Day 4: 5, 10-08
> Total = 20, 42-14
Rookie Keith Bryan, the owner of Powell Rods, spent the entire tournament in a single creek throwing a dropshot and a spinnerbait. He and Thrift were the only competitors to bring a limit to the scale on each of the four days.
"I had enough areas within that one larger area that my stuff didn't get too beat up," he said. "I managed the fish I had better than I ever have. I didn't fish every spot on every day and on the last day I had some places that I hadn't been to since practice."
He worked two different types of cover. One was "little slab ledges, like mini-pockets, if you will" on bluffs and the other was gradually sloping clay banks with baseball-sized rock. Most of his fish came from about 15 feet of water.
"I stayed where I got the most bites in practice and then expanded the area. The tributary was big enough that it didn't totally dirty up. I caught fish everywhere I shook one off during practice and some stuff I didn't practice on yielded some good fish on day 2."
He made medium-length pitches with either bait to get them as close to the cover as possible. On the steeper stuff, it was important that the baits fell straight down rather than follow a parabolic arc back toward the boat.
> Dropshot gear: 7'1" light/extra-fast Powell Max 3D spinning rod, Shimano Stradic Cl4+ spinning reel, 8-pound PowerPro braided line, 8-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon leader (5'), No. 2 Gamakatsu Splitshot/Dropshot hook, wacky-rigged Zoom Swamp Crawler (green-pumpkin), generic 3/16-ounce cylindrical dropshot weight.
> Spinnerbait gear: 7'5" medium-heavy Powell Max 3D casting rod, Shimano Curado casting reel (7.2:1 ratio), 15-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon, 1/2-ounce Revenge spinnerbait (white/chartreuse with double gold willow-leaf blades).
Main factor in his success "It was definitely making the right calls during the event. I was able to go back to some areas where I'd caught some fish and catch some more."
Performance edge "That whole spinning rod setup. With that light tip I was able to swing the bait underhand and get it where it needed to be.
Cody Meyer caught big bags on each of the first two days, but his offshore spot eventually dried up.
5th: Cody Meyer
> Day 1: 5, 16-01
> Day 2: 5, 12-08
> Day 3: 5, 6-13
> Day 4: 3, 5-04
> Total = 18, 40-10
A single offshore spot where he was able to entice solid smallmouths with a tube gave Cody Meyer some good weight on the first two days and he topped the standings at the midway point. It dried up on the weekend, though, and he caught just enough to hang on for a top-5 finish.
"It was a point that went way out to the middle of the lake and it had a high spot with deep water all around it," he said. "Off the front there was some scattered rock..
"The main thing was it was in the mouth of a creek with a spawning area in the back. When they left that area, it was something they had to go past."
He'd fished the spot in previous Beaver events with only moderate success.
"I'd caught some there in the past, but very few and I didn't really understand it I'd just make a couple of casts and go. This time I started investigating and looking around, and I learned a lot.
"By day 3, the fish were totally gone. The water just kept coming up and they were finally like, 'Okay, we're done.'"
He flipped a couple of decent fish out of debris mats. He caught all three of his final-day keepers on a small swimbait."
> Tube gear: 7'4" medium-action Daiwa Tatula Elite spinning rod, Daiwa Exist spinning reel, 6-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon line, 1/8-ounce Strike King Tour Grade tube jighead, 3 1/2' Strike King Bitsy Tube (green-pumpkin or watermelon).
> "The biggest thing about that setup was using a lighter-weight tube head," he said. "In that deep water, it was all about the fall. I'd cast it out and it would fall with a spiraling action. Smallmouth are very visual feeders and they could see it coming from a long ways away, especially on day 1 when it was sunny. If I used a 1/4-ounce or heavier, it'd fall right past them and they wouldn't bite."
> Swimbait gear: Same rod, reel and line (8-pound), 3/8-ounce Strike King Tour Grade swimbait head, 3 3/4" Strike King Rage Swimmer (shad).
> Flipping gear: 8' heavy-action Daiwa Tatula flipping stick, Daiwa Tatula SV casting reel (7.3:1 ratio), 20-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon line, 1/2-ounce Strike King Tour grade tungsten weight, 4/0 Owner Jungle flipping hook, Strike King Rage Bug (California craw).
Main factor in his success "That one place saved my tournament, for sure."
Performance edge "That Tatula Elite rod that I designed is perfect for throwing baits like the tube and it handles 6- and 8-pound line really well without breaking off."