By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Bassmaster Elite Series anglers were presented with a daunting challenge at their final regular-season event of 2019 – a lake in which most of the bigger bass were inactive due to a combination of factors, plus a 16-inch minimum-length requirement for largemouths and smallmouths.
It was exceeding difficult to catch five "overs" each day and a lot of bags – even those of the highest finishers – were supplemented with spotted bass, which only had to be 12 inches in order to go into the livewell. Keepers, although generally few in number, came from a wide variety of depth ranges and were enticed by a large assortment of baits.
Following are some pattern details for the four anglers who finished directly behind winner Carl Jocumsen.
2nd: Chris Zaldain
> Day 1: 5, 11-01
> Day 2: 5, 13-15
> Day 3: 5, 11-14
> Day 4: 5, 14-07
> Total = 20, 51-05
Chris Zaldain notched his third runner-up showing of the season primarily by catching smallmouths – 13 of the 20 fish he took to the scale were of the brown variety. He started the final day in 2nd place and caught his biggest bag of the derby, but was pushed back into that position by Jocumsen's eye-popping 19-12 stringer.
"I fished the ugliest, flattest points on the main lake that had either red clay or gravel," he said. "Any slight drop or isolated rock pile in half a foot to 3 feet of water was good and having some wind helped, but it wasn't totally necessary.
"I was targeting smallmouth, but the by-catch was a mix of largemouth and spots."
He got onto the flat-point program on the final day of practice after previously focusing on bluffs. A few topwater bites clued him into the pattern, but he caught his tournament fish on a small swimbait.
"Every day I'd use my Humminbird LakeMaster mapping to add to my milk run of ugly points and I was also able to find some new spots on the fly."
> Swimbait gear: 7'4" medium-heavy Megabass Destroyer Brigand rod, unnamed 3000-size spinning reel, 15-pound Seaguar Smackdown braid (main line), 12-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon (8' leader), 1/8-ounce Megabass Okashira Screw Head, 3" Megabass Spark Shad.
> The Okashira Screw Head is equipped with an asymmetrical prop (one blade longer than the other). "That blade provided both vibration and lift, and that was important in a half-foot to 2 feet of water," he said. "It wouldn't bog down in the rocks and I could control it under the surface."
Cory Johnston employed a variety of baits en route to a 3rd-place finish.
3rd: Cory Johnston
> Day 1: 5, 13-04
> Day 2: 5, 9-14
> Day 3: 5, 11-11
> Day 4: 5, 13-09
> Total = 20, 48-06
Cory Johnston changed up his tactics each day based on the weather and other factors. He primarily concentrated on docks when the sun was out and fished wind-blown points under low-light conditions.
"I just kind of went with what the fish were telling me to do," he said. "I really didn't have a set game plan – I looked at what the weather was doing every day and changed with that. I fished new water every day.
"I lost a few key fish throughout the tournament that definitely would've put me in 2nd place and I might've been able to give Carl a run for his money if I'd caught them all, but that's just the way it goes."
He did much of his dock work with a spoon and it was particularly effective on day 1.
"I'd let it flutter down and hop it four or five times, then pull out and flip to the next dock," he said.
A Neko Rig was his biggest producer on day 2, and that offering and a ChatterBait were dominant on day 3. He caught three quality largemouth on a square-bill crankbait on day 4, along with a big smallmouth on a wobble-head.
> Bladed jig gear: 7'5" medium-heavy G. Loomis NRX 893 rod, same reel reel (7.3:1 ratio) and line (15-pound), Z-Man Evergreen ChatterBait Jackhammer (shad), Jackall Rhythm Wave trailer (white).
> Neko Rig gear: 7'3" medium-action G. Loomis NRX 872 rod, Shimano Stradic 2500 spinning reel, 8-pound PowerPro braid (main line), 8-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon (8' leader), 1/0 Gamakatsu G-Finesse hook, 5" nail-weighted Yamamoto Senko (green-pumpkin).
> Cranking gear: 7'1" medium-heavy G. Loomis GLX 855 composite rod (out of production), Shimano Curado casting reel (6.2:1 ratio), 12-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon, Jackall Aska, Lucky Craft 1.5 or Strike King 1.5 (shad).
