By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Randy Pierson says he really isn't much of a moving-water angler, whether the movement is caused by current or tides. He lives just 40 minutes from the California Delta in the Central Valley city of Oakdale, but dislikes that fishery because the tidal fluctuations constantly have the water flowing in one direction or the other.
"I'm not a Delta guy," he said. "That place has cost me (Angler of the Year titles) several times. I only fish there when I don't have a choice."
The Delta bears few similarities to Alabama's Pickwick Lake, but focusing on moving water was critical to a high finish at last week's B.A.S.S. Nation Championship. Pierson used what he learned on a pre-practice trip in late September to prevail over a field of 63 of the top club-level anglers in the country and gain a berth in next year's Bassmaster Classic.
The 47-year-old employee of a firearms accessories company amassed a three-day total of 55-11 to beat our runner-up Kyle Dorsett of Alabama by almost 4 pounds. Dorsett and 3rd-place finisher Jacopo Gallelli of Italy also gained spots in the Classic, which will be held next March on the Tennessee River out of Knoxville, Tenn.
"The Classic is something I've always dreamed about since I was a kid," Pierson said. "I've always wanted to try the highest level possible and I said I needed to do it before I turned 50. This was the only way I was going to get into something like that."
Timing Was Superb
Pierson's pre-practice trip to Pickwick consisted of four days of fishing in rapidly rising water. He found a lot of quality fish on a 7- or 8-mile stretch starting about a half-mile below the Lake Wilson dam that he could catch on spinnerbaits.
He intentionally timed his initial visit to coincide with the opening round of a two-day a BFL that was won by Bass Pro Tour angler Jason Lambert with a total of 32-10.
"When that tournament was going on I never fished through the areas that I thought were the best – I was still trying new areas," he said. "I had three fish that day and 42 of the (BFL competitors) blanked. I felt like if I'd fished the water that I thought was good, I could've had a similar weight to the guys at the top."
He never caught a limit on any of the four additional practice days he got just prior to the event. He and his partner boated some big ones, though, including a 5-pounder and more than half a dozen (both largemouths and smallmouths) that exceeded 3 1/2 pounds.
He boxed a 20 1/2-pound stringer on the first competition day and nearly equaled that on day 2 with a 19-12 effort. He dropped off to 15-08 on the final day, but that was far more than he needed to secure the victory.
His best action came when the current, caused by water flowing into the lake from Wilson to suit the Tennessee Valley Authority's power-generation needs, was at its stiffest levels. It flowed hard throughout day 1, but was calmer to start day 2 and didn't pick up until about 10:15, when he want back through his rotation of spots and caught a 6-pounder, a 4 and a couple of 3s within a 90-minute window. That haul gave him a 3-14 advantage with one day to go.
There was very little current on day 3 (Saturday), but it picked up enough around noon for him to put together a limit averaging 3 pounds per fish.
"On the last day, I thought that if I could catch a limit I'd be going to the Classic," he said. "I felt like if I caught 15 pounds, I'd have a great chance of winning it. If somebody beat me, I would've been okay with that, but I didn't want to just give it away."
Bait Switch was Prudent
Pierson caught 13 of the 15 fish he took to the weigh-in stage by drifting a homemade hair jig – the other two were enticed on a small swimbait attached to a dart-head and fished the same way. He felt the jig was a better option than the spinnerbait that had produced so well during pre-practice due to the dramatically cooler water – it had been 83 degrees at the end of September and he saw a reading as low as 58 during the tournament.
"I didn't use the jig at all in practice, but I got a little confidence in it and it just kept building every day," he said.
His bites came from a variety of current-related locales. That list included bluff walls, shallow points and barge tie-ups.
"When the current wasn't as swift, they'd be out on the exposed stuff in as much of it as possible. Then when they'd open the gates up and it was really moving, they'd be not far from that but they'd back off a little bit, although not necessarily in the eddies or breaks.
"I was amazed that they could hold in current that strong."
Winning Gear Notes
> Jig gear: 7'3" medium-heavy Dobyns Champion XP rod, Shimano Curado casting reel (6.2:1 ratio), 15-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon line, 1/4-ounce homemade hair jig (white), Zoom Split-Tail trailer (white).
> Swimbait gear: 7' medium-action Dobyns Champion XP rod, Shimano Nasci spinning reel, 8-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon, 1/8-ounce homemade dart-head jig, Keitech 3.3 swimbait (sexy shad).
> He weighed a 3 1/2-pounder on day 1 that bit a Zorro spinnerbait.
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in his success – "I kept myself in areas where I knew there was fish – I saw the potential and figured it out. With the current, it was like I was going to fish those areas out and it was a timing deal to catch them when they were feeding."
> Performance edge – "The Minn Kota Ultrex trolling motor, hands down. My buddy Steve (Taylor) lives 4-hours away (from Pickwick) in Georgia and he'd offered to let me use his boat in the tournament so I could fly back and forth instead of driving, and I said I'd love to but I couldn't use it because it didn't have an Ultrex. He went out and put a brand new one on it and even took it for me and took it out twice to make sure it was working."