By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
The guys who finished in the 2nd- through 5th-place positions at the Pickwick Lake FLW Tour all fished considerably deeper than winner Greg Hackney. The relatively shallow (6 feet or less) fish that Hackney exploited represented a somewhat unique situation for the Tennessee River in June, and it's quite possible that they went otherwise undetected simply because most of the field wasn't even exploring water that skinny.
The other top finishers operated in more traditional modes for the season and venue. Some bounced around from place to place each day, while others spent all of their time in just one or two locales.
2nd: Michael Neal
> Day 1: 5, 23-00
> Day 2: 5, 24-09
> Day 3: 5, 20-04
> Day 4: 5, 25-09
> Total = 20, 93-06
Tennessean Michael Neal is only 22 years old, but he's already one of the most feared ledge-fishermen on the FLW circuit. His runner-up finish was his best to date at the Tour level as he'd previously logged a pair of 3rds.
He focused on five different locales – two inside a creek, two on main-river drops and one on the inside of a ditch turn. The vast majority of his fish were pulled from the 15- to 18-foot depth range.
"They were eating shad up on shell beds or behind any kind of a depression where they could get a break from the current," he said. "Sometimes there were shad flying out of the water trying to get away from them.
"I never did sit on a school for very long if I wasn't getting bites – I'd pull up and go. Then I'd come back later and hopefully get them to bite then."
A swimbait was his primary offering, but a football-head jig produced two good fish on the final day and he got one other on a crankbait.
> Swimbait gear: 7'6" heavy-action Cashion rod, Lew's BB1 Pro casting reel (6.3:1 ratio), 20-pound Sunline Super FC Sniper fluorocarbon line, 1-ounce homemade jighead, 5 1/2-inch Lunkerhunt Saltwater Swim Bento (anchovy).
> Jig gear: 7'6" medium-heavy Cashion rod, Lew's Tournament Pro casting reel (7:1 ratio), same line, 1-ounce homemade football-head jig (green-pumpkin), unnamed twin-tail trailer (green-pumpkin).
> His lone crankbait fish was enticed by a Strike King 6XD in green gizzard.
Main factor in his success – "Knowing when to leave those schools and not sitting on fish that weren't biting."
Performance edge – "I'd say the Cashion rods for their sensitivity in that strong wind and current."
Brent Ehrler relied on a mix of reaction and bottom-bouncing baits.
3rd: Brent Ehrler
> Day 1: 5, 19-07
> Day 2: 5, 26-06
> Day 3: 5, 22-04
> Day 4: 5, 24-10
> Total = 20, 92-11
Ehrler spent almost all of his practice time graphing for schools of ledge-fish because he wanted to avoid having to seek them once the event got under way. He rotated through 10 to 15 locations on each of the first 3 days, but was down to about half a dozen by day 4.
"In practice I basically just went around staring at my Humminbird (depthfinder)," he said. "I was looking for areas that had concentrations of fish. I didn't find that many giant schools, so I don't know if they were coming out there during the tournament or if some of them were suspended. I never made a cast unless I saw a fish down there (on the graph).
"I like the Tennessee River-type stuff, but on a place that's going to fish pretty small you're always worried about boat pressure and other people finding the same fish and it's hard to feel real comfortable about it. I was able to grind it out and do okay, but practice wasn't spectacular and I didn't have real high hopes."
He worked depths ranging from 15 to 20 feet. One place featured a rock bottom and the rest had mussel beds.
He could get the fish to take reaction baits frequently. When those didn't work, he resorted to bottom-bouncing methods.
> Jig gear: 7'2" heavy-action Daiwa Tatula rod, Daiwa Tatula Type R casting reel (8.1:1 ratio), 16-pound Sunline Super FC Sniper fluorocarbon line, 3/4-ounce Boss jig (green-pumpkin), Yamamoto Twin Tail trailer (green-pumpkin).
> Texas-rig gear: Same rod, Daiwa Steez EX casting reel (7.9:1 ratio), 14-pound Sunline Sniper fluorocarbon, 5/16-ounce Reins tungsten weight, 5/0 Gamakatsu offset-shank hook, 10" Yamamoto Curly Tail worm.
> He cut the curled part off of the worm to make it resemble the Yamamoto Kut Tail Worm, which he was out of.
