By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Experienced tournament competitors often say that it's unwise to "fish memories." Putting too much emphasis on areas of a lake that were productive in the past can prevent an angler from seeing the full picture of what's going on in the present.
A long memory can sometimes be beneficial, though. Just ask Skip Johnson.
The first-year FLW Tour pro relied on a recollection from 7 years ago to guide him to the winning fish in the season finale at Kentucky Lake. It was a place that held only small fish in 2007, but it was loaded with 4- and 5-pounders last week.
The transplanted Californian who now resides in Michigan exploited it for an average of more than 22 pounds per day. His 4-day total of 88-10 outdistanced runner-up Jason Lambert by a little more than a pound.
Here's how he did it.
Unlike many in the 162-angler field, Johnson came in without a great deal of experience on Kentucky Lake. He'd fished a weekend event there in '07, however, and placed 12th from among more than 500 entrants.
When practice for the Tour event got under way, he immediately set out to explore two places that he'd fished back then. The first one proved to be too close to shore with water that was all but stagnant.
The second one, which had held only smallish fish in '07, was rife with the type of pigs that are needed to contend there. He was only about 2 hours into the initial practice day when he discovered it's potential and he spent most of the next 3 days just keeping an eye on it, monitoring whether it would be found by anyone else.
"I had 22 or 23 pounds within the first 20 to 30 minutes I was there," he said. "I thought, wow, this is really something. It was a section of a mile-long creek channel (off the main river in the New Johnsonville area), but only about 400 feet of it was productive. The fish were in about 12 feet of water.
"I stayed within about a mile of it for the rest of practice and if a boat came close, I'd hang around loitering in the area. I was banking on that one spot – if it had fallen apart, I had nothing."
> Day 1: 5, 22-00
> Day 2: 5, 22-14
> Day 3: 5, 19-12
> Day 4: 5, 24-00
> Total = 20, 88-10
Johnson was in 8th place after day 1, and then he simply halved the number of anglers in front of him each day through the remainder of the event. He moved up to 4th on day 2, 2nd on day 3 and 1st on the final day.
He prevailed despite losing a number of key fish that would've gone to the scale. On day 3 along he farmed three that were in excess of 5 pounds apiece, all within view of FLW TV cameras.
He vowed after that day to make a bait switch that would alleviate the lost-fish issue. He switched from the jigs he threw the first 3 days to a Texas-rigged worm that provided the bruisers less leverage when they attempted to throw the hook.
The change produced the desired effect and his final-day stringer was the biggest of the weekend and third-best of the event. It was headed up by a 7-02 monster that he caught at 1:30 and bolstered by a 5-pounder that bit on his final cast of the day. That last fish provided his winning margin, as it replaced a 3 1/2-pounder in his livewell.
> Johnson relied on bottom-bouncing baits, but didn't fish them slowly. He stroked the jig with firm pops of his rod and used a similar motion to make the worm hop and swim, as ledge-dwelling fish often will ignore offering that don't make somewhat of a commotion.
> He said some of the quality fish he lost were caused by less-than-solid hooksets with the jig. The fish would take the bait on the fall after a strong pull and he wouldn't feel the bite until the line tightened up, and that left him out of position for a slack-line set.
Switching from a jig to a worm on the final day helped Johnson cut down on the number of lost fish.
> His action came in spurts when the school would get "fired up" and there were times when he caught 15 fish in a like number of casts. There were also times when he went 3 hours or more without a bite. "They'd move around – up on the flat, then back down to the creek channel – and I'd have to find them again, but sometimes I'd find them and they wouldn't be ready to bite," he said. "When I'd see them stacked up (on his depthfinder), with three or four marks on top of each other, I knew they were ready to feed."
Winning Gear Notes
> Jig gear: 6'9" or 7' medium-heavy Alpha rods, Lew's Tournament Pro casting reel (7.1:1 ratio), 12-pound Gamma monofilament line, 3/4-ounce Strike King Tour Grade football-head jig (green-pumpkin or black/blue), Zoom Ultra Vibe Speed Craw trailer (green-pumpkin or black/red flake).
> He used chartreuse dye to color the tips of the Speed Craws' pinchers.
> Worm gear: Same rod, reel and line, 1/2-ounce unnamed tungsten weight, 5/0 unnamed worm hook, 8" Western Plastics worm (crawfish or Otay special).
> He enlarged the gap on his worm hooks slightly in an effort to prevent fish from throwing them.
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in his success – "Staying there and waiting out the dry spells. The hardest part of the whole week was to not panic and leave when I wasn't getting any bites."
> Performance edge – "I'd have to say the most important thing was the Western Plastics worm. It's got a curl tail and it's hand-poured and it's multi-colored with tan, orange and black lines down the middle and it's really soft. When you swim it, it really puts off a nice vibration.
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