“The fish are scattered and you have to go through a ton of little ones to get to a quality fish”…it was the same statement I heard from everyone I spoke to and divulged in every fishing report I read in the week leading up to the Bassmasters Weekend Series Kentucky Lake tournament held April 19th. My prefishing experience told me the same thing but my gut told me something else. Typical fishing patterns on the lake this time of year included fishing the shallow bushes, willows, and wood and this quickly becomes the primary pattern as the water temps climb into the low to mid sixties and the water level nears summer pool. About two weeks earlier I had fished the lake and boated a few nice fish pitching jigs around the shallow cover and had located water temperatures as high as 62 degrees. But two weeks of cold fronts, one after another, had sent the surface temps plummeting downward…and the shallow bite as well. During four hard days of practice the shallow bite had been very sporadic with mostly short fish at the end of my hooksets. I had also had some success fishing the steeper banks leading back into spawning areas but there as well I had mostly crossed the eyes of short ones with the occasional keeper slipped in. The better quality fish had come out of the bushes but I had not stuck enough to make me feel comfortable that I could catch a decent bag from them. However, the deeper water fishing results had not yielded any better feeling either. I was confused and really torn between committing to either strategy. I knew I needed to pick one, believing it would take a hard day of fishing at either of them to fill a livewell.
As I readied my gear the night before the tournament I was still contemplating a strategy. The day before I had been leaning in the direction of the steeper banks and even a few deep water humps and haunts. I had plotted a long string of these locations in my GPS with plans to “milk run” these spots fast and furious all day long. My gut however was squeezing my mind and I just couldn’t get those shallow bushes out of my head. A couple of sunny warm days just prior to the tournament would warm those surface temps and the TVA’s report that they were raising the lake levels a little more than a foot, which would put the level just over summer pool by take off, was telling me the fish should be in the bushes. Now I love flippin’ and pitchin’ those bushes and I have a lot of confidence in my abilities for this style of fishing. My final determining factor in my decision was my wife telling me…”just go with your gut”. It was settled, as I left my house to go to the pre tournament meeting, I had mentally committed to a long run south out of the KenLake State Park Marina to three small pockets of bushes and willows I had taken a few nice fish from in practice.
I woke up at 3:40am to the sound my alarm and a hard steady rain. The rain was no surprise but I cannot say I welcomed it. I was drenched by the time I pulled the cover off my boat and started the 35 minute drive to the morning take off location. The entire process of dropping my boat in the water and linking up with my co-angler was a dark and wet process. I had drawn out an early take off number of 12 in the first flight. I was hyped up and ready to go by the time we coasted by the tournament marshals as they checked my livewells, aerators, kill switch, name, number, and weigh in time. When I broke the plain of the no wake bouy a few minutes later I pushed my hot foot pedal to the floor, feathered my trim switch up, and bounced through the first eleven boat’s wakes as I headed for the main river channel for the run south. A decent southeast wind had the wave cadence annoying and the poring rain was painful to any exposed skin at the wide open throttle speed. Approximately 30 minutes later I was coming off plane at my first location of the day. One quick look at the water level, color, and temperature gage sent my hopes and confidence soaring. It looked gooooooood!
I could feel my nerves and excitement and had to deliberately concentrate on calming myself down. I picked up a buzzbait and headed down a short stretch rocky banked open water on my way to the first little pocket of bushes and willows. Nothing on the buzzbait. By the time I reached the first bush I had calmed enough to pick up the 7 foot heavy action carrot stick rigged for pitchin’. The water color and level looked perfect and the 60 plus degree temperature told me they should be here. Less than 10 flips and I felt the first tick on my 17 pound stren line and swung a 14 inch short fish over the side. I thanked the lord for the bite and instantly felt my nerves calm down a little. A few flips later and I stuck my first keeper of the day and got to hear that sweet sound of the aerators kicking on. Less than twenty minutes later and I pitched my bait into some wood cover, my line jumped and I reared back on a solid 3 1/4 pounder, a welcome addition to the livewell. At this point I knew it was “game on” and the fish were here. We finished out the small pocket of bushes catching a few more short fish. I fired up my Yamaha outboard and ran 150 yards across the bay to another pocket where I had caught a keeper fish each time I had visited the spot in practice. A short stretch down the bank I set the hook on a tug down along the side of an isolated buckbrush bush. My heavy pole bent and the fished bulldogged for the middle of the pocket before coming to the surface for some aerial acrobatics. Another heart stopping jump over the dipnet…a figure eight under the boat…and finally into the net and into the livewell. The 4 1/4 pounder would be my best fish of the day. My co-angler, Mark Hill from Anna-Jonesboro Illinois, boated his first keeper before leaving the area and we headed a quarter mile south to my next location. This next spot was not as out of the wind as the first couple locations and the rain continued to fall. It was around 9:15am now. The wind was moving me around too fast and too much so I put my Motorguide trolling motor on high and headed for the very back of the cove. I had not caught any fish that far back in practice but I had caught a stocky short fish off of some brush in the middle of the back. My co-angler took a short fish from the brush and we started up the line of willows and bushes on the windy side. I pitched my bait into the submerged branches of a flooded willow and instantly received a tug. I set the hook and could feel my line was wrapped in the brush but the fish was still on. I kept a steady pull and the fish shot straight up out of the water about two feet. A short fight at the side of the boat and I swung the small but keeper fish over the side of the boat. I pinned him with a culling ball and placed my fourth keeper in the livewell. The location yielded several more short fish but no more keepers. I fired up the big motor and ran back up the lake to where we had started. I was amazed we had not seen any other boats come in on any of my areas. I would rotate most of the day between the three locations believing the rising water would help to replenish the fish. Mark, my co-angler, quickly caught his second and final keeper at the spot we had started at. A few more short fish and we headed across the bay to spot #2. Near the same location I had caught the 4 plus pounder I would land my fifth keeper for my limit…it was 10:50am. We continued to rotate and catch a lot of short fish. Mark would lose two good fish as the morning went on. I too would lose a couple in the brush and possibly a big one down in the middle of a buckbrush bush I never got a look at.
Around 12:30pm the sun popped out, the wind picked up, and the bite seemed to die out. I kept at it catching the occasional short fish until about 1:40pm, when I decided to run back up the lake and make a few casts at a deep point I had taken a big smallmouth off of in practice. On my second cast with the carolina rig I set the hook on a solid keeper and culled my smallest fish. I ran on up the lake to a hump we had found some decent fish on in practice hoping to cull again and maybe finish out the 3 fish limit for my co-angler Mark. I only got one hit there and missed the fish. As time ran out on my day I ran to a couple small pockets near the weigh in that had produced good fish for my dad in the past but we only managed a few more short fish there as well. All in all we had a good day, catching several fish all day long. My 14.02 pound limit would get me into 15th place and net me a check. Greg Hoskinson of Louisville Kentucky would win the tournament with 20.23 pounds…flippin’. I cannot complain about the day at all…I just never got that big kicker fish in the livewell to move me to the top. It was a great start to my season, I had a blast, and thank the good Lord for giving me the opportunity to do what I love. I would also like to thank my sponsor CRIPT Academy and UltimateBass.com for their support. Check out my website at www.probassangler-jemery.com for upcoming seminars, tournaments, and fishing reports. Stay tuned for my next blog about my quest to go pro and my next tournament at Lake Wheeler Alabama April 30 – May 2 when I fish the Bassmaster Open Southern Division. God bless and good fishing!