By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
There really was no common theme running through the patterns of the top finishers at last week's Forrest Wood Cup at Lake Lanier. Big fish – whether they were largemouths or spotted bass – were chomping, provided you were in the right place at the right time.
Of the four anglers who finished closest to winner Jacob Wheeler, one focused entirely on deep water, one fished exclusively shallow and two did at least some of each. They caught their fish on a myriad of offerings.
As it turned out, the biggest uncontrollable variable at the event was sky. It was cloudy most of the time, which pulled many of the quality fish off their deep-structure haunts and put them on the prowl in skinny water. Most of the serious contenders capitalized on that and only one of the Top 5 completely disregarded the shallow bite.
2nd: Scott Canterbury
> Day 1: 5, 16-09
> Day 2: 5, 12-07
> Day 3: 5, 13-05
> Day 4: 5, 10-07
> Total = 20, 52-12
Scott Canterbury began the tournament fishing shallow up the Chestatee River, but spent most of it plying deep brush on the main lake. He didn't get a lot of bites compared to some in the field – averaging less than 10 per day – but there was always at least one 4-pounder among them.
His two-pronged attack consisted of a buzzbait with a Zoom Horny Toad trailer and various dropshot setups. When he could see fish on his graph, he usually employed a double dropshot rig with one bait about 4 feet up the line and the other less than a foot above the weight. He said that was particularly effective on the well-known areas that were part of multiple anglers' rotations.
"I caught them as shallow as 22 feet and as deep as 34, and the biggest ones all came out of 30 to 32," he said. "I had a couple of little ditches I found where I'd be idling along and see a little gut in them and I'd fish that, but most of the places were just brush that people had put out."
He came up with the double-dropshot idea on his own during practice.
"It was something I never dreamed I'd use in the tournament. I just wanted to see which bait would catch more fish, and sometimes I'd get them on the bottom and sometimes on the top, and I even got a double or two. After that, it didn't make any sense to change."
> Droshot gear: 6'6" medium-heavy TigeRodz spinning rod, Abu Garcia Revo Premier spinning reel, 6- or 8-pound Berkley Trilene 100% fluorocarbon line, 1/4-, 3/8- or 1/2-ounce Tiger Tungsten dropshot weight, 1/0 unnamed dropshot hook, Jackall Cross Tail Shad (violet shad) and Jackall Flick Shake worm (tsunami).
> He said the tsunami color, which isn't marketed in the U.S. yet, is a sandy hue with some blue and red glitter mixed in.
> He nose-hooked the Crosstail Shad because it generally stayed above the brush. The Flick Shake, which often penetrated the piles, was Texas-rigged.
Main factor in his success – "I was fortunate to get some big bites, and I was blessed to land them."
Performance edge – The (tsunami-colored) worms. I caught a bunch of fish on them and I only had two left on the last day, and I ran out of them after about 10 drops. I don't know if they would've made a difference the rest of the day, but they got me there and I was happy."
The weights of Bryan Thrift's four bags didn't vary my more than a pound and a half.
3rd: Bryan Thrift
> Day 1: 5, 13-12
> Day 2: 5, 13-11
> Day 3: 5, 12-08
> Day 4: 5, 12-05
> Total = 20, 52-04
Bryan Thrift has been one of the most consistent anglers in the game for awhile now and his performance in this event was a microcosm of that as there wasn't even a pound and a half worth of variance among his four bags.
He pulled all of his fish from deep cover on day 1, then got them all shallow on day 2. He stayed close to the shoreline the rest of the way as he realized that the skinny-water fish held the greatest potential.
Many of his weigh-in fish over the final 2 days were enticed by topwater offerings. He also caught some from a dock on a shaky-head on the final day and picked up a couple on day 1 on a 1/2-ounce jig.
"Color didn't matter at all," he said. "Those fish were biting."
> Shaky-head gear: 6' medium-action Damiki spinning rod, Abu Garcia Revo Premier spinning reel, 8-pound Berkley Trilene 100% fluorocarbon line, 1/8-ounce unnamed jighead, Damiki Finesse Miki (craw frog).
