Douglas Lake, Dandridge, TN
This go round, I guess you could say things are different because most of the structures that Starks and the Cali’s own Mr. Aaron Martens were targeting were high and dry. Ole’ Douglas’s water level changes pretty dramatically in the course of a season. I’ve never seen anything too much like it since I was fishing in Southern California. Here’s a photo of a spot that was pounded in last years Elite Series event, hard to imagine they were using deep diving plugs to dredge these rocks and now seagulls are using it to rest after gorging on the shad kill.
Douglas Lake – Photo courtesy of Bill Kohls
That brings me to my second observation within minutes of launching. Douglas Lake was enduring a giant shad kill, worse than I’ve ever seen before. This isn’t a bad thing as Mother Nature has her ways of recycling her bounties but when it comes to fishing, it’s like a mayfly hatch on steroids and anyone from Minnesota feels a brothers pain.
The weekend before our Open, Douglas Lake hosted the first PAA event of the year and though I tend to ignore other events it was hard, as every angler that found success in that event was throwing an umbrella rig exclusively. That’s a hard stat to ignore and only pushed me harder to find something against the grain as I knew these bass had seen plenty of rigs and they were about to see a whole lot more.
I threw the kitchen sink at these bass and when finally disgusted, I picked up the old Hog Farmer 3 Wire Rig and started putting bass in the boat. Not bad ones either, the Rig definitely coughs up giants. I’m not sure exactly where I lie as a tournament angler on my thoughts of the umbrella rig being used in tournament competition as generally I’m a one lure, one line, one rod and reel type of a believer. More on this later…
Every single day of practice I was catching quality, not a lot but the overall quality was there. I was concerned about my ability to catch a limit. I was targeting main-lake points and secondary points in the mouths of creek channels. Whenever I’d get bit, I’d mark it and move on and hope that I’d have enough water to run it all come tourney time. My thought was that this could produce a limit both days and a winning limit at that. I seriously never caught anything except giants while I was there. I never caught a single small bass so I knew I was doing the right thing and around the right fish but with the shad kill making easy meals for weary bass and the abundance of pressure I still had reasons to be concerned. Still though, the size bass I was around was enough to keep my interest and keep me searching for solutions to these potential problems.
Hog Farmer Rig with 3 Biovex Kolt Ridgetail Swimbaits – Photo courtesy of Bill Kohls
The other issue I was having, as well as everyone else in the field, was the ever-changing weather conditions. Seriously, we’re talking rain, sun, snow, heat, clouds, fog and wind. You name it and we endured it. It was hard trying to put two things together that matched and when trying to find a pattern, this makes life difficult. Finally, with only hours left of official practice, I was forced to make the dreaded decision of commiting myself to the Rig or continue to treat game day as if it was a practice. I’ve never commit an entire tournament day to throwing the Rig and most certainly have been beat because of it. You’re looking for 4 to 7 bites a day in some cases but the bites are giant if your fishing the right areas. Even though bites were few and far between for me, the ones I was getting in practice were all 4 to 7 pounds so it was a gamble worth taking. If I could just manage 3 or 4 bites I should have anywhere between 17 to 22 pounds and if I weigh a limit, I should have 23 to 30. Sounds all G right? Well, on the flip side, I was still only managing a few bites a day and if I don’t happen to hit the timing right, I could just as easy zero.
I have been beat all winter by the umbrella rig, largely due to my stubborn and timid refusal to commit to it. This time I decided I had to find the kahunas some where to suck it up and chuck the chandelier all day without any remorse. Being that I finished so poorly in Florida due to faulty engine issues, I figured this would be the best event to throw caution to the wind. I wasn’t on anything else but sometimes that’s when a guy just needs to drop the trolling motor and throw a shakey head all day and grind out the bites. Heck, often enough this proves a safe play and can result in a check, if not a top 10. Still, I had enough big bites in practice that my decision was already made.
