Old Hickory Lake, Hendersonville, TN
My anticipation for this event was through the roof. Being that both my wife Bri and I want to move to Tennessee, it made this trip all the more special. Bri was even dedicated in that she put aside four of the first five practice days to be out on the boat with me. In the end she got pretty good at throwing a buzzbait as well as feeding the ducks our granola bars.
The first day of practice I put aside for fishing down in the river and decided I would spend all day in Spring Creek. I had done a lot of research prior to launching and had an idea where the bass would be, but really wanted to dial them in early and instead of running all over the lake I figured I would work this entire cove and once I felt I had them dialed in, I would duplicate that pattern all over the lake and start looking for more and more productive areas that held bigger fish. In the end this concept sounded a lot easier than the reality would be. I managed 4 keepers and a dozen or more shorts. The fish where shallow for the most part but the keepers where scattered around different structure and came on different baits. I caught a 15″ largemouth on a bluff wall on a Rapala DT Flat 3 (Parrot), I caught another 14″ largie on a Biovex Stangun Spinnerbait, as well as another 14″ on a Biovex Micro Crank Shallow Runner (Fune Orange Belly), and my best keeper, a 18″ largemouth came off a laydown in 7 ft. of water on a Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver (Xmas Pumpkin) with a 1/4 oz. Tru Tungsten pegged sinker. I caught most my shorts by throwing a 1/4 oz. Super K Swim Jig in a Pro Staff only color (mostly white with a bit of black and green pumpkin).
After day one I was pretty convinced of one thing, I was going to have to move water and make as many casts as possible. This is a bit out of my comfort zone, just in that I like to locate good fish and then slow down to catch them. I don’t like feeling that I’m leaving good fish behind me. This is something I know I need to work on to continue to develop into a versatile angler. So I was more than happy to step up to the challenge.
Day 2 and 3 of practice I continued to spend my time up the river and fished the Bartons Creek area as well as some other smaller, less known creeks and pockets in the area. Fish where easy enough to catch but finding keepers where more than difficult. Both days I believe I caught 4 keepers each day with none being more than 15 inches. Most of these keepers came on one of three different baits, a 3/8 oz. Chatterbait (White), a Strike King 1 XS Crankbait (sexy shad or chart. blue back), and the Biovex Micro Crank Shallow Runner (Fune Orange Belly).
The final two days of practice I spent closer to the dam in Cedar Creek, Drakes Creek, Station Camp Creek and several other smaller creeks in the area. Both days I managed my standard 4 keepers but had a kicker each day. One day I whacked a healthy 4 pounder from a boat dock in Drakes Creek on a 3/8 oz. Tru Tungsten Jig (Green Pumpkin) and then went on to fish another 100 or so docks in the creek and never got another bite. Then the last day I managed another 4 pounder by throwing a homemade football jig on a secondary point in about 12 feet of water. I went on to fish a dozen in a half other points and never got a bite. I guess this is standard on Old Hickory. Like I said before, trolling motor down chucking and winding as fast as possible for 8 hours and maybe I could get myself in contention to qualify for nationals.
Day 1 of the tournament started out tough near the dam, so around 10:30 I decided to make the run up river to Spring Creek where I finally manged a keeper off that same laydown but instead of a toad 18″, I got a barely bumper 14″ rat. In the box it went. After another 2 or so hours with nothing more than a handful of non keepers I ran back toward the dam and managed to catch another 14″ largemouth on the chatterbait. Day one I weighed in a very disappointing 2 fish for 2.88 lbs. and was sitting in 108th out of 169. The good news was that I needed to make the top 50 to qualify for nationals and was only 4 pounds back from 30th. So I knew I still had an excellent chance of making up ground. The bite was tough for everyone which I was quickly learning was common place for Old Hickory.
Day 2 came and I ran to a spot in Cedar where I had missed a big one in the last minutes the day before and managed to catch two small ones and dropped a good 3 plus pound largemouth. It was still pretty dark and I was throwing my chatterbait threw the tulle grass, when I realized it was on. The problem was that it was all to common to hang up on the stem of the plants which felt the same as a fish grabbing the bait. By the time I realized I had a fish on it was way to late and she got off.
From there I ran up a creek arm close by where I had seen a lot of shad up in the dirt shallows, literally dirt shallow, 6 – 8 inches. I got a few short strikes but ended up catching a barely 14″ largemouth on the Strike King 1XS. The fish choked the bait and was bleeding real bad, I quickly sunk the fish in the livewell by employing a heavy ice fishing weight to keep the bass from turning on it’s side and added a bunch of Please Release Me.
I fished and fished all day and in the end only managed small ones that wouldn’t cross the 14″ mark. At weigh in I checked my keeper and because of all the blood loss was just barely touching the 14″ mark, I wasn’t sure if it would go, it was the closest I had ever seen. Since I had revived the fish and it was healthy I just let it go instead of risking a DQ and it wouldn’t of helped me get to Nationals, it would of only made me look a bit better on the final standings. With a 15 hour drive ahead of me back to Minnesota it seemed like the most logical decision. In the end the lake proved to be as tough, if not tougher than I had thought, to make the top 50 a guy only had to catch a two day total of 11 pounds and was in. To make the top 25 I only needed a two day total of 14 pounds. That’s a tough bite!
I had a lot of time to think back on the week while I was driving home and really don’t have many regrets. I learned a lot of solid info that will pay huge dividends in the future. I learned a lot more about shad which is the primary forage in that part of the country and even better I feel a lot more comfortable with a crankbait in my hand. Being a die hard jig fisherman and topwater guy, this was much needed. From here on out, I’ll always have a crankbait tied on and on the deck of my boat. My strength is slowing down and flipping cover, whether it’s wood, docks, mats or milfoil, and if that’s the pattern of any given tournament I have all the confidence in the world that I’ll be in the top when it’s all said and done. I also feel more than comfortable with smallmouth gear like spinning rods, 8 lb. test and a 3″ tube or shakey head and my most favorite way to catch them would be throwing a football jig probing deepwater for giants, but crankin’ just hasn’t been my thing and I know if I can incorporate that technique as a go to strength I’ll be able to contend with the best all over the country. Challenge accepted!
Now back home, old man winter is letting us all know he’s right around the corner. Most people start getting all ready for hunting and or ice fishing, not this open water junkie. No not at all, it’s time to go whack some schooled up smallies and toad smallmouth at that. Rivers and small creeks this time of year get chucked full of smallies that school up for the long winter, where the current keeps the water from freezing solid you will find me. This is the only way I know how to recharge my batteries after a long grueling tournament season.
This winter keep checking back as I’m looking at adding a lot more tips and techniques for others to try. I’ve been getting a lot of emails and am humbled by all that read and follow my blog all over the country. Really I can’t believe how many are out there that frequent my site. Thank you. Being that I am a tournament fisherman I can’t always give to much information that can be used against me, however while out fun fishing working on new techniques on non tournament waters, I’m going to break down what I look for and what works for me so that it may help another angler out there looking to sharpen their skills. If anyone has any ideas or questions please email me and I’ll be sure to address them personally or do a blog entry on the topic.
Good luck to all the hunters coming up, even though I haven’t been doing much hunting the past few years I can still smell it in the air. I just can’t seem to put down the rod and reel. Also hats off to all the fisherman that where able to weather the storm that is Old Hickory and qualified for nationals on Lake Dardenelle.