By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Bradley Hallman had competed at Lake Lanier one time prior to last week's FLW Tour event. It was a Professional Anglers Association (PAA) derby nearly a decade ago and he didn't fare well, but that memory helped him determine where to focus his practice time on his second visit.
A bit of Internet research helped, too.
"The other time I went up the river (to fish for largemouths) and got trounced," he said. "This time, going off the results of (a recent) BFL, I knew the spots were really going on in the bottom part of the lake and I knew that last time I didn't catch anything in the river.
"Just from looking at the lake, I was really intrigued by all the docks and stuff at that bottom end."
Hallman fished the lower portion for the first 3 days of last week's event, making solid adjustments to keep up with the ever-changing weather conditions, to establish a commanding lead. Then he switched locations and species for the final day to lock up his second Tour victory in a little more than two calendar years.
His 68-04 total for 4 days gave him a 2-10 margin over runner-up and fellow Oklahoman Zack Birge. The wire-to-wire triumph propelled him from 78th place to 33rd in the Angler of the Year race – inside where the cutoff for the Forrest Wood Cup will fall as he attempts to qualify for the circuit's championship event for the first time.
Following are some of the specifics.
Like most of the field, Hallman spent the majority of the 3-day practice period in the southern part of the lake, where the blueback herring that the spotted bass feast on are most prevalent and the "Kentuckys" get the fattest during their annual pre-spawn feed-up.
"I thought I could take a jig down there and get a pretty good bite going with it," he said. "I didn't get it going so much on the docks as on the shoals and islands out in the middle of the lake.
"I had a lot of 3- and 4-pounders just nipping at the jig, but when I switched to a shaky-head it usually wouldn't even make it to the bottom. They'd just throw their head back and swallow it.
"By the time practice was over I'd say I had at least a dozen points, shoals and stuff like that I felt pretty good about," he continued. "We had very little wind in practice, but I figured when it blew on the first day (of the tournament) I could get bit on the same places, but I might have to fish differently."
He surmised that a 16-pound stringer would equate to a good day and 18 to 19 would be really good. Little did he know that he'd box considerably more than that in the opening round.
> Day 1: 5, 23-11
> Day 2: 5, 18-07
> Day 3: 5, 13-01
> Day 4: 5, 13-01
> Total = 20, 68-04
The bulk of Hallman's massive day-1 bag was accrued from a single point – the second one he stopped at that morning.
"They were just there," he said. "My first cast with a jerkbait I caught one close to 6 pounds, and then I got a 4 a few minutes later. After awhile I switched to a swimbait and caught two more 4s.
"Before it was done, I had like 19 pounds off that point."
He said fortune definitely smiled upon him that day.
"I didn't have a clue there was a group of fish there like that. It was just a place I'd found in practice where I'd gotten a few bites dragging a shaky-head. I was hoping that would happen in some of those places – with the wind blowing and the front coming, they'd really get up on top and feed."
He made one big upgrade late in the day that helped him for day 2. He'd fished some seawalls on the outer edge of marinas during practice, but hadn't been able to dial in a consistent bite. He hadn't tried the swimbait on them.
Hallman fished a wide variety of cover types throughout the event.
He visited one at about 1 o'clock, after then sun had positioned the fish tight to the structure, and caught a 5 3/4-pounder within his first five casts.
"I thought tomorrow, if the points don't play, this is what I'm going to do."
He caught just one small keeper off the points on day 2 and that was the only fish in his livewell when he arrived at the marina in the early afternoon. Before the day was over, he collected five specimens that extended his lead from less than 3 1/2 pounds to more than 7.
The marina gave him one good fish - a 4 1/4-pounder - on day 3, but that was it. The sun was still out for most of the day, but he thinks the biggest difference was a complete lack of wind. He moved into the docks and picked up some 2-pound-class fish that allowed him to keep his advantage at 5 1/2 pounds.
He had about 20 minutes to fish after arriving back near the launch in Gainesville, Ga. It had begun to rain, and he made some casts with a spinnerbait to the dogfennel (a type of grass) in the Chattahoochee River.
"I hooked two and I lost a 3-pounder," he said. "I started thinking that night, I knew there was no way I was going to catch them on that bottom end the next day with it raining all day.
"I decided I'd stay up and throw the spinnerbait for at least an hour or 2, and I caught two or three so I stayed with it until I had a limit. The I went down to the bottom for 2 hours and got no bites, so I came back and made one cull. I should've just stayed there all day."
In the end, that fruitless 2-hour foray to where the big spots live didn't hurt him.
> The fish he caught from the points and shoals on day 1 were in the 10- to 15-foot depth range. The seawall fish were suspended at 5 to 10 feet in water that ranged from 30 to 135 feet deep. The dock fish were in 10 to 20 feet of water and the river-dwelling largemouths were in 5 feet or shallower.
> When fishing the seawall, Hallman made long, parallel casts and let the bait sink for 4 to 5 seconds. "I'd engage the reel and then just turn the handle really slow. Those fish would hit it so hard that they'd bruise your wrist. They'd knock a foot of slack into the line and the hook would be all the way back in the white part of their throat."
> Retrieve speed wasn't an issue on the points on windy day 1. "They were so aggressive that I couldn't get two cranks before they had it."
> The dock fish generally wouldn't take the shaky-head on the fall. "I'd have to let it hit the bottom and then finesse it around a little bit."
> He got a look at almost every fish before it inhaled the spinnerbait on day 4. "It was the outside edge of the dogfennel and the bait would flutter over a piece of grass and you'd see them come up and flash on it."
Winning Gear Notes
> Jerkbait gear: 6'6" medium-heavy older model All Star TX40 rod, unnamed casting reel (6.4:1 ratio), 10-pound unnamed fluorocarbon line, Megabass Vision 110+1 (sexy ghost).
Swimbait gear: 7'2" medium-heavy Falcon Amistad rod, same reel (7.1:1 ratio), 15-pound unnamed fluorocarbon, 1/2-ounce Buckeye Lures J-Will jighead, 3.8" Keitech Fat Swing Impact swimbait (sexy shad).
> Shaky-head gear: 6'9" Fenwick Elite Tech rod, Lew's Mach II Speed Spin reel, 10-pound Power Pro braided line (main line), 10-pound unnamed fluorocarbon leader, 1/4-ounce War Eagle jighead, Zoom Trick Worm (green-pumpkin).
> Spinnerbait gear: Same rod and reel as swimbait, 20-pound unnamed fluorocarbon, 1/2-ounce War Eagle spinnerbait (white with silver double willow-leaf blades).
> The reason he can't name a make or model on his casting reels is the graphics on them are all in Chinese. He purchased them on eBay.
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in his success - "The biggest key was getting that swimbait going on the first day. I realized that was going to be special."
> Performance edge - "The Chinese reels, without a doubt."
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