Offshore spotted bass dominated in the Phoenix Bass Fishing League presented by T-H Marine All-American presented by TINCUP. Plying the lower end of Lake Hartwell, each of the top three anglers made the offshore game their exclusive plan.
Though some largemouth entered the mix by happenstance, you really had to drop down to Jayme Rampey in fourth place to find someone who made a dramatic adjustment to pursue largemouth.
Winning with a big final day, Chris Macy plugged away on the spotted bass game and it payed off with his first FLW win.
2. Goade goes with brush
Fishing down the lake, Todd Goade tallied solid double-digit bags each of the first two days, but managed less than 8 pounds on the final day.
Goade fished brush most of the time. On days one and two, with mostly low-light conditions, Goade approached his targets from a ways off, catching fish that were roaming around them. Other than not catching them on the final day, Goade adjusted well all week, using his extensive experience on Hartwell and Lanier to his advantage.
“The fish were a little shallower on Wednesday; I was catching them in 25 feet,” Goade outlines. “As the week went on, I got out there to 28 or 32, and the biggest one I caught was my deepest one. I caught it Thursday in 38 foot.”
The co-owner of Pulse Fish Lures and a salesman for a pest control company, Goade was flummoxed by the final day.
“I thought the sun would help. I said all week that if the sun would come out, my fish would get more on the targets,” Goade says. “They did – today there were fish on the Lowrance on every single stop, and the big ones just didn’t bite. I caught maybe 20 keepers. I was around them all day. The big fish just didn’t bite.”
For baits, Goade caught most of his weight on either a 1/4-ounce shaky head with a Zoom Magnum Shakey Head Worm or a 1/8-ounce Pulse Fish Lures Pulse Jig with either a Zoom Tiny Fluke, Damiki Armor Shad or Keitech Shad Impact.
3. Floyd mixes it up
Also sticking it out in the lower end of Hartwell, Cole Floyd moved up the leaderboard on the final day with a strong 11-2 bag. Fresh of his rookie year on the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit, the young angler proved ready for the big time yet again.
“I was just fishing by the seat of my pants. This isn’t really my comfort zone,” Floyd says. “I was targeting fish on saddles. I had one saddle that was really good, if you could time it right when they were pushing bait up. Then, offshore, I was doing the cane deal. I caught a couple on cane, and the first day I caught all of my weight out of a ditch in 32 feet.”
Floyd says he fished a Strike King Rage Swimmer on a 1/4-ounce head and a Strike King Deep Jerkbait. He also mixed in some topwater baits, a jigging spoon and an umbrella rig. On the final day, Floyd caught most of his best fish on a Jackall Riser Bait 007.
“I just got it,” Floyd says of the Riser Bait. “John [Garrett] gave it to me yesterday before weigh-in. Today was the first day I ever threw it, and I was like “what the heck?” I missed out. I’m not saying I could have caught 20 pounds, but I could have caught a lot more weight with that.”
4. Largemouth play for Rampey
The obvious favorite going into the event, Jayme Rampey has made a good living off Hartwell the last few years. Though he added another top 10 to his resume, the superstar local missed out on a signature win.
On day one, Rampey started up the Seneca River and missed a big largemouth and lost a big one. On day two, Rampey stuck down the lake with spotted bass, and he started there on the final day as well.
For spotted bass, Rampey bounced around on some cane and brush, but settled on fishing ditches and timber in 30-plus feet of water.
“They’re ganged up right now,” Rampey says. “Yesterday, we caught a bunch. Today, we didn’t catch that many, but I didn’t stay out there that long. There’s a lot of deep fish. I’m ahead of everybody. I’m fishing more rock or wintertime stuff. They’re coming to it really quick; they’re actually deeper than I thought they would be.”
Up shallow, Rampey fished in the Seneca River, burning bank for largemouths.
Rampey did most of his spotted bass work with a 5/16-ounce shaky head and a Zoom Trick Worm. For largemouth, Rampey used a Zoom Horny Toad in black and white, a Reaction Innovations Skinny Dipper and a buzzbait.
5. Dowdy branches out
A self-described “dragger” native to Pickwick Lake and the Tennessee River, Bryan Dowdy crushed it in his first All-American with some new tactics.
“I had a spot where I was catching two or three keepers early, every morning,” Dowdy says. “When the sun got up and it slicked off, I was fishing brush, but early in the morning, when the wind would blow, I was catching them up shallow off of bars. I was catching them in 2 or 3 feet of water. I was having fun.”
After throwing a 1-ounce SpotSticker Mini-Me spinnerbait shallow, Dowdy moved deeper.
“When it would slick off and the sun would come up, I could take a spybait and cast to the brush piles and catch them,” Dowdy says. “The spybait caught my bigger fish, and before I came here, I’d never caught a fish on one.”
Dowdy’s spybait of choice was a ghost m shad-colored Duo Realis Spinbait Alpha 78.
Having fished 45 tournaments in his FLW career, Dowdy has waited a while to make it to the All-American, and he made the most of it.
