By Todd Ceisner
There are times over the course of a tournament season when, in hindsight, anglers declare the tournament organization got it right as it relates to the scheduling of a certain event.
Granted, the schedules are determined months in advance, so there’s no way to take into account weather conditions and water levels, but in the case of the Lake Cumberland FLW Tour, full marks were given to FLW for bringing the league’s top circuit back to southern Kentucky for a second straight spring.
It was a flat-out catch-fest last week and while the conditions and timing certainly helped, the lake’s diverse fishery of largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass gave the field numerous options. With high water, coupled with a warming trend at the outset of the tournament, anglers were greeted by a lake full of fish heading in one direction and that’s what made it fun.
This was no junk-fishing special. Reaction baits dominated with either a spinnerbait (chartreuse and white were a must) or swimbait accounting for the majority of catches amongst the top 10. Creeks and pockets with a little dirtier water seemed to draw the most attention and smallmouth seemed to overtake largemouth as the preferred species, aided by the minimum-length requirement being reduced to 12 inches as part of a selective study being done by Kentucky fisheries officials on the effects of tournament fishing.
Below are more details about how the rest of the top 5 did their damage at Cumberland:
2nd: Allen Boyd
> Day 1: 5, 16-05
> Day 2: 5, 14-08
> Day 3: 5, 19-09
> Day 4: 5, 18-02
> Total = 20, 68-08
Allen Boyd spent a little bit of time at Cumberland prior to the off-limits period, thanks to its proximity to his home in Salem, Ind.
“The smallmouth were on fire,” he said. “When I showed up Sunday morning to launch the boat (for practice), it was, ‘I’m going smallmouth fishing. I’m abandoning the largemouth thinking and what I love to do and I’m going to fish for smallmouth.’”
Despite his enthusiasm for smallies, they weren’t in the areas where he’d caught them previously.
“They were gone for me,” he said.
On Monday, he worked on finding areas holding largemouth.
“Typically on those lakes in Kentucky where I have some experience, I knew if I was going to catch bigger largemouth, I had to find flatter pockets,” he said.
By flatter, he meant pockets that weren’t so vertical. There was still deep water in the middle of them, but he needed some shallow water, especially toward the back. He used a contour shading feature on his Lowrance electronics to identify pockets that met his criteria.
“For the flatter pockets, I had the shaded highlights set at 6 feet and when I saw pockets with blue in the back, I knew those weren’t the bluffy pockets,” he said. “One other thing that made them good was the pockets had nice guts in them.
“Cumberland was low for a while and when the water was low, those guts get washed out deeper. They’re real defined with the flat next to them. It’s so simple for those fish to get in that gut if the water’s falling or if a cold front shows up. They can move out to the gut and suspend. When it comes to time to spawn, it’s easy for them to get on the flats or the edge next to the gut.”
While hundreds of pockets on the lake fit what he was looking for, he narrowed his focus to about 10 of them. The other key was the presence of baitfish.
“I drove around and looked for ones loaded with bait – I could get bit in those, so I ran with that pattern,” he added.
Rather than run around, he decided to pick an area and be more efficient. He settled on a creek down the lake as the fish continued to funnel into those pockets each day.
“You could make a pass and not get a bite and 45 minutes later come back and catch a big one,” he said. “They were coming in there big time and probably still are.”
Ultimately, he had a 1-2 punch of a spinnerbait and swimjig going around the flooded pockets.
“It fits my style of fishing – staying shallow and picking them apart,” he said. "The water in the area I fished was just beautiful. You couldn’t ask for better.”
> Spinnerbait gear: 6’9” medium-heavy G. Loomis spinnerbait rod, Shimano Curado K 200 casting reel (6.4:1 ratio), 15-pound Berkley Trilene Big Game monofilament, 1/2-oz. BOOYAH spinnerbait (white/chartreuse with chartreuse rear blade and white front blade).
> Boyd started the week with four of the 1/2-oz. BOOYAH spinnerbaits, but he caught so many fish over the course of practice and the tournament that by the end of day 3, three had given out. He approached fellow angler Bradley Hallman at the weigh-in to see if he had any of the same model. Hallman retrieved his spinnerbait box from his truck and allowed Boyd to sift through it. “He didn’t have the exact one, but the guy at Burnside Bait and Tackle (across from the hotel) was able to get me some blades,” Boyd said. “They helped me get back in the game. I had to make due with what I had at the time.”
He said the best blade combo was a #4 chartreuse willow blade along with a #2 white willow blade. “I thought I could catch them on a spinnerbait with all white blades, but when you catch that many on something it’s hard to show up with something different,” he added.
