In the past, it was said that versatility was the key to earning a living as a tournament professional, but specialization was required to win events. We saw examples of this with the household names of the time. Flippers, crankers, offshore gurus. Sight-fishing specialists would have their chance each spring, replaced by topwater fishermen in the fall.
Today, it’s thought that versatility is required to constantly place near the top. We see guys like Dakota Ebare or Brandon Cobb repeatedly chasing trophies and just assume they’re versed in every lure category. That adaptability is what wins, right?
Maybe not. Customary for the end of the pro seasons, I began to compile my list of winning techniques, and was baffled upon review. Sure, I’d kept up with each event, but it wasn’t until I looked at them as a group that a very interesting pattern began to emerge. A pattern that proves specialists still dominate the pro ranks.
This week, let’s dig deeper into the first half of the BPT season for an eye-opening lesson. You’ll likely be as surprised as I was.
Stage One: Lake Kissimmee
Winner: Chris Lane
Lane dominated this event by pitching a stick worm around lily pads and arrowheads. Yawn.
Seriously, this is about as textbook as you can get, perfectly showcasing Lane’s specialty of simple Florida fishing without overthinking it. But it’s more than that. Lane is simply better than nearly everyone on tour at this very refined approach. There’s a lot to it: controlling slack line, lining up the boat correctly; it’s all feel. Lane’s specialty.
>b?REDCREST: Lake Norman
Winner: Bryan Thrift
Thrift won before he arrived. Being a Lake Norman specialist, he was able to put his customized arsenal of lures in front of bass that most other anglers never knew existed. Multiple depthfinders, dozens of rods on deck; vintage Thrift. His starting lure was an underspin, but Thrift later coasted to victory with a ChatterBait, as he’s done for a decade now. Textbook specialty.
Stage Two: Cherokee Lake
Winner: Keith Poche
Poche bounced off rocks in his Gator Trax boat, accessing an area below a dam for victory. Few, if any other competitors could pull this off due to the constraints of their glass boats. Poche has built a career playing this card – his specialty. Once settled in, he employed a hollow-body swimbait – the “below the dam standard” to take down his first BPT.
Stage Three: Lake Murray
Winner: Anthony Gagliardi
Galgiardi has won a pile of money on Lake Murray; you could say the lake is his specialty. “I don’t know what it is, but this lake just suits me,” Galiardi said following the triumph.
Gagliardi knows Murray like Thrift knows Norman, and it showed. With the event taking place in the spring, right in the middle of the spawning season, no one but Gagliardi could have known to key on offshore hideouts. His best were open-water areas chock full of striped bass – another bizarre feature that would have turned away any sane competitor – and Gagliardi seined these with forward-facing sonar and a dropshot. He had his fish to himself, and it showed. Again.
Heavy Hitters: Monroe, La.
Winner: Alton Jones, Jr.
The Jones boys are quickly turning into Heavy Hitters specialists, especially the younger Alton, recipient of a quarter-million dollars in earnings from the 2022 and 2023 editions alone. Here, AJ Jr. used a new lure – the Geecrack Bellows Shad – to totally dominate the final round. In fact, Jones Jr. caught more bass than everyone else combined that day.
This year, I had the chance to extensively interview both Altons and found out more about the younger angler’s approach, specifically his specialization in new lures and techniques. His father confirmed, Alton Jr. often masters a bait before most of the bass world even knows it exists.
I’m confident that’s what happened here. The lure in question is a funny-looking creature bait featuring outlandish ribs. However, when flipped and pitched in heavy cover during the shad spawn, Jones’ ghost-white hunk of plastic was just what the doctor ordered. His less-versed competitors stuck to standard creations in blacks and green pumpkins, and got dealt a solid defeat. Jones Jr. specializes in keeping his options open, and it showed.
Upon reviewing my research to this point, I sat in awe. There it was, on paper, right in front of me. Want to make a few bucks fishing? Learn every technique you can. But if you want to win, you’ll need to master one. In upcoming pieces, we’ll check back on patterns for the second half of the BPT season, as well as investigate the Elite Series.
It will be interesting to see how things change through different formats, times of year and field sizes. Until then, the facts confirm: This game may be simpler than we thought.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)