By Todd Ceisner
While Clent Davis hung around brush piles en route to winning the Forrest Wood Cup at Lake Ouachita and James Niggemeyer predominantly beat the bank with a buzzbait to score a runner-up finish, here’s how the rest of the top 5 went about their business last week:
3rd: Justin Atkins
> Day 1: 5, 9-14
> Day 2: 5, 9-02
> Day 3: 5, 9-12
> Total = 15, 28-12
As far as consistency goes, Justin Atkins has Lake Ouachita figured out. He and winner Clent Davis were the only competitors to catch at least nine pounds each day and Atkins did it by figuring out where fish were holding along areas that the current was hitting.
That area was in the back of the south fork of the Ouachita River, which turned out to be a popular place during the tournament. Atkins and Jason Lambert both logged top-5 finishes predominantly with fish caught in that part of the lake.
It took Atkins a while to eliminate other patterns such as brush and running the bank, but he thinks had he had the area he found to himself he may have been able to capture a second straight Cup.
“I went up before cutoff, but found nothing I liked,” he said. “I looked for brush and rode around to see what looked like what. I was also there in May for a Berkley photo shoot and there were a bunch of wolfpackers running the bank. When I went back before cutoff, I knew it wasn’t the deal. In practice, I spent an hour going down the bank and knew that wasn’t the deal. I knew I needed to be offshore.”
He invested some time trying to figure out the standing timber fish.
“If I found them there, I’d have them to myself,” he said. “I couldn’t get that figured out.”
Next on his checklist was brush piles, a pattern he enjoys, but Ouachita and him didn’t get along in that regard.
“I love to brush pile fish, but I stayed so hung up on those piles there and I don’t know what it was, but I kept getting hung up and quit because I was getting so ticked off,” he added.
He spent a half day up each fork on the western end of the lake during official practice and it wasn’t until the middle of day 2 that he discovered the ledge scenario in the back of the south fork.
“The fish were set up where the current hits places directly,” he said. “Noticed a ditch swing where it made a 90-degree bend and saw fish there. I made a cast and caught one.
“That arm was definitely more stained than the others and that made it a better arm altogether. I lnew that arm had some flow or whether it was from them drawing the lake down, but the fish were set up perfectly where a school should be.”
Atkins said the ledges were predominantly in 15 to 18 feet and he said there were about a half-dozen spots where he marked bass in similar scenarios.
“I got a clue real quick by checking something that looked right,” he said. “Nothing is ever by chance, so I went from there.”
Atkins was the last boat out on day 1 and never got in a favorable rotation until the end of the day.
“I got left with seconds all day long,” he said. “When everybody left, I was able to make magic happen.”
He plugged along until he had 9-14, which had him in 10th.
He relied on three different presentations throughout the tournament: a neko-rig, a spoon and a version of the Wing Ding a friend of his makes. He threw the latter when fish came up schooling.
“I’d throw it out and reel as fast as possible to keep it on top,” he said. “Other times, I’d throw it out and they’d get it on the initial sink. It’s just something we use at Ross Barnett and in central Mississippi. Any time I’m at a lake where they school, I have them in the boat. I had them at Murray last year, but they were eating a 7-inch topwater there so I didn’t need them. I liked it because the bait they were eating was so small, plus it’s heavy so you can throw it a long way.”
As the fishing pressure increased in the area over the course of the tournament, Atkins had to move around frequently to re-locate the smaller schools, which were a mix of largemouth and spots.
“The traffic made it a lot tougher,” he said. “Those fish would get real boat shy.”
> Spoon gear: 7’10” medium-heavy Abu Garcia Ike Delay Series casting rod, Abu Garcia Revo STX casting reel, 20-pound Berkley Trilene 100% fluorocarbon line, unnamed 4” spoon (hammered metal),
> He replaced the hook on the spoon with a size 1 Berkley Fusion 19 treble hook.
> Neko rig gear: 7’ medium-action Abu Garcia Fantasista Premier spinning rod, Abu Garcia Revo Premier 30 spinning reel, 8-pound Berkley Fireline Ultra 8 superline, 12-pound Berkley Trilene 100% fluorocarbon line (leader), 1/0 Roboworm Rebarb hook, nail-weighted 7” Berkley PowerBait Fatty Bottom Hopper (red bug).
> The version of the Wing ding Atkins threw is made by a friend of his. It was a 3/4-oz. model and tied a #6 Berkley Fusion 19 treble on the line with a bobber stop pinned to the head.
> He also mixed in a Berkley PowerBait Rib Toad (ghost watermelon) rigged on 5/0 Fusion 19 EWG superline worm hook.
