By Todd Ceisner
It's just one tournament, but maybe, just maybe, Beaver Lake has shed its label as the Shakyhead Capital of the Ozarks.
All it took was a perfect blend of breezy, cloudy weather mixed with a fishery full of bass on the move to their spawning areas. The end result was a Beaver Lake FLW Tour event that will be the standard against which future Beaver Lake tournaments will be compared. Don't get used to it, however.
It was yet another triumph for the umbrella rig, which seemed to draw out Beaver's biggest specimens and was responsible for two 20-plus pound stringers.
At the same time, a couple Top-5 finishers didn't rely solely or at all on the multi-lure device to fill their weigh-in bags. Instead, they targeted staging smallmouth with, yes, a shaky head or a jerkbait.
Here's how those who trailed winner Jason Christie at the end filled their livewells.
2nd: Shawn Murphy
> Day 1: 5, 14-06
> Day 2: 5, 13-01
> Day 3: 5, 16-11
> Day 4: 5, 14-01
> Total = 20, 58-03
Shawn Murphy was the FLW Tour Rookie of the Year in 2011, but has struggled ever since. Last year, he didn't cash a check in any of the six Tour Majors (he cashed in two Opens) and opened this season with two finishes in the 100s.
He's hoping his runner-up finish at Beaver will turn his fortunes around.
In practice, he got on a cranking pattern along pea gravel banks with chunk rock in 8 to 12 feet of water. He also caught a few on a homemade 10-wire, five-blade umbrella rig.
He opened the event throwing a Wiggle Wart and his 14-06 effort on day 1 had him in 15th and he made a steady climb from there. When his crankbait bite faded on day 2, he picked up his "jumbo-rella" rig and didn't put it down the rest of the event.
"I just couldn't get a bite on the crankbait," he said. "Catching a couple on (the rig) in practice gave me the confidence to throw it, so I picked it up and started going over the same areas I'd just fished with the crankbait and they'd bite it. They wanted a little different presentation. I figured it'd be a factor before we'd even gotten here. It seemed like the bigger bites would come on it."
He slid up to 8th after 2 days, and then used a 16-11 stringer on day 3 to charge into 3rd.
"I fished Indian Creek toward the dam quite a bit because it had clear water and you could see down 18 feet," he said. "I'd fish there while the wind was blowing or if there was some cloud cover. When it got sunny, I'd run down to Ford Creek because it had some good, colored water in there and some bluff-type banks that shallowed out with the some spawning pockets in the back of them."
> Crankbait gear: 7'11" medium-action G. Loomis GLX crankbait rod, Shimano Chronarch casting reel (6.4:1 gear ratio), 8-pound Sunline Super FC Sniper fluorocarbon line, Storm Wiggle Wart (phantom green craw).
> Umbrella rig gear: 7'11" heavy-action G. Loomis Swimbait rod, same reel, 20-pound Sunline Super FC Sniper fluorocarbon line, homemade 10-wire, 5-blade umbrella rig, 1/16- and 3/32-oz. Bite-Me jigheads, 3.8-inch Keitech Swing Impact FAT swimbaits (bluegill flash and silver flash minnow).
> "Throwing that umbrella rig on fluorocarbon is definitely a plus, especially in that clear water and around the standing timber," he said. "The braid makes a little more noise and it's more visible in that clear water."
> Main factor in his success – "Having the confidence to stick with the way I like to fish. I always say, 'Chunk and wind until you find.' Once I got keyed in early in practice on the crankbait and once they quit biting, that 10 or 15 minutes with the Alabama Rig gave me the confidence to throw it."
> Performance edge – "My Evinrude E-Tec got me there as fast as any other boat on the lake."
Anthony Gagliardi had a smallmouth game plan and a strategy to score upgrades with largemouths.
3rd: Anthony Gagliardi
> Day 1: 5, 15-05
> Day 2: 5, 14-05
> Day 3: 5, 11-15
> Day 4: 5, 15-08
> Total = 20, 57-01
Anthony Gagliardi employed a classic Beaver Lake finesse tactic to trigger bites from chunky smallmouth, then moved to dirty water with an umbrella rig to catch largemouth upgrades.
"I definitely wanted to try to have a couple different patterns going," he said. "On the first day, I had a really good day with smallmouths and that solidified in my mind where my primary areas were going to be. From there, I tried to figure out something else and tried to figure out how to get a big bite. Really the only way you can catch a kicker here is to catch a big largemouth unless you get on a big wad of 3 1/2-pound smallies.
"I knew I had a shot to weigh in a big bag of smallies after the practice I had. I still wanted to have something to fall back on because no matter how good it is, it's still Beaver Lake. It's still going to change day-to-day and hour to hour sometimes. The more things you can have going the better off you're going to be."
