By Todd Ceisner
Buddy Gross admitted after his win last Saturday at the Lake Eufaula Bassmaster Elite Series that he’s “a spot guy.”
Meaning he does really well when he can connect the dots on his electronics and trust that fish are going to be there because historically, either in past years or months or days, they have been. That’s why he’s developed into one of the top offshore anglers, especially on the Tennessee River.
His development continued last week at Eufaula, where Gross wanted badly to put his know-how to work along the miles of Chattahoochee River ledges, but conditions dictated he call an audible. And his shift in focus to brush piles, especially those loosely connected to areas where bass had spawned, turned out to be a masterstroke.
In his just his second Elite Series tournament, Gross overcame a disappointing day 1 to catch 67-10 over the final three days to surge up the leaderboard and ultimately move from 10th to 1st on the final day, when he piled up a career- and tournament-best 27-11. Gross’ win represents the fifth time in Elite Series history that an angler has won after being 43rd or lower after day 1 of competition.
While it was Gross’ first major tournament at Eufaula, he’s no stranger to fisheries on the Chattahoochee system. In 2017, he won the Lake Seminole Southeastern FLW Series. In 2018, he was 85th at the Lake Lanier FLW Tour. A year later, he took 11th at the Lake Seminole FLW Tour.
The win marks Gross’ third tour-level triumph since joining the pro ranks in 2016.
“I don’t ever want to sound boastful, but I’m a gamer,” Gross said. “If I’m going to play, I’m going to figure out how to be on top. I put my time in and try to be ready for every situation and prepare well. The Lord has blessed me.”
His Eufaula experience began to turn around when he made a primary bait change on day 2 to a jig and his fortunes were further aided by a move to shallower brush piles on day 4.
Brush was Gross’ focal point even before official practice got started. He visited Eufaula before it went off limits, but the water was high and muddy, he said.
He located a number of new brush piles – “Those were ones I was looking forward to fishing,” he said – but for some reason some of the key ones were gone when he came back.
“I had this plan the whole time,” he said.
He started practice with roughly 300 waypoints directing him to brush piles in a variety of depths. He spent the 2 1/2 days trying to decipher which were the best ones while also keeping an eye on what the ledges were producing.
“I fished what I felt were the best (piles) and if I caught anything over 4 (pounds) out of more than one, I was committing to brush,” he said. “I looked at ledges, but never felt good about what I saw. I feel like they’re behind. I think I’m a good ledge guy and spent enough time out there to know not to put tournament time in out there.”
He attributed that to the intense pressure the ledge fish received during the FLW Series tournament at Eufaula the week preceding the start of Elite Series practice. That, combined with rising water, seemed to push a few more fish shallow or push them to seek cover in and around brush piles.
During practice, he compiled another 200 or so brush pile waypoints, many located in 5 to 12 feet of water.
> Day 1: 5, 16-14
> Day 2: 5, 20-07
> Day 3: 5, 19-08
> Day 4: 5, 27-11
> Total = 20, 84-08
Day 1 for Gross was largely a day to forget. He lost a couple big bites on a swimbait that he thinks would’ve put him in the 20-pound range. Despite his insistence that ledge fish wouldn’t be a ticket to success, he started the first two days out deep, sharing a stretch with Brandon Cobb. The two “worked well together,” but Gross ended the day in 43rd place and went into day 2 just aiming to get inside the top 40 and qualify for day 3.
On day 2, he abandoned the ledges after about 10 minutes and focused solely on brush the rest of the way. He recycled the areas he’d fished on day 1 and bumped his weight up to 20-07 to move into 19th place.
“There were some key piles I caught multiple fish or quality fish out of that were places in front of spawning areas,” he said. “It was the same thing back when we started fishing at Chickamauga, before all the grass came in. We put brush out, so this was the same thing like home. There are way more piles (at Eufaula), though. There are more piles in two miles at Eufaula than in all of Chick.”
Gross said the majority of his better bites didn’t come until after 10 a.m., sometimes later. Day 2 also saw Gross unintentionally change presentations to a jig after he made an errant cast which led to him to losing his bait on one rod. The switch to the 3/4-ounce bullet-head jig seemed to spark his surge up the leaderboard.
“It was a green-pumpkin color and everybody was throwing shad patterns,” he said. “It was like they’d never seen a jig before. They ate it everywhere I went. It has a lighter wire hook and a lighter weed guard. I’ve never had a good brush jig that I can throw 80 feet and get a hook into a fish from that distance.”
Gross said he tried to maintain a stealth approach when fishing each brush pile. He’d change the distance setting on his Humminbird 360 system to alert him when he got about 80 feet from the his waypoint.
“I stayed as far away as I could,” he said. “Sometimes I’d get too close, but I never caught them. I was 65 to 85 feet away from everything where I caught them. Some were 80 feet for sure. I made sure to never get too close to the good ones.”
A “good one” in Gross’ estimation was a pile that had fish in it that someone hadn’t thrown at. That’s a broad, general description, but it was fitting considering how many piles seemed to be holding fish.
“I would revisit certain piles up to five times in a day, but only if they kept producing,” he said. “Every small one had a fish on it – a 2 1/2- to 4 1/2-pounder usually.
“You could tell the fresh ones … I know I found three different kinds – some cedar and hardwood and one I don’t know what it was.”
He backed up his 20 1/2 pounds on day 2 with 19 1/2 on day 3 to move into 10th place entering day 4.
He started the final day probing some deeper brush, but by 9 a.m., he went to some shallower piles, as shallow as five feet of water .
“The first time I threw in 15 to 18 feet was the final day and it was no good,” he said.
The water around the shallow piles was roughly 83 degrees and Gross said it was uncharacteristic for fish to be there, hinting that he figured they’d be schooled up on deep ledges. He had dozens of piles in that depth range and even came across new ones during the final day.
“The first pile, I caught a 2 1/2, the second pile I caught a 6-pounder,” he said. “It started rolling after that. I caught two big ones out of a pile I hadn’t fished all week.”
By day’s end, he figured he had 24 or 25 pounds in his livewell, enough to make a jump up higher in the top 10, but he had no idea it was enough to leapfrog everyone.
“Toward the end, after that last 6-pounder, I knew I had a shot,” he said. “I knew I’d done all I could do. It was just a cool day.”
Winning Gear Notes
> Swimbait gear: 7’3” heavy-action Fitzgerald Fishing all-purpose casting rod, Daiwa Tatula SV casting reel (6.3:1 ratio), 17-pound P-Line Tactical flurocarbon line, 3/4-oz. Megabass Uoze jighead, 5” Zoom Swimmer.
> Gross also threw a 5” Scottsboro Tackle swimbait (natural light) on an 8/0 Owner Flashy Swimmer.
> Jig gear: 7’3” extra-heavy Fitzgerald Fishing casting rod, same reel (7.3:1 ratio), same line, 3/4-oz. Nichols prototype jig (dinosaur), Zoom Super Chunk trailer (green-pumpkin).