By Todd Ceisner
Albert Collins has fished countless tournaments at Sam Rayburn Reservoir over the years, but none measured up in scope or stakes to last week’s Bassmaster Weekend Series Championship.
And when it was over, nobody was able to measure up to the Texan’s impressive consistency over 4 days as he captured the victory and in the process claimed the final available berth to next year’s Bassmaster Classic.
As a Rayburn lifer, he was fortunate in that the championship was held on his home water, allowing him to tap into a lifetime of memories of where the fish tend to hang out under certain conditions. At the same time, he knows the lake’s been fishing tougher than usual over the past several months. Still, he was able to average better than 21 1/2 pounds a day to win in dominating fashion.
His 86.56 total was 15 1/2 pounds superior to runner-up David Curtis and more than 18 pounds better than 3rd-place Stephen Johnston as Texas anglers swept the Top 3 positions.
“I still don’t think it’s 100 percent landed on me. It’s great. It’s awesome,” said Collins, who lives in Nacogdoches, Texas, and works for a plumbing company. “Everybody who fishes tournaments has a dream to go to the Classic. This is my dream come true. I just hope I can do well enough at the Classic to continue fishing for a living.
“To win this tournament the way I won it against the guys that I beat was a pretty good accomplishment. I would’ve never expected that going into this tournament that it would’ve ended like that. I fish against these guys down here and they win some and I win some, but to win it the way I won it and put that much distance between myself and everyone else and to hold the weight consistently like I did, it still has me baffled because I did not expect that.”
Here’s how he did it.
This was the first 4-day tournament Collins had ever fished and while he had a general idea what pattern would work, he knew he couldn’t beat on his best areas non-stop. In practice, he focused on memories, but mostly played the conditions.
“Overall, the lake has been a lot tougher to fish this year,” he said. “The size has been down. Yeah, there’s been the occasional 30-pound stringer weighed in, but not nearly as consistent as 3 years ago. It’s getting better. I still have my doubts that it’ll be as good as it was a while ago, but it’s definitely getting a lot better as the fall comes on.”
He keyed on “mostly stuff that I know works every year when the conditions get right,” he said. “You’ve got to have the right conditions – you’ve got to have the water level right, you’ve got to have those cold fronts. Everything has to line up just right for this to work right and it lined up.
“All the conditions were perfect. It was a little rougher than I’d have liked it, but it helped me in the end because it kept a lot of other people off of their stuff.”
Coming out of practice, he decided to go with cranking and Texas-rigged worm programs around channel drops and main-lake points, keying on slight changes in bottom makeup.
> Day 1: 5, 19.96
> Day 2: 5, 24.53
> Day 3: 5, 19.70
> Day 4: 5, 22.37
> Total = 20, 86.56
Numbers weren’t an issue for Collins throughout the event, but he knew he had to manage fish, especially in the areas he was sharing with Curtis.
He drummed up 19.96 on day 1 and occupied 2nd place
“We were just bouncing back and forth around one another,” he said. “I did have a couple of key spots that he didn’t know about that I hit and that was a big difference for me. I think my knowledge of the river was key, especially some of the dropoffs and points. I just know how it lays in there better because I’ve fished them my whole life.”
Despite some mechanical issues on day 2, he sorted through a dozen keepers as his weight jumped nearly 5 pounds to 24.53, which gave him the lead for good.
“With the guys who were fishing it, I expected someone to hit a 30-pound sack one day,” he said. “Unfortunately for me, that didn’t happen, but I wasn’t fishing around 30 pounds of fish. I was around 20 to 25 pounds.”
Others struggled as the winds roiled the offshore waters where some competitors were targeting brush piles.
“I think the wind played a big role in a lot of these guys not catching their fish,” he said. “Most of the brush piles that Johnston and some other guys fished are main-lake, big water brush piles and you just can’t sit out there in the kind of waves we had out there and fish that stuff effectively. You just can’t do it. I know their primary stuff got blown out. I was fishing main-lake stuff, too, but it wasn’t as rough. I did have some windbreaks. I was taking water over the front of the boat, but not like you would out on the main lake.”
He had his lightest bag on day 3 – a 19.70 limit that extended his lead to more than 10 pounds, setting the stage for a nerve-wracking day 4.
He pulled into his starting spot on the final day and went 15 minutes without a bite.
“I was starting to get worried because that was a spot I was counting on holding up and giving me some good, quality bites,” he said. “All of a sudden, I caught a 4-pounder and then a 6-pounder. When I put that 6-pounder in the boat, I hadn’t been fishing for more than 25 minutes and I knew then that I was fixing to win the thing.
“I had enough weight in the boat at that point to win the tournament without catching another fish, but I knew I could catch three more keepers before the day was out.”
He stuck two 4-pounders at his next stop and a 5-pounder at the stop after that to seal the deal.
Winning Pattern Notes
> Collins was keyed in on the soft bottom in the areas he fished. “The key thing to every spot I fished was there was a combination of clay and sand on them. You’d be dragging your bait across the bottom and feel the clay and when it hit the sand and vice versa, that was the strike zone. That’s where they were at – where it transferred from clay to sand.”
Winning Gear Notes
> Worm gear: 7’ and 7’6” heavy-action Jones Custom Rods and All-Star Rods casting rods, Shimano Citica casting reel (7.1:1 ratio), 25-pound Bass Pro Shops XPS fluorocarbon line, unnamed 1/2-ounce worm weight, 5/0 Gamakatsu Offset EWG worm hook, E2 Bait Company 10” BigTail Worm (red bug), Zoom Ol’ Monster (plum apple).
> Cranking gear: 7’11” medium-action 6th Sense casting rod, 7'6" medium-action American Rodsmiths David Fritts H3 Titanium crankbait rod, same reel, 10- and 20-pound Bass Pro Shops XPS fluorocarbon line, 6th Sense Crush 300DD (chartreuse threadfin), Norman Lures DD-22 (Tennessee shad).
> When he cranked in 10 feet of water or less, he went with 20-pound fluorocarbon and when working in 16 to 20 feet, he opted for 10-pound.
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in his success – “Having the right weather conditions and having the experience on the lake knowing that the fish were going to move in. I had fish coming to me every day. The conditions were right and I knew where the fish were going. I could fish with 100 percent confidence. I went out there every day knowing I would be able to catch a limit of fish. I didn’t know they’d be as big of limits as what I caught, but I knew I could catch a limit every day.
> Performance edge – “What was most important to me was the 36-volt Minn Kota trolling motor. It would hold me there and let me fish. If I had to give everything up in the boat except one thing, I’d have to have that trolling motor.”
> Collins also finished 17th overall at this year’s Federation Nation Championship.
> Speaking about Grand Lake, Collins said: “I’ve never been to Grand and haven’t heard a whole lot about it yet, but I’m working on contacts and am fixing to take a bunch of time off to go pre-fish for 2 to 3 weeks. I know I ought to spend every day there between now and then, but there’s no way I can do it. I know I will be there for at least 2 weeks and maybe 3 before cutoff.
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