By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
As John Cox pointed out in his winning pattern article from the Lake Hartwell FLW Tour, just about any angler could find his comfort zone in that derby. The South Carolina impoundment offered up water that ranged from clear to muddy and there were fish inhabiting all of it. A lot of the fish were extremely shallow, but some could be found out to depths of 30 feet or so.
Sight-fishing was the predominant tactic, but none of the Top 5 relied on that technique exclusively. Lots of different baits were used to entice fish that couldn't be seen.
Here are some details on how Cox's closest pursuers went about their business.
2nd: Clark Wendlandt
> Day 1: 5, 17-09
> Day 2: 5, 15-07
> Day 3: 5, 19-09
> Day 4: 5, 14-06
> Total = 20, 66-15
Texas veteran Clark Wendlandt made a strong bid for his second Tour victory in 9 months (he won at the Potomac River last June). He came up about half a pound short, but his runner-up showing moved him up to No. 7 in the points race and put him in contention for a run at his fourth career Angler of the Year title.
"My practice was good," he said. "I saw some fish on the beds, but what happens in any sight-fishing tournament is a lot of the first get burned up really quick because everybody looks for them. I paid attention to where most of the boats were and developed some other gameplans, too."
He spent the entire tournament in the lower end of Hartwell, fishing shallow bays off the main lake. He looked at about half of the fish he eventually took to the scale – the others weren't quite ready to begin the reproduction process.
"A lot of it was just knowing where they wanted to spawn and where they were setting up. A lot of the ones I caught weren't spawning yet, but they were thinking about it.
"The places where I ended up fishing didn't have spawners when practice started, but the weather was so warm and the water temperature just kept going up."
He caught a lot of fish on a Strike King Ocho from the 3- to 6-foot depth range.
"Coming off the bank to about 2 1/2 feet was just too shallow. There'd be a little break line there and you'd usually see something in the water – a rock, a stump, a piece of bamboo, it could be anything. That's where they'd be.
> Soft stickbait gear: 7'3" medium-heavy Cabela's Salt Striker rod, Cabela's Arachnid casting reel (6.3:1 ratio), 15-pound Cabela's No-Vis fluorocarbon line, 3/0 unnamed straight-shank hook, wacky-rigged Strike King Ocho (green-pumpkin).
> Sight-fishing gear: 7'2" medium-heavy Cabela's Tournament ZX jig and worm rod, same reel and line, 1/4-ounce Strike King Tour Grade tungsten weight, 2 3/4" Strike King Bitsy Tube (green-pumpkin or white).
Main factor in his success – "I sight-fished where a lot of people were fishing the first day, but then I kind of moved. I fished new water the whole time and I never went back to the same places twice."
Performance edge – "I'd probably say the maps on my Garmin 7612s. That's a big lake with a lot of creeks and pockets and islands and different stuff, and the maps made it a lot easier to decipher it."
Jamie Horton has made the Top-20 cut in both FLW Tour events this year.
3rd: Jamie Horton
> Day 1: 5, 19-12
> Day 2: 5, 11-08
> Day 3: 5, 13-09
> Day 4: 5, 17-12
> Total = 20, 62-09
Jamie Horton, who notched his second straight strong finish to start the campaign, caught three or four of his weigh-in fish skipping docks. He looked at all the rest.
"I had a lot of fish marked from practice, then on the first morning the first six I went to were gone," he said. "I went to another area and they were still there, and I was able to catch them there.
"My best area that I had from practice I never caught a fish in. It was tough finding new fish during the tournament, but I just kept looking. More moved up (on the night of day 3) – I caught two nice ones that weren't there the day before."
He fished from Anderson Island down almost to the dam, hitting both sides of the lake.
"I wanted to start sight-fishing right out of the gates every day, so I felt like I needed water that was real clear in the early morning," he said. "Then after it got sunny, I needed water that wasn't quite so clear."
> Sight-fishing gear: 7'2" heavy-action Phenix M1 rod, Daiwa Tatula Type R casting reel (6.3:1 ratio), 20-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon line, 3/8-ounce Reins Tungsten weight, 5/0 Owner wide-gap hook, unnamed 6" plastic lizard (green-pumpkin).
> Skipping gear: 6'10" medium-heavy Phenix Maxim rod, same reel (8.1:1 ratio), 10-pound Seaguar SmackDown braided line (main line), 10-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon leader, No. 2 Owner wacky-rig hook, 5" Reaction Innovations Pocket Rocket (green-pumpkin).
