By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Matt Arey went a little outside the conventional Ozarks box en route to winning the Beaver Lake FLW Tour on a finesse jig. The competitors who gave him the hardest run for his money stuck more to the traditional staples – crankbaits, shaky-heads and the like.
The setup for the annual derby in northwest Arkansas was more conducive to power-fishing than usual as 3 of the 4 days featured strong winds, which always jump-start the bite in the lake's clear water. The Top 6 all caught at least 14 1/4 pounds on the final day, which is an almost unheard-of scenario for Beaver. It was a testament to the conditions and evidence that the fishery has improved tremendously over the past half-decade.
Here are some of the specifics on how Arey's closest pursuers operated.
2nd: Andy Morgan
> Day 1: 5, 12-11
> Day 2: 5, 15-04
> Day 3: 5, 13-03
> Day 4: 5, 16-08
> Total = 20, 57-10
Phenomenal consistency has propelled Andy Morgan to the top of the BassFan World Rankings, and adjusting to real-time conditions has become his trademark. He loves to fish by instinct, and Beaver offered up yet another opportunity to go with whatever his gut told him to do.
He didn't junk-fish quite as much as in his runner-up showing at Hartwell, but he was constantly on the move.
"I probably had 20 or 30 different areas," he said. "I'd fish a lot of long sections, like I'd start on the windy side of a creek and fish it all the way back.
"I was fishing a lot of gravel and any time of solid bottom. Most of the good ones came from places where there was a gravel and chunk-rock mixture. When I found that, it seemed like I got a bite every time."
His fish came from depths of 7 feet or less and a Storm Wiggle Wart was his primary offering, although he mixed in a spinnerbait, a shaky-head and a jig.
Main factor in his success – "Probably just moving a lot – fishing fast and covering a lot of water."
Performance edge – "I'd probably have to give it to my Motor Guide trolling motor and my Evinrude outboard. Both played a big role fishing in that wind."
David Dudley's 16-09 bag on the final day was the biggest of the event.
3rd: David Dudley
> Day 1: 5, 12-00
> Day 2: 5, 13-10
> Day 3: 5, 12-11
> Day 4: 5, 16-09
> Total = 20, 54-14
David Dudley's program was pretty simple: He sought out rocky areas that were taking a beating from the wind. He caught most of his fish on a crankbait, but a shaky-head produced some that he took to the scale.
"That's a no-brainer when you come up here," he said. "I moved around some from stained to clear water and I ended up staying more in the clear. The fish were all pre-spawn in 8 to 12 feet of water and medium-sized rock seemed to be the best."
He made relatively few casts in practice.
"I fished just enough to know what was going on, like what stage the fish they were in and what they were doing. Once I figured that out, I kind of backed off. My feelings on that are if you fish too hard in practice in a weather-dominated tournament, you might not catch them that day and you'll rule that place out.
"Practicing that way let me do what my instincts told me to do in the tournament."
The 16-09 sack he caught on the final day was the biggest of the event.
> Cranking gear: 7'3" medium-heavy Lamiglass rod, unnamed casting reel (7.1:1 ratio), 8-pound Gamma fluorocarbon line, unnamed crawfish-imitation crankbait (various greenish or reddish colors).
> Shaky-head gear: 7'1" medium-heavy Lamiglass rod, unnamed spinning reel, 6-pound Gamma fluorocarbon, 1/8- or 3/16-ounce jighead, unnamed 4-inch finesse worm (watermelon red).
> He added one weigh-in fish on a jerkbait.
Main factor in his success – "The way I practiced."
Performance edge – "Probably the Lowrance mapping and having confidence in my (Mercury) motor."
Vast experience at Beaver finally paid off for Travis Fox.
4th: Travis Fox
> Day 1: 5, 14-01
> Day 2: 5, 9-15
> Day 3: 5, 14-09
> Day 4: 5, 15-15
> Total = 20, 54-08
Fox is a resident of nearby Lowell, Ark., and his knowledge of the lake paid off for the first time in seven Tour events at the venue.
"I fished places where I knew they'd be looking to spawn," he said. "The water was so muddy that you couldn't see them, but I know where the cruise. It was an advantage to know what's there and know where they were going to be.
"It was all about the pea gravel in the little pockets. I'd cover the whole bank and really slow down and fish whatever cover was there – a rock, a bush, a laydown log or a dock."
He never made a practice cast in any of the places he fished during the tournament.
"Strategically, I knew I wouldn't go back if I didn't catch them, but I also knew that the warming trend was going to put them there.
He flipped most of the time and also threw a spinnerbait.
> Flipping gear: 7'2" medium-heavy Team Lew's rod, Lew's Tournament Pro casting reel (7.1:1 ratio), 20-pound Sufix fluorocarbon line, 1/2-ounce VMC tungsten weight, 4/0 VMC flipping hook, Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver (various colors, all dark).
> Spinnerbait gear: Same rod and reel, Sufix 832 braided line, 1/2-ounce War Eagle spinnerbait (white with tandem Colorado blades).
Main factor in his success – "Having the confidence to stick with what I was doing was definitely the main thing."
Performance edge – "I'd have to say the Power-Poles. Sometimes when I was catching them on windy points, I could pole down and flip everything that was there. I could meticulously fish what I knew was a good area rather than blow through there and muddy up the water."
Casey Ashley's first visit to Beaver was a profitable trip.
5th: Casey Ashley
> Day 1: 5, 14-10
> Day 2: 5, 11-03
> Day 3: 5, 11-05
> Day 4: 5, 16-00
> Total = 20, 53-02
This was Casey Ashley's maiden visit to Beaver, so he had no history jamming up his thought process.
"I never even looked at a map of the lake before I put my boat in (for the first day of practice)," he said. "I treated every day like it was a practice day because the fish were changing so much.
"All of my key fish came from a different area each day – I never caught them from the same place twice."
He focused primarily on scattered rock.
"I didn't fish super-steep stuff, but it wasn't real flat, either. I'd have my boat in 20 to 25 feet of water and I'd cast to the bank.
"One thing I learned real quick was you had to have a bank with a lot of wind to catch them. If there was no wind, I would not get a bite."
A shaky-head produced some of his biggest specimens and he also caught a fair number of keepers on a crankbait. On day 4, his entire bag came courtesy of a small swimbait.
> Shaky-head gear: 7' medium-action Quantum Smoke PT spinning rod, Quantum Smoke spinning reel, 10-pound Hi-Seas braided line, 8-pound Hi-Seas fluorocarbon leader, 1/8- or 3/16-ounce Mountain Man Lures jighead, Zoom Trick Worm (green-pumpkin/purple).
> Swimbait gear: 7' medium-action Quantum Tour Tactical rod, Quantum EXO PT casting reel (6.6:1 ratio), 10-pound Hi-Seas fluorocarbon, 1/4- or 5/16-ounce jighead, 3.8" Keitech swimbait (Tennessee shad).
Main factor in his success – "I think it being my first time there really helped."
Performance edge – "I'd have to give it to that silly shaky-head. I weighed a (4-pounder) and two 3s on it the first day and two 3-pounders on the second day."
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