By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
In 2012, the Bull Shoals Bassmaster Elite Series was pretty much a square-bill crankbait convention. The water had a nice green tint to it due to recent rain and the annual algae bloom, and there was no reason for an angler to worry about a fish seeing his line.
Not so last week. The algae had yet to show up and rain in the region this year had been sporadic, at best. When the water's surface was calm, competitors could see clearly down past the 20-foot mark, which meant visibility was extremely high for the fish as well.
All four anglers who finished closest to winner Jason Christie employed line with a pound-test in the single digits either all or part of the time. Following are some of the specifics of their patterns.
2nd: Fred Roumbanis
> Day 1: 5, 14-00
> Day 2: 5, 14-00
> Day 3: 5, 12-07
> Day 4: 5, 14-15
> Total = 20, 56-08
Fred Roumbanis ran all over the lake each day to compile an average of just over 14 pounds per day, never expecting to get more than a single bite at each stop. He threw a swimbait, a jerkbait and a spinnerbait some in the mornings, then usually spent the latter part of each day in finesse mode.
Knowing he needed a big bag on the final day, he tossed the swimbait exclusively.
"I felt pretty good going in," he said. "I'd fished that FLW (at Beaver Lake) the week before and I was keying on the 17- to 18-foot range, so the first thing I did was go to that depth and I started catching them finesse-fishing.
"A lot of the fish in practice would just grab the end of the worm again and again, so I knew there were good ones spawning deep. I knew I had to stay deep, but I really had no area that I wanted to fish. I got bit all over the place.
"I was moving the boat about 100 times a day," he continued, "and sometimes I wouldn't even put the trolling motor down."
> Finesse gear: 7'2" medium-action iRod Power/Finesse rod, unnamed spinning reel, 8-pound P-Line 100% fluorocarbon line, 3/16-ounce Picasso or Gamakatsu shaky-head jigs, El Grande Lures Hatch Match Stick (green-pumpkin) or Zoom Finesse Worm (green-pumpkin).
> Swimbait gear: 7'11" medium-action iRod Crank Launcher, Ardent Edge Elite casting reel (6.5:1 ratio), 20-pound P-Line 100% fluorocarbon, size 1 Gamakatsu round-bend treble hook, 5" Optimum BLT swimbait (sweet tooth).
> His jerkbait was an Ima Flit 120 (ghost minnow) and the spinnerbait was a Pepper's Custom Baits model.
> Main factor in his success – "That water's so clear, it reminds me so much of fishing in California (where he grew up). I had some knowledge of how to find fish that were spawning in deep, clear water."
> Performance edge – "I'd say the reliability of my Triton/Mercury for allowing me to run around so much."
Casey Scanlon said he probably should have leaned on his fish a bit harder on days 1 and 2.
3rd: Casey Scanlon
> Day 1: 5, 14-13
> Day 2: 5, 15-05
> Day 3: 5, 13-09
> Day 4: 5, 10-13
> Total = 20, 54-11
Casey Scanlon laid off his fish early after catching strong limits on days 1 and 2. In hindsight, he said that might've been a mistake.
"I possibly could've culled up to 16 pounds both days if I'd kept swinging, but it got to a point where it seemed silly to be wasting a 2 3/4-pounder on every cast," he said. "Now that it's over with, I wish I would've done that. It might've made it a little tighter race."
He has a strong history in the region, but very little of it has played out on Bull Shoals. To the best of his recollection, this was just his fourth tournament on the venue.
He fished bluffs and channels near spawning pockets that featured a lot of pea gravel and caught fish from depths that ranged from 8 to 20 feet. His best area was an island in the middle of a pocket and his bait of choice was a tube fished on light tackle.
"I ran up to Lead Hill on the first day of practice, which is where I like to fish, and I could tell by about noon that it wasn't going to happen up there for me. While I was up there I started throwing that tube and caught a few good ones, so I decided to come down to some clearer water and try it, and it was lights out down there.
"If you'd have told me it was going to be won up at Lead Hill (which was where Christie fished), I wouldn't have believed it."