“This was great. This was amazing,” says Dowdy. “The two goals of any weekend angler are to make the TBF National Championship and do this. When I made the TBF National Championship, I went out there and bombed – I stunk it up and blew it out. My main goal here was to not bomb. So, this is extra.”
6. Deep fish play for Fitzpatrick
Roger Fitzpatrick started the final day in second, but a meager 5-pound limit dropped him hard on the final day.
That fall happened because his deep fish ran out. On days one and two, Fitzpatrick caught a lot of his weight on a deep brush pile on the break of a point that a friend showed him in pre-practice.
“I was staying at a friend’s house, and his son, Caleb Allgood, came fishing with me one day,” Fitzpatrick says. “I told him, ‘I just want one spot where I can catch a limit,’ and he took me to it. What was even better was he showed me you could catch them on a football jig, and that just made my day, because I didn’t want to throw that left-handed reel at all.”
Each day, Fitzpatrick loaded the boat with spotted bass out deep to start things off. On day two, he caught over 12 pounds and most of that was spotted. Out deep, he tossed a 1-ounce Omega Football Jig with a Zoom Ultra Vibe Speed Craw.
The second part of Fitzpatrick’s plan was largemouth up the Tugaloo, and it didn’t really pan out quite like he hoped.
“I had two or three creeks back there where I was going about three-quarters of the way back,” Fitzpatrick says. “A few weeks ago, the water was higher, and those big largemouth were in the ditches in the pockets in the way back. Hard to catch, but they were in packs – like six to eight of them in a bunch. I knew they were the fish I wanted to target, but I knew the water was going to come down, which it did.
“My best spot was a bigger pocket, with more of a springtime bank – it was a little steeper,” Fitzpatrick adds. “At home, I always target the flat side in the fall, and every day, I went and fished on the flat side, thinking I would get a big one, and I never did. They were on the steeper side, and most of them were behind the docks. Later in the day, the bluegill would get up and you’d see them under the catwalks.”
7. Finesse takes Allen far
Staying consistent, Randall Allen stacked up the spotted bass on finesse baits.
Fishing not too far from takeoff, Allen used a shaky head with a watermelon candy-colored Zoom Mag Finesse Worm that he cut down and dyed and a drop-shot with a sunrise-colored Big Bite Baits Shaking Squirrel Worm. The drop-shot was his most effective bait, especially on the last day.
“I couldn’t catch them out of cane piles, but if I found isolated smaller targets, I could usually catch them,” says Allen, who targeted brush, stumps and rock. “They were usually deeper, anywhere from 25 to 30 feet. I had to teach myself how to drop-shot in practice. I’m a grass fisherman at Guntersville. I may have to employ the drop-shot there now.”
8. Tugaloo produces for Carter
Kip Carter is making it a habit to go way up things, and this time it payed off with a top 10.
Running up the Tugaloo each day, as far as Choestoea Creek, Carter actually weighed quite a few largemouth. For baits, he used a homemade balsa crankbait to start, and then transitioned to a jig, a shaky head with green pumpkin Zoom Mag Finesse Worm and a Texas-rigged Zoom Ultra Vibe Speed Worm.
“The first two days, I had a little limit hole. I could pull up there and in the first 20 minutes I’d have a limit that weighed 7 or 8 pounds,” Carter says. “It was just a little point that had some fish on it, just right up on top, real shallow in the dirtier water, so I could reach ‘em with the little plug.
“After that, I was flipping docks,” Carter adds. “I caught a pile of fish. I just never could catch anything much bigger than 2 pounds. Today, I decided to gamble, and it just didn’t work out.”
On the final day, Carter spent a lot of time with a white Zoom Horny Toad. Running the backs of creeks, he lost a big one, but never got any other significant opportunities.
9. Umbrella rig and swimbait carry Lippe
Dustin Lippe led on day one, and he fished exactly like you’d think you should at Lake Hartwell. Targeting brush and cane, mostly on points, Lippe went hard after fish relating to that.
“I wouldn’t make a cast unless I was casting at a target,” says Lippe, who includes fish in his list of targets. “Sometimes you would see wolf packs swimming around; it’s really hard to catch a single, but if you could see a wolf pack you’d get a lot of competition.”
For baits, Lippe used a 3.25-inch Strike King Rage Swimmer on either a 1/4-ounce head or an umbrella rig.
10. Deep fish desert Berhorst
Dennis Berhorst cracked solid limits each of the first two days off a deep school within sight of takeoff that was surprisingly not the same one Fitzpatrick was working.
Berhorst’s deep spot was on the side of a point and ranged from 35 to 45 feet deep. On days one and two, it was loaded with keeper fish.
“The deep hole, it got me through the first two days, but those fish were gone today,” Berhorst explains. “We saw a few marks out there this morning, but I left it after about four hours and ran bank. I went back to it at the end of the day, and they were gone – not even a mark on it.”
Out deep, the Missouri angler did most of his damage with a drop-shot with a 4.5-inch Roboworm Fat Straight Tail Worm in watermelon magic. He also caught fish on an ima Skimmer and a Berkley PowerBait Chigger Craw in sapphire blue on a 1/4-ounce Texas rig.