You win some. You lose some.
Unless you’re Ray Hanselman. This guy wins everything.
At least, he did in 2015.
In case you’ve been stuck in a tree stand or out of social media range and didn’t already know it, Hanselman won all three regular-season Rayovac FLW Series Texas Division tournaments in 2015. And at the end of October he topped off his stellar run by winning the Rayovac FLW Series Championship on the Ohio River out of Paducah, Ky.
That’s four wins in four tries, forever to be referred to by FLW’s media team as “Hanselmania.”
And mania it was. Not only did Hanselman win all four tournaments, but his smallest margin of victory during the streak was 5 1/2 pounds. His widest winning gap was 12 pounds. He caught smallmouths and largemouths; targeted prespawn, spawning and postspawn fish; ranged from the bank to offshore structure and grass; won in February, April, May and October; competed on home waters and places he’s never seen; and never used the same primary technique at any two events.
Hanselman says he’s finally figured out what it takes in terms of mental fortitude to win a major tournament. More to come on that subject later. For now, here’s a rundown of how he put the beatdown on some of the best FLW Series sticks in the country … four times in a row.
Win No. 1 – A Harrowing Run and a Wing Ding
Feb. 12-14, 2015
No one knows Lake Amistad better than Hanselman. He grew up on the big Texas reservoir and makes his living as a guide there. At the division’s opener on Amistad, Hanselman leveraged his experience with prespawn patterns and local knowledge of a very productive honey hole to win more than $33,000. Hanselman’s three-day total of 50 pounds, 14 ounces was 5 pounds, 8 ounces better than second place.
The magic spot was a place about 65 miles away from takeoff up the Rio Grande where a couple of warm-water springs trickled into the main river. Hanselman had to run a dangerous stretch of narrow, shallow, rock-infested river to get there. FLW’s iON camera immortalized the run in one of the most-viewed videos of the 2015 season.
Watch it here.
The springs, which were visible by a slight surface disturbance, boosted the water temperature in that area into the mid-60s, while other areas of the lake hadn’t even reached 60 degrees yet. It’s a spot that isn’t accessible at extreme low-water periods, but one that has produced some major wins in past local tournaments.
Hanselman cast a Top Shelf swimbait to big boulders and trees in 2 to 10 feet of water near the springs.
His other pattern was fishing grass-lined ditches and drains where bass were staging alongside spawning flats. There, Hanselman caught most of his keepers hopping and ripping a Wahoo Lures Wing Ding Tail Spinner through the grass.
“It’s great when it’s cold,” he says of the Wing Ding. “It’s a small bait and a danged good reaction bait. We don’t get to throw it much when the lake’s at normal pool because there’s too much brush in the water. But at low pool it gets those ‘dead fish’ fired up, and then I can throw a crankbait out there and catch them.”
In addition to a deep-diving crankbait, Hanselman also followed up with a drop-shot and an umbrella rig.
Win No. 2 – Dodging Hornets in the Brush
Sam Rayburn Reservoir
April 9-11, 2015
Hanselman became the first person to ever win back-to-back FLW Series events when he rolled into a rain-swollen Sam Rayburn and beat down the competition – winning by more than 7 pounds over second place with 60 pounds, 8 ounces.
According to reports at the time, Rayburn was higher than it’d been in about 15 years – at about 5 feet above “normal” pool. The resulting floodwaters filtered out into the pines, sweet gums and brush – much of it infested with stinging insects and snakes – that line the reservoir.
Naturally, with this tournament being conducted during the spawn, the pros in the field swarmed the flooded cover. Hanselman’s strategy was to push deeper into the cover than anyone else to find fish that had either been displaced by the pressure or overlooked by anglers who weren’t willing to brave a few close encounters with hornets.
He caught his fish on a beaver-style bait with a 6/0 heavy-gauge flipping hook and a Strike King Tour Grade Tungsten Slither Rig in the Okeechobee craw color. The Slither Rig is a weight with an attached skirt that enhances the presentation by increasing the bait’s profile.