Main factor in his success – "Decision-making. They weren't all good, but I did make enough right ones to catch five every day."
Performance edge – "Probably my Evinrude motor. I burned $170 in gas every day for 4 days straight – I was all over that lake and I went some places twice – and I had no problems whatsoever."
Scott Martin was the lone Top-5 finisher who focused exclusively on deep spotted bass.
4th: Scott Martin
> Day 1: 5, 14-09
> Day 2: 5, 14-11
> Day 3: 5, 10-07
> Day 4: 5, 12-01
> Total = 20, 51-12
Martin, the defending Cup champion, was the only member of the final Top 5 who spent the entire derby in pursuit of spotted bass in water that was at least 20 feet deep. He was in the running for his second straight triumph at the event until the final weigh-in.
With the water level about 8 feet lower than normal, brushpiles at the right depths were hard to find, but he located a good deal of quality fish that were relating to standing timber in the 27- to 40-foot range.
"I didn't have a lot of places out there, but the grade of fish was a little bit better for me in practice," he said. "I was after 10 to 12 bites a day and I struggled to get those, but the ones I got seemed to weigh a little bit more."
He relied primarily on a dropshot, but also used a Sworming Hornet Fish Head Spin, a topwater and a shaker jig. Those latter baits were important on the final day when the dropshot bite fizzled, and he'd also throw the Fish Head Spin or the Dude on his initial approach to a waypoint in an attempt to pick off an outside fish or two before going to work with the dropshot.
> Dropshot gear: 6'9" medium-light Okuma Citrix rod, Okuma Helios spinning reel, 7-pound Sunline FC Sniper fluorocarbon line, 3/8- or 5/16-ounce River2Sea dropshot weight, 1/0 Lazer Trokar straight-shank hook, Bruiser Baits Finesse Worm (morning dawn).
> In addition to the Fish Head Spin, his other day-4 baits were a River2Sea Dude shaker jig and a River2Sea Rover topwater.
> His other rod-and-reel combos were all matching Okuma Helios setups (7'6" medium-heavy for the Fish Head Spin, 7' medium for the dude and 7' medium-heavy for the Rover). He used 12-pound Gamma Edge fluorocarbon line for the Fish Head Spin and the Dude and 50-pound Daiwa braid for the topwater.
Main factor in his success – "My Garmin GPS. Running that many waypoints, it was real important for that to be very accurate."
Performance edge – "I was up on plane probably more than anybody and my Ranger/Evinrude got me everywhere I wanted to go. I'd stay in one place for 7 to 8 minutes max, then it was off to the next one."
David Dudley caught a lot of deep fish in practice, but they were no match for the ones he pulled from the shallows.
5th: David Dudley
> Day 1: 5, 13-11
> Day 2: 5, 10-10
> Day 3: 5, 11-02
> Day 4: 5, 14-06
> Total = 20, 49-13
Two-time reigning Angler of the Year David Dudley determined in practice that he wouldn't venture far from the shoreline.
"I figured out that it could be won shallow," he said. "I caught tons of fish out deep, but they didn't compare to what I could do shallow, so I dedicated myself to that.
"I just fished random shallow stuff – the deepest was 3 feet. They were in the dirt, and when they're up that shallow at this time of year they've got one thing on their mind, and that's eating."
Most of the fish he boated came via a shaky-head. He lost a bunch of big ones on bluegill-pattern topwater baits, including more than 20 pounds worth on day 3 alone.
"They'd eat no matter what you threw – I just elected to use a shaky-head. I don't know what (those topwater fish) were doing, if they were just slapping at it or hitting it to kill it or what. That's just one of those mysteries that we'll never figure out."
> Shaky-head gear: 7'6" medium-heavy Abu Garcia Verdict spinning rod, Abu Garcia Revo Premier spinning reel, 8-pound Berkley Trilene 100% fluorocarbon line, 1/8-ounce unnamed jighead, Berkley Havoc Bottom Hopper worm (watermelon).
Main factor in his success – "Fishing shallow."
Performance edge – "The Revo spinning reel. It has a very smooth drag."
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