Table Rock Lake, Branson, MO
The second stop of the 2012 Bassmaster Central Opens has come and passed and I’m definitely left with mixed emotions. First of all, this was my first time fishing on legendary Table Rock and let me tell you this lake is sent from the heavens. Easily one of the most beautiful bodies of water I’ve ever visited and I’m pretty seasoned in that department. Not only does the lake’s scenic beauty hold up to it’s reputation but the bass that inhibit the lake are plentiful and match it’s reputation of a trophy producer.
I was really excited to get down there and start breaking down this long and windy waterway that has everything to offer. You can fish your strengths here no matter if you excel at fishing deep or shallow water, there’s something for everyone.
Saturday morning I launched with my wife Bri and spent all our day fishing the Kings river arm. The morning started slow but I think that has a lot to do with me playing around with my new Power Pole Blades and trying to get tuned into them. We managed to catch a lot of fish but the overall size was concerning. I could catch spotted bass on nearly every cast along bluff bank with a personal hand-tied Outkast Finesse Jig and Bri was catching two at a time on my modified three hook Alabama Rig but again the size just wasn’t there. The most exciting part of my day was testing out the new Biovex Popper prototype and whacking spots on nearly every cast. The action of this bait is sure to be a hit. When worked it actually gives a side to side “walking” action like that of a small spook but delivers the most enticing “pop” every time you twitch your rod. My favorite detail of this new bait is that when paused, the popper actually stands upright giving that extra flare, forcing a following bass to inhale it.
At the end of the day I wasn’t to crazy about the Kings even though I knew it can produce winning sacks of fish at any given time. I also took into consideration that it was a long way from the take-off point so I rid off the Kings River that first day.
For the remainder of practice I stayed close to the dam and quickly started to put some things together. I had seen some small bass on beds the day before in the Kings so I just started picking some coves near the dam that had good looking spawning habitat and that also had the main river channel flow close to the mouth of the cove. I picked out small manageable coves and started at one point and just fished my way all the way in and back out until I came to the opposite side point. I caught and pulled on some quality bites and they were all relatively shallow. For the most part I was flipping at shallow cover with a craw type plastic and various sized Lazer Tungsten Weights and my favorite all time hook, the Trokar 4/0 MagWorm hook. In between the cover I had success working the initial drop off from the bank throwing a Biovex Mid Runner (Vermillion), a 1/2 oz. Biovex Stangun Spinnerbait (Chartreuse and White) and of course the good old Missouri standby, a Storm Wiggle Wart (Phantom Green Craw).
I continued to work this pattern for the rest of practice and was able to find numerous coves that all held quality fish. I added to the pattern and refined it as well and figured I could catch anywhere from 17 to 18 pounds for my best five a day. I was happy with that kind of weight but I also had some anxiety as I felt like my bite was dwindling fast. Most the fish were post spawn and on the move toward the main lake and were stopping in random bushes and laydowns along their way out of the creeks. The one thing I felt confident about was that the water had a lot of color due to an unusually long algae bloom that was present because of the early summer and the warmer temps. Table Rock is known for it’s gin clear waters and the bass are accustomed to that. I felt like the color of the water may keep them shallow and in the cover.
I took the last day of practice and went all in on some deeper water. I knew there was good fish in those coves so I stayed in that general area. It didn’t come easy for me either but I did manage to find two small rock piles literally in the middle of the lake that were about the size of my Ranger boat. They sat in 30 feet of water and the tops of the piles came up to about 25 feet. I made one cast with a hand tied Outkast 1/2 oz. Touchdown Jig and caught a 4 pound smallmouth.
Day one of the tournament started fast as I popped a keeper out of the first to bushes I came across. The key was definitely my Trokar hooks and the reason was because I still had to use lighter line as I got way more bites on 15 pound Seaguar Invizx than I could with 20 pound Seaguar so keeping them pegged throughout the brush was a must.
It wasn’t long before I was running out of water as my worries were coming true, the bite was going away from me and I was also competing for space with other competitors. After failing to scrape up a limit and no where near the weight I was seeing in practice I ran out to my rock piles and it was straight pandemonium from there. I spent the final three hours out there and probably caught close to 25 bass both smallmouth and spotted bass. I culled like crazy but for ounces instead of pounds as I just never got that big bite like I did during practice and in the end I weighed in a 5 fish limit consisting of two largemouth, 2 smallmouth and a spotted bass going 11.13 pounds and was sitting in close contention to not only claiming a check the next day but not a far cry away from the top 10.
My plan the next day was to get to that deep spot right away and see if the bigger ones would bite and if nothing else get a quick limit and then run shallow for a mega bite or two. I knew my presentation was spot on as I had to clean crayfish parts out of my boat that night, I definitely was using the right bait.
Day two started out rough and tough right away. I made it to my deep holes but the stiff 30 mph winds made them almost impossible to fish. The main problem was that the rocks were so snag filled that I couldn’t finesse the jig through them and entice bites like I could the day before. Instead I got hung on EVERY cast and with the spot being so small I would just shut down the school before they ever got going. The key with that spot was to finesse the jig until it hit a bigger boulder and then “pop” it free, that’s when I’d get bit. Instead I wasted a better part of two hours and about a dozen jigs with nothing to show for it.
Frustrated I ran shallow and did manage to catch two relatively quickly on a 1/2 oz. Biovex Stangun Spinnerbait. With only an hour or so to go and crushing thoughts of not weighing a limit I ran back to my deep haunts and this time took a different approach. I tied on a 3/4 oz. Outkast Touchdown Jig and really relied on my Lowrance electronics and Hydrowave to assist me in scratching out a limit. Basically I idled into the wind to the rocks and then jumped up on my trolling motor and set it at 100 to be able to handle the wind, I waited until I saw a fish on my sonar and then would pitch the heavier jig down to them and then drift backward bringing the jig past their face. This way I could be more efficient and would snag less knowing I’m working a smaller and obviously more productive area. A dropshot would have been more productive but I couldn’t buy a bite on one as they clearly were on a crayfish bite. The key was my Hydrowave as it actually brought the fish up just a bit so I could easily separate them from the bottom on my sonar, honestly there is so many tricks a guy can use with a Hydrowave but I’ll leave all that to my next article.
I was able to bang out a small limit in the last hour and weighed in a disappointing 9.03 pounds for an ultimate finish of 81st place out of 168. I was disappointed as I once again proved I belong on this stage but same as the last event on Lewisville, I was so close on day 1 and just didn’t get it done on day 2. When you’re that close your priorities quickly change and ultimately not meeting those left me disappointed. I can say that I fished as hard as I have ever fished before and saw another part of my game get even better, great signs for things to come. I had a game plan, a good one at that and just didn’t get the big bite like I had in practice. That’s just tournament bass fishing. Good news was two semi solid finishes moved me up in the points but the goal of qualifying for the Bassmaster Elites is almost long gone for 2012. Now I focus on continuing to work and hone my skills for an awesome 2013 campaign on the Bassmaster Opens. I still have a shot at qualifying for the Bassmaster Classic at Fort Gibson, OK in September so you can bet your ass I’ll be leaving it all on the water there. Grand lake in February would mean the world to me but I got my hands full that’s for sure. Bring it on! I’m a competition junkie all the way.
For now, I have a HUGE tournament schedule shaping up here in the north country. Up next is the North American Bass event held on the Winnebago Chain in east Wisconsin. Should set up for a whack fest! I’m also filling fast for guide trips so get in touch with me right away if you’d like to take advantage. I’m always looking for a good time on the water so I’ll be sure to work you in! See you on the water!!