> Wobble-head gear – Same rod, reel and line as ChatterBait, 1/2-ounce Dirty Jigs Pivot Point Football Jig, Strike King Rage Bug (green-pumpkin).
Brandon Card adjusted when he realized that flipping bushes wouldn't be a viable option.
4th: Brandon Card
> Day 1: 5, 12-12
> Day 2: 5, 11-15
> Day 3: 5, 10-01
> Day 4: 5, 12-07
> Total = 20, 47-03
Brandon Card exploited a few isolated trees and a short stretch of river bank to achieve the finish that ensured his berth in the 2020 Classic.
He began practice by flipping bushes, but realized that wouldn't be a viable option during the event due to the receding water. He made the right adjustment.
"I practiced for what the conditions were going to be come tournament time," he said. "In the past I might have wasted more time in the bushes – on the first morning of practice I was flipping bushes in 3 feet of water, but with the water dropping 4 to 6 inches a day, I wasn't going to be doing that when the tournament started.
"I looked for places where those fish would go first, like logs out in the middles of the creek. It was a pretty simple program and it played for a couple days."
When that faded, he switched to the river program. His productive stretch ran for about 150 to 200 yards.
"If I tried to expand it in either direction, I wouldn't catch anything," he said.
A vibrating jig, a shaky-head and a buzzbait all enticed key fish for him.
> Vibrating jig gear: 7'3" Abu Garcia Fantasista Premier rod, Abu Garcia Revo MGX casting reel, 15- or 20-pound fluorocarbon line, Big Mouth Baits vibrating jig (sexy shad), small swimbait trailer (white).
> Shaky-head gear: 7' medium-action Abu Garcia Fantasista Premier Spin rod, Abu Garcia Revo MGX spinning reel, 15-pound Yo-Zuri Super Braid line (yellow), 12-pound fluorocarbon leader, 1/8- or 3/16-ounce Perfection Lures David Dudley Shaky Head jig, straight-tail worm (junebug or green-pumpkin).
> Buzzbait gear: 7' medium-action Abu Garcia Veritas rod, Abu Garcia Revo MGX casting reel (8:1 ratio), 40-pound Yo-Zuri Super Braid, unnamed 5/16-ounce buzzbait (white).
Kyle Monti was the day-3 leader, but caught only three keepers on the final day.
5th: Kyle Monti
> Day 1: 5, 14-04
> Day 2: 4, 8-14
> Day 3: 5, 16-09
> Day 4: 3, 6-14
> Total = 17, 46-09
Kyle Monti entered the final day with a lead of almost 3 pounds. He said he connected with sufficient quality that day to nail down the win, but his execution was lacking and he ended up weighing only three fish.
"I only (boated) two the five kind of fish that I needed," he said. "I you asked me (after the fact) if I would've done anything different, I wouldn't change anything. I knew I needed 15 or 16 pounds to win and that's what I fished for."
He bounced back and forth between deep and shallow locations. He caught about half of his fish on a dropshot rig and the other half on a wobble-head jig.
The majority of his biggest specimens came from offshore haunts.
"I understood that the area held the (potentially) winning fish and I also understood how to let it rest," he said. "It wasn't like Kentucky Lake, where you have big groups of fish and you can catch three or four every time (you visit).
"If I caught one, or if I ran the trolling motor over them, they'd scatter. I had to pull up and get one, and then back off and let them rest without a bunch of noise and commotion."
> Dropshot gear: 7'4" medium-heavy Denali Lithium rod, unnamed 2500-size spinning reel, 15-pound P-Line TCB braid (main line), 8-pound P-Line Tactical fluorocarbon leader, 1/0 Gamakatsu Finesse Flipping hook, 5" Roboworm (morning dawn), 1/2-ounce Flat Out Tungsten weight.
> Wobble-head gear: Same rod (casting version), unnamed casting reel (7.4:1 ratio), 20-pound P-Line Tactical fluorocarbon, 1/2-ounce unnamed wobble-head jig, Zoom Magnum Trick Worm (green-pumpkin).
> He caught a few fish from shallow, windy points on a spinnerbait and a medium-depth square-bill crankbait (shad).