By Jonathan Manteuffel
Special to BassFan
North Carolina’s David Williams put on a dock-skipping clinic for 4 days at Smith Lake in the fifth FLW Tour event of the season. In the process, he dominated the competition, leading wire to wire for his first tour-level win. He weighed the heaviest stringer on days 1 and 3 and outdistanced his closest pursuer by 4-13 – a huge margin on Smith.
Before the tournament, Williams knew he wanted to find a shallow largemouth pattern, if one existed. While that is possible on Smith – a lake dominated by spotted bass -- it usually doesn’t last more than a day or two of a 4-day event. Still, it would be in his comfort zone and likely provide good daily weights if he could make it work.
What greeted him on the first day of practice was rain – lots of it. The lake was at full pool when he launched and rose steadily throughout the day. By the next morning the level was up 3 to 4 feet. It crested after the third practice day at just more than 4 feet above full pool. Flatter pockets were flooded way back into the woods and even steeper banks had a waterline well up into residents' front yards.
The lake steadily receded throughout the tournament. While that helped some competitors (who targeted suspended fish) and hindered others (whose fish roamed with the waterline), it didn’t affect Williams.
His floating dock pattern a ways up Rock Creek held up all 4 days, as a shad spawn materialized on day 1. The bass kept coming to feast, and that provided him a steady supply of willing biters that were recovering from their spawning ritual, and hence heavier than average.
Here’s how it all played out.
Williams opted to run up the Rock Creek arm of the lake when practice started. It is the middle of the three main branches of the lake and a popular fishing area.
“I went there and caught a couple good fish pretty quick,” he said. “One was a 4-pounder and the other was over 5. After that I bent my hook down and went around that general area (throwing at shoreline brush and other cover).
“I had quite a few bites, and I really didn’t bear down on them. Then I tried to duplicate it in similar areas but didn’t have much luck. The fish I caught (elsewhere) were all small.”
He didn’t see evidence of a shad spawn in progress during practice, and wasn’t really sure why the bass were there or why they were larger than average.
The second and third days of practice were pretty much a write-off, due to the flooding. With nothing else to go on, he decided to focus where he got the bigger bites.
> Day 1: 5, 18-11
> Day 2: 5, 15-05
> Day 3: 5, 16-12
> Day 4: 5, 13-13
> Total = 20, 64-09
The water was still more than 3 feet high when day 1 started. Williams began working down the bank, when suddenly bass began blowing up on bait behind him. He turned and fired a cast to the feeding frenzy and hooked a sizeable specimen that went in the livewell. In short order he had amassed his tournament-best 18-11 limit.
It was then he realized a shad spawn was going on. Though he didn’t see much schooling activity the rest of the tournament, he was able to take advantage of a classic spring pattern, which was skipping lures around and under the floating docks that the shad were spawning on at night.
“Those bass would follow the shad in at night and then get under those docks as the sun came up,” he said. “I caught my weight every day by 10 or 10:30 a.m., and when the bite started to slow down I left to save some for the next day.
“I realized these fish were bigger because they were feeding up after the spawn. They were in recovery mode. Fish in other parts of the lake were still skinny from the spawn.”
His best fish often came from the corners of the docks, but he worked his way around the entire perimeter, skipping a jig between the floats and running it down the sides, never sure which cast would produce a strike. He used white lures almost exclusively.
“It was a reaction bite that lasted until the sun got up high around late morning.”
He used two jigs for most of his work, skipping a TrueSouth Fathead Jig under docks and swimming a Queen’s Tackle Tungsten Swim Jig while running the bank and fishing brush between docks. He also mixed in a buzzbait and vibrating bladed jig at times.
He alternated between three different trailers on his jigs.
“Sometimes they want a different profile,” he noted. “I like to use a slimmer trailer when it’s calm and a bigger profile when it’s choppy (the wind picked up more each day as the tournament progressed).
While other anglers struggled with changing water levels, that didn’t affect Williams’ pattern.
“The docks were over deeper water, and the fish were relating to the docks so the water level didn’t matter,” he observed.
He began to wonder if he was wrong, though, on the last day. He noticed the water had dropped close to 2 feet, and the action on his dock pattern was slow getting going. He put together a limit of only 5 or 6 pounds and was beginning to worry, despite his 6-12 lead.
After a couple hours the action picked up again, though. His final cull came on a spinnerbait, and as he tossed back the fifth small fish, he felt that maybe he’d sealed the deal.
“I had close to 14 pounds at that point, and someone would have to have over 20 to beat me.”
No one did.
Winning Gear Notes
> Jig gear: 7-foot heavy-action Fitzgerald Vursa casting rod, Bass Pro Shops Johnny Morris Signature Series casting reel (6.8:1 ratio), 20-pound Hi-Seas 100% Fluorocarbon line, 7/16-oz. TrueSouth Fathead Jig (white), Zoom Z-Craw, Zoom Ultra Vibe Speed Craw or Bizz Baits Cutter Craw trailer (all white)
> He likes white for skipping and swimming a jig because he can see it better. “I can see it coming through cover so I know when I need to get it over a branch, and I can see when a fish gets it.”
> Swim jig gear: Same rod, reel, line, and trailers, 1/2-oz. Queen’s Tackle Tungsten Swim Jig (white)
> He fished the swim jig down the bank and in the bushes between docks.
> Vibrating Jig gear: Same rod, reel, line, and trailers, 1/2-oz. TrueSouth Pro Shimmy Jig (white/chartreuse)
> Buzzbait gear: Same rod, reel, and line, 3/8-oz. TrueSouth V-Twin Buzzbait (white), Zoom Horny Toad trailer (white)
> Spinnerbait gear: Same rod, reel, and line, 1/2-oz. homemade spinnerbait (white/chartreuse) with double willow blades (silver), Zoom Split Tail trailer (white/chartreuse)
> All of Williams' rods and reels are the same. He likes them to feel familiar every time he picks one up, no matter what he has tied on. “I just reel faster or slower if I need to. I’m real comfortable with those rods. I really like the action.”
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in his success – “The shad starting to spawn, and being able get the bait where I needed it. New fish came in every night and were still there in the morning when I got there.”
> Performance edge – “Those Fitzgerald rods. Having the proper rod for skipping is a big key. If it’s too stiff or limber, it won’t work.”
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