> Main factor in his success – “Fishing off the bank is where I’m most comfortable. Just knowing that’s where you can win because it’s so hard to win going down the bank.”
> Performance edge – “My Humminbird Mega Imaging. I’ve done really well in August and September finding fish when everybody else wasn’t looking offshore. Lake Murray (last year) and this year and the BFL at Barnett last year, I credit my success to my electronics. I believe in them a lot.”
Nick LeBrun only caught a limit one day, but still managed to finish 4th.
4th: Nick LeBrun
> Day 1: 5, 13-05
> Day 2: 3, 9-06
> Day 3: 4, 5-11
> Total = 12, 28-06
LeBrun typically doesn’t practice a whole lot for tournaments, but for the Cup he went against the grain. He visited Ouachita on three separate occasion before it went off limits and had about two weeks of time of the water invested before he returned for official practice.
“The lake is so big with so much shoreline and I knew it’d fish big so I wanted to find an area of lake where I could live and move in a linear route with small spots along the way,” he said. “I fish a lot of lakes in the summer, but none that were that clear. That was a learning thing that evolved during practice.”
He came back for official practice with the mindset to focus on the offshore grass.
“That’s where all of my confidence was,” he said. “It’s not that I jacked around during practice, but I didn’t want to stray from my main mental game plan, which was around that grass.
“Fishing tall hydrilla and milfoil that’s not matted is one of my favorite ways to fish at Toledo Bend and Rayburn,” he added. “In early July, it was a dropping bite, where you could take a 1-oz. weight and drop it where you couldn’t see. I thought that’d be the deal. During practice and the tournament, it evolved to a worm bite, just casting it and paralleling it along the side of the grass.”
He also tapped into a swimbait bite around schools of fish where he could reel a swimbait under the school and catch quality fish.
“I caught a 5 in practice doing that,” he said. “I unlocked that the last day of practice.”
He couldn’t have asked for a better start to the tournament. His preparation had paid off with a 13-05 stringer that had him five ounces off the lead. He caught three fish out of some lily pads early and then slowly added to his creel with three more keepers out of the grass.
“On day 1, it was old-school Texas-rigged worm fishing,” he said. “It brought me back to being a young teenager and fishing with my uncle and my brother and throwing a 5-inch u-tail worm. With the technology these days, you can add a new twist to the old-school techniques, but at the end of the day you’re worm fishing and topwater fishing. To me it was an old-school lake – don’t overthink it and keep it simple.
“I was feeling pretty good. My whole goal for the tournament was to make the cut and influence some people and gain some respect and prove that I deserved to be there. After day 1 went so great, I was really pumped and confident. I know they say you can’t win it on day 1, but you can get into position and I sure did that.”
As the tournament evolved, he started his days around some of the only lily pads he could find on the lake.
“I went back to my starting area (on day 2) with pads because I knew I’d left some fish in there day 1,” he said. “I had some fish that waked on it that didn’t get it. It was a lot brighter and a lot hotter. There was no fog or overcast skies and I never had a real bite in there that day. I committed almost 2 hours to that because it’s not something you can just hit it and go. You have to put your time in. Instead of leaving there with a bonus fish or two, I left with zero and had no momentum at that point.”
He moved to where he could fish for schoolers and coaxed a 1-pounder, which was his only fish when 11 a.m. rolled around.
“After that I moved to a grass hump and a big one came up chasing,” he said. “I threw my topwater out there and it smoked it. That brought me from zero to hero and got my mind right.”
He managed one more keeper and held onto 2nd entering the final day.
“I knew that most likely I’d fish the same areas, but I racked my brain on the rotation,” he said. “I knew the winning fish were in those schools by the Crystal Springs Marina and if I got there early – they school early there – and get two or three 3-pounders that would put me in position. I went there from 7 to 9 a.m. and they never showed themselves until I started idling out. I saw them churning the surface. I turned around and by the time I got set up, they were done.”
He spent the rest of the day chasing big ones in the grass.
“I had five more bites, but nothing over 2 pounds,” he said. “I knew if I caught five I’d have a sack, but that wasn’t the case. I have no regrets. I’m at peace with my decisions and patterns. The things I’d change I have no control over. Being my first Cup and being a non-Tour guy, to finish 4th I’m just blessed.”
> Topwater gear: 7’2” medium-heavy Fitzgerald Fishing Bryan Thrift Signature Series frog rod, same reel, 30-pound Fitzgerald Fishing Vursa braided line, River2Sea Whopper Plopper 110 (powder).
