On what turned out to be a very tough third day at the T-H Marine FLW Bass Fishing League Regional presented by Lowrance at Barren River Lake on Saturday, Eric Sanders delivered his best performance of the week. The Lexington, Ky., angler brought in the tournament’s second biggest stringer – 14 pounds, 9 ounces – to vault up the leaderboard from ninth place to first for his first FLW victory.
Sanders, who supervises a trio of McDonald’s restaurants, says he has fished Barren River quite often for about 15 years. So he was prepared for a tough autumn scenario in which the lake was being drawn down to winter pool, and many of the fish were on the move.
“The drawdown just started about a week ago, and it kind of screwed up the shallow bite,” Sanders says. “Barren River is a flood-control lake. They draw it down 25 to 30 feet.”
His strategy was to target brush piles, as well as some deep rock, in about 25 feet of water. He says the fish often move to these spots once the shallows go dry, and the crowd of 169 boats on the 10,000-acre reservoir only pushed the better fish farther out into the depths.
“With the pressure, I just knew we had to fish out deep,” Sanders says. “A lot of the guys were sitting on the fish. They’d leave, and we were able to go in behind and catch fish.”
Sanders’ best brush was located off the ends of bluffs outside main-lake pockets. He had little trouble locating fish in these areas in practice or day one, when he weighed a 12-pound, 12-ounce limit. The wind switched on day two, which temporarily fooled the champ, but he countered to catch two keepers for 6-5 and make the cut in ninth place.
“I finally found a pocket that had the wind blowing into it,” Sanders says of day two. “I thought the wind was blowing the bait off the main lake into the wood.”
Another weather change, from sunny to overcast conditions, on day three made Sanders wonder about his chances, but it turns out that the rest of the field struggled, and his bite was on again. Sanders was the only top-12 boater to bring in a limit.
All week, Sanders slowly dragged a 1/2-ounce Stan Sloan’s Zorro Bait Co. Booza Brush Bug jig through the brush and rock, “sort of hopping it up the wood.”
“As soon as you felt the wood and pulled it off of it, that’s when they ate it,” he says.
For his victory, Sanders earned a $65,000 prize package that include a new Ranger bass boat and an entry into the 2018 BFL All-American.
Cranking pattern carries Rhoades to runner-up spot
Tim Rhoades put himself in the perfect position to win the Barren River Lake Regional this week, even earning the lead going into the final day. Unfortunately, he suffered a rash of lost fish and broke off his last Strike King 6XD crankbait at about 10 a.m. on the final day, and the combination of factors probably cost him the W. Rhoades brought in only four keepers the final day and finished the tournament 8 ounces back of Sanders with 33 pounds, 2 ounces.
Rhoades, of Bowling Green, Ky., says he only landed two keepers in four days of practice, so during the tournament he decided to fish the technique that produced the better of his two practice keepers. Cranking 6XDs (he used a variety of colors), Rhoades targeted offshore spots all around the lake, burning about 25 gallons of fuel each of the first two days.
“I kept the boat sitting in 18 feet,” says Rhoades, who never fished a spot for more than about 15 minutes. “The fish would come out of 6 to 12 feet.
“For me, it was the depth [that dictated the pattern]. And I tried to fish breaks leading into creeks, or right outside the creeks – deep water where the bait was going to go.”
Bissonett banks on bluffs for third
Though Clint Bissonett describes his practice as terrible, he learned enough during his prep period to fish his way into third place and an All-American qualification.
The Beavercreek, Ohio, angler weighed in 12 bass in three days for 27 pounds, 1 ounce by targeting bluff walls with a homemade spinnerbait made by Fisherman’s Headquarters in Dayton, Ohio, and a Strike King 6XD crankbait in a shad color pattern.
“It’s definitely not my style of fishing,” says Bissonett, a self-described shallow-water angler. He says he turned his front depth finder on for the first time this season at this tournament. “On day one I started trying to catch a limit of spots. I ended up catching two largemouths and two spots.”
He caught those four in the morning with the spinnerbait by fishing tight up against bluffs and making parallel casts along the rock. At the end of the day, he landed a 3 1/2-pounder to fill his limit by backing off the bluffs into about 23 feet of water and casting the 6XD. He repeated that in-and-out strategy the next two days.
