By Todd Ceisner
One thing last week's Bass Pro Tour stop at Table Rock Lake revealed was that it's about as healthy a bass fishery as there is in the country.
Over the first five days of the tournament, just once did the 40-man field fail to tally up more than 1,000 bass, but the 1,452 caught during the Knockout Round more than made up for the 966 caught during the Group A Elimination Round.
While there were plenty of bass still up shallow spawning or guarding fry, the shad spawn wound up being the most productive pattern for many of the top finishers. They augmented the early-morning flurries with other patterns in the later periods, but the central theme to many was finding areas of the lake where the baitfish were spawning and then target flooded shoreline cover later in the day.
Certain adjustments were required as the tournament wore on and conditions changed, but here's a rundown of how the rest of the top 5 went about their business in the Ozarks last week.
2nd: Andy Montgomery
> Shotgun Round (Group A): 27, 34-11
> Elimination Round: 42, 62-02 (69, 96-13; 16th place)
> Knockout Round: 53, 83-04 (3rd place)
> Championship Round: 50, 77-14
> Total = 172, 257-15-06
Andy Montgomery and the Ozark lakes haven’t gotten along all that well in the past.
In 10 previous trips to places like Beaver Lake, Bull Shoals Lake and Table Rock Lake, he’d recorded two top-50 finishes. His Table Rock history consisted of a pair of triple-digit finishes along with a 71st at the 2014 Elite Series event there. Safe to say the Montgomery family isn’t scouting out vacation property in the area.
At last week’s Bass Pro Tour, however, the timing and conditions played right into his hands and he milked it all for a runner-up finish, his best showing in a tour-level event.
“I haven’t had lot of success here, but the water is so clear and I was able to fish my strengths,” he said. “I could flip shallow and fish docks. It’s just the time of year. The fish were up there and we just hit it right to where I could catch ‘em flipping bushes and fishing docks.”
It didn’t take long for him to realize he could have a good tournament.
“From the start of practice, things clicked,” he said.
He rebounded from a slow start in the Shotgun Round – he was 31st in Group A after day 1 – with a 62-pound effort in the Elimination Round to make the Knockout Round.
“I didn’t fish fast enough the morning of day 1,” he said. “The other days, I fished fast until I hit them and then I’d try to catch everything there. I just didn’t hit them that day. I didn’t hustle fast enough.”
The shad spawn became a real factor for him during the Elimination Round and he was able to pile up the numbers with a jig around docks.
“I just got in an area and hustled until I found it,” he said. “You just have to fish really fast until you run into them. I covered a ton of water until I found them.”
He was lethal during the first period over the final three rounds, piling up an average of 30 fish for 44-06 in the first 2 1/2-hour period of the day.
Once the shad spawn, faded toward the start of the second period, he transitioned to flipping flooded bushes.
> Jig gear: 7’ medium-heavy Lew’s Custom Pro Magnum Bass casting rod, Lew’s Hypermag Speed Spool SLP Series casting reel (8.3:1 ratio), 20-pound unnamed fluorocarbon, 1/2-oz. Strike King Tour Grade Skipping jig (white), Strike King Rage Bug trailer (white).
> Flipping gear: 7’3.5” medium-heavy Lew’s Custom Pro Mark Rose Ledge Series Hair Jig casting rod, same reel, same line, 3/8-oz. Strike King Tour Grade tungsten worm weight, 3/0 unnamed straight shank flipping hook, 4” Strike King KVD Perfect Plastic Game Hawg (green-pumpkin).
Greg Vinson used a litany of baits throughout the tournament to post a season-best finish.
3rd: Greg Vinson
> Shotgun Round (Group A): 52, 83-06
> Elimination Round: 26, 42-06 (78, 125-12; 4th place)
> Knockout Round: 46, 76-09 (6th place)
> Championship Round: 40, 68-01
> Total = 164, 270-06
Greg Vinson arrived in the Ozarks looking for open-water fish as he banked on the bass being mostly in their post-spawn transition and heading to their offshore hangouts. It was a semi-productive as he opted to choose a creek arm and “break it down from front to back,” he said.
