By Todd Ceisner
After missing out on representing the B.A.S.S. Nation Central Division at the Bassmaster Classic last year by a margin of 1 pound, 9 ounces, Albert Collins made a vow to not come up short again – even if that meant changing the kind of boat he fished out of.
Collins, who won the now-defunct Bassmaster Weekend Series championship in 2012 to qualify for the 2013 Classic at Grand Lake, punched his ticket to return to Tulsa, Okla., with an impressive showing at last week’s Ouachita River B.A.S.S. Nation Championship at Monroe, La.
Building on the knowledge he gained in finishing 7th overall at last year’s championship, also held at Ouachita River, Collins maintained a stout average of nearly 15 pounds per day to outlast Central Division teammate Jamie Laiche, who’d held the lead after days 1 and 2. Collins finished with 44-15 while Laiche took 2nd with 43-02.
“I’m just glad that thing’s over with because that was stressful,” Collins said Monday morning from his home in Nacogdoches, Texas. “All the time that goes into it and the fact that I was trying to catch Jamie. He’s a first-class guy and top-notch fisherman. I knew he’d be hard to beat.
“It’s the most special of the wins that I could get. I wanted so bad to win this because to me, next to the Classic, this is pretty much the highest honor I could get. It’s no little thing. It’s by far at the top of the list of what I’d done so far.”
And he hopes he’s not done yet.
“To be able to go back to the Classic as a B.A.S.S. Nation contender is really special,” Collins added. “I wanted so badly to make it to the Classic, and to be 100 percent representing the B.A.S.S. Nation is great honor.”
Collins said he and just about everyone he talked to was blown away by how much better the fishing was this year than in 2014, when Paul Mueller won at roughly the same time of the year on the same fishery with 32-15 and was the only angler to catch more than 30 pounds. This year, 10 anglers cracked the 30-pound mark.
Collins’ key move, however, had nothing to do with what he did on the water during the 3-day event. His most important decision that impacted the outcome was buying an aluminum boat after it was announced Monroe would be hosting the championship again.
“Last year, I fished the same spot (in my fiberglass boat) and when that tournament was over, I told my wife, if I ever come back here it will be out of an aluminum boat,” Collins said. “I went to Triton and they came up with a satisfactory deal for me. I know I wouldn’t have won without it. It just wouldn’t have happened. Next to the baits I threw, I credit me getting in and out of where I was and effectively being able to fish all to that aluminum Triton.”
Collins said several other competitors who fished around him, including Laiche, also opted for metal boats last week. Collins says four of the six Classic berths were clinched in the same general area last week.
“Nobody was going as far as we were in a fiberglass boat,” he said. “The only guy that came back close to where we were was Fabian (Rodriguez). It was real stumpy and shallow and we were going across stumps all the time. Even with the aluminum boat, I was on my push pole a lot.”
Once he settled into his area on a big flat, Collins slow-rolled a spinnerbait, threw a shallow-running crankbait and flipped various pieces of wood to catch his fish.
“Last year’s experience helped me a lot for the simple fact that I already knew the area I was going to fish,” he said. “I looked for other stuff, but from being there last year, I knew what to expect. I was a lot more mentally prepared. I knew I had to be quiet and take my time and don’t give up on where I was at.
“On the last day, my last cull fish was with 5 minutes left before I had to leave. I knew it was going to be like that. I know the fish live in that area. I just had to make them bite.”
Here’s how he did it.
Collins spent a little less than 2 weeks at the Ouachita River prior to it going off limits. He used that time to further study the area in Bayou D’Arbonne he intended to fish during the tournament. It was a vast flat dotted with cypress trees, stumps and laydowns that featured some slight contour changes and a ditch running through one portion of it.
He used the 2-day practice period immediately before the tournament to “look for other stuff to try to find a backup plan in case something went wrong,” he said.
“On the first day,” he added, “I actually went in (to my good area) for 2 hours just to see how many boats were going in there and I fished some odd-ball stuff.”
> Day 1: 5, 14-01
> Day 2: 5, 14-08
> Day 3: 5, 16-06
> Total = 15, 44-15
Riding in his Triton 18TX equipped with a 115-horse Mercury outboard, Collins set out last Thursday along with 58 other competitors on a quest for one of six Classic berths up for grabs.
He’d noticed the water level had started to fall somewhat and that may have contributed to a slower-than-expected morning.
“I caught a couple small keepers about an hour in and my third fish was a 3-pounder so I figured the right size fish were starting to bite,” he added. “Between 10 and 1, I must’ve caught 20 keepers and pretty had my weight by 1 o’clock.”
He wound up with 14-01, which had him in 3rd place after day 1.
The water continued to recede on day 2, which offered up partly sunny skies, but Collins found the fish in a feeding mode right away.
“I probably hadn’t been there 15 minutes and I was already culling,” he said. “I caught ‘em good. I went a different direction. I changed areas and went to an area that got no pressure on day 1. I caught a limit and got out of there because I knew more were back there and I wanted to lay off of them for the next day.
“I came back out and went to my day-1 water and still caught fish in there.”