“I’d throw the spinnerbait until about 9:30. Then I’d go throw that 6XD on deep bluff walls,” he says. “The bluff had to have at least 12 to 18 feet of water touching it. It seemed like in the morning they’d be right on it [the bluff]. Then they’d slide off after the sun got up.”
Bissonett says the 6XD produced his bigger bass, and one bluff in particular produced several of his better fish.
Top 10 boaters
1. Eric Sanders – Lexington, Ky. – 33-10 (12) – $65,000
2. Tim Rhoades – Bowling Green, Ky. – 33-2 (14) – $10,000
3. Clint Bissonett – Beavercreek, Ohio – 27-1 (12) – $5,200
4. Jack Dalzell – Elyria, Ohio – 27-0 (12) – $3,100
5. Kyle Weisenburger – Ottawa, Ohio – 25-11 (11) – $2,000
6. Brad Leifermann – Andover, Minn. – 25-3 (11) – $1,800
7. Ronny Webb – Dyersburg, Tenn. – 25-2 (10) – $1,600
8. Dick Shaffer – Rockford, Ohio – 24-11 (11) – $1,400
9. Brandon Houston – Burlington, Ky. – 24-7 (11) – $1,200
10. Heath Wagner – Angola, Ind. – 23-15 (12) – $1,000
Stone breezes to co-angler win
Michigan Division co-angler Jim Stone weighed in only one keeper on the final day, but it turns out he didn’t even need it. He took the hot seat at the start of weigh-in and never relinquished it, earning his first FLW victory and a new Ranger bass boat with a three-day total of 23 pounds, 5 ounces.
Stone, a welder/fabricator who had used up most of his vacation time earning his way to the Regional in the first place, had to work on Wednesday while many of his competitors practiced, but he made it to Barren River Lake in time to spend the last two and a half hours of prep time with his tournament partner Mark Peiser. That’s all it took for him to figure out his eventual winning pattern.
“I caught two about 4 1/2-pound fish,” says Stone, of Greenwood, Ind. “I thought, ‘That’s a start, right there.’”
He caught the combo kickers on a green pumpkin Right Bite Baits jig with a Zoom Ultra Vibe Speed Craw trailer with its tails dipped in chartreuse dye. He wound up fishing the Right Bite jig – 1/2 or 3/4 ounce – the entire tournament.
When possible, Stone cast the jig toward key structural elements, but when his boater partner was fishing along the bank, he pitched his jig behind the boat and slowly dragged it back. He says the presentation was key to getting bites in tough conditions.
“Instead of bouncing the bait, I was dragging it,” he says.
On the final day, Stone was paired with boater Tim Rhoades, who was fishing a crankbait.
“I didn’t even have a crankbait rod, and that’s all he did. I stuck with it [the jig], and I got three bites and landed one keeper.”
Top 10 co-anglers
1. Jim Stone – Greenwood, Ind. – 23-5 (8) – $45,100
2. Philip Borsa – Redford, Mich. – 20-2 (11) – $5,000
3. Andrew Gilliland – McArthur, Ohio – 16-9 (9) – $2,500
4. Danny Nicklin – Highland, Ill. – 15-9 (8) – $1,500
5. Paul VonWald – La Crosse, Wis. – 14-11 (5) – $1,000
6. Joseph Gulash – Edwardsville, Ill. – 14-2 (5) – $900
7. James Wathen – Royal Oak, Mich. – 13-1 (6) – $800
8. Mark Saunders – Medina, Ohio – 12-2 (6) – $700
9. David Dieling – Eddyville, Ky. – 11-5 (5) – $600
10. Hunter Fillmore – Waynesville, Ohio – 11-5 (5) – $550
The Barren River Lake Regional featured the top boaters from the Buckeye, Great Lakes, LBL and Michigan divisions. The top six boaters and co-anglers qualified to compete in the 2018 T-H Marine FLW Bass Fishing League All-American, which is a televised event with a six-figure payday and a boater berth in the Forrest Wood Cup on the line.