Brentwood, TN, April 12, 2006 – With the rising price of gasoline, is it really worth the effort to hitch up the boat and drive 310 miles to compete on Kentucky Lake? Darrel Knies asked himself that question one last time as he hitched up his 520 VS Ranger to the truck, tossed his duffle bag in the back and climbed into the cab. Although he had fished the lake for over 25 years and his father is a resident in the Blood River area, at Paris Landing, he would be fishing against three dozen West Tennessee members of American Bass Angler (ABA), many of whom claimed the lower end of Kentucky Lake as their home court. Stifling further doubts, he shifted into gear, pulled away from his Indianapolis home, and headed south toward Kentucky Lake. A week earlier, sunny skies and southern breezes had pushed surface temperatures into the 60 degree range, and bass had been moving up shallow, in full pre-spawn mode. Local guides like Tim Mason of www.tennesseebassguides.com reported fast-moving spinnerbaits and crankbaits to be pulling in impressive numbers of aggressively feeding bass. Knies was looking forward to putting together some winning combinations from his Secret Weapon Special Ops kit, but as he refueled at a turnpike truck stop, chilly winds whipped through the parked cars and pumps. Glancing westward, the horizon was shrouded in solid gray.
A few hours later, he crossed the Tennessee River bridge at Paris Landing State Park, sandwiched between white capped waves below and dark clouds overhead, surging southward ahead of rising winds. Spinnerbaits might still be worth a try, but the lake looked like it was returning to a late-winter pattern, and a backup plan began forming in his mind.
On the lake, surface temperatures had dropped ten degrees from the week before. The main channel, though choppy, remained clear, but waves stirred up mud in the shallow coves and bays. Fish that had been moving onto bedding areas were scattering. They had not abandoned the shallows entirely, but the shift in weather definitely affected them, and coaxing them to bite was going to be difficult. Although he really wanted to be throwing a Secret Weapon, Darrel knew that his approach would have to be very methodical and his presentation at an almost stand-still pace to coax the larger fish to bite. Seeing these conditions he opted to go with medium size jerkbaits and small crankbaits for his practice session.
Throughout his long practice day, Knies worked the pockets, cove backs, points and creek channels, testing a number of patterns. By the end of his Friday prefishing day, he was pretty sure he could put some decent fish in the livewell by working chunk rock flat banks and small pockets off the main body of the Blood River area with jerkbaits. His practice day catch had included three good keepers as well as two largemouth over 5 pounds. One had been the 6.5-pound range. He had also managed to succeed in executing a long range release of a big Kentucky Lake smallmouth that leaped into the air about 20 feet from the boat and tossed the lure back toward Darrel.
Idling out of the marina in the dawn light, Darrel reviewed his plan. Weather conditions remained pretty much the same, although there promised to be more sunlight than clouds in the early hours. He was confident that his strategy would hold up. Two things bothered him, though. One was the beating he would take from the waves. It appeared that today the wind might be even more vicious than the previous day. Of greater concern was some weakness and pain in his right shoulder. Earlier in the year, he had an accident that wrenched his arm, tearing and straining ligaments in his shoulder and back. He was still unable to lift his arm above chest height. On Friday he had managed to compensate for his injury, but a full day of jerkbait fishing is a strenuous workout for an angler in good shape, and he was concerned about how well he would work the bait for six or seven hours. More importantly, he wondered if he would manage to battle and net keeper bass on a pitching deck in high winds with one partially disabled arm.
He turned his Ranger north, down the lake, and into the wind. At this first and only stop Knies pulled four rods from his rod locker, each rigged with a different jerkbait. He began by working the shallow chunk rock bank he had found fish holding on the day before. Boat control in the wind and waves was demanding as he’d expected. All through the day, he alternated between the four baits to be sure he gave the fish a variety of looks at every depth. His choice of lures for the day were two Lucky Craft Slender Pointer Minnows in 112 MR and 97 MR – Misty Shad patterns , a Rapala X Rap in a clown pattern and a silver-blue back Rogue. By ten thirty AM, he had 24.82 pounds of bass in the livewell, anchored by an 8.39-pound largemouth and was headed south for a 20 mile ride to Paris Landing in 3- to 4-foot white caps. Darrel reflected on two fish that had come unbuttoned during his short but intense fishing time, and he wondered if the loss of those three and six pound bass would come back to bite him in the end.
The 8.39 bass turned out to be his margin of victory. Gordon Shimasaki, a local angler favored to win, weighed in a respectable stringer weighing 17.12 pounds for second place. Shimasaki has a reputation as a springtime jerkbait fisherman, but he found all his fish using a crankbait in extremely shallow creek channels.
Darrel’s victory was doubly rewarding because a few months earlier he enlisted in the Secret Weapon Special Ops Rewards program. Joe Haubenreich, president of Secret Weapon Lures, happened to be a guest of District 40 that day, so he was on hand at weigh-in to present Knies, Shimasaki, and others, with lures, caps, and Secret Weapon T-shirts. Darrel selected a $50 Buzzrbait Sampler kit as his Special Ops Prize for coming in first place.
His name went into the drawing for the March Special Ops cash prize, along with three other ABA/SWL SpecOps members who had also placed first in district tournaments during March. Jake Davis of Mt. Juliet, Tennessee and Gary Martin of Elizabethtown, Kentucky had both won $500 Special Ops payouts earlier in the year and were in contention again. In addition, William Peele of Jacksonville, North Carolina was in the hunt for the $500 cash payout.
On April fifth, in an independent third-party drawing, Darrel’s name selected at random, and he tacked on a check for $500 to his Paris Landing winnings. That, plus the tackle he won and renewed confidence of his ability to fish Kentucky Lake, will stand him in good stead. He will be back, he hopes, to pit himself against Kentucky Lake bass at the ABA Nationals in October. And when he does, his cash winnings this day should pretty well cover any fuel price increases that he will encounter along the way.
Ask Darrel Knies, though, and he will tell you: an opportunity to fish this famous lake in the company of fine men and women of the ABA made every cent he spent on for travel on water and the highway worthwhile, whether or not he finished in the money. Between March and October 2006, there will be over a dozen more ABA tournaments on Kentucky Lake, and you can expect Darrel to show up at a few of them.
Secret Weapon Lures Special Ops is a rewards program for American Bass Anglers members. For details go to the Secret Weapon Lures Website (http://secretweaponlures.com) and click the ABA logo.
Secret Weapon Lures is a manufacturer of versatile, high-performance spinnerbaits and buzzbaits. Founded in Missouri, since 2001, Secret Weapons have found their way into the arsenals of anglers across the U.S. and Canada.
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