By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Dennis Berhorst has a great deal of successful competitive experience at Lake of the Ozarks, but memories played little – if any – role in his victory there last week in a Central EverStart.
"I fished a lot of places where I'd really never caught anything before," said the 48-year-old resident of Holts Summit, Mo. (about an hour's drive from the lake). "I was really looking for that food."
Bass food, that is – in the form of big gizzard shad. He found two general areas that harbored an abundance of them, and they carried him to victory over a strong local contingent that included nearly the entire Hibdon clan.
He started the final day leading by just a single ounce, but caught a 14-09 bag on the final day to win by a little more than 2 pounds. The victory was his first at the triple-A level after six BFL triumphs.
Here's how he did it.
Berhorst, a superintendent for an Illinois-based company called River City Construction, was on the water for 7 straight days leading up to the derby. He practiced on Thursday and Friday of the preceding week, then finished 7th in a BFL Super Tournament over the weekend. After that, he went back into practice mode for 3 more days.
He'd known what the fish were doing for more than a week prior to that, and he used those days to confirm that what he'd found was still "the deal."
"I've got a place down there at the lake, in the Gravois arm, but I didn't get to spend much time there this year," he said. "On Memorial Day weekend I got out for a few hours each day, and the fish were moving to the boat docks. I just figured it out from there.
"When the water starts to cool off (it was in the mid-70s during the tournament after topping out in the low 90s during the heat of summer), like in any lake, the shad in the bigger creeks start to gather up in schools that are big enough to see them. Then the bass just basically follow them."
And while it was the shad that brought the bass to the docks, they were feasting on bluegills as well.
> Day 1: 5, 16-13
> Day 2: 5, 16-02
> Day 3: 5, 14-09
> Total = 15, 47-08
Berhorst's day-1 haul left him in 2nd place, a little more than 2 pounds behind early leader Robbie Dodson.
"I started in an area (in the Gravois arm) where I'd had several bites in practice," he said. "It was actually a pocket that was about halfway back in a big creek off the main lake. I caught eight or nine keepers that day and I had two right at 5 pounds – one came pretty early and the other around 2 o'clock that afternoon."
The bluebird skies of the first day gave way to constant rain on day 2. He said the conditions seemed to fire up the fish a bit and he caught nearly a dozen keepers from a stretch near the renowned Lodge of Four Seasons, including a 5-pounder and a 4. That gave him the lead by an ounce over Jeremy Lawyer.
The rain continued into the final day. He returned to the Gravois area and found that the fish had replenished – he caught a 5 1/2-pounder off the same dock that had given up one of his 5s just 2 days prior.
"That was my third fish, and I had my limit by 11:00. I didn't catch another keeper the rest of the day, but I knew I had a chance to win once I caught that big one."
Almost all of the fish Berhorst caught were suspended under the pontoons of shallow docks. Thirteen of the specimens he brought to the scale were enticed by a Chompers Boss Hawg and the other two were fooled by a Chompers Brush Jig.
"The two I caught on the jig were ones I'd missed on the Boss Hawg," he said. "I threw back in there with it and got them."
Winning Gear Notes
> Flipping gear: 7'6" medium-heavy St. Croix flipping stick, Team Lew's Tournament Pro casting reel, 16-pound Gamma fluorocarbon line, 1/2-ounce Bass Pro Shops tungsten weight, 4/0 Gamakatsu SuperLine hook, Chompers Boss Hawg (green-pumpkin).
> He added some chartreuse dye to the tails of his Bass Hawgs to better imitate the bluegill.
> He employed the same setup for the jig, but with 20-pound line.
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in his success – "Concentrating on where the baitfish were located in the creeks, and then taking what I'd learned in practice and sticking with it. A lot of times people will get on a pattern, and then when it doesn't work for 2 or 3 hours, they'll abandon it. I never did abandon it."
> Performance edge – "Everything I used was critical, but the most critical was the Boss Hawg."
> Berhorst's sponsor list consists of Ranger, Yamaha, Minn Kota, Humminbird, St. Croix, Lew's, TH Marine, Chompers, Table Rock Bait and Tackle and Fitz's Fishing.
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