On both Thursday and Friday, Collins stopped on some areas in the main bayou where he’d planted brush prior to off limits and actually caught an upgrade there on day 1.
“I’d spend about 20 or 30 minutes each day there hoping to catch a big one,” he added.
He tallied a 14-08 bag on Friday, but it still wasn’t enough to overtake Laiche, who caught 13-14 and took a 1-11 lead into the final day.
Collins said at takeoff on Saturday, he and Laiche talked about the potential scenarios for how the tournament could play out. Collins was convinced he wasn’t going to catch his Central Division teammate.
“I figured if we both have a good day, and nobody has issues, it’s going to be close, but I don’t see myself catching him,” he said. “But I knew if I can get lucky and get a couple 4-pounders and catch the same kind of fish as I had been, it’s going to be close.
“I didn’t wish anything bad on him, I just wanted to beat him.”
It didn’t help that they were running to the same area and fishing not all that far from each other.
“Starting behind him was really hard,” he said. “That 25-minute idle into where we were going every day, that was beating me up mentally.”
He said Laiche was fishing farther back in the area than he was, but Collins said Laiche was respectful not to disturb where he was fishing.
“He was going through my water to get to his water and he honored my water,” Collins said. “He’d get on his trolling and was polite about it. He stayed on the outside edge. He respected where I was fishing. Not a lot of people would do that.”
Clouds and wind and rain threw the field a curveball, but Collins adjusted on the fly. He opted not to flip and stuck with his spinnerbait and crankbait.
“The day started slow,” he said. “I went the first hour without a bite, but I knew I could catch a good bag if I could get the big ones to bite. Going out, I was all-in on this area. I was going to catch them there or not.
“I went with a spinnerbait to start, but didn’t get a bite. I switched to a crankbait and caught a couple so I figured maybe it’s a crankbait thing today.”
He picked his spinnerbait back up and made a cast toward a cypress tree and saw some movement in the water.
“I made eight more casts and the fish finally hit it,” he said. “It was a 4-pounder. That told me I had to slow down. I started to hold the rod tip up and slow-roll that spinnerbait. The fish were really lethargic and did not hit anything really hard. That was the rest of my day.”
He wound up with a 4 1/2-pounder, another close to 4 pounds and three other decent fish to total 16-06, which matched Laiche’s day-1 effort for the biggest stringer of the tournament.
“I didn’t realize I had that much weight in there,” he said. “It shocked me when the fish hit the scales.”
Winning Pattern Notes
> Collins said all of the fish were related to wood and he wound up fishing an area about a mile long, just going back and forth and running his baits past targets with various retrieves.
“There was some contour change where the old ditch channel was at with cypress trees on it,” he noted.
> Just getting into the skinny water he was fishing was a chore each day for Collins and Co.
“We’d idle in and out one behind the other,” he said. “The first guy in was the stump jumper for day 1. One was leading in and the other would lead out. We made sure we got in and out without tearing something up. We all went in together and came out together.”
Winning Gear Notes
> Spinnerbait gear: 7’6” medium-heavy Tour Star casting rod, unnamed casting reel, unnamed 20-pound monofilament line, 3/8-oz. Stanley Wedge spinnerbait (white/chartreuse), unnamed trailer hook.
> Collins’ spinnerbait had No. 4 blades on it.
> Crankbait gear: 7’10” medium-action Tour Star crankbait rod, same reel, same line, 6th Sense Movement crankbait (chartreuse/black back).
> While the 6th Sense plug is rated to dive to 3 feet, Collins retrieved it with his rod tip slightly up so he kept it off the bottom. “Nothing has the action it has in the level of water I was fishing,” he said.
> Flipping gear: Adjustable length heavy-action Tour Star flipping rod, same reel, unnamed 25-pound fluorocarbon line, unnamed 3/8-oz. flipping weight, 4/0 and 5/0 unnamed flipping hooks, Missile Baits D-Bomb (June bluebug), Mister Twister Buzz Bug (junebug).
> He flipped mainly around tight spots on trees or laydowns. The D Bomb gave him a beefier profile while the new Mister Twister Buzz Bug is more of a compact and slender craw-worm shape. “I wanted to have two profiles to show them,” he said.
> Collins said he also pre-soaked all of his plastics in garlic-flavored Kick'n Bass fish attractant.
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in his success – “Having the ability to stay focused. I knew I had to catch Jamie and the only way I could was to stay 100 percent focused. I didn’t lose any fish and for all I knew, I caught everything that bit that would’ve helped me.”
> Performance edge – “Getting in an aluminum Triton boat because I couldn’t fish where I was without it.
> In addition to the Classic berth, Collins also receives an invitation to fish the Elite Series in 2016 as part of being the B.A.S.S. Nation champion. Mueller, last year’s winner, joined the Elite Series this year. Collins is mulling his options.
“That’s what I’m kicking around,” he said. “I’m seriously considering it and trying to figure out how to make it work. Everything in my head right now revolves around whether I can do the Elites.”
Collins worked in the plumbing business for 23 years, but after his boss passed away 2 years ago, he’s focused solely on tournament fishing.
“Ever since, I’ve been fishing everything I can get my boat into,” he said.