He'd work his smallmouth areas with a finesse worm rigged on a shaky head jig until 11 or 11:30 in the morning before moving into some windy pockets down in the clear end where the wind would create some mudlines.
On day 3, he caught all of his fish on a shaky head and on day 4, he switched to a small swimbait before catching two good upgrades on an umbrella rig late in the day.
"I'd fish the timber along the mud line," he said. "I got some pretty decent bites doing that. I caught a 4-pounder doing that on the second day and that's probably what put me in the cut to begin with. I didn't really do anything different on day 4. That bite pattern on the lower end in the windy pockets wasn't any good on Sunday. I had to come back up into the dirtier water."
> Shaky head gear: 7' medium-heavy Brian's Bees Crankbaits Pier Assassin prototype spinning rod, unnamed spinning reel, 10-pound Gamma Torque High Performance 100% Spectra braided line, 7-pound Gamma Touch fluorocarbon line (leader), 3/16-oz. Buckeye Lures Spot Remover Pro jig (green-pumpkin), 4.5-inch Zoom Finesse Worm (green-pumpkin).
> He also threw a 3-inch paddletail swimbait on a 1/4-oz. jighead to catch a limit on day 4.
> Umbrella rig gear: 7'6" heavy-action unnamed flipping rod, unnamed casting reel, 20-pound Gamma Edge fluorocarbon line, 5-wire, 4-blade Brian's Bees Crankbaits custom umbrella rig, 1/8-oz. Buckeye J-Will Swimbait Heads (pearl), 3.5-inch Keitech Swing Impact swimbaits and 3.8-inch Keitech Swing Impact FAT swimbaits (sight flash and sexy shad).
> He rigged the smaller swimbaits on the light-wire version of the J-Will Swimbait Head.
> Main factor in his success – "It's the same old same old every time. Just sticking with my game plan and having confidence that I was going to have that bite window during the middle of the day. That 10 o'clock to noon time frame was by far the best time period except for day 4, but I had that little flurry in the river and that was the difference between finishing down near the bottom versus up near the top."
> Performance edge – "I was impressed this week with my Lakemaster map chip. The contours were extremely accurate. That Lakemaster/Hummindbird combination is really, really good. I wasn't that familiar with it before I got to this tournament, but was thoroughly impressed with the GPS map on there."
Barry Wilson pitched an umbrella rig to wood to entice bites like these at Beaver.
4th: Barry Wilson
> Day 1: 5, 16-09
> Day 2: 5, 10-09
> Day 3: 5, 11-15
> Day 4: 5, 15-08
> Total = 20, 56-04
A pre-practice scouting trip to Beaver paid off for Barry Wilson, who lost a day of official practice last week to travel after making the Top-10 at the Lake Seminole EverStart the week before.
"I brought my 13-year-old son up here the week before the lake went off limits and spent 3 days," he said. "It was cold and the water temperature was about the same and actually on the last day, we had snow flurries. I got on this pattern then, although back then I was catching them with a crankbait. I knew they'd still be there for the tournament because the water temperature was the same."
He targeted blowdowns and standing timber in the 4 to 5 feet of water with a squarebill crankbait and a jig, but he did the most damage during the tournament with an umbrella rig fished in the same areas.
"What was happening was my main area was a transition area in the mouth of a creek going back into a spawning flat," he said. "There were new fish coming in every day. I was getting them in the mouth so I knew they're be more in there every day. I'd hit it four or five times durng the day and it paid off for me."
If not for a few lost big fish, he may have challenged Christie for the win.
His presentation of the umbrella rig was unique in that he wasn't making long casts and he also rigged a soft-plastic grub on one of the jigs and swimbaits on the other four.
"A lot of them would hit me right at the boat," he said. "On the blowdowns and brush piles, I'd pitch it up to it like you would pitch a jig, and then I would reel it while moving my rod back and forth to get it come right down like you would throw a squarebill crankbait. When I'd get to the end of it, I'd keep a tight line and just allow it to slowly fall and you'd feel them thump it."
> Umbrella rig gear: 7'3" medium-heavy Abu Garcia Veritas casting rod, Abu Garcia Revo STX casting reel (6.4:1 gear ratio), 20-pound Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon line, unnamed 5-wire, 8-blade umbrella rig, unnamed 1/8-oz. jigheads (white), 3.5-inch Strike King Shadalicious swimbaits (ayu), 3-inch Strike King grub (chartreuse)
> He broke the only two umbrella rigs he had during the tournament and Scott Canterbury gave him the ones he finished the event with.
> Adding the grub on the middle wire of the rig seemed to draw the attention of the bigger fish. "Every big fish that I caught had that chartreuse grub in its mouth. They were keying in on that chartreuse just because of that stained water," he said.
