By Sean Ostruszka
Special to BassFan
If you had to peg it, one might say the FLW Tour event on Lake Seminole was a pre-spawn affair. Really, though, it was a transition deal.
Brian Latimer won by targeting pre-spawn females filtering through a shallow flat on the way to a spawning bay. Terry Bolton and Rob Kilby did the same. Yet Braxton Setzer and Sheldon Collings both set up offshore on key staging spots and reported catching as many post-spawn fish as they did pre-spawn.
Here’s a look at how the rest of the top 5 managed to stay ahead of a population of fish constantly on the move.
2nd: Braxton Setzer
> Day 1: 5, 25-15
> Day 2: 2, 7-11
> Day 3: 5, 24-08
> Day 4: 5, 20-12
> Total = 17, 78-14
Braxton Setzer turned "nothing" into a near victory thanks to being perceptive.
He looked at Seminole’s history and saw the majority of spring events are won in its lush offshore grass. Thus, that’s what he committed to throughout all of practice … with almost nothing to show for it.
“My practice was not good,” said the Alabama pro. “I only had a handful of areas where I even got a single bite.”
He ran to one of them in Spring Creek the first morning and was actually about to move when another angler throttled down nearby. That prompted him to hang tight a little longer, not wanting to ruin the other pro’s area. Turns out, that extra time revealed a 20-by-20-foot open patch of hard bottom in a hydrilla field in about 18 feet of water. Better yet, there was a giant school of bass primed to eat a Texas-rigged worm dragged through it.
“I figured out as the tournament went on that if I could put a cast just along the edge, right where the hard bottom and grass met, that was the cast,” Setzer said.
On three of the four days he was able to get the school to fire up right away each morning with the worm )or a swimbait on the final day). Unfortunately, he feels increased boat pressure in the clearer Spring Creek caused his fish to get wary on day 2, and he never got them to go.
“It was an incredible week,” Setzer said. “I don’t know if I’d go back and do anything different. It just didn’t work out on day 2.”
> Worm Gear: 7’7” Phenix Feather Heavy casting rod, unnamed casting reel, 16-pound Yo-Zuri Top Knot 100% Fluorocarbon line, 1/4-ounce weight, Zoom Speed Worm (junebug).
> Swimbait Gear: 7’1” Phenix K2 Torzite spinning rod, unnamed reel, 14-pound Yo-Zuri Top Knot 100% Fluorocarbon line, 1/4-ounce Nichols Ball Head Toothpick jighead, unnamed swimbait (shad pattern).
> Main factor in his success – “My Lowrance graphs. They’re how I was able to find that clean spot and really dial in on it.”
Sheldon Collings fished the same small place for all four days of the tournament.
3rd: Sheldon Collings
> Day 1: 5, 23-14
> Day 2: 5, 17-00
> Day 3: 5, 15-04
> Day 4: 5, 20-00
> Total = 20, 76-02
A year ago, Collings “jumped off the biggest bag of his life” on Lake Seminole in an FLW Series event. This year, he got revenge on the same spot.
With last year still in his mind, Collings spent a lot of time in practice idling deeper hydrilla flats near the dam. Specifically, he was looking for “high spots.”
“The fish were setting up on these 15-by-15 (foot) spots where the grass topped out at 6 feet versus 10 like all around it,” Collings said. “I caught two 7s and a 6 in practice on those spots, and that’s all I needed to know.
While he marked numerous high spots, he really never had to leave his main one for all four days, doing all his damage with a vibrating jig.
“If anyone was watching me and didn’t realize I was using that vibrating jig, they’d have thought I was fishing a Carolina rig,” Collings said. “That’s something Kurt Mitchell taught me. I would just slowly drag it through the grass and pull it through when it got caught instead of popping it. Then they’d smoke it.”
When he couldn’t get the school to fire on day 3, he also mixed in some burning and yo-yoing action, which prompted some key bites. In the end, he just didn’t get enough big bites to be the youngest winner in the FLW Tour’s history.
> Vibrating Jig gear: 7’0” Tailwalk Full Range C70M/G glass casting rod, Tailwalk Full Range casting reel (6.6:1 ratio), 17-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon line, unnamed 1/2-ounce vibrating jig (white/chartreuse with a gold blade), Z-Man Razor ShadZ trailer (pearl).
> Main factor in his success – “That glass rod. It has just enough backbone to get those big ones out of the grass, but enough give to let them eat the bait and do what they wanted near the boat. I would’ve missed a lot more fish if I was using just a normal rod.”
Terry Bolton caught the biggest bag of the tournament on the final day.
4th: Terry Bolton
> Day 1: 5, 14-04
> Day 2: 5, 14-13
> Day 3: 5, 16-03
> Day 4: 5, 27-02
> Total = 20, 72-06
It’s amazing to think Bolton nearly quit the sport before this season, as he’s now having the best campaign of his career.
The Kentucky veteran extended his Angler of the Year lead thanks to some encouragement from his wife.
“I had a miserable practice,” Bolton said. “She gave me a little pep talk and told me to slow down.”
That’s exactly what he did, parking his boat on a shallow flat near the mouth of Spring Creek and pitching around a wacky rig to any light spots he saw on the bottom, figuring they were either beds or places a bass may hold for a brief time.
The plan worked well enough for him to squeak into the top 10 on a tiebreaker. He then picked up some extra money and points as he cracked the largest bag of the tournament on the final day.
“This warm weather, the fish just all came in,” Bolton said. “All those fish I caught [the final day] were new fish rushing to the bank to spawn.”
> Wacky-rig gear: 6’11” Lew’s Custom Speed Stick Lite spinning rod, Lew’s spinning reel, 10-pound Sufix Performance braided line (main line), 8-pound Sufix fluorocarbon leader, 1/0 VMC Ike Approved Weedless Neko Hook, Zoom Fluke Stick (watermelon seed).
> Main factor in his success – “Slowing down, and using the right hook. When you’re fishing with a small hook in heavy cover, you’re going to lose fish. I didn’t lose a single fish that final day because of that hook.”
Rob Kilby had his area in the Chattahoochee River all to himself.
5th: Rob Kilby
> Day 1: 5, 23-03
> Day 2: 5, 15-12
> Day 3: 5, 16-10
> Day 4: 5, 7-05
> Total = 20, 62-14
Spring Creek gets most the notoriety on Lake Seminole, and the Flint River gets a little love every so often. But the Chattahoochee River? It seems to always be forgotten. Rob Kilby was just fine with that.
“I think that’s the only reason my area lasted as long as it did,” said Kilby, who basically had his 200-yard stretch of hydrilla all to himself the entire tournament.
Kilby was running so far he was truly in the river. However, he ended up locating a clearer backwater with the right mixture of docks and grass.
He basically junk-fished around with a vibrating jig, sa pinnerbait and even a topwater.
The first three days he hung on the grass line, which was right outside a spawning area loaded with beds. On the final day, he swung for the fences and went shallow, hoping the warm weather would fill those beds with big females. Instead, he scraped together only a tiny limit.
> Vibrating jig gear: 7’3” McCain glass heavy-action casting rod, Abu Garcia Revo STX casting reel, 17-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon line, Z-Man ChatterBait (bream colors) with an unnamed trailer.
> Main factor in his success – “Having my area to myself and not having to share it with anyone.”