By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor

Winner Bradley Hallman said it was the best he'd ever fished. For the 2nd- through 5th-place anglers, it was the best they'd ever finished.

While Hallman gained his second career FLW Tour win last week at Georgia's Lake Lanier, those who finished closest to him in the standings posted the highest placements of their respective Tour careers. Granted, none of them have been around all that long – runner-up Zack Birge and 4th-place finisher Jason Johnson, both in their 4th season, are the senior members of the quartet.

Following are some details about how they approached Lanier during a week when the bass biting frequently, but constantly altering their moods and locations due to changing weather conditions.

2nd: Zack Birge

> Day 1: 5, 16-06
> Day 2: 5, 18-03
> Day 3: 5, 15-01
> Day 4: 5, 16-00
> Total = 20, 65-10

Birge, whose residence in Blanchard, Okla. is less than a half-hour drive from Hallman's place in Norman, set a personal record by catching a 5-06 spotted bass on the final day. He said it was the fourth time during the week he'd set a new standard for himself.

He focused exclusively on points that tapered out into the main Chattahoochee River channel. The bulk of his fish came from the 8- to 15-foot depth range, but he caught a few out to 18 or 20.

"Almost all of (the points) had fish, but some had more and better ones than others," he said. "I rotated through six or eight points and I hit each one four or five times each during the day."

All 20 of his weigh-in fish were enticed with a small swimbait that he threw on both spinning and baitcasting gear. It was a prototype YUM Pulse model that will be introduced this year at ICAST.

He didn't sort through a lot of numbers - the majority of his bites were of tournament quality.

"I had to fish really, really slow - it was important to maintain bottom contact constantly. I was getting six to 12 bites a day."

He was in 20th place after day 1, but catapulted to 3rd with an 18-03 haul the following day. He moved up to 2nd on day 3 and held that position through the final round.

> Swimbait gear: 7' medium-action Falcon Cara rod, unnamed spinning reel, 10-pound P-Line TCB braided line (main line), 10-pound P-Line Tactical fluorocarbon (15 to 18' leader, 1/4-ounce ball-head jig, 3 1/2' prototype YUM Pulse swimbait.

> He used straight 10-pound P-Line Tactical fluorocarbon on his baitcasting set-up. He switched to that rig on the final day braid-to-fluoro knot caught on a guide in his rod and broke a couple of times (he thinks that phenomenon might've been caused by the rain).

Main factor in his success - "I knew that a storm front was coming through and I spent most of practice trying to fish a pattern that would work in those conditions."

Performance edge - "The rod, line and bait set-up. The bait's just different and something the fish hadn't seen before. It's got some pretty unique features that some other swimbaits don't have."

Photo: FLW

Joseph Webster changed tactics multiple times during the tournament.

3rd: Joseph Webster

> Day 1: 5, 16-07
> Day 2: 5, 16-07
> Day 3: 5, 14-13
> Day 4: 5, 17-08
> Total = 20, 65-02

Unlike Birge, Joseph Webster mixed things up in terms of baits. He caught his day-1 fish cranking, then threw a shaky-head and flipped docks on day 2. He went back to the crankbait and added a spinnerbait over the final 2 days.

He never strayed far from the launch ramp in Gainsesville, Ga. He employed the crankbait and shaky-head in the same type of cover.

"I was mostly in the backs of pockets," he said. "I'd find a secondary point or a pile of rocks or a few stumps and there'd usually be 10 or 12 fish in each place. Most of them were 6 or 8 feet deep."

His dock fish were suspended and he had to get his bait far back underneath the structures - often skipping it.

"It was usually the last dock in the pocket where the water was 5 or 6 feet deep. They'd be sitting under the floats in the dirty water."

He targeted largemouths with the spinnerbait, but caught only two - one in practice and one in the tournament. He weighed 20 spotted bass during the event.

> Cranking gear: 7'3" medium-heavy Hammer Fishing Cranking Stick, Daiwa Tatula casting reel (6.3:1 ratio), 12-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon line, Bill Norman Deep Little N (chartreuse/black back).

> Shaky-head gear: 7' medium-heavy Hammer Fishing spinning rod, Shimano Sustain spinning reel, 8-pound Seaguar InvizX flurocarbon, 3/8-ounce Buckeye Lures Spot Remover jighead, Zoom Trick Worm (green-pumpkin).

> Flipping gear: 7'3" Hammer Fishing flipping stick, Daiwa Tatula casting reel (7.1:1 ratio), 17-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon, 7/16-ounce 4x4 jig (green-pumpkin), Zoom Super Chunk Jr. trailer (green-pumpkin).