> He used 1/8-oz. heads so he could have better control over the fall rate of the rig. "I could give it that slow fall, which is the key you needed when I'd clip some of those trees," he said. "I even caught some on standing trees. I caught a 3 1/2-pounder on day 4 where I got hung on a tree twice and I had seen the fish flash at it and I'd kept throwing back and probably on the sixth cast, it finally rolled on it."
> He also caught a few fish on a Strike King KVD HC 1.5 squarebill crankbait (chartreuse shad) and a 3/8-oz. Strike King Hack Attack jig (summer craw) tipped with a Tightlines UV Chunk (green-pumpkin). He dipped the claws of the trailer in chartreuse dye.
> Main factor in his success – "My knowledge of knowing where and when and how to throw a squarebill. That's my go-to bait. It's my favorite thing to do along with flipping and pitching a jig. I'm a shallow-water, power-style fisherman and that's what I grew up doing on Lay Lake. Knowing what to do and where to do it, especially with the water temperature this time of year."
> Performance edge – "I had my HydroWave on Schooling Shad and I had it on 30-second delay. During the week, when it got tougher and it got pressured, by having that HydoWave, I think it really helped me to get those key fish late in the day to help me make the Top 20 and the Top 10."
Scott Suggs felt that targeting smallmouth gave him his best shot at a high finish.
5th: Scott Suggs
> Day 1: 5, 11-10
> Day 2: 5, 13-09
> Day 3: 5, 17-09
> Day 4: 5, 12-09
> Total = 20, 55-05
While Suggs has weighed in mixed bags in the past on other Ozarks lakes, he didn't feel he could compete doing that at Beaver. That's why he chose to target smallmouths last week.
"I knew to have a chance to compete with the Alabama Rig that I couldn't go fish for mixed bags on the lower end of the lake like I have in the past," he said. "I knew I had to weigh in limits of 15-inch fish every day and it's the first time in my life fishing a 4-day event on this lake that I weighed in 20 bass over 15 inches."
After making the weekend in 19th place, he slammed a 17-09 stringer on day 3 that moved him up to 5th.
"These fish were staging on points at the mouths of spawning bays," he said. "I was sitting on top of the points and keeping my boat in 22 to 28 or 30 feet. I was throwing a long cast and almost hitting the bank and they were biting me in anywhere from 14 to 18 feet of water. There was just a big bunch of smallmouth staged up fixing to go in."
His main technique was ripping a jerkbait back to the boat or cranking a football jig with a craw trailer.
His smallmouth pattern fizzled a bit on final day, but he was able to maintain his place in the standings by catching a couple spotted bass.
"On Day 4, when I got into a struggle, my first thought was, 'Did they make the move (in),'" he said. "I went inside and fished shallow and in some of the mouths of the bays where I know there are little key rocks. I threw on all of that stuff and it didn't matter. It was just one of those days where the smallmouth were in a funk.
"The whole entire lake has made a major change for the better. I fished the thing over 20 years ago and the first time I was here I caught a 25-pound bag for a seven-fish limit and I had six spots and one largemouth. Then, it was like, 'What happened to it?' It's starting to remind me of the days of old."
> Jerkbait gear: 6'6" medium-action Abu Garcia Verdict casting rod, Abu Garcia Revo Premier casting reel (6.4:1 gear ratio), 8-pound Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon line, Megabass Ito Vision 110+1 jerkbait (GP. Skeleton Tennessee).
> He opted for the Verdict rod because of the adjustable handle. He shortened up as much as possible so he could rip the jerkbait effectively without the butt of the rod getting hung up in his clothing.
> Football jig gear: 7' heavy-action Abu Garcia Verdict casting rod, same reel, 15-pound Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon line, 3/4-oz. unnamed football head jig (brown), Berkley Havoc Rocket Craw trailer (green-pumpkin).
> He never let the jig get to the bottom. "I was not stopping it. I was not dragging it. Everything I did stayed on the move."
> He also caught a few fish on a Wiggle Wart.
> Main factor in his success – "My execution. I fished 3 days of practice and 4 days of the event with the same jerkbait. I never lost a fish on anything all week. That's pretty amazing considering the amount of fish I caught on the jerkbait last week. I'd always been kind of worried about the hooks that come on a Megabass bait, but they sold me (last) week."
> Performance edge – "My Lowrance unit. On Sunday, I fished over a deal and I hadn't seen fish on the graph all week because I think I was sitting outside of them. On Sunday, I went over a place two different times and caught two key fish that I actually saw on the graph out where I'd been sitting all week. I was able to turn around and catch both of those fish. The other key for me was my Typhoon sunglasses. I wear two different pairs – dark gray and on bright, sunny days and bronze on cloudy days. Even though I'd fished these places over and over, still being able to see how these points laid and being able to throw to the edge of the yellow water, that was the thing for this whole week."