By Todd Ceisner
The floor of Shane Lehew’s boat is littered with used soft plastics. Creatures, torn-up worms, craws. The cup holder on the passenger side is filled with a mish-mash of hard baits and jigs. A big glide bait is mixed in as well. A half-full bottle of SunDrop sits in the cup holder by the trolling motor. It’s obvious Lehew has been fishing a lot lately.
The day after Easter, he headed off to Lake Murray, mostly on a whim and a hunch the bass could be spawning. He was right and caught 25 pounds just fun-fishing. The next day, he was at Lake Norman. Same with the next day. More time on the water, he says, means more opportunities to learn.
He also hinted he’s still harboring some ill will toward the Murray bass population following his day-2 struggles at the Forrest Wood Cup last August.
“I figured they’d be on beds (at Murray) and that’s my favorite way to catch ‘em,” he said. “I learned a lot because they wouldn’t bite in the morning. We had to wait them out.”
Rather than wait for the next Tour event to come around, Lehew says fishing around his Catawba, N.C., home is a good way to unwind in between major tournaments. He can work on different techniques and stay in tune with seasonal patterns.
“It just relaxes me more than anything,” he said. “I still stress like others at a Tour event, but it’s fun to get home and go fishing with a couple buddies. I think I’ve been traveling more this year so when I get home, I want to go out and have some fun.”
Aiming for First Win
Heading into the fourth Tour event of the season at Lake Cumberland this week, Lehew isn’t stressing about much. His demeanor is as even-keel as any in the sport. After an 89th-place showing in the season opener at Lake Okeechobee, he bounced back with a 41st at the Harris Chain of Lakes and a 56th at Lake Lanier, earning checks at both events. He’s now 38th in Angler of the Year points with four tournaments left.
Still, he feels like he’s behind the pace he set last year when he had a breakout season with three top-20s and a 7th-place finish in points.
“Obviously, finishing that high in the points, I want to be up there every year,” he said. “I’m a little behind now and have some catching up to do, but it gives me something to shoot for.”
He pauses for a moment before revealing what is truly driving him.
“And I want to win one really bad now,” he said.
That’s a result of strong showings at the Harris Chain and the Forrest Wood Cup at Lake Murray last year. He was 2nd after day 1 at Harris Chain and 10th after day 1 at Murray.
“When you get that close, the desire to win burns even hotter,” he added.
Ready for Cumberland 2.0
Lehew isn’t one to dwell all that long on missteps or regrets from past tournaments. At Harris this year, he said he lost a big one that would’ve likely helped him make the cut.
“A lot of guys can say so I try not to say it that much,” he said.
His Okeechobee tournament was plagued by poor decisions, he said.
“I had a really tough practice there,” he said. “It was windy and I hate fishing in the wind in Florida because it’s so wide open. It’s tough to fish places like Harney Pond thoroughly when it’s like that.”
This week, he gets a second look at Lake Cumberland, a diverse impoundment in the south Kentucky wilderness that hosted a Tour event around this time last year. Lehew, who finished 17th a year ago, expects a much different event this week because the 18-inch length minimum on smallmouth has been changed to 12 inches. That alone, he said, will alter how many competitors approach the tournament.
“I fished for largemouth last year in the upper part of the lake,” he said. “Reason being, I could catch smallies, but I had trouble catching 18-inchers. Being where I was at in points for the season, I figured if I could top-20 on largemouth, I’ll do that.”
This time around, he hopes to have more brown fish in his creel. Spotted bass are also part of the equation as well.
“If there are pre-spawn smallies, I’ll be going after those,” he said. “There are a ton of 17-inchers in that lake that could weigh 3 to 4 pounds. I caught a lot that were 17 1/2 to 17 7/8 inches and every one was at least 3 pounds.
“The water is up and dirtier so there’s more water to look at. There will be a ton of limits caught and guys who will fish smallmouth will catch limits. It’s a fun lake.”
As he approaches the halfway point of his fifth year on the FLW Tour, Lehew said his confidence level as a pro has steadily improved and with more stable sponsorship support from the likes of Pure Fishing brands coming on board this season, he can narrow his focus down to performing in tournaments.
“It’s progressively gotten better,” he said. “On certain fisheries, I still don’t have a ton of confidence, but I still try to stay confident. I’m not overly confident because this sport will be humble you quick. I just try to keep an open mind at a lot of these places.”