The benefit of his focus-on-one-area strategy was he discovered there was a shad spawn in full effect in addition to finding a good number of largemouth and spotted bass were still spawning.
“I knew with the forecast those fish would be moving on and it was unlikely new fish would be moving in,” he said. “They would be transitioning and it would be mostly fry-guarders and post-spawn fish. I tried to set myself up to keep up with them.
“I found areas where those fish that were done were coming out and I could catch them in bunches. Otherwise, I burned the bank and caught one here and one there.”
During Group A Shotgun Round, he walloped more than 80 pounds and caught 16 bass off one waypoint and another 13 off the same waypoint in the Knockout Round.
“If you had an area where you could catch ‘em in bunches, you could light it up quick,” he said.
The key bait on day 1 was a vibrating jig.
“I was around a shad spawn and I couldn’t get the bass to do anything,” he said. “I went through a bunch of baits – swim jig, a frog, spinnerbait, crankbait – but nothing worked. The next chance I got to fish there, I rigged up a vibrating jig and within two casts I caught a keeper. In the finals, I just stuck with it.”
Having had such a dazzling Shotgun Round allowed Vinson to use part of the Elimination Round to seek out new water for the Knockout Round and beyond.
“That set me up for later on in the tournament because I found areas that were productive that I didn’t know about in practice, he said. “There were a lot of fish on rock and some in the bushes, any kind of flooded cover.”
During the weather-delayed Knockout Round, he went from a jig to a topwater after the first break and that helped him climb inside the top 10.
“After the long break, we had a 40-minute window to fish and I jumped from 11th to sixth,” he said. “That got me into the finals. I’d been catching a lot of fish on a jig and I stuck with it too long in the Knockout Round. Before the break, I went through an area I had been saving. In that 40-minute window, I caught several that were aggressive and allowed me to pick up the pace.
“We had clouds and rains so it was a good topwater day anyway and that allowed me to catch up quick. They were leaving the cover to get the bait rather me needing to put it on their heads. There were certain areas and certain conditions that I knew certain baits were more set up for. I used a jig and topwater in some spots and a jerkbait and crankbait in others.”
> Jerkbait gear: 7’2” medium-action Mud Hole Tackle NMB862 casting rod, unnamed casting reel, 12-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon line, Megabass Ito Shiner jerkbait (Table Rock shad).
> He relied heavily on the jerkbait in the early rounds and he preferred the Ito Shiner because of its big profile and the flash it throws off. “I was in water people normally wouldn’t throw a jerkbait,” he said.
> Crankbait gear: 7’6” medium-heavy Mud Hole Tackle CB905 cranking rod, unnamed casting reel (7.2:1 ratio), same line, Rapala DT-6 and DT-10 (disco shad).
> The crankbait was productive each day around areas with a gravel/rock mix.
> Topwater gear: 7’ medium-heavy Mud Hole Tackle casting rod, unnamed casting reel, 20-pound Seaguar Rippin’ monofilament line, Heddon One Knocker Spook (bone).
> Vibrating jig gear: 7’3” medium-heavy Mud Hole Tackle MB873 casting rod, same reel, 15-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon line, 1/2-oz. Strike King Thunder Cricket (white), NetBait Little Spanky swimbait trailer (sexy shad).
> Vinson also dipped the tail of the trailer in chartreuse dye.
> Jig gear: 7’4” heavy-action Mud Hole Tackle FP885 casting rod, unnamed casting reel, 25-pound Seaguar AbrazX fluorocarbon line, 3/8- and 1/2-oz. Dirty Jigs Luke Clausen compact pitching jig (Canterbury craw and green-pumpkin candy), NetBait Paca Chunk trailer (watermelon jelly), Strike King Rage Baby Craw (green-pumpkin).
