By Miles Burghoff
Special to BassFan
Finding – or doing – something different is often what it takes to win tournaments.
For the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point team of Mark Hugus and Cody Hahner, staying away from the crowds in the more popular areas of Lake of the Ozarks was a primary reason they showed up in a big way at the recent Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Midwest Regional.
Their dominating performance left a 5 1/2-pound distance between them and another team from their own school, Cody Lincoln and Jason Hawksford.
Here’s a breakdown of how they did it.
Hugus and Hahner were still riding on a high from finishing 2nd at the recent FLW College Fishing Central Conference event on Table Rock the week prior, and were amped up and confident on the short drive to Lake of the Ozarks.
They had planned to give themselves a solid 4 days of practice on the Osage River fishery, but a spun prop on the first practice day and heavy winds on the final day reduced their practice to about 2 1/2 days.
For the first half of their practice, they wanted to focus on the eastern portion of the lake, covering every creek and pocket they came across – especially focusing on the popular Grand Glaize Arm. These areas, closest the dam, had stood out to them during their research of the lake for the time of year.
After working these areas as thoroughly as they could, they found that the conditions just didn’t seem right.
“The water was just real cold, and there was a pretty major shad kill,” said Hahner. “There was also a lot of fishing pressure. It just wasn’t happening there.”
They then decided to make a drastic change and head west and down the Niangua River arm.
“When we went up the river, we immediately started to see results,” Hahner explained. “The water was 4 degrees warmer, there was no shad kill and we instantly started catching fish. We also didn’t see any of the traffic that was common on the western portion of the lake.”
They finished practice confident that their areas carried the potential to win.
Day 1 (5, 19-10)
The morning of the first day the team started running secondary points next to pockets, and by 11 o'clock they had three keepers, including a 4-pounder and a 3 on Skinny Bear jigs and Megabass Vision 110 jerkbaits.
“At about 12:30 or 1 p.m., we kept running more spots on our pattern and it just wasn’t happening,” Hugus reported. “We then noticed that some rocks in the back of a pocket were just baking in the sun, and we thought that some fish may have moved up.”
They decided to move to the back of the pocket to test their theory and were quickly rewarded with a 6-pound largemouth that took a jerkbait.
That kicker bite clued them in on what was happening with the bigger fish and they continued to run the pattern, focusing on transition banks in 5 to 10 feet of water.
They filled out a limit that included a very lucky 5 1/4-pounder that was hooked right beneath the boat while retrieving the bait. The fish turned out to be just barely snagged on the dorsal fin, and the team proceeded to chase the fish down in a very “nerve-wracking” fight.
“When we got the fish in the net, the hook just popped out. When it’s your time, nothing seems to go wrong.”
The duo finished the day in 1st place with a stout sack.
Day 2 (5, 13-03)
Since the team was targeting staging fish activated by warming water, they considered anything they caught before 11 o'clock a bonus.
At the first spot, where they started on day 1, they caught a 3-pounder and a couple shorts very quickly. After that initial flurry, they went a long time without another fish.
When the water started to warm with the sun, they began running their pocket pattern. In the pocket where they caught the 6-pounder the day before, they immediately hooked into a giant, and after fighting it carefully it came off close to the boat.
They continued to run their shallow-water pattern for much of the afternoon, hoping to run into another quality specimen. By 1:30 they didn’t have any more luck with that program and decided to make a move.
“We knew we needed a limit, so we ran to a pretty big brush pile we had found and we immediately started hammering them,” said Hahner. “First cast was a 3-pound spot, the second cast a 2 1/2-pounder, third cast a 2-pounder, then a white bass, then another keeper. It just kept going like that for the rest of the day. It was crazy.”
They were able to cull up to 13-03, easily slipping ahead of their Stephens Point brethren for the win.
They shared that this win means a great deal to them.
“Winning a major college fishing event this year was our primary goal,” said Hahner. “After finishing 2nd last week (at the FLW event) we were pretty amped up and just wanted to win one real bad. We were really confident, and confidence is everything in fishing.”
Winning Gear Notes
> Jerkbait gear: 7' medium-action Dobyns Champion Series 704CB rod, Shimano Core casting reel, 10-pound Gamma Edge fluorocarbon line, Megabass Vision 110 (Ozark shad & GP skeleton Tenn.).
> Jig gear: 7’8” heavy-action Dobyns Champion Extreme Mike Long Signature Series rod, Shimano Curado E casting reel, 12-pound Gamma Edge fluorocarbon, 1/2-ounce Skinny Bear Elite Football Jig (brown/green pumpkin).
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in their success – “Making the correct adjustments and covering water and staying away from the crowds were big keys to our win."
> Performance edge – “By far the Dobyns 704CB Champion Series rods were giving us the biggest edge. We had so many opportunities to lose key fish, especially that foul-hooked 5-pounder, and we lost very few fish. You tend to lose a lot of fish fishing with a jerkbait, but that rod had just the right amount of flex to ensure those fish couldn’t rip free. That rod is awesome.”
Other Campus News
OU Snags Two
It was announced that the University of Oklahoma team is now aligned with two new sponsors – HydroWave and Amphibia Sports.
“Sponsoring the University of Oklahoma was a natural for me," said Gene Eisenmann, a co-owner of both companies. "My wife and myself are graduates of OU and I have a son and daughter their now. We are truly Sooner born and Sooner bred as a family."
Humminbird Adds Auburn Angler
Humminbird recently added a new member to its software team with the hiring of Will Bates, a computer engineering and computer science major at Auburn. Bates, along with his partner,Candler McCollum, most recently won the FLW College Fishing Southeastern Conference qualifier on Clarks Hill Lake.
"Humminbird is gathering the best and brightest talent to reinforce our core of angler-focused electronics products," said brand manager Jeff Kolodzinski. "We are thrilled to have Will join the Humminbird team. His accomplishments in the classroom, combined with his passion for fishing, put him in a unique position to understand and develop the products anglers want."