Tournament rigging was a breeze, I had two rods. The first was my main bread and butter, the exact outfit I was throwing in practice and getting my big bites. I was using a G Loomis GLX 894C FPR with a Shimano Chronarch 200E7 and 60lb. Seaguar Kanzen Braid. My rig was a custom Hog Farmer Bait Company 3 wire rig with 3 dummy baits and I used 1/8 oz. jigheads on the business end. My other setup was a G Loomis GL2 BBR 964C Salmon Bounceback Rod with the new Shimano Calcutta CT 200D spooled with 80lb. Seaguar Kanzen Braid. This rig I went for a deeper bite with the Hog Farmer 3 Wire 6 Blade Rig with 3 Biovex Kolt Ridgetail Swimbaits.
The first rig I would use to fish points, secondary points and key staging areas to peg off bass that moved up and got active. The second rig, I used in the same areas but off the points and off to the sides of the points. I was always hoping to get lucky on one of the many bass that were suspending and holding off these key areas and that were extremely lethargic due to the abundance of food from the shad kill.
Me pointing out suspended bass hanging with shad schools on my Lowrance HDS-9 Touch. – Photo courtesy of Bill Kohls
Day one was some of the most miserable fishing I’ve had to date. Remember, I from Minnesota and have endured straight pain for a chance at a couple bites. This was right up there, in fact I’m pretty sure my day 1 non boater would have been totally content had I just put it on the trailer. No disrespect either, it was that nasty and don’t blame him.
It was very clear right away that this was going to be a grind as I ran point to point and never managed a bite. Although both our mentalities completely swayed when I was working through a staging area and hooked into a giant, the fish was an easy 7.5 but was spitting shad up like a teenager spews after getting drunk for the first time. Still, I was ecstatic, this was the earliest bite I had got all week and still had 6 hours left to upgrade.
I threw the rig all day and never got another bite. I weighed in one bass for 6.10 lbs. and was sitting 80th after day one out of 180 anglers. I had all sorts of thoughts running threw my head but decided to stay the course. I was catching quality, but not quantity. It would have been dumb abandoning these big fish since I was dropping the ball on really keying in on what would put together a limit, I retied my two rigs and began where I left off day one.
Take Off – Photo Courtesy of James Overstreet and Bassmaster.com
My second day started as slow as could be imagined. You really start to feel the aches and pains of throwing a Rig all week when you’re not getting bites. I assure you this, when you do get a bite on that damn thing, you don’t feel any pain, they straight crush it! It’s as addictive as it gets.
Finally, at about 11:30 I got the bite I was needing to breathe a little life back into me. I had moved across a steep main-lake point throwing the lighter rig without a bite. I decided to work my way back across it but this time target any suspended bass as my Lowrance was lighting up like the Griswold’s Christmas tree.
I made three cast toward the side of the point and on my third, I popped a good one that weighed at least 4. That gave me the boost I was looking for but the next 4 hours only brought a whole lot of chucking and winding and zero hook setting. I weighed in 1 bass going 4.4 pounds for a two day total of 10.14 pounds and finished a very disappointing 99th place.
When it comes to fishing umbrella rigs, the common phrase is don’t throw it and get beat by it. I definitely hold that true but also feel like it can be damned if you do and damned if you don’t kind of pattern. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one that thinks the Rig is a fool proof method of fishing and that it’s all a luck game. Heck, there’s plenty of anglers that are straight dialed on the technique and excel in the winter. However, because of the Rig, we’ll also probably never hear an angler win a big derby with 11 pounds because he got down and grinded out a small limit with a shakey head or a small 80 size jerkbait. With the Rig in play, those days are now over. I tend to fall in line with the ones that believe in one line, one bait for tournament play. That’s just my thought.
If you can’t beat ’em – join ’em! Until you experience a 7 pounder commit suicide on your rig, you’ll never know the joy. I can only imagine what a 10 pounder will feel like? I vow to make that a reality next winter, until then I’m thinking I can finally get back to using my flipping sticks for what they were made for, summer is right around the corner, time to go flip, flip!