> The spinnerbait rod Boyd favors is an out-of-production model by G. Loomis. “It’s so light and sensitive that if I pick up a different rod to fish a spinnerbait with, I’m all over the grid,” he said. “I can’t be as accurate with it.”
> Swim jig gear: 7’6” heavy-action Lew's casting rod, same reel, 18-pound Sunline Shooter fluorocarbon line, 3/8-oz. Dirty Jigs No-Jack swim jig (Guntersville shad), Strike King Rage Craw trailer (white).
> He dipped the pinchers of the trailer in chartreuse dye.
> He mixed in the swim jig each day, especially in areas where he couldn’t fish a spinnerbait cleanly. “There were places where if I got a big bite on a spinnerbait, I’d have a hard time getting it out,” he said. “I threw it when I’d get around heavier cover and it got some key bites for me.”
> He said he usually fishes a 7-foot medium-heavy rod with a swim jig, but had to trade up for a more powerful rod based on the cover he was fishing. “For that application, I needed a heavier swim jig with a heavier weed guard and the Dirty Jig was perfect. I could cast it in bushes and trees and not get hung up. I had to use that heavier rod to get a hookset in them.”
> Main factor in his success – “Slowing down. With all the pressure in those areas, I knew there were areas guys weren’t taking the time to get to. Picking those spots apart and making good casts to those targets was key. Also, not going through with my original plan of running around the lake was important.”
> Performance edge – “My Lowrance units played a big role. They can be a huge factor in finding shallow fish even when you’re not graphing them. You’re able to see stuff you’re looking for on the map. When you’re able to go around and find the bait – it was cool enough in practice so the bait wasn’t showing itself – in 10 feet all over the lake, those units were key. That was the magic number all over the lake. Also, my Ranger was key in making those long runs and dodging the driftwood. It got rough at times and that L model performs incredibly well.”
Clent Davis jumped up to 25th in the Angler of the Year points with his top-5 finish.
3rd: Clent Davis
> Day 1: 5, 16-02
> Day 2: 5, 16-13
> Day 3: 5, 16-06
> Day 4: 5, 18-05
> Total = 20, 67-10
After enduring a triple-digit finish in the season opener at Lake Okeechobee, then injuring his right wrist that forced him to learn how to cast and fish left-handed, Clent Davis figured it was time something went his way.
At Cumberland, where he had spent a couple days pre-practicing, he returned to the same areas for official practice only to find the water much clearer, prompting him to change bait presentation. Still, he felt like he had a leg up on those who hadn’t visited the lake.
“The scouting trip was huge,” he said. “I was cranking on points and caught the fire out of them. What’s funny is I didn’t fish that stuff until the tournament and the best places were spots I caught them in pre-practice. It was a tremendous help knowing how everything laid out on the lake.”
Rather than cranking those points in the tournament, he had the most success with a 4-inch paddle-tail, hollow-body swimbait. He said the 20-foot contour line seemed to be the most consistent toward the end of the points. He’d position his boat well off the point and throw straight up on it. He’d count the swimbait down 5 to 8 feet and that would trigger the smallmouth.
“I tried reeling it on the bottom, but I didn’t catch them,” he said.
Part of the reason the fish were suspended, he suspects, is that the water was being drawn down during the tournament, but those deeper fish seemed immune to the change.
“I guess that’s what those fish do because this lake fluctuates so much,” he said.
Once he got dialed in on the one bait and realized he could catch 16-plus pounds each day, it allowed him to avoid getting distracted by other options.
“This was fishing,” he said. “This was fun. It wasn’t this bait and that bait. I knew what we had to do and went fishing and caught them. I love one-rod tournaments because when I get to switching around, I get to switching in the wrong direction.”
> Swimbait gear: 7’6” heavy-action Phenix K2 casting rod, Shimano Curado K casting reel (6.2:1 ratio), 16-pound Yo-Zuri Top Knot fluorocarbon line, homemade 1/2-oz. jighead (5/0 hook), unnamed 4” hollow-body swimbait (shad)
> Main factor in his success – “I didn’t have many options after practice. Knowing this was the only way I could catch them, I had to stay at it.”
> Performance edge – “My Phoenix and Evinrude got me where I was going every day, through a minefield of floating logs and the scariest stuff I’ve ever driven through each day.”
Greg Bohannan caught both largemouth and smallmouth during the tournament.
4th: Greg Bohannan
> Day 1: 5, 14-02
> Day 2: 5, 16-12
> Day 3: 5, 18-11
> Day 4: 5, 16-00
> Total = 20, 65-09
For Greg Bohannan, Cumberland will be remembered for making the right decisions at the right time.
