Coming off a disappointing 56th-place finish at his home waters on the St. Johns River 2 weeks ago, Cliff Prince didn’t exactly rinse the sour taste from his mouth on day 1 at the Table Rock Lake Bassmaster Elite Series.
His 9-06 limit, which came out of the White River, left him in 97th place and wondering what his next move should be. On day 2, he escaped the crowds of tournament boats that had gone up the White and opted to fish the James River. The resulting 19-10 bag catapulted him to 12th place. He went on to fish the remainder the event in the James, catching fish on bluff walls with an array of jerkbaits. He made his first 12-cut since early last season and wound up 9th with 57-15, just 4 pounds off the winning weight.
"I'm really kicking myself now," he said. "If I hadn't have went up the White the first day, I could've made a run at the win. One of these times, I'm going to make the right decisions four days in a row and maybe win one of these deals."
His decision to run up the White to start the event was a result of a decent half-day of practice he spent there. What he wasn't expecting, though, was many other tournament boats to crammed into the same area.
"I got more bites and just as many keepers up there, but I didn't realize that many people would be up there," he said. "It was like musical chairs. When I'd leave, someone else would pull right in and vice versa. Some guys would cruise by and just look at you like they were waiting for you to leave.
"In the James, there weren't as many tournament anglers. I think (Brandon) Palaniuk was up there on the second and third day, but there was a lot of local pressure and they were all throwing the Alabama Rig. It didn't seem to affect the fish at all."
To catch his fish, he was making casts parallel to bluff walls where the channel hit the bank and left the bank. The breezy conditions were most conducive to his pattern and he said the less the action the bait had, the more effective it was.
"It was so cold they didn't want a bait that had a lot of action," he said. "The bluff had to have shelves or steps. It couldn't be a 45-degree bank. It had to be a sheer wall, almost vertical. Sometimes if the shelf was there, I'd be sitting in 10 to 14 feet or sometimes I'd be over 40 feet.
"The key was getting the bait down there and deadsticking it. Most of the fish were coming in the 6- to 8-foot range. I'd jerk it down there and pause it and just so slightly twitch it or tick it."
He also jerked a number of fish out of one particular tree throughout the event.
"I caught a limit out of that tree on day 2 and over the next 2 days, I caught 10 more there," he said. "I don't know how many fish were on that one tree. I just caught a ton of fish this week. At one point, I looked at my marshal and said, 'Just how many fish are in this lake?'"
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