> Tube gear: 7' medium action RaZr Rod, Bass Pro Shops Johnny Morris Signature Series spinning reel, 3/8- or 1/2-ounce Luck E Strike ball-head jig, 3 3/4" Luck E Strike Rick Clunn Salty Tube (rootbeer/green glitter).
> Main factor in his success – "Picking up the tube and dialing into what kind of bank the fish were using. Once I did that, I could run all over and get bites in every place that looked like it. Some places I got one bite and others I got two dozen."
> Performance edge – "The tube with that jighead was by far the best thing I had for catching them. For whatever reason, that round ball-head outdid any of the regular tube heads I tried. I used other stuff in practice and even during the tournament because they were easier to rig, but my hookup ratio wasn't nearly as good."
Cliff Prince's 4th-place showing was a gigantic improvement over his 95th-place finish a year ago.
4th: Cliff Prince
> Day 1: 5, 14-03
> Day 2: 5, 14-01
> Day 3: 5, 14-11
> Day 4: 5, 11-02
> Total = 20, 54-01
Cliff Prince finished 95th at Bull Shoals as an Elite Series rookie in 2012, so his showing last week was quite a turnaround. It was also his second consecutive single-digit showing – he was 5th at Falcon.
"I knew the fish lived in (Bull Shoals) because I'd caught them good last time I was there," he said. "But last time, I was catching 11-pound bags while everybody else was catching 13. This time I just tried to run new water each day and tried to build on what I'd done up to that point, and I got one good fish every day doing that.
"What I keyed on was the last bit of deep water in the back of a pocket. Most of the stuff would be 30 feet (deep), but if there was a hole close to the bank that was 40 or 50 feet, those smallmouth were staging there. The fish were anywhere from 15 to 25 feet down and if I caught one there, it was a good one."
> Shaky-head gear: 6'10" medium action Duckett Fishing White Ice Jason Williamson Signature Series rod, Lew's Speed Spin spinning reel, 8-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon line or 10-pound Seaguar Senshi monofilament line with 8-pound InvizX leader, 1/4-ounce Booyah Big Show jighead, 6" YUM Mightee Worm (green-pumpkin) or 6" homemade straight-tail worm.
> He also caught a few fish on a Carolina rig with a YUM Mightee Craw (green-pumpkin) and a few on an unnamed tube with a 1/4-ounce insider jighead.
> Main factor in his success – "Just keeping my head down and keeping a positive attitude about everything."
> Performance edge – "Those Duckett rods are so light and sensitive. That was important because I was fishing deep, where it can be really hard to feel a bite."
Britt Myers had planned to fish up the White River, but ended up logging a high finish from the lower end of the lake.
5th: Britt Myers
> Day 1: 5, 13-05
> Day 2: 5, 14-06
> Day 3: 5, 12-11
> Day 4: 5, 13-09
> Total = 20, 53-15
Britt Myers, the runner-up at Bull Shoals in 2012, and Brandon Palaniuk, the winner of last year's event, both found the same group of big fish way up the White River during practice. Then the powerful storm that caused the postponement of day 1 blew in, and those fish were nowhere to be found once the tournament finally got under way on Friday.
He rooms with Terry Scroggins (the eventual 6th-place finisher) and Gerald Swindle (17th), and Scroggins had told him that the down-lake bite was hot, so he switched his focus to the lower end.
"It ended up being almost the same as last year – you could catch all the shallow fish you wanted, but if you got out a little bit deeper, they were a little larger. You needed several of those 3-pound bites every day to get up into that 13-pound range.
> Shaky-head gear: 6'8" medium action Pinnacle spinning rod, Pinnacle spinning reel, 8-pound Berkley Trilene 100% fluorocarbon line, 3/16-ounce War Eagle shaky-head jig, Berkley Havoc Bottom Hopper worm (green-pumpkin).
> Main factor in his success – "Working as a team with Swindle and Scroggins. I knew some big fish lived up north in the Lead Hill area and I spent 2 days of practice up that way, but I got some really good information from those guys about what was going on in other places."
> Performance edge – "The Pinnacle rod and reel. The rod is super-sensitive, but it was still able to handle those fish. The fish were super-strong in that clear water."