By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
In the entire history of high-level tournament bass fishing, there can't have been many final standings sheets that were as shocking as the one that came out of the recent Southwestern Division MLF Toyota Series event at Sam Rayburn Reservoir.
A 23-year-old angler from New York who'd never been to the famed Texas venue before mopped up on a field that was littered with longtime Lone Star State stalwarts. Alec Morrison amassed a 73-05 total over 3 days to win the derby by a mind-boggling 24-pound margin the largest ever in the Toyota Series.
"It was definitely a crazy experience," Morrison said. "I didn't go down there on an absolute whim I had a plan that I was looking to execute. I had a few ideas of things that would work.
"A lot of it was I knew that with the time of year and how the place sets up, a lot of fish would be offshore in brushpiles. Coming from northern New York, a lot of what we do is offshore structure-fishing using electronics. I spent a lot of (practice) time graphing and idling, looking for any special spot that I could find. That's really my strongsuit my favorite thing to do is 'scope and fish offshore structure."
He caught bags weighing 27-09 and 29-09 on the first 2 days to make the final day a mere formality. In fact, he could've spent that day doing laundry and washing his boat and truck instead of fishing and he still would've claimed the trophy and a $70,000-plus payday his 57-02 aggregate at that point was almost 7 pounds clear of what runner-up Tater Reynolds amassed in 3 days (49-05).
Here's a partial list of Texas studs he left far in his wake: Matt Reed (6th), Keith Combs (11th), Stephen Johnston (18th), multiple-time Southwestern Angler of the Year Todd Castledine (26th) and Dicky Newberry (31st).
Kept his Distance
Morrison said one thing that he likely did differently than most competitors who fished brushpiles was stay farther away and make longer casts. He said that both of his co-anglers on the first 2 days guys with a lot of Rayburn experience mentioned that his distance was at least twice as far as the norm.
"I'm just very used to staying way off spots fishing for smallmouth in clear water," he said. "They told me most people set up 40 to 50 feet away, but I'm used to throwing 80 to 120 feet and I think that ended up being a big key, not only for getting multiple bites off a single pile but for getting bigger bites as well. Those fish there definitely get a lot of pressure."
He'd done a considerable amount of internet research on Rayburn, which led him to believe that one section of the lake presented his best opportunity to catch big bags offshore. He identified a 5-mile stretch that he wanted to focus on and caught a 31-pound bag on his initial practice day with another 20-plus-pound stringer thrown back.
Over the next 3 practice days, doing the same thing but in different parts of the lake, he caught about 12 pounds total.
"It definitely wasn't going down everywhere," he said. "In that one 5-mile area I tried not to leave any stone unturned. I concentrated not only on the breaks, but also on as many good contours as I could and tried to really key in on where I got the bigger bites.
"I ended up with about 60 piles and 30 of those I rotated through multiple times during they day (once competition got under way). On those 30 I was confident about getting a bite and on 15 or 18 of them I was confident of getting a big bite."
He didn't even land his biggest bite of the event; that was an estimated 9-pounder that tangled his line in a pile on Day 2. The biggest one he weighed registered 7-14.
"I'd usually get some bites in the morning and I caught a couple of big ones early on the first 2 days," he said. "It wasn't so much a timing thing, but more about hitting as many high-percentage spots as I could. From practice, it seemed like the fish don't live on those piles they just use them from time to time and they move around a lot.
"I'd never know when the best time to be there would be, but I'd keep checking those certain ones."
Most of his best piles were in 20 to 30 feet of water, but he caught quality fish from the 10- to 15-foot range.
"The most important piles for me were the ones that were basically newer. I could tell because they were super-bushy and I could point the sonar at them and I couldn't see fish or branches on the inside. They kind of looked like a bait ball it was just a solid return."
He threw two versions of the Reins Bubbling Shaker (shad color) the 7-inch version on a dropshot rig and the 10-inch on a Texas rig.
"I didn't get as many bites with the 10-inch, but I got some of the bigger bites," he said. "I utilized it in some of the lighter piles. Unlike a typical Texas rig with a bullet weight, I was using the 1/2-ounce Reins Tungsten Sliding Football Head. For fishing deeper, it gives you more bottom contact and more feel."
He employed a 6'10" Millerods Flick Freak rod for the dropshot with a Shimano Stradic 3000 spinning reel, a 12-pound main line and 12-pound fluorocarbon leader, a 3/16- or 1/4-ounce Reigns Tungsten cylindrical weight and a 1/0 Hayabusa FPP hook. He had a heavier dropshot setup that featured a 7'7" medium-heavy Millerods Bass Freak rod.
On the Texas rig, he used a 7'6" Millerods JigFreak Power rod, a Shimano Scorpion casting reel (7.4:1 gear ratio), 20-pound Seaguar AbrazX fluorocarbon line and a 5/0 Hayabusa 959 hook.
> Champlain is Morrison's home lake and he also does a lot of fishing on the St. Lawrence River, Lake Ontario and Cayuga Lake.
> He'll compete in all three Northern Division Toyota Series events this year, along with the Bassmaster Open on the St. Lawrence.