The pressure has begun mounting on the pros this week as they prepare for the fifth Walmart FLW Tour stop, this time on Pickwick Lake.
Of the approximately 170 anglers who’ll be competing, a relative few of them will be vying for one of the 35 Forrest Wood Cup slots available for the August championship. A few weeks later, the last Tour event of the season, at Kentucky Lake, will settle matters for good.
Without question, the Forrest Wood Cup is the most difficult championship to qualify for in the sport of professional angling. If you fish the Walmart FLW Tour, no doubt you’ll agree; if you don’t, come on over and find out for yourself.
However, most of the anglers competing this week are out of Cup contention, and Pickwick will offer an opportunity to make a good paycheck to help cover the massive expenses required to fish professionally at this level.
I’ve talked to quite a few of the FLW Tour pros, and, as could be said for Kentucky Lake, this Tennessee River fishery is not at the top of their list of preferred lakes. The exceptions are the locals, or else those known for being experts at electronic imagery. It’s not that Pickwick is a poor fishery. It’s a good lake – to fish for fun on a weekday. For a huge tournament such as a Walmart FLW Tour event, not so much. The reason is that when you visit a Tennessee River lake in June, July or August, it’s certain that the lake will fish small and that boats will be on top of each other in a big way.
This year it will be no different. Gone are the days when a few anglers knew the best shell beds and creek intersections and could capitalize. There are no secrets anymore, and on Pickwick, there aren’t many options. The options that do exist, such as forcing a shallow bite or running to Bay Springs, can produce, but they will not produce the quality of fish necessary to earn a good check.
Add to this the fact that, in 2014, anglers will not be allowed to lock out of Pickwick, and it leaves even fewer options for the pros to explore. I don’t mean to sound negative, but that is the reality going into this tournament, and that reality can’t be sugarcoated.
Most of the bass caught this week will come from the Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge to the Bear Creek area. This locale will be covered with anglers, as it’s the area of the lake considered to be the best section due to the river/creek intersection, shell beds and adjacent spawning flats.
The anglers that choose to fish this area will have to deal with several elements. First, the schools are easy to find with side-imaging units. All the big schools will be located the first few days of practice. Catching them is the easy part. Big crankbaits, swimbaits, jigs, worms and drop-shots will all produce.
The hard part is getting on the sweet spots, given the boat draw. There will be a ton of super-nervous anglers at the pretournament meeting, waiting on their first-day draw number. Some will get an early draw and whack them, and some will see their 20-plus-pounds-a-day catches in practice dwindle to near zero with a late draw.
This scenario has happened to all of us, and one of the main reasons so many Walmart FLW Tour pros don’t care to fish tournaments on Tennessee River lakes in the postspawn/summer months. The uncontrolled variables are far too many to deal with successfully.
While most of the field will be battling it out offshore, some of the anglers will look for alternatives. Some will try to catch tailrace fish, but most likely, we’re a month too late for that to be a factor. Some will fish shallow grass and wood. This will produce, but the quality will not be there to compete with the offshore ledge fish.
There will be a few anglers that make the long run to Bay Springs Lake. This can pay off, but it’s nearly an 80-mile run, and Pickwick can get rough. As many of you know, this year has seen some of the highest daily winds I can remember (20 mph or higher nearly every day in Missouri for months), so this is a big gamble.
Regardless, Pickwick is a healthy fishery, and the weights will be good. I look for it to take around 80 pounds to win the event, and around 20 pounds to get a top-75 check after two days.
I don’t see any one angler blowing out the event – a few years ago, maybe, but not in 2014. Everyone is just too good now when it comes to finding those little key sweet spots. Given that, it will come down to who gets the best boat draws and the key bites, and executes to perfection.
Best of luck to all the anglers!