The Clear Lake Bassmaster Elite Series was all about big fish. And swimbaits are all about enticing big bites.
Alabama's Steve Kennedy won the highest-weight tournament in BASS history with a record-shattering 122-14 over 4 days. He used a swimbait to catch the majority of his largest fish, and so did the anglers who finished right behind him in the standings.
Their alternate patterns varied greatly, though. While Kennedy relied on a football-head jig, his closest pursuers used everything from a small finesse worm to a big topwater bait.
2nd: Skeet Reese
> Day 1: 5, 26-12
> Day 2: 5, 27-09
> Day 3: 5, 35-07
> Day 4: 5, 27-10
> Total = 20, 117-06
California's Skeet Reese has fished well everywhere he's gone over the past 6 months – he now has five consecutive Top 10s on his ledger, including three runner-up finishes. He has more than two decades worth of experience at Clear Lake, and he was a popular pick to win this event.
He would have won, too, had Kennedy not gone bonkers and weighed in more than 72 pounds over the last 2 days. Reese was the most consistent angler in the field over the tournament's entirety. He was the only one who never weighed a bag under 25 pounds.
He employed a combination of a swimbait, a jerkbait and a shaky-head worm.
"Every year it's a little bit different, and this year the lake was low and clear," he said. "That makes (the fish) set up and react a little bit differently than they have at other times in the past.
"Because I have so much experience (on the lake), I can probably pinpoint them quicker than most other guys can. But it's obvious that they did a great job of figuring out and catching the giants."
> Jerkbait gear: 7' medium-action Lamiglas SR705R Skeet Reese signature series rod, same reel, 15-pound prototype Trilene fluorocarbon, Lucky Craft Slim Shad (ghost minnow).
> Worm gear: 7'3" medium-action Lamiglas Skeet Reese signature series dropshot rod, Mitchell 308Xe spinning reel, 1/4-ounce unnamed darthead jig, 7" Berkley Power Shaky Worm (watermelon-red).
Main factor in his success – "Just knowledge of the lake and understanding how the fish position themselves."
Peformance edge – "There wasn't anything in particular. All of my equipment played a role."
Greg Gutierrez led for 3 days, but hit a wall when his pre-spawn fish "morphed into spawners."
3rd: Greg Gutierrez
> Day 1: 5, 32-13
> Day 2: 5, 33-13
> Day 3: 5, 25-04
> Day 4: 16-03
> Total = 20, 108-01
Greg Gutierrez, another Californian, had originally planned to fish shaky-heads around docks to catch 15 to 17 pounds, and then go try to flip up a couple of kickers.
"Then I saw where some giants had moved into a creek," he said. "I thought if I could get in there early, I could catch those fish."
Those fish (which he caught on a swimbait), some other big ones that were hanging around rockpiles and the ones that fell to the flipping stick later in the day allowed him to weigh the biggest bags on days 1 and 2. He had an 11-pound lead at the midway point.
He couldn't sustain the momentum, though. He caught just 41-07 over the final 2 days, which was just a pound more than the charging Kennedy weighed on day 3 alone.
His swimbait fish had completely run out by the end of day 3, so he resorted to a Zara Spook to get his initial limit on the final day.
"My pre-spawn fish had morphed into spawners, and I wasn't prepared for that. I was so locked into fishing offshore structure, and I just couldn't make the changes I needed to in the timeframe I had."
> Swimbait gear: 7'11" heavy-action and medium-heavy Okuma Guide Select rods, unnamed casting reels, 20-pound Yo-Zuri Hybrid fluorocarbon/copolymer line, 8" Osprey and 5 1/2" California Swimbabes Baby "E" swimbaits.
> Jig gear: 7' heavy-action Okuma Solaris rod, Okuma IDX 150 casting reel, 15-pound Yo-Zuri H2O fluorocarbon line, 3/4-ounce homemade football-head jig (black/brown), unnamed twin-tail trailer (purple/blue flake).
> Spook gear: 7' medium-heavy Okuma Solaris rod, Okuma VS casting reel, 15-pound Yo-Zuri Hybrid line, Zara Super Spook (clear with blue head).
Main factor in his success – "Targeting pre-spawn fish that the (cool, windy weather during practice) had kept from moving up."
Performance edge – "I'd have to put it on the line. I was blasting fish with horrendous hooksets because at Clear Lake in the spring, the fish hit the bait so hard that you won't get penetration if you don't move (the bait) far enough. With that Yo-Zuri fluorocarbon, I didn't have anything to worry about."
A tip from Scott Rook put Gerald Swindle on his way to a Top-5 finish.
4th: Gerald Swindle
> Day 1: 5, 19-10
> Day 2: 5, 28-09
> Day 3: 5, 28-01
> Day 4: 29-04
> Total = 20, 105-08
Alabama's Gerald Swindle caught a mediocre bag on day 1, but was solid as a rock the rest of the way. The key to his improvement was a bit of advice from 10th-place finisher Scott Rook.
"I was fishing swimbaits in the morning and then switching to a shaky-head, but Rook came by and tipped me off," he said. "He told me the fish were suspended, and I should keep throwing (the swimbait) and not let up.
"After that, I put the worm up. I was done with him."
> Swimbait gear: 7'4" Quantum Finesse Flipping Gerald Swindle signature series rod, Quantum PT casting reel, 20-pound Spiderwire G-String line, 6" Basstrix swimbait (hitch).
Main factor in his success – "Persistence in staying on the dock pattern with the swimbait. It might take you all day to catch a big bag on it. If you get 30 to follow it and one to eat it, that's fine."
Performance edge – "The swimbait, abslolutely."
John Murray took advantage of having his primary area all to himself.
5th: John Murray
> Day 1: 5, 27-13
> Day 2: 5, 22-07
> Day 3: 5, 28-08
> Day 4: 5, 24-05
Arizona's John Murray spent the vast majority of his time on a spot that had been productive for him over the years. It's a stretch of docks in the southern end that has a major breakline, and fish stage there in preparation for the spawn.
"It's a place I've always fished over the years, and I fished it in the (Bassmaster Open) 2 years ago and caught them really good," he said. "I was excited when I got there and nobody else was there.
"On my first four casts (on day 1), I caught two 3-pounders and two 6s."
He alternated between a swimbait and a finesse worm. One or the other was highly productive each day, but usually not both.
> Swimbait gear: 7'6" medium-action Powell 765CB rod, Abu Garcia Revo STX casting reel, 17-pound prototype Berkley Trilene fluorocarbon line, 1/2-ounce unnamed jighead, 6" Basstrix swimbait (rainbow trout).
> Worm gear: 7'3" medium-action Powell 733 spinning rod, Daiwa Sol spinning reel, 3/32-ounce unnamed jighead, 5-inch Yamamoto Slim Senko (green-pumpkin).
Main factor in his success – "Really working over that one area that I had all to myself."
Performance edge – "The Revo. I could cast the swimbait a mile with it."
> The hitch is a minnow that's endemic to central California and looks similar to a golden shiner. It can reach a length of 14 inches.