JEFFERSON COUNTY, Tenn. – Alabama pro Keith Poche had a pretty non-traditional approach to practice at U.S. Air Force Stage Two Presented by Power-Pole at Douglas and Cherokee Lakes. His uncommon practice and the use of his shallow-draft aluminum boat were two major pieces to the puzzle of fishing two lakes and securing his first Bass Pro Tour victory.
“It was just my day when I won,” Poche said. “I had the utmost confidence in myself to get it done. Still, I know how it feels when a plan doesn’t work out, I was close [to winning] so many times. But I’ve learned you can’t get upset or worry, let the chips fall where they may. It was my time.”
Poche’s practice plan was created out of the necessity of managing his time between two major events where the practice days conflicted: practice for Stage Two overlapped practice for the Bassmaster Classic on the Tennessee River, which Poche also fished.
“My focus had to all be on Douglas Lake for the BPT,” Poche said. “I knew I had to do well there to move on to Cherokee. I had a good tournament on Cherokee previously at another event, so I knew where I wanted to try there and decided to wing it.
“I lost one day of practice due to practicing for the Classic as well. I was very busy. So, during practice on Douglas, I went up the river looking to get away from other competitors. That’s my style. Go where the other anglers aren’t fishing or can’t get to.”
The two qualifying days on Douglas saw Poche further up the river than his competitors. He never made a cast unless he was alone.
“I fished shallow shoals where I felt like another competitor couldn’t get to,” Poche said. “My Gator Trax boat allowed me to get to those places where a larger boat likely wouldn’t go. I wasn’t way up that river though, only a mile or two past the other anglers. I didn’t even start fishing until I felt I was by myself.”
With his solitude intact on Douglas, Poche targeted shallow cover with a 5-inch green pumpkin Berkley The General fished on a shaky head, as well as a ghost-colored Berkley Frittside to access slightly deeper fish.
“The river had cleaner water,” Poche said. “The General on a shaky head is a great finesse approach, and gets a lot of bites. I used the Frittside Biggun to get down to the deeper fish.”
Outside channel swings were Poche’s primary areas on Douglas. The deepest water was about 20 feet. He was looking for the last deep water before the vast shallow flats. Bass would relate to rocks, laydowns, any shallow cover closer to the deeper water.
“The bass seemed to be not quite committed to moving up totally shallow,” Poche said. “That’s why I fished closer to the deep water, but not in the deeper water. I’d make a long pass and move on. Never returned to my starting place on Day 1, but on Day 2 I did, and it paid off with bigger fish. I don’t think I would’ve got to fish Cherokee if I didn’t make the second pass in the afternoon.”
During the Championship and Knockout Rounds, the magic of the smaller, shallow-drafting aluminum boat really shined. Poche’s ability to access water where no other competitor dared to fish was his golden ticket to victory.
“On my first day on Cherokee, I didn’t go straight to my best spot below the spillway dam,” Poche said. “I planned to stop early and fish my way up to it, but Ott DeFoe was up there. I passed Ott and fished on the other side of the river so I wouldn’t cut him off. I caught a nice smallie there, but knew this wasn’t where I wanted to be. In the second period, I ran through the nasty stuff and made it to the dam.”
The first day on Cherokee was a prelude to a pretty magical day for Poche. He started catching fish using a Berkley Hollow Belly swimbait in a sexy shad color, plus a few on a Berkley Square Bull crankbait. Poche would move back and forth across the dam face, letting each side rest while he fished the other.
On the final day, Poche opted out of fishing his way upriver to his spot and blasted straight to the dam face.
“I took a chance on the fish still being at the dam, and they were there,” Poche said. “My knowledge of running the Gator Trax and how it’s designed to go through the stuff allowed me to have a shot after the Knockout Round. I lost a few big ones, so I knew if I could improve my hookups, I had a chance if they cooperated. I ran the whole way up, never stopped. I trimmed the engine and raised the jackplate, and never hit anything.”
Poche had more solid hookups on the final day, primarily focusing on single-hook lures to improve his catch rate.
“Typically, when you use a single hook, you have a better catch rate,” Poche said. “I lost too many on the crankbait the first day at the dam, so I stayed with the Hollow Belly. I also caught a big bonus largemouth on a Berkley F19 Finesse Jig with an Alabama craw-colored Berkley PowerBait Shape 108 trailer. The single hooks were a big deal.”
Poche’s attitude toward fishing in pro tournaments has evolved over the years and is allowing him to make on-the-water decisions that are bringing him great success.
“I’m not saying I don’t care while I’m in a tournament,” Poche said. “It’s more of a nonchalant attitude and mindset that allows me to make good decisions. You have to be clear-minded and let things go and stay relaxed. I’ve never been so comfortable and confident in my abilities. I’m finally doing it the way I like to do it.”