He started the tournament fishing a jerkbait and spinnerbait down bluff walls and secondary points in the mid-lake section. He eventually migrated into the backs of pockets on the lower end and came away with his best finish since 2014.
“I got to catching them on a jerkbait and chased that rabbit,” he said. “I switched to a spinnerbait and areas with stained water and it caught better quality fish.
“I think they were suspended because I could catch them on the main lake during the tournament, but the better quality largemouth were transitioning quick to the backs of pockets.”
Bohannan said the fish were ready to migrate into the pockets, but the weather halted that movement – at least initially.
“We had a cold front, then a warm trend and that water had been warm before,” he said.
On Saturday, he caught largemouth in the backs of pockets, but by late Sunday morning, he was back to smallmouth.
“I’m happy with the decision to go with smallmouth,” he said.
He said finding stained water was critical as well.
“The rule of thumb, typically, on a clear lake is to fish as far down lake as the stained water is,” he said. “There were certain creeks that had pockets with more stained water. I tried to focus on the pockets or creek arms with more stain in them.”
Like Davis, he was a fan of the simplified nature of the tournament in terms of how the lake allowed guys to fish a pattern and not worry about fishing in crowds.
“I like the one-track tournament,” he said. “I like a tournament to spread out and not get on top of each other. There are not many lakes where you can run a pattern with that many boats, but you can do it at Cumberland.”
> Spinnerbait gear: 7’ medium-heavy Lew's Custom Pro Speed Stick Series Magnum Bass casting rod, Team Lew's Pro Magnesium Speed Spool LFS Series casting reel (6.8:1 ratio), 20-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon line, 3/4-oz. War Eagle double-willow spinnerbait (top blade white; bottom blade chartreuse), trailer hook (red).
> Jerkbait gear: 6’8” medium-action Lew's Custom Pro Speed Stick Series Topwater Special casting rod, same reel, same line (12-pound), Skirmish AIM 9 jerkbait (custom color).
> The jerkbait produced a few keepers on day 1, but as the tournament wore on the spinnerbait was more reliable.
> Main factor in his success – “Making the decision to move to more productive areas and focus more on where fish were going in the back ends of those pockets.”
> Performance edge – “Making that long run like I did, my Ranger and Evinrude got great fuel economy. I was making 110- to 120-mile round trips.”
Andy Morgan was in his comfort zone from start to finish at Cumberland.
5th: Andy Morgan
> Day 1: 5, 18-15
> Day 2: 5, 15-12
> Day 3: 5, 16-06
> Day 4: 5, 14-03
> Total = 20, 65-04
It took Andy Morgan about the same amount of time it takes to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for him to figure out how he was going to attack Cumberland last week.
“It took me about 5 minutes,” he said. “I knew what I was going to do immediately. It was just a matter of finding where to do it.”
He was 15th at Cumberland a year ago and that experience gave him an idea of where he could capitalize with the higher water this time around.
“I had gone several places and been all over last year,” he said. “I ran around and that helped tremendously with where to start this time and what things looked like.”
He had a decent flipping program going in practice, but as it started to recede – it pulled back significantly over the final three days of the event – he transitioned to a double-willow spinnerbait.
“It was mostly spinnerbait fishing 101,” he said.
He settled into pockets off a major creek arm on the lower end of the lake and tried to follow the fish on their migration toward the backs of said pockets as the tournament progressed.
“The presentations changed day to day,” he said. “Most of them were in the underwater stuff, like the row of bushes that was down there. You had to wind real slow and get it down 7 or 8 feet.
“As it got warmer, they got tighter to the sycamores and little bushes or sticks off the bank. Sometimes you couldn’t see what’s there. There were alley ways, though, and some would be between the sycamore trunk and bank. That was a pretty standard bite scenario.”
> Spinnerbait gear: 7’3” medium-heavy Favorite Fishing Big Sexy casting rod, unnamed casting reel, 16-pound Gamma Edge fluorocarbon line, 3/4-oz. War Eagle double-willow spinnerbait (white with gold/silver blades or white/white), Zoom Twin Tail trailer (white).
> Main factor in his success – “Sticking to it and going with the plan I had from the start and putting my head down. Sometimes it costs you a win, but I wanted a solid finish. I never wavered from my strategy.”
> Performance edge – “My (Bullet) boat and (Evinrude) motor. That’s a long, snaky, hairy and dangerous ride and everybody who survived it was ducking and dodging. It was quite chaotic.”
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