Main factor in his success – "On Sunday (the first practice day) I got so many bites skipping the wacky-rig that I felt like I could do well in the tournament doing that only. On Monday and Tuesday I didn't even get a rod out – I just looked for fish on beds. I was able to cover a lot more water."
Performance edge – "It'd be hard to say anything other than my Costa sunglasses for this tournament."
Canadian Jeff Gustafson logged is best tour-level finish to date.
4th: Jeff Gustafson
> Day 1: 5, 16-09
> Day 2: 5, 12-14
> Day 3: 5, 15-12
> Day 4: 5, 14-11
> Total = 20, 59-14
Canadian Jeff Gustafson ran a program that was more diverse than any other Top-5 finisher and came away with his best placement in his 4 seasons on Tour. He weighed in five fish that he'd looked at and produced other quality specimens on a wacky-rig, a jerkbait and a small swimbait.
"The first 2 days were flat and calm and I mixed bed-fishing with some docks and some schooling fish," he said. "On Day 3 I did really on a jerkbait and (on day 4) I did really good on a little swimbait.
"With the overcast sky and the wind (on the final 2 days), the outside stuff was a lot better for me."
He made a critical decision on day 1 that paid off big-time.
"I had a place about a mile from take-off with a huge school of spots, and it was a guaranteed limit," he said. "I also had another little stretch where I'd caught a couple of 3-pound largemouths in practice. I was planning to go to the spots first, but at the last minute I changed my mind and decided to go to the largemouth area.
"On about my fifth cast, I caught that 6-14 that was the big fish of the first day. Whether you want to call it luck or whatever, I caught a break there."
> Sight-fishing gear: 7'1" medium-action G. Loomis NRX 852 spinning rod, Shimano Sustain 2500 spinning reel, 8-pound PowerPro braided line (main line), unnamed 8-pound fluorocarbon (leader), No. 1 Gamakatsu wacky-rig hook, Northland Impulse Dipstick or Jackall Flick Shake worm (green-pumpkin).
> Both worms had a 1/16-ounce nail weight inserted to keep one end nose-down on the bed.
> Swimbait gear: Same rod, reel and line, 1/8-ounce Gamakatsu ball-head jig, Keitech 3.3 (electric shad).
Main factor in his success – "I wouldn't have had the tournament I had if I hadn't caught that big fish on the first day."
Performance edge – "With a lot of those fish getting pressure in shallow water, the Minn Kota Talons were a game-changer, for sure."
As usual, Bryan Thrift covered lots of water en route to yet another high finish.
5th: Bryan Thrift
> Day 1: 5, 18-03
> Day 2: 5, 12-15
> Day 3: 5, 15-02
> Day 4: 5, 13-04
> Total = 20, 59-08
Thrift practiced for only 2 of the 3 allotted days, as he was worn out from the trip over from Santee Cooper, where he'd won a Costa Series event the previous week.
"I spent a good majority of Monday and Tuesday looking, and I saw enough to let me know they were up there (near the bank) pretty good," he said. "I probably had 40 or so marked by the end of the day on Tuesday, but they were all little ones. Everything I saw, I marked."
He ended up catching about a half-dozen of his weigh-in fish via the sight-fishing route. The rest of the time he burned down the bank, throwing a 4-inch Damiki Stinger.
"There were very few places that I went to on more than one day in this tournament," he said. "I went to new areas every day. I'd run around until I found a pocket where I saw a couple, and once I'd seen multiple fish I'd go in every pocket in that area.
"Once I found an area of the lake where I was seeing them, I'd stay in that area."
Of his primary bait, he said: "The Stinger falls about three times slower than a Senko. Those shallow fish were real finicky and they were sitting high in the water column. I'd throw it out and hold the rod up, and it'd just kind of suspend. Those fish would come up there and slurp it up."
> Soft stickbait gear: 6'9" medium-heavy Fitzgerald rod, unnamed spinning reel, 8-pound P-Line flurocarbon line, unnamed 2/0 wacky-rig hook, 4" Damiki Stinger (baby bass).
> Sight-fishing gear: 7' heavy-action Fitzgerald Stunner rod, unnamed casting reel (7:1 ratio), 20-pound P-Line fluorocarbon, 3/16-ounce bullet weight, unnamed 3/0 extra-wide gap hook, Damiki Air Craw (green-pumpkin).
Main factor in his success – "Just covering new water every day."
Performance edge: "I'm going to say the biggest thing was the Damiki Stinger."
Much of the tackle referenced above is available at the BassFan Store. To browse the selection, click here..