By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
The milestones keep piling up for James Watson in 2013. He competed in his first Forrest Wood Cup as a pro last month, and now he's notched the most significant victory of his career.
The 40-year-old owner of a real estate agency lives in Waynesville, Mo., which is about an hour and a half drive from Table Rock Lake. He owns a second home in Kimberling City, however, hard by the Rock's expansive shoreline, and gets on the lake an average of about 30 days a year.
He's particularly proficient in fall events there, and over the weekend he put his lake knowledge and experience to good use en route to winning the third PAA Tournament Series event of the season. He exceeded the 15-pound mark on each of the first 2 days to move to the top of the leaderboard, then closed out the victory with a 12 1/2-pound stringer on the final day.
"The best thing about winning this tournament was the messages I've gotten from all my friends and my sponsors," he said. "Believe it or not, those are worth more to me than the trophy or the check."
With his 3-day total of 44.01, the 4-year FLW Tour pro edged out fellow Missourian Shane Long by 2 pounds. Following are some of the details of how he went about it.
Lakes in the Ozarks region can be tough nuts to crack during late summer/early fall. Quality fish are located from the bank out to 25 feet or even deeper, but they're not easy to entice no matter how much water is between them and the air an angler breathes.
Watson almost always opts to stay close to the bank, where big bass gang up to feast on the giant gizzard shad (up to 12 inches) and bluegill. He knew, however, that the offshore action would be viable in this derby.
"The deep bite was a concern to me, but this summer it's been off," he said. "And for the last couple years, the spoon bite on the deep boat docks has been way off. I tried some of my best jig and spoon docks in practice and all I could catch were a few small keeper Kentuckys (spotted bass)."
He sought out the clearest shallow water he could find and pinpointed about 30 places he could exploit along a stretch of 10 miles or so between Point 7 and the Long Creek Bridge. The common denominator was chunk rock that transitioned to flat rock.
"The banks weren't completely flat – they had to have a little bit of grade to them," he said. "Most of the time, though, my boat wasn't in water that was deeper than 10 feet. I could usually see the bottom."
Bites weren't numerous, but he could catch some quality both on the surface and below.
"By the third hour of the first day of practice, I'd gotten two or three of the right kind of bites. I didn't make that many casts in practice – I mostly just drove around and looked."
> Day 1: 5, 15.98
> Day 2: 5, 15.58
> Day 3: 5, 12.45
> Total = 15, 44.01
Frog imitations proved to be Watson's top producers, with a buzzbait accounting for three weigh-in fish and a finesse jig garnering his two biggest specimens (both in excess of 5 pounds). Had this tournament taken place a decade ago, he likely would've thrown little else besides a spinnerbait.
"There used to be a big spinnerbait bite in the fall, but I haven't caught a fish on a spinnerbait in the last 5 years," he said. "I don't know what happened to it."
He had a limit each day by 10 o'clock, but his best bites invariably came during the mid-day or afternoon hours. A 5 1/2-pounder headed up his day-1 stringer and he caught one that went just under 6 on day 2.
The lunkers never showed on the final day, but several places he'd kept in reserve produced enough to secure the victory.
"The most critical thing this time of year for shallow fishing, even if you're up flipping, is never travel the same water you did the day before because those places will never replenish. That's why (3rd-place finisher Casey) Scanlon did so well – I helped him out with that and I was just hoping he wouldn't beat me at my own game.
Watson caught most of his weigh-in fish on frogs, but the two biggest for for a finesse jig.
"I was fortunate enough to catch 15 pounds on day 2 without having to go to some of my other stops because all I'd have been doing there is wasting keepers that would help me the next day. I needed every bit of that 12.45 on the last day."
> Jig gear: 7'6" heavy-action Daiwa Light & Tough flipping stick, Bass Pro Shops Pro Qualifier casting reel (7:1 ratio), 20-pound Maxima fluorocarbon line, 3/8-ounce War Eagle Heavy Finesse jig (pond scum), Luck-E-Strike Baby Guido Bug (green-pumpkin/candy).
> Frog gear: 7'6" Bass Pro Shops CarbonLite flipping stick, Bass Pro Shops Johnny Morris Signature casting reel (7:1 ratio), 65-pound Maxima braided line, Snag Proof Ish's Phat Frog or Zoom Horny Toad (white).
> He said extremely long casts with the frog imitations were critical. "If the fish couldn't see me, the odds were a lot better that I could get them to eat."
> Buzzbait gear: Same rod, reel and line as frog, 3/8-ounce War Eagle buzzbait (black with gold blade).
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in his success – "My experience and confidence fishing the lake and the fact that I didn't run around and catch a bunch of fish in practice. Any fish I touched in those 3 days was a fish I wasn't going to catch again (in the tournament)."
> Performance edge – "My Mercury motor and my MotorGuide trolling motor powered by Pro-Guide batteries. Some people wouldn't believe how fast I was fishing – it was Bryan Thrift-fast."
> The win moved Watson up to 12th in the circuit's points standings, which gained him a berth in next month's Toyota Texas Bass Classic.
> For complete standings from the event, click here.
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