“I used a 3/4-ounce Slither Rig when I was really busting back in the backs of the trees, and I used a 1/2-ouncer in the buck brush that didn’t have any leaves,” he recalls. “Everything had to be dead in the middle and on the bottom.”
Win No. 3 – Foresight of the Frog Bite
April 30-May 2
Rainy weather was a factor once again as the Texas Division season closed at Lake Texoma. The finale was destined to be a sight-fishing fest until rains washed red-colored runoff from the clay banks into the system and the water level jumped up a couple feet.
For Hanselman, the win was mostly about foresight. He realized in practice that many anglers were crowding into the clearest areas to sight-fish, and most simply wrote off the dirtier areas. He kept tabs on these “no good” spots as they gradually cleared out, and by the end of practice he had dialed in several areas with good clarity and unpressured fish. He ended up catching 58 pounds, 13 ounces to win by a whopping 12-pound margin and spent his entire tournament in Platter Flats Cove targeting a mix of flooded brush, laydowns and grass.
“This was a cove with lots of smaller coves,” he says. “I [mainly] looked for flooded brush with a good inside edge. There were fish spawning, fish guarding fry and fish cruising. I just burned up some water, but I fished pretty thoroughly.”
While most pros in the field were flipping and pitching, or sight-fishing with various presentations, Hanselman relied primarily on a Strike King Sexy Frog. He figured that the frog would not only tempt spawners, but also postspawn fry-guarding bass. By tournament’s end, a few other top finishers were onto the frog bite, but it was far too late to catch Hanselman.
“I got on that deal ahead of everybody, and I think that made a difference,” he says.
Win No. 4 – Hammering Tailrace Smallmouths
After dominating the Lone Star State ranks primarily with largemouths (he caught a few smallies on Amistad) for three tournaments, Hanselman turned to smallmouths and the Kentucky Lake tailwaters on the Tennessee River to beat the best FLW Series pros from across the country at the 2015 Championship.
Based out of the Ohio River in Paducah, Ky., the Championship allowed anglers to choose among several rivers and pools. Hanselman settled on the Tennessee River during pre-practice, after watching a jumbo smallmouth follow his swimbait to the boat.
In the tournament, he returned to the Tennessee and did most if his damage with an umbrella rig, though he did throw the single swimmer too.
Hanselman camped in one primary area for four days, rotating through a handful of key spots. The smallmouths were laid up behind obvious current breaks such as barge tie-ups and bridge columns, and Hanselman cast over and over into eddies formed by the structures.
On the river bottom, “slate-type” flat rock topped out about 9 feet deep, but broke off into about 14 feet, forming holes and pockets where big smallmouths would tuck down to ambush prey.
To reach them, Hanselman devised a specific umbrella rig combo: a pair of 3-inch “dummy” swimbaits without hooks on top, a pair of 4-inch swimbaits on 1/2-ounce Strike King Squadron jigheads on bottom and a 5-inch swimbait on a 3/4-ounce jighead in the center. He says many of his fish ate that bigger, “lazier” center swimbait that appeared to be lagging behind the rest of the “school.”
“The combination of the two 1/2-ounce heads on the bottom and the 3/4-ounce head on the middle wire was the perfect amount of weight to sort of keel the umbrella rig in the current and make it run true,” Hanselman says. “It was also just the right amount of weight to just tick the bottom without hanging up.
“The key was to get the rig to fall in behind the current breaks,” he explains. “I would hold tension on the rig in current, and I could always feel the current sort of pulling on it. But if it ever fell in behind one of those rips behind the rock, the whole rig would sort of collapse and go slack. That’s when my hair would stand up because I knew I was fixing to get slammed.”
By the end of the three-day event, Hanselman had pieced together a 15-fish winning bag that weighed 46 pounds, 11 ounces.
Interesting Facts about Hanselman