By Todd Ceisner
Brandon Cobb admitted being a little intimidated by Lake Fork Reservoir last week.
Ha! Good one.
He said the navigational hazards posed by all the timber and stumps along with the potential for having to wind a deep-diving crankbait all day were the basis for most of his unease. As it turned out, timber was the least of his worries and he never made a cast with a big plug. The end result was a darn near perfect tournament at the Bassmaster Toyota Texas Fest for the 29-year-old from South Carolina, who had collected his first Elite Series win last month at Lake Hartwell.
After catching a personal-best 31-11 on day 1 at Fork, Cobb’s weight fell off to 14-07, but he made up for it with a whopping 37-15 (another personal best) on day 3 before capping off the victory with 29-15 on Monday. His winning weight of 114-00 is the most weight caught by an Elite Series champion since Paul Elias set the four-day weight record with 132-08 at Lake Falcon in 2008.
The victory earned Cobb a second six-figure payday in the matter of a month as well as a berth in next year’s Bassmaster Classic. His 11-01 kicker on day 3 wound up being the big bass for the tournament and netted him a voucher for a new Toyota Tundra.
It all came about because he was able to apply the mindset he uses back home when fishing for bass that are chasing blueback herring. Fork was a different animal, though. Rather than bass being on virtually every point, Cobb said there’d be a lot of dead water, but when he encountered a spot that had a few fish on it, it was loaded.
“There were no fish on a lot of places, but if there was some there, it was a ton,” Cobb said. “At home, there will be one or two on just about every point when we’re fishing for herring fish. At Fork, 85 percent of the points didn’t have fish on them. When you’d find one, there’d be 500 there.”
He said the bulk of his weight was caught off roughly six spots. Here’s a more in-depth look at how he triumphed at Fork.
The first day of practice was the first time Cobb had laid eyes on the reservoir that was constructed and developed to be a bass fisherman’s playground. He caught a few decent fish that morning by keying on shad spawning around bushes.
“I got keyed in on bushes and thought that was going to be the deal,” he said.
By the second day, however, the a-ha moment occurred after he caught similar sized fish off hard-bottom area and “point-type places.”
“Then it took me a while, even into the tournament, to get it all figured out,” he added. “What had me concerned in practice was I could’ve had a decent day each day, but it was like I’d get five to 10 bites in a row and then none rest of the day. I think it got better as the week went on with the post-spawn fish leaving the bank.
“In practice, I was trying to figure out the timing of it all and when I needed to do it or when I needed to move. In the tournament, I started to understand when I needed to be somewhere and by day 4, I knew where I needed to be and when.”
Cobb said he initially tied on a jerkbait in practice at the urging of roommate Shane Lehew, who said he’d caught a few fish off standing timber with a jerkbait. While Cobb couldn’t duplicate Lehew’s success, the jerkbait bailed him out on day 1 of the tournament when he couldn’t generate any bites with a topwater or spinnerbait.
“I hadn’t thrown a jerkbait on the shad spawn up until then, but they wanted it,” he said.
He also thought a swimbait would be his ticket to catching a few of the bigger fish Fork is famous for. It worked on day 1 as he caught his two biggest fish that day on a swimbait once the jerkbait bite tailed off.
“I thought that might something for the rest of the week, but I only had two more bites on the swimbait the rest of the week,” he said.
> Day 1: 5, 31-11
> Day 2: 5, 14-07
> Day 3: 5, 37-15
> Day 4: 5, 29-15
> Total = 20, 114-00
After a slow start on day 1, Cobb feasted on two shad spawn flurries with a jerkbait, including one that saw him catch a 7-02 and an 8-12 en route to a 31-11 stringer that put him in second place.
“I caught them good early and never tried going to the bank,” he said.
He said as the tournament wore on, he began to understand better when and where he might encounter a flurry, but his reliance on them was a bit scary.
“It is, but it’s cool because when they started biting it wasn’t just on one place,” he said. “It seemed like it was lakewide. If I stopped on one place and they were biting, I’d be willing to bet they were biting at other spots, too.”
Day 2 proved to be a tougher day across the board and Cobb said the shad spawn flurries were non-existent. As a result, he fished the bank and generated plenty of bites, but lost numerous fish and settled for 14-07 and fell back to sixth.
“I could’ve had 20 (pounds), but I executed terribly,” he said.
He put two 8-pounders on his scoresheet on the morning of day 3, then saw the shad spawn peter out around 11 a.m., prompting a move to the bank.
“I went to the bank to catch a 3 and hoped for a 3 1/2,” he said.
He caught a 4-04 on a frog, then came upon what he thought was a 5-pounder on bed.
“I was throwing a frog down the bank and I went around a dock and was going to up to the bank on the other side,” he said. “I saw her whip around on a deep clump of grass. I told my marshall it looked like a 5-pounder. I pitched at her a couple times and saw her better and then I thought it was a 7.”
After about 20 minutes, he pitched a Zoom Z-Craw at her and she at it.
“When I set the hook, I knew it wasn’t a 7,” he added.
It wound up being a 11-01, the biggest fish of the tournament. Cobb said TPWD officials harvested scales from the fish and will check to see if they can match its DNA to any of the fish they use to breed with.
A 37-15 haul shot Cobb into the lead entering the final day, giving him a realistic chance at a second Elite Series title in the matter of a month. The fact that he caught most of his fish in a manner that is also effective around blueback herring added another layer of enjoyment to it.
“It was pretty simple,” he said. “The thing that allowed me to do so much better was my history herring fishing.”
On the final day, he compiled a bag of solid 5- and 6-pounders as he added a walking bait to the jerkbait program in the same areas.
“I fished five or six places four times a day,” he said. “I ran around a ton, but never stayed longer than 10 minutes on a spot if they weren’t biting.”
Winning Pattern Notes
> Cobb said the areas where he was getting bites on the jerkbait, he’d have to clean mud off the bill after virtually every cast. “It was so shallow,” he said. “They were just hard-bottom places with a little rise on them. Most places, my boat was in 3 to 5 feet and I was throwing up into 8 inches and the fish seemed to be hanging on the edge of the flat spot.”
Winning Gear Notes
> Jerkbait gear: 6’10” medium-action Ark Fishing Rods Lancer Pro casting rod, Abu Garcia Revo MGX casting reel, 14- and 16-pound Yo-Zuri Top Knot fluorocarbon, Duel Hardcore Minnow Flat SP 110 (ghost pro blue).
> Topwater gear: 7’4” medium-heavy Ark Fishing Rods Invoker, Abu Garcia Revo STX (8:1 ratio), 30-pound Yo-Zuri Super Braid braided line (dark green), various walking baits.
> Sight-fishing gear: 7’6” medium-heavy Ark Fishing Rods Lancer Pro casting rod, same reel as topwater, same line as jerkbait (25-pound), 3/8-oz. Ark Tungsten worm weight, 4/0 Berkley Fusion 19 flipping hook, Zoom Z-Craw (tilapia).