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* indicates 2016 Bassmaster Classic qualifier
*1. Albert Collins -- Nacogdoches, TX (Cntrl) -- 15, 44-15
2. Jamie Laiche -- Gonzales, LA (Cntrl) -- 15, 43-02
*3. Fabian Rodriguez -- Ocean City, DE (MidAt) -- 15, 37-11
4. Doug Thompson -- Mabelvale, AR (Cntrl) -- 15, 35-02
5. Billy Lemon Jr -- Sand Springs, OK (Cntrl -- 15, 34-12
*6. John Proctor -- Conway, SC (South) -- 15, 34-08
7. Preston Frazell -- Cleveland, OK (Cntrl) -- 13, 32-03
8. Mark Pierce -- Radcliff, KY (South) -- 15, 31-00
9. Chad Shutty -- Northern Cambria, PA (Mid-At) -- 15, 30-13
*10. Charles Sim -- Ottawa CANADA (East) -- 15, 30-01
*11. Levi McNeill -- West Valley, UT (West) -- 15, 29-13
12. Paul Mueller -- Naugatuck, CT (East) -- 14, 29-05
*13. Greg Vance -- Dubuque, IA (North) -- 15, 28-05
14. Joaquim Maria Lopes -- Evora PORTUGAL (Cntrl) -- 15, 27-08
15. Donald Adcock -- Richland, MS (Cntrl) -- 14, 25-04
16. Gary Adkins -- Green Bay, WI (North) -- 15, 25-01
17. Dave Andrews -- Hudson, MA (East) -- 15, 24-07
18. Nick Leonard -- Cincinnati, OH (North) -- 15, 24-04
19. Roger Thomas -- Snow Hill, NC (South) -- 15, 24-00
20. Casey Smith -- Macedon, NY (East) -- 15, 23-12
21. Kieron Samkin -- Gillitts SOUTH AFRICA ( -- 14, 23-11
22. Corey Brant -- Minnetonka, MN (North) -- 12, 23-05
23. Samuel Bounds Jr -- Charleston, WV (MidAt) -- 14, 22-15
24. Brian Harold -- McGaheysville, VA (MidA -- 14, 22-14
25. Jami Fralick -- Martin, SD (North) -- 15, 22-07
26. Samuel Ferroni -- POGGIO A CAIANO PRATO I -- 14, 22-00
27. Matthew Roberts -- Pulaski, IA (Cntrl) -- 10, 21-09
28. Pat Hanning -- Tucson, AZ (West) -- 13, 21-06
29. Robert Peixotto -- Albuquerque, NM (West) -- 13, 21-05
30. Steven Wilson -- Rohnert Park, CA (West) -- 13, 20-15
31. Marcelo Lozano -- San Luis Potosi MEXICO -- 14, 20-12
32. Brad Weese -- Petersburg, WV (MidAt) -- 13, 20-09
33. Brad Durden -- Atlanta, GA (South) -- 13, 20-07
34. Kyle Glasgow Jr -- Guin, AL (South) -- 11, 19-15
35. David Watson -- Sullivan, IN (North) -- 13, 19-14
36. Dan Brown -- Joliet, IL (North) -- 13, 19-08
37. Skip Sjobeck -- Randolph, VT (East) -- 13, 19-02
38. Bruce Cooke -- Greendale ZIMBABWE (Mid -- 15, 19-00
39. Larry Triplett -- Castle Rock, CO (West) -- 13, 18-14
40. Tim Johnston -- Kalispell , MT (West) -- 11, 18-10
41. Jerome Pape -- Milford, IA (Cntrl) -- 13, 17-12
42. Alex Wetherell -- Middletown, CT (East) -- 10, 17-10
43. Davick Hansen -- Clinton, UT (West) -- 11, 17-09
44. David Kromm -- Kennewick, WA (West) -- 12, 17-08
45. Brent Shores -- Boise, ID (West) -- 12, 16-13
46. Michael McMahon -- Hackettstown, NJ (MidAt -- 12, 16-10
47. Brian Croteau -- Blackstone, MA (East) -- 9, 15-03
48. Cesar Ventura Pecellin Munoz Badajoz SPAIN (East) -- 10, 13-13
49. Jeff Fischer -- Farmington, MI (North) -- 10, 13-10
50. Robert Williamson -- Gorham, ME (East) -- 9, 13-01
51. Lance Freeman -- Eddyville, KY (South) -- 9, 13-00
52. Wayne Black -- San Mateo, FL (South) -- 10, 12-05
53. Kory Ray -- Lebanon, OR (West) -- 10, 11-09
54. Kentaro Yamada -- Osaka JAPAN (West) -- 8, 10-11
55. Alec Williams -- Windhoek NAMIBIA (MidAt -- 6, 09-07
56. Stephen Kanowski -- Shorncliffe AUSTRALIA -- 5, 07-08
57. George Barnes -- Cambridge, MA (East) -- 6, 07-00
58. Stephen Pike -- Las Vegas, NV (West) -- 2, 03-15
59. Jackie Barber -- West , TX (MidAt) -- 3, 03-09