> He also mixed in a 6th Sense Splashback 90 (white pearl)
> Grass gear: 7’6” medium-heavy Fitgerald Fishing Stunner casting rod, Quantum Smoke S3 casting reel, 17-pound unnamed fluorocarbon line, 1/2-oz. Elite Tungsten worm weight, 5/0 Hayabusa 959 worm hook, 8 1/2” V&M Baits Wild Thang worm (blue flex).
> Main factor in his success – “Keeping my head together and not getting spun out. I’m a real humble guy but one thing I think I’m good at is my mental game and I had to utilize it to the fullest. It was such a grind. It’s all between your ears because there is so much that’s out of our control. It’s all about where you start and where to go from there. What put me in position was going through that process and my mental preparation.”
> Performance edge – “My Lowrance Carbon 9 and 12 units helped me find those key grass edges and let me go back and stay on top of them.”
Jason Lambert said many of the largemouth he caught at Ouachita were suspended.
5th: Jason Lambert
> Day 1: 5, 10-0
> Day 2: 5, 10-03
> Day 3: 5, 7-12
> Total = 15, 27-15
For Jason Lambert, breaking down Ouachita was about finding an area of the lake that had a concentration of fish and finding a way he was comfortable with to catch them.
“I decided to fish my strengths,” he said. “Maybe it’s old school for me because it’s what I grew up doing – fishing off the bank. Regardless if it was brush piles and I didn’t do very well in brush piles in practice so me and (Atkins) found the same little area and we just did what we do at Pickwick. We got offshore on a river ledge and went fishing.”
He spent a couple days at Ouachita in July and upon making a pass through the south fork, he noticed a couple distinct channel swings, one of which had fish on it.
“It was a traditional ledge with high spots on the side of the old river channel,” he said. “It was probably the most like what we fish at home.”
When official practice began, he swung back through the area the first day hoping to expand on what he’d found. He made 10 casts and left.
“I ended up with four key spots in that general area,” he said. “After that day, I went back up there on the final day to make sure things were sitting where they were supposed to be sitting.”
He also dabbled with the hydrilla bite and got a few bites at the start of practice, but by the final day of the four-day practice session, it was hard to generate any consistent bites in the grass.
“I was real curious going into the last day (of practice) if I’d start up that river or on the hydrilla,” he said. “I spent the last day running hydrilla, but got no bites and that’s why I started up the river. I expected the hydrilla to be a bigger player than it was.”
Lambert started in the back of the south fork on day 1 and stayed until 2 p.m., picking up a limit in the process. He spent the last three hours of the day around shallow timber, adding a key upgrade late that got him to 10-00, good enough for a spot in the top 10.
He didn’t have near as many bites on day 2 – just five keepers – and broke a couple off, but another late upgrade on a buzzbait pushed his stringer to 10-03 and clinched him a spot on the final day.
He said brush was present all along the ledge, but the fish weren’t necessarily on it.
“When they bit, they were on flat spots between the brush,” he said.
He played a hunch to start the final day and opted to fish a buzzbait around the timber that he’d been fishing in the afternoon.
“I’d caught my best fish in there on day 1 and I hadn’t fished it in the morning so I wanted to spend some time in there,” he said. “I was down 3 1/2 pounds, which is like 8 pounds anywhere else so I had to gamble a little bit.”
The gamble didn’t pay off, so off he went back to the south fork, where he grinded out 7 1/2 pounds.
“I’d spend an hour deep, then go shallow, then go back deep,” he said. “I spent more time shallow that day than deep because I felt like I needed a big upgrade.”
Most of the deeper fish were suspended, he said, much like they get at other places without a lot of current in the summer.
“One spot, the bait had to be on the bottom, but the other spots I caught a lot of them suspended,” he said. “I’m used to fishing that way because when there’s no current on the Tennessee River, we’re often fishing for suspended fish. That’s pretty common on those reservoirs so it was something I was comfortable messing with.”
> Dropshot gear: 7’ medium-heavy Duckett Fishing Terex spinning rod, unnamed spinning reel, 16-pound Sunline SX-1 braided line, 8-pound Sunline Super FC Sniper fluorocarbon line (leader), #2 unnamed dropshot/splitshot hook, 6” Roboworm straight tail worm (morning dawn), 1/4-oz. unnamed dropshot weight.
> Topwater gear: 7’4” heavy-action Duckett Fishing Triad casting rod, unnamed casting reel, 50-pound Sunline FX-2 braided line, 1/2-oz. Zorro Bait Company Head Knocker buzzbait (black), Gene Larew Lures Wheeler Hammer Craw (black/blue).
> Main factor in his success – “Just staying focused knowing how tough it would be.”
> Performance edge – “My Garmins because that’s how I found them all. I used DownVü and SideVü when I was looking for them and Pantopix when fishing for them because there’d be so many of them suspended.”
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