By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
A location switch on the final day of the Sam Rayburn Reservoir FLW Tour that resulted in three upgrades gave Terry Bolton the last few pounds he needed to claim his first victory at the sport's top level. However, a move that he didn't make on day 2 was actually the biggest key to his triumph.
The veteran from Kentucky had approximately pounds in his livewell in the early afternoon of the second round and was about to pull up stakes and spend the remainder of the day somewhere else, with an eye toward conserving some of the fish at his primary locale. There was a local angler nearby, though, and Bolton felt certain that if he departed, that guy would move in and fish Bolton's best stuff.
He stayed put, and shortly thereafter he caught a 9 1/2-pound bruiser that bumped a 4-pounder out of his box. His tournament-best 33-09 sack that day put him atop the leaderboard and he held on the rest of the way to win with a 4-day total of 91-03.
His non-move prevented reigning BFL All-American champion Nick LeBrun from winning his Tour debut. LeBrun started the day trailing Bolton by more than 4 1/2 pounds, but caught a 21-06 stringer that reduced the final margin to just 12 ounces.
"If I'd left that spot on day 2, we wouldn't be talking right now," Bolton said a day after the final weigh-in (day 4 of competition was postponed from Sunday until Monday due to heavy winds). "Nick had a better game plan than I had and he had more places to fish.
"I stayed in one place on the day it was really hot and it worked out."
The 48-year-old Bolton spoke throughout the event about how winning wasn't his overriding objective. He'd nearly retired from Tour competition after a lackluster 2018 campaign and came back only through the urging of new wife Dacy and a desire to fish a season without co-anglers in the rear of his boat (back-seat competitors were done away with upon the conclusion of last season). Nonetheless, he admitted the victory was a big relief.
"Two years ago at Cumberland, when I finished 3rd by three-quarters of a pound or whatever it was, I felt like I fished a winning tournament by just didn't win," he said, hearkening back to one of several near-misses he's experienced. "This time I got over the hump and I learned a little more about myself this week.
"The biggest thing is I've gotten back to having fun again – when you get older, you tend to lose that for some reason. I've talked to several guys I've competed against at different levels and it's like some of the older guys start to dread it, and I don't know why. It's time to get back to the 25-year-old Terry Bolton, just having fun and going fishing."
Had Experience to Draw Upon
Bolton had been to Rayburn on many past occasions, but hadn't seen it in its present ultra-swollen condition (the product of heavy rains in the region during the previous month). Still, he had some memories stored away that he used as a foundation for his approach.
Bolton's massive day-2 haul was headed up by a 9 1/2-pounder.
"I know that Carolina rigs and crankbaits had always been effective during the colder months," he said. "Of course, the lake's changed some over the years – there's a lot more haygrass and other secondary growth and the hydrilla's not as thick.
His initial day of practice produced only three keeper bites: one that he flipped out of a bush and two others that came from in front of the standing vegetation via a rattlebait and a slow-rolled spinnerbait.
He went to the northern part of the lake, above the Highway 147 bridge, the following day and made his way into Harvey Creek. There he found several places with small breaks in the grass lines that were holding quality fish. The day after that he found a couple of similar places in Veach Basin.
He then returned to Harvey and was idling along when he came across a small ditch and the screen on his Humminbird electronics unit lit up with more than two dozen fish markings that he was certain were bass. They were in a void in the grass line that was perhaps two boat-widths across and maybe 50 yards long. The water was 14 to 18 feet deep and the spot was surrounded by hydrilla that grew to within 6 or 7 feet of the surface.
He made two casts with a Rapala DT 10 that resulted in a 6-pounder and a 2 1/2. He opted to not make another throw there until competition got under way the next morning.
> Day 1: 5, 20-10
> Day 2: 5, 33-09
> Day 3: 5, 19-10
> Day 4: 5, 17-06
> Total = 20, 91-03
Bolton's 20-10 opening-round bag left him in 10th place, then he rocketed to the top of the standings with his giant haul on day 2. He had a 6-pound lead over LeBrun at the midway point, and LeBrun took a little more than a pound off the deficit on day 3.
The decision to postpone day 4 was made by tournament director Bill Taylor early on Sunday morning. Bolton agreed with it at the time and was appreciative of the opportunity to rest up for a day.
He started day 4 in Harvey and caught a keeper on just about every cast for the first half-hour or so, but didn't connect with any big bites. Meanwhile, LeBrun quickly boxed more than 20 pounds and, according to FLW Live estimates, spent the majority of the day in the lead.
Bolton relocated to Veach with about an hour and a half remaining in the day and made three culls to reach his final weight. He estimated that his limit was then at least 3 pounds heavier than before he left Harvey.
He lost a 4 1/2-pounder at the net just a few minutes before quitting time that he feared might cost him the victory, but what he had turned out to be just enough to hold off LeBrun.
Bolton caught the majority of his fish on Rapala DT crankbaits – the 10, 14 and 16 versions all saw significant action. He employed a slow retrieve and said he got most of his bites when the baits were running just above the level the fish were sitting.
He caught a few key fish on an 3/4-ounce Accent spinnerbait
His small sweet spot in Harvey Creek required a very specific setup.
"It was a one-cast deal and I made the same throw over and over again," he said. "It didn't vary by more than about a boat-width."
Winning Gear Notes
> Cranking gear – 7'11" medium-heavy Team Lew's Custom Pro crankbait rod, Lew's BB1 Pro casting reel (5.4:1 ratio), 12-pound Sufix 100% fluorocarbon or 14-pound Sufix Advanced co-polymer line, Rapala DT 10 (demon), DT 14 (demon) or DT 16 (Caribbean shad) crankbait.
> The reason for the color change with the DT 16 was that he didn't have any of that size in the demon color with him.
> Spinnerbait gear: 6'10" medium-heavy Team Lew's Custom Lite rod, Team Lew's Custom Pro casting reel (6.8:1 ratio), 17-pound Sufix 100% fluorocarbon, 3/4-ounce Accent spinnerbait (chartreuse/white with double willow-leaf blades).
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in his success – "Probably one thing that may have saved me was I didn't have a lot of places to fish, so maybe I fished them harder."
> Performance edge – "I'd have to say the Spot-Lock (on the Minn Kota Ultrex trolling motor). I used it to literally stay in the exact same place for 40 minutes to an hour at a time. The other thing that was big was the Humminbird Helix Gen 3 units that are just hitting the market – they really showed the fish when I idled over them."
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