Mark Davis suffered one of his worst Bassmaster seasons this year and finished 88th in the Bassmaster Tour points. Much of that was

due to shoulder pain – he was still recovering from off-season shoulder surgery – and BassFans wondered whether he could ever return to form.

They didn't have to wait long. He blew another roof off the Elite 50 series, this time at Smith Lake.

He went into the four-event E50 series with one goal in mind – to finish high enough in the points (Top 10) to make the 2005 and 2006 Bassmaster Classics. With his win, he's well on his way to that goal, but what's more impressive is he's now won three of the five E50s ever held.


"Practice went really well for me," Davis said. "It didn't take too long for me to figure out a pattern that would catch both largemouths and spots.

"They were essentially the same pattern except that the largemouths came out of pockets in 1 to 5 feet of water, and the spots came off of steep rock banks and points in 5 to 8 feet of water. It was a solid pattern and all of my areas were real close to each other, which meant I didn't have to run around a lot during the tournament."

He had sight-fish located, but also relied on deeper fish. "I didn't do much sight-fishing in practice at all," he said. "I did locate some fish for the first day, but you really didn't have to see them. The sun had them tight to the cover and as long as the sun was out, you knew where to cast.

"I had three different worm techniques that worked for me," he noted. "One was a Strike King Finesse Worm fished weightless or on a jighead, and the other was a weightless Yum Dinger. When I fished the worm weightless, I either Texas-rigged that bait or wacky-rigged it.

"For the spots, I'd throw the weightless worm out, let it sink about 3 feet, and then slowly start swimming it back to the boat with short twitches. The jigworm I'd let sink to the bottom and hop it along the bottom."

Days 1 and 2

> Day 1: 5, 16-12
> Day 2: 5, 12-01 (Total: 10, 28-13)

"Day 1 was just a great day," Davis said. "I had three fish on my first three casts and caught two of them. After that, I probably caught three more limits of fish.

"The weather was perfect that day. The sun was high and had the fish positioned tight against the cover. It was the best day I'd had all season.

"The next day was a little tougher," he noted. "We had some nasty storms and that pulled the fish off the cover and made them scatter. I managed eight fish that day, but it was a lot tougher than on the first day."

He targeted largemouths on day 2. "I knew I'd need a good sack to make the cut, so I concentrated on largemouths in the backs of cuts. The fish were spawning next to logs and that's how I managed to get my fish that day."

Days 3 and 4

> Day 3: 5, 13-06
> Day 4: 5, 11-08 (Total: 10, 24-14)

"I didn't have much confidence about the course," Davis said. "I had heard rumor that is was the worst section of the lake."

Day 3 started out badly and seemed to confirm his suspicions.

"First off, the tournament was postponed for an hour due to a bad storm that rolled through," he said, "Then, with 10 minutes before they let us go, I discovered the trolling motor on my TV boat didn't work. I had to pull the boat out of the water, round up a spare boat, transfer my tackle and then relaunch.

"It was a pain and really got me in a tither. I managed to get the boat ready with about 2 minutes to go, but by that time, I was pretty upset."

His attitude changed quickly after he reached his first hole on the course. "I'd already decided I was going to throw a spinnerbait because the weather was so nasty. That adjustment allowed me to put my limit in the boat in 22 minutes.

"Once I had that limit in the boat, I had a lot of momentum," he said. "I ended up catching 12 fish that day – six on the spinnerbait, four on the Yum Dinger and two on the jigworm.

"On day 4, I figured the spots would still be on the spinnerbait because of the wind," he said. "I started out in the same hole as the day before and threw the spinnerbait for an hour and only got one keeper. The fish were just nipping at the bait and I couldn't hook them – even with a trailer hook on the bait.

Strike King
Photo: Strike King

A key bait for Davis was the Strike King 3X Finesse Worm in watermelon seed.

"When I got to my second hole, I knew I had to change."

His change made the difference.

"I knew I'd have to go back to the worm, but I had to choose the right bait in order to get cast it, get it down, and still be able to feel the bites in the 30 mph wind. That's why I chose the Yum Dinger. It's short, compact and sinks like a rock.

"I ended up with four more fish on that bait and was able to fill out my limit. That change made all the difference in the world for me."

Winning Gear

> Weightless worm gear: 6'6" medium-light All Star 783 spinning rod, Pflueger President 6735 spinning reel, 8-pound Shakespeare Supreme line (green), 3/0 Mustad Sproat hook (Texas rig and wacky), 5" Strike King 3X finesse worm (watermelon seed), 3-inch Yum Dinger (watermelon seed).

> Jigworm gear: 6'6" medium-light All Star 783 spinning rod, Pflueger President 6735 spinning reel, 8-pound Shakespeare Supreme line (green), 3/16-ounce homemade jighead, 5" Strike King 3X finesse worm (watermelon seed).

> Spinnerbait gear: 6'6" heavy All Star 786 casting rod, Pflueger President casting reel, 20-pound Shakespeare Supreme line (green), 3/8-ounce Strike King Titanium Quad Shad spinnerbait (white), 3/0 trailer hook (unnamed brand).


> Main factor in his success – "The main reason I was successful this week was my ability to completely change with the conditions. I read the water and weather perfectly each day and that's was got me the win."

> Davis fished spotted bass that were either suspended over sunken bushes, or he drew them out of the brush. "The spots were either in the bushes or suspended over them. I'd let the weightless worm sink to about 3 feet and then start my slow twitching retrieve."

> "I spent 30 days on the water before this tournament to get my shoulder back in shape," he said. "It had been feeling stiff all season, and those days got me back to a point I haven't been in over 5 years."