Tournament bass-fishing isn't just about outsmarting the fish. Sometimes you have to outwit the other anglers too.
Everybody knew the Norman FLW Tour would be an event predicated on razor-thin margins. The North Carolina lake is full of largemouth and spotted bass, but the vast majority that exceed the 14-inch minimum-length requirement weigh between 1 3/4 and 2 1/4 pounds. An extra few ounces here and there can mean the difference between dozens of rungs in the standings.
And just about everybody fishes docks. They're everywhere on Norman's highly developed shoreline, and fish in all stages of the spawn utilize them at this time of year.
It took an angler with the savvy of Arkansas legend Larry Nixon to come up with something a little bit different. He primarily stayed away from the docks – and the crowds of anglers that gathered around them – and caught quality fish off isolated pieces of structure.
He squeaked into the cut with 12 1/2-pound bags on the first 2 days, took the lead with another one on day 3, then closed out his 17th career tour-level victory with 14-07 on the final day. His 27-00 total for days 3 and 4 was 3-09 better than runner-up Jay Yelas.
Here's how he did it.
Nixon went to Norman with an idea to target spawning bass, but not the ones that could easily be seen by other competitors.
"I wanted to find fish that were deeper than the ones that could be sight-fished," he said. "There were lots of them on beds real shallow, but I also saw some rolling up on their sides in 3 to 4 feet of water.
"When you see that, that fish is usually relating to a bed."
He looked for isolated stumps and made long casts to them with light line, a 1/16-ounce jighead and a straight-tailed worm (a Berkley PowerBait Wacky Crawler). If he got closer than 20 feet, the spooky fish would usually swim away, and would in all cases refuse to bite.
Accuracy was paramount, and the pattern was much more effective if the sun was shining and he could clearly see his targets.
"I only actually caught about three fish in practice, but they were all 2 3/4 to 3 pounds. I figured if I got five of those, that'd give me 12 or 13 pounds, and that'd be pretty salty."
He decided to concentrate on several areas along a 5-mile stretch above the Highway 150 bridge, which was less than a 20-minute run from the launch in Huntersville.
"They were little side pockets or indentions, or maybe the first pocket in a creek. They were areas that didn't have a whole lot of docks and weren't really in the mainstream.
"I had two or three little spots that I milked pretty good."
> Day 1: 5, 12-06
> Day 2: 5, 12-07 (10, 24-13)
> Day 3: 5, 12-09
> Day 4, 5, 14-07 (10, 27-00)
All 4 tournament days unfolded pretty much the same way for Nixon. He fished a swimbait in the mornings until the sun got on the stumps, and then he went about culling everything he'd caught to that point.
"I went to the same area and did the same thing every day," he said. "I never really changed up anything.
"There was one day when I caught a couple of keepers on the swimbait. I might have ended up weighing in one of those, but I'm not sure."
He was in 32nd place after day 1, and then jumped 22 spots on day 2 despite catching just one more ounce. He got into the cut with 3 ounces to spare.
"I should have made the cut a lot easier that I did – I should have had about 14 pounds each day. My line broke a couple of times because that stuff I was throwing it over was pretty gnarly, and that kept me from having a better sack.
"But when you're making long casts like that (up to 60 feet), you're going to lose some fish. That's just the way it goes."
A 4 1/2-pounder he caught on the final day was Nixon's biggest fish of the tournament.
He vaulted to the top of the leaderboard on day 3, and then formulated a specific strategy for the final day – he wouldn't go near his best stuff until about 10:00, when the sun was high enough for him to see beneath the surface.
"I tried everything I knew to keep from going in there early. I knew I'd get discouraged if I didn't get a bite for a couple hours, and I didn't want to do that. I just stayed away and fished some other areas until the time was right."
His stumps weren't productive on that last day, so he caught his fish from adjacent logs and pieces of brush. A 4 1/2-pounder – his biggest fish of the tournament – was his fifth keeper, and he improved his bag with a couple of afternoon culls.
> He prefers a straight-tailed worm for fishing beds. "They fall more vertically and I think they get a fish's attention better than a bait with a curly tail or appendages."
> He caught a few key fish on a Texas-rigged worm, but has more confidence in one rigged on a jighead when targeting spawners. "They're notorious for missing baits, and you get a higher percentage of hookups on a jighead."
> Most of his hits came immediately after the worm entered the water. "They were pretty much reaction bites. I didn't have to wait long."
Winning Gear Notes
> Jighead worm gear: 6'6" medium-fast Fenwick Techna AV Spinning rod, Abu Garcia Cardinal 804 spinning reel, 8-pound prototype Berkley Trilene fluorocarbon line, 1/16- or 1/32-ounce Japanese-made jighead, Berkley PowerBait Wacky Crawler (green-pumpkin).
> Texas-rigged worm gear: Same rod, Abu Garcia Revo casting reel, 14-pound prototype Berkley Trilene fluorocarbon, 1/8-ounce Tru-Tungsten colored worm weight (green-pumpkin), 2/0 Gamakatsu worm hook, 7-inch Berkley PowerBait Shaky Worm (green-pumpkin).
> He threw a 6" Basstrix Fat Minnow swimbait (blueback herring) in the mornings.
The Bottom Line
Main factor in his success – "Spotting some things that maybe other people missed, and staying far enough away to where I could catch those fish."
Performance edge – "My Solar Bat sunglasses. If I couldn't see what I was throwing at, I wouldn't have been able to catch them."
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