By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
The second MLF Bass Pro Tour event at Table Rock Lake in the span of three weeks was a continuation of success for winner Jacob Wheeler. That wasn't the case for the other four top-5 finishers.
Of that quartet, only Cody Meyer made it as far as the Knockout Round in the first derby. The other three were done fishing after their respective group's elimination round and departed without a paycheck.
Following are some of the detail of how they went about achieving some redemption at the big Ozarks impoundment.
2nd: Brandon Palaniuk
> Shotgun Round: 41, 69-09
> Elimination Round: 27, 48-04
> Knockout Round: 37, 71-08
> Championship Round: 39, 69-02
Brandon Palaniuk bounced between the bank and some offshore locations en route to finishing 52nd in the first Table Rock derby. He took shallow water out of the equation for his return visit.
"I just committed to fishing deep – I didn't even go and look at the bank. I knew there'd be a lot more fish out deep than there were a couple weeks ago so I spent as much time out there looking at my graphs as possible.
"You could run around the entire lake and catch fish; the key was pulling up on a place that had multiple fish that you could get to bite. It was hard to judge how big a lot of the schools were because in some places the fish were really spread out. I'd say the biggest ones had 30 or 35 fish."
His primary offerings were a dropshot rig and a swimbait and he fished water as deep as 35 feet. Some of the fish were relating to brush piles and others were on rocks or suspended in the tops of trees.
"My Humminbird (electronics) and my (Minn Kota) Ultrex trolling motor were both a big deal. The Lakemaster charts were critical and a lot of times I could hit Spot-Lock (on the Ultrex) and just sit there and make cast after cast."
> Dropshot gear: 6'10" medium-light Alpha Angler rod, Daiwa Exist 3000 spinning reel, 15-pound Seaguar Smackdown braided line (main line in the flash green color), 8-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon (12' leader), 3/16- or 1/4-ounce VMC dropshot weight, 1/0 VMC Spinshot Dropshot hook, Texas-rigged Zoom Trick Worm (green-pumpkin/purple flake).
> Swimbait gear: 7'5" medium-action Alpha Angler Clutch rod, Daiwa Steez A casting reel (6.3:1 ratio), 10-pound Seaguar InvizXfluorocarbon line, unnamed 3/8-ounce swimbait head, Zoom Z-Swim (sexy shad).
Cody Meyer made the final with a huge rally in the final period of the Knockout Round.
3rd: Cody Meyer
> Shotgun Round: 41, 68-10
> Elimination Round: 33, 50-05
> Knockout Round: 49, 78-07
> Championship Round: 43, 67-06
Unlike Palaniuk, Cody Meyer hadn't ruled out fishing shallow water by the time practice got under way. A lack of action out there quickly made him realize that he had to move out.
"The first day of practice I got a lot of bites on the bank – there were still a lot of fish shallow," he said. "But by the time the tournament started, I couldn't get bit up there.
"I had to go and fish the areas that the fish were coming to. The best places I had I found during the tournament."
The majority of the spotted bass and largemouths he caught were suspended. A typical scenario was a tree in 25 feet of water that was 15 feet tall, allowing fish to hang out 10 feet down in the upper branches.
His two-pronged attack consisted of a swimbait and a well-worn topwater plug.
"I've thrown that same Strike King Sexy Dog for the last 3 years. It's pretty much been destroyed."
He appeared doomed to bow out in the Knockout Round, but staged a huge rally in the final period as sunset approached to gain his Championship Round berth.
"Being 20 pounds out with an hour to go and then making it was just unbelievable," he said.
> Swimbait gear: 7' medium-action Daiwa Tatula Elite rod, Daiwa Steez A casting reel (6.3:1 ratio), unnamed 10-pound fluorocarbon line, 1/4-ounce ball-head jig, 3 1/4" Strike King Rage Swimmer (electric shad).
> Topwater gear: Same rod (7'2" medium-heavy) and reel, unnamed 15-pound monofilament line, Strike King Sexy Dog (sexy chrome).
Dustin Connell was grateful for the chance to fish offshore for the first time this season.
4th: Dustin Connell
> Shotgun Round: 53, 74-08
> Elimination Round: 23, 32-09
> Knockout Round: 58, 78-05
> Championship Round: 44, 66-10
Dustin Connell has been near the top of the points list all season and has qualified for all three MLF Cup events to date despite having no opportunities to fish offshore. The second Table Rock tournament was his first shot at plying his specialty.
"I was happy to be able to get off the bank a little bit," he said. "The main thing I tried to do in practice was idle and I did it for 2 days straight – I rarely fished. I found as many schools as I could, even though some were on community places."
He fished the James River, farther up than Wheeler but not as far as fellow top-10 finishers Ott DeFoe and Jesse Wiggins. Most of his fish came from 20 to 25 feet of water.
"I was fishing schools of spots and I also had some timber that had fish in it. I found all of that with my Lowrance units. I ended up with six or seven places and four of them were within 2 miles of each other."
Like Palaniuk, he employed a dropshot/swimbait combo.
> Dropshot gear: 7'2" medium-heavy Favorite Fishing Jackhammer rod, unnamed spinning reel, 10-pound Seaguar Smackdown braid (main line), 8- or 10-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon leader, 3/8-ounce Googan tungsten dropshot weight, 1/0 Owner Cover Shot hook, Googan Drag 'N Drop worm (watermelon red or morning dawn).
> Swimbait gear: 7'1" medium-heavy Favorite Fishing Rush rod, unnamed casting reel, 12-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon, homemade 3/8- or 1/2-ounce bullet-style swimbait head, 3 1/2" prototype Googan Baits swimbait (natural shad).
Adrian Avena too advantage of the tournament's altered timeframe to exploit deep brush piles.
5th: Adrian Avena
> Shotgun Round: 53, 79-06
> Elimination Round: 25, 43-09
> Knockout Round: 42, 68-10
> Championship Round: 36, 57-08
Adrian Avena was the final angler to make the finals as a 1 1/2-pounder he caught with 3 1/2 minutes remaining in the third period of the Knockout Round put him in 10th place and bumped out Shin Fukae.
He took advantage of the modified timeframe used for the first 5 days (anglers were on the water from noon until 8 p.m.) that positioned fish on deep brush piles for most of the day due to the high sun. He caught the vast majority of his fish on a dropshot rig from 16 to 25 feet of water and picked up a few on a spybait or a topwater.
"The biggest thing for me was just committing offshore," he said. "I completely ruled out everything else."
He threw the spybait – an upcoming Berkley offering designed by Josh Bertrand – around bridges. He used the topwater on the morning of the Championship Round when competition hours returned to a more traditional format (7 a.m. to 3 p.m.).
Over the first 5 days, he estimated that he caught well over 50 percent of his fish during the final period.
> Dropshot gear: 7' medium-action Abu Garcia Fantasista Premier Spin rod, size 30 Abu Garcia Revo Premier spinning reel, 10-pound Berkley
x5 braided line (main line), 6-pound Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon (20" leader), 1/4-ounce tungsten weight, No. 1 Roboworm Rebarb hook, 5" hand-poured worm (various colors).
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