With the cold front in practice, most anglers fishing the Santee Cooper Bassmaster worried that big spawning bass would move up at some point during the tournament, particularly in the lower lake. Most anglers worried, but a few knew. One of those in the latter category was Kelly Jordon.
"I knew they were going to move up," he said. "I saw the (warming) weather, and we learned from Toho (in 2001) that you should never give up because they're coming. When you have those conditions, a big-time cool off, at that time of year, it doesn't matter what moon phase they're in. It's 100 percent water temperature.
"The same thing happened at Toho when Dean (Rojas) set (the single-day BASS catch) record.
We were all saying that the fish ought to be there (spawning), and they weren't there until (late) the last day of practice. We all guessed (the fish weren't moving up) because it wasn't the right moon. The moon helps, but it's primarily water temperature. When you have a big-time warming trend, they flood the banks. I don't care what the moon is. They'll be there."
To cover his bases, he "fished a little bit" on the first day of practice. He fished cypress trees with a wacky worm, and at one point had an 8-pounder on, but knew that wasn't going to be enough. So he started doing what he did for the remainder of that day and the next two days: running shallow water.
"I was looking for cruising fish (getting ready to get on beds)," he said. "You could go for 2 miles and see the same-looking stuff, and you wouldn't see a minnow, and then you'd hit areas where you'd see a couple bass and some empty beds. I looked for areas like that that had the best potential."
During practice he found the area he ended up winning in, a fairly small pocket, but so did a bunch of other people. "A lot of people were in there, but I saw some giant empty beds – bright, white and empty – so I they knew had to be in there. I got bit in there 3-4 times really quick," he noted. He also found some other areas that had good potential.
> Day 1: 5, 17-12
> Day 2: 5, 15-06
> Day 3: 5, 28-09
> Day 4: 5, 32-02
= Total = 20, 93-13
Jordon sight-fished every fish he weighed in except one, caught on day 2 on a wacky worm.
On day 1 of the tournament he went to a pocket that wasn't his winning pocket. He was boat No. 20, caught 15 pounds in the first 30 minutes and then went to the popular pocket. "Boats were all over there," he said, including bream fishermen. He fished around at the mouth and then took off to cull up to 17-12.
Day 2 was almost a repeat of day 1 – except that he was in a later flight – as you can tell by his weight (15-06), his lowest of the tournament. Once again he checked his "60-pound pocket" and once again "it looked like a three-ring circus," he said. He fished around the mouth for about an hour, and then sight-fished in other areas. He ran to some fish he was saving, but Ish Monroe told him he'd just cleaned them out, so he found a few more and then headed in. He made the Top 12 cut tied for 11th.
Day 3, with only 12 competition boats on the lake, he ran right to the pocket he'd wanted to fish the prior 2 days. He started by throwing a spinnerbait, buzzbait and wacky worm. "In 30 minutes I didn't have a bite, and I was kind of surprised," he said. "I knew some beds were in there."
Then the sun got up a little bit. He saw a 3 1/2-pounder and caught it, but wasn't too impressed. He knew the pocket had gotten pretty hammered the first 2 days. He also had a 5 and a 7 calling him from another pocket.
"I started to fish my way out of that pocket, and saw a big white spot where I hadn't seen one before," he said. "It was low light, and I saw a good fish cross it." He backed off, and ended up catching a 3 1/2-pound male and 4-pound female there. He kept going down the bank and saw another bed, and then another one after that. "The sun got higher, there were no clouds and no wind – it was a swimming pool in there. Bass were everywhere."
He caught all of his 28-09 there – every bass he wanted to catch – and with 30 minutes left in the day ran to another pocket that had two fish over 7. He made a few casts, and though he didn't catch them, he thought he could the next day.
On day 4 he decided not to start in his 28-pound pocket, partly because he expected Mark Kile to have another 30-pound day – which meant he'd need more than 28 pounds to win. "I was thinking maybe I'd pull in there early and fish around until it got light, but then I had those other two (the 7-pounders)." He headed for that 14-plus pounds, which were farther down the lower lake. He was running down there full speed, got about 200 yards past the pocket he'd caught 28 from and changed his mind.
He U-turned, threw his camera and chase boats for a loop, and eased into the pocket. The first fish he saw was an 8-pounder. He stuck his push pole in the water as an anchor, and 10 minutes later that fish was in his boat. "What a way to start a day," he noted.
His next two fish were a 4 and a 7. That made 19 pounds within an hour. A few hours later he had his 32-02. At noon he decided to run to the two 7-pounders because he still had the 4-pounder, but one was gone and the other wasn't biting.
He checked some more places and saw some more 4-pounders, but never found a fish that would help him.
On the way back in he ran into Kile in a no-wake zone. "We were sitting there talking, and he asked me what I had," Jordon said. "I said, 'I think 30, maybe 32, maybe 34.' He said, 'I struggled today.' I'm thinking bull. He said, 'I only have 20 pounds, and I said, 'Bullcrap, man.' You know how that goes," Jordon said. "Someone says he has 22 and he ends up having 25."
Turned out Kile wasn't lying, and Jordon more than erased the 7-pound deficit he had after day 3. "All day long I was fishing so relaxed because I didn't think I had a chance to win," Jordon noted. "I figured since I was blasting them that he was too."
Here's his winning lure, the Lake Fork Tackle Baby Fork Craw.
Jordon's sight-fishing gear consisted of a 7' Fenwick Techna AV medium-heavy rod, an Abu Garcia Torno reel, 65-pound braided line, 3/16-ounce Lake Fork Tackle Mega-Weight, 6/0 Owner Wide Gap Plus hook and 3 1/2-inch Lake Fork Tackle Baby Fork Craw
in green pumpkin.
> Jordon's winning pocket is small (about an acre and a half) but well-known. "I asked Ray Sedgwick later, and he said, 'Oh yeah, that's a great one,'" Jordon said. "It has the right kind of structure, deep water close by, everything you want."
> About 15 boats were in there with him on day 3 (fishing and watching), and about 10 were there on day 4.
> Jordon noted that the lake had "a lot of dead water," so looking a lot in practice was important.
> With the exception of a night tournament on Lake Fork, his day 3 and day 4 limits were the biggest he'd ever caught in a tournament.
> Cody Bird finished 4th, and he and Jordon are roommates. "He was mad at me," Jordon said. "He said this was the first time I beat him sight-fishing. I told him that was because I always take it easy on him (laughs)."
> Main factor in his success – "The way I practiced. I looked for where I thought the fish would be, not where to catch them then because I knew the bite was tougher than nails anyway. I covered lots of water, and didn't get locked in to looking for bedders. I went looking for cruisers and for the right stuff (the fish) needed."