Mark Rose mixed a shad spawn with some shallow water areas to wind up fourth.
4th: Mark Rose
> Shotgun Round (Group A): 35, 54-05
> Elimination Round: 29, 55-15 (64, 110-04; 9th place)
> Knockout Round: 49, 74-14 (8th place)
> Championship Round: 35, 55-06
> Total = 148, 240-08
As he drove away from Table Rock Lake last week, Mark Rose didn’t have many regrets, but there was one thing he wished he’d have done different.
In the Championship Round, he thinks he’d should have stayed with the shad spawn a little longer.
“What got in trouble was the end of (Knockout Round),” he said. “I had fished the shad spawn every morning and caught 30 pounds doing it. The weights would fall off, but I could stay consistent doing other stuff. I mixed in offshore and flipping and just fishing around.
“In the Knockout Round, I was falling down (ScoreTracker) and wasn’t going to make the finals. With 30 minutes left, I changed areas to a place I hadn’t been to. I went into a creek that had more stain and there were shad on the bank. I started with a swimjig that I’d been fishing docks with and I started catching them. The only problem was it was 7 p.m.”
During the Championship Round, he fished his reliable shad spawn areas in the quickly before heading back to the creek that bailed him out at the end of the KO Round.
“I passed by some of the stuff that was in the clear water to get closer to the creek I’d fished the day before,” he said. “When I got there in the James, right out of the gate I fished a couple docks. I could see the shad were spawning, but I didn’t get any bites. Then I see Andy leave the area and I was like, ‘Dang.’”
Rose bailed out of the area since he didn’t want to fish behind Montgomery or get in the middle of what he was doing.
“I should’ve stopped where I’d been fishing and caught what I could and gone up there,” he said. “I still caught some, but the water had come up and it wasn’t as good. Once I did all that, the shad spawn was over and I had to scratch and claw rest of the day.” In this format at this lake, you don’t have time to mickey mouse around.”
Rose said the prolonged spawn that was in play earlier in the tournament kept him from fishing offshore more than he would’ve liked.
“I wanted to go there hoping to find some offshore places, but in my 1 1/2 days of practice, I just never found it,” he said. “I could catch a few, but not enough to move the ScoreTracker fast enough, so I opted to fish shallow. Everybody thought I was catching ‘em offshore but I like catching ‘em shallow, too.”
He keyed mostly on the shad spawn around docks and some rocky areas with an array of jigs.
“Getting on that shad spawn helped my success,” he said. “You could put them in the boat quick if you landed on them. I also had one little rock where I could eight fish right out the gate each day.”
During the Elimination Round, a move down lake to a pocket with some spawners in it turned out to be a key decision.
“It had slicked off and the shad spawn had died off and I needed to make something happen,” Rose said. “Those fish were still there and I caught ‘em and got into the Knockout Round. I couldn’t have caught what I caught there up the rivers. I took a chance and it paid off.”
> Jig gear: 7’ medium-heavy Lew’s Custom Pro Magnum Bass casting rod, Lew’s Hypermag Speed Spool SLP Series casting reel (8.3:1 ratio), 20-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon line, 1/2-oz. Strike King Tour Grade Skipping Jig (white), 1/2-oz. Strike King Tour Grade Swim Jig (white), Strike King Rage Menace trailer (white).
> He targeted mostly the corners of docks and slips, occupied and empty. “You didn’t have to put it into tight spots because the water was clear enough that they would come get it,” he said.
> He caught the spawners during the Elimination Round throwing a Neko rig (nail-weighted wacky-rigged worm) using a size 2 Mustad TitanX Wacky hook tied to 10-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon leader with a 15-pound Seaguar Smackdown braided main line (flash green).
Jacob Wheeler posted his second top-5 finish of the season at Table Rock.