> Spinnerbait gear: 7'3" medium-heavy Hammer Fishing rod, Daiwa Tatula casting reel (6.3:1 ratio), 20-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon, unnamed 1/2-ounce spinnerbait (yellow/white with No. 5 and No. 4 gold and silver willow-leaf blades).

Main factor in his success - "Staying close to the ramp gave me more fishing time."

Performance edge - "Probably that Hammer cranking rod. I had to kind of baby the bait across the rocks and when the fish would get the bait, the rod would double up. I didn't lose a fish on it all week."

Photo: FLW

Jason Johnson was the top finisher among a strong local contingent.

4th: Jason Johnson

> Day 1: 5, 18-04
> Day 2: 5, 12-11
> Day 3: 5, 17-10
> Day 4: 5, 16-08
> Total = 20, 65-01

Jason Johnson, who lives in nearby Dawsonville, Ga., fared the best of a handful of local competitors who fish Lanier year-round.

"I fished a lot of history from 20 years of being out there all the time," he said. "I didn't go to any of my best places during official practice because I didn't want to be seen there.

"I had more than I could've fished, but I had a handful I wanted to check on day 1 and after I caught a decent bag, I decided I need to focus on them and rotate through them and give them a break. The key was pulling up at the right time."

Those places had water in the 22- to 30-foot depth range. Much of the time, the fish were suspended about 10 feet off the bottom and they were suckers for a weightless, wacky-rigged worm - usually biting it on the fall. He also picked up a few with a small swimbait.

He said it was critical to make long casts.

"You need to stay off the top of those places at Lanier. If they've got a boat on top of them, they don't tend to hang around too long."

> Worm gear: 7'3" medium-action Daiwa Cronos rod, Daiwa Tatula 2500 spinning reel, 20-pound Seaguar Kanzen braided line (main line), 8-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon (8' leader), size 2 Decoy hook, Zoom Fluke Stick (natural shad with split tail removed).

> Swimbait gear: 7' medium-action Daiwa Tatula rod, Daiwa Tatula HD casting reel (6.3:1 ratio), 10-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon, 1/4-ounce ball-head jig, Keitech 3.3 (pearl white).

Main factor in his success - "Just having confidence in those places."

Performance edge - "With the wind blowing like it was the first couple days, it was definitely my Phoenix boat."

Photo: FLW

A pre-practice trip to Lanier paid off for Braxton Setzer.

5th: Braxton Setzer

> Day 1: 5, 14-00
> Day 2: 5, 18-07
> Day 3: 5, 14-14
> Day 4: 5, 15-13
> Total = 20, 63-02

Braxton Setzer said that a pre-practice trip he made to Lanier before the lake went off-limits paid off handsomely for him.

"I came over for a couple days and spent both of them riding around, looking at the lower end. I only fished for a couple hours.

"By the end of practice I felt like I had 50 or 60 places I could get bit on, and that number got cut down by what I saw other guys on. I was able to find a couple more in the tournament that benefited me."

Depth was the critical factor in his program.

"If I could find a place, even offshore like a hump or something, if it touched 25 feet on the highest part of it, I could get bit off it. Some places got shallower than that and the fish would come up to feed and then they'd drop off the side."

It was primarily vertical fishing for the first 3 days with a Ned rig-style bait. He switched to a swimbait on rainy day 4. He caught two weigh-in fish on a jerkbait.

> Worm gear: 7'4" medium-action Phenix M1 rod, Shimano Stradic spinning reel, 15-pound Yo-Zuri braided line (main line), 6- or 8-pound Duel fluorocarbon (15- to 20-foot leader), 1/8-ounce Nichols Toad Stool jighead, 5" Yamamoto Senko (green-pumpkin candy).

> Swimbait gear: 7'7" medium-action Phenix Feather rod, same reel and line, 1/8-ounce prototype Nichols jighead, Keitech 3.3 (rainbow shad).

> Jerkbait gear: 7'1" medium-light Phenix Feather rod, Shimano Chronarch casting reel, 10-pound Yo-Zuri 100% fluorocarbon line, Duel Hardcore Flat 110 (ghost pro blue).

Main factor in his success - "I felt like if I was around fish, it was fairly easy to get them to bite. Anytime I couldn't see them on the graph in one of my areas or I couldn't get bit casting, I wouldn't stay long. I knew if they were there, they were going to bite."

Performance edge - "If I had to narrow it down, I'd say my Lowrance electronics. Without them I couldn't have seen those fish I was catching. I was video game-fishing a lot and the graphs played a big role in that."

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