> Dropshot gear: 7'1" medium-action Daiwa Lexa rod, Daiwa Steez 301 EX spinning reel, 12-pound Sunline SX1 braided line with 8-pound Sunline Sniper fluorocarbon leader, 1/4-ounce Reins dropshot weight, 1/0 Gamakatsu Splitshot/Dropshot hook, 6" Roboworm (morning dawn).
Main factor in his success – "Running around and looking at my graph until I found fish."
Performance edge – "My Mercury (motor) for getting me around to all those places and the Humminbird for allowing me to see everything I needed to see."
Troy Morrow spent the final 3 1/2 days camped on one spot.
4th: Troy Morrow
> Day 1: 5, 16-01
> Day 2: 5, 22-10
> Day 3: 5, 27-00
> Day 4: 5, 20-10
> Total = 20, 86-05
Troy Morrow stockpiled a bunch of waypoints during practice – the best ones he color-coded red on his GPS and he tagged the mediocre ones yellow. His game plan for the tournament was to never bypass a red locale that was not already occupied by one or more competitors.
He stopped at a vacant red place at mid-morning on day and quickly boated all of his weight. He burned $105 worth of gas over the remainder of the day as he sought to upgrade, but was unable to do so. On day 2, he went back to that place and stayed for the duration of the derby.
"It's just a big community hole with a pipeline crossing and it has some bigger rock," he said. "I just figured out the exact places where I needed to be and the exact casts I needed to make."
He was limited to one side of the spot until the first cut was made because seven other anglers camped on the other side.
"They were sitting on top of the fish and I didn't want to go over there and show them how to catch them. I figured I could get on it if I made the cut and it ended up working out that way."
He threw a big Texas-rigged worm early in the morning and switched to a shaky-head during the mid-day lulls. He also picked up a couple of weigh-in fish on crankbaits.
> Texas rig gear: 7'6" heavy-action Duckett Fishing rod, Lew's Tournament Pro casting reel (7.1:1 ratio), 20-pound Sunline Super FC Sniper fluorocarbon line, 1/2-ounce Eco Pro tungsten weight (unpegged), 6/0 Gamakatsu offset-shank hook, 10 1/2" Zoom Ol' Monster worm (California 420).
> Shaky-head gear: 7' medium-heavy Duckett Fishing rod, unnamed spinning reel, 16-pound Sunline SX1 braided line, 8-pound Sunline Sniper fluorocarbon leader, unnamed 3/16-ounce shaky-head jig, Zoom Trick Worm (plum apple).
> One of the crankbaits he used was from the Spro Little John series. It was custom-painted to a green shad hue by Extreme Lure Creations.
Main factor in his success – "Figuring out that I needed to stay in that one place."
Performance edge – "My electronics were a big factor. At a couple of the places I marked I dropped a camera down to see the size of the fish and that gave me a very good clue that this was a different type of spot."
Robbie Dodson spent his time in three locations – two of which were relatively shallow.
5th: Robbie Dodson
> Day 1: 5, 21-11
> Day 2: 5, 18-13
> Day 3: 5, 20-11
> Day 4: 5, 24-12
> Total = 20, 85-15
Robbie Dodson found about 30 places in practice that he thought had potential, but he discovered once the tournament started that only three of them weren't being pounded by other competitors. He focused his efforts on those.
"Two of them were pretty shallow – 8 or 10 feet on top with a 4-foot drop," he said. "The other one was about 20 feet on top and fell of into the river channel."
He did most of his work with a football-head jig – estimating that it accounted for 14 of his 20 weigh-in fish. He caught several on a worm and one on a Strike King spoon (sexy shad).
> Jig gear: 7' heavy action Daiwa Light & Tough rod, Lew's Super Duty Speed Spool casting reel (6.2:1 ratio), 15-pound Maxima fluorocarbon line, 3/4-ounce PJ's Finesse Baits football-head jig (watermelon or green-pumpkin), Luck-E-Strike Ringmaster trailer.
> Shaky-head gear: Same rod, reel and line, 1/4-ounce homemade jighead, Luck-E-Strike Jogger Worm (green-pumpkin).
Main factor in his success – "Having three schools of fish with not more than a couple people fishing for them."
Performance edge – "My Lowrance HDS 8 – I used it to find every one of my fish before I caught them."
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