5th: Jacob Wheeler
> Shotgun Round (Group B): 46, 70-07
> Elimination Round: 21, 31-08 (67, 101-15; 9th place)
> Knockout Round: 46, 80-01 (4th place)
> Championship Round: 35, 54-11
> Total = 149, 236-11
Coming off the Bass Pro Tour stop at Smith Lake, Jacob Wheeler figured the shad spawn would be a viable pattern at Table Rock as well. It didn’t take him long in practice to confirm his suspicions.
“I found stretches of banks and docks in the morning where I could get 10 to 15 bites,” he said.
He knew capitalizing on the shad spawn in the morning, especially during the Shotgun and Elimination rounds, would free him up during a portion of the Elimination Round to scout other areas for later in the event. He set a blistering pace in the Group B Shotgun Round with 42-05 in the first period en route to a 70-pound day.
“It’s important in this format to catch as much as possible right away, especially the first day, to allow yourself time to practice the next day,” Wheeler said.
Most of the shad spawn fish he caught came off boat docks using a white homemade jig.
“They’ll spawn in the backs and front and middles of creeks,” he said. “They’ll spawn all over. The key is finding the shad that the bass have also found. People hear shad spawn and think you can catch bass anywhere on the lake, but I saw one area where the shad spawning like crazy but I couldn’t get a bite. If the bass haven’t found them, it’s no good.”
In the Elimination Round, he caught what he felt he needed in the morning to advance to the Knockout Round, then shifted into practice mode.
“I shook a lot of fish off in the second and third periods,” he said. “There was no point to catching those fish because I was thinking about a top-10 (finish) at that point. I know for a fact that I caught several that I shook off the day before (during the Knockout Round). That’s one of the advantages of having a good first day.”
When the shad spawn bite would tail off, he relied on a buzzbait and a flipping pattern around bushes to pick off bass that were still spawning or guarding fry up shallow.
“Most were spawners, whether on a single bush or laydowns,” he said.
He burned through the majority of those fish in the Knockout Round, which was marked by two weather delays.
“I caught a few fish in the time in between delays off of run-ins,” he said. “We’d gotten so much rain that a lot of shad were pushing into the cooler water in the backs of pockets where the water was coming in. I figured out the first piece of wood adjacent to the run in, I could catch a bass on each one. It was a pattern and once I caught those quickly at the start of the third period , it was something that definitely pushed me into the Championship Round.”
The shad spawn bite wasn’t nearly as strong during the morning of the finals as it had been. He figured he’d need another 40-pound first period to have a shot to win. He tallied 23-12 and his weight dropped off from there the rest of the day.
“I was a little worried about the shad spawn because it seems they’re very sensitive to lightning and weather,” he said. “Going back to Smith, I won a round on the shad spawn deal, but the next day it was gone after we had a weather delay.”
He relied on flipping bushes for the remainder of the day and picked off a few on a buzzbait.
“The water came up a good amount and they came back to the bank after leaving those bushes when the water began falling earlier in the tournament,” he said. “If you went down stretches of bushes with thicker stuff, anything that was isolated or a little bigger was key. I caught some way back in and some on the edges. Anything isolated was best.”
> Jig gear: 7’3” heavy-action Duckett Fishing Jacob Wheeler Signature Series casting rod, Duckett Fishing prototype 420R casting reel (8.0:1 ratio), 20-pound Sufix Invisiline castable fluorocarbon line, 1/2-oz. homemade jig (white), multiple trailers (white).
> Buzzbait gear: 7’ medium-heavy Duckett Fishing Jacob Wheeler Signature Series casting rod, same reel, 40-pound Sufix 832 Advanced Superline, 5/16-oz. Accent Fishing Products Jacob Wheeler buzzbait (white), unnamed toad trailer (white).
> Flipping gear: 7’6” heavy-action Duckett Fishing Jacob Wheeler Signature Series casting rod, same reel, 20-pound Sufix Invisiline castable fluorocarbon line, 5/16-oz. VMC tungsten worm weight, 4/0 VMC straight shank flipping hook, Googan Baits Bandito Bug (blue baby).