In fishing, there are some situations you can’t prepare for. Consider, for instance, what would likely happen if a boat breaks down on the way out from takeoff on the first day of a major competition. Figuratively speaking, at least, the anglers in it would be sunk.
That was the potential nightmare scenario faced by Zackery Hines and Reed Foster of Dallas Baptist University at the FLW College Fishing Southern Conference Championship on Grand Lake Oct. 17-18.
Lucky for them, when their lower unit seized up it occurred right outside a creek with a small marina composed of floating docks, and they were able to turn one of life’s lemons into lemonade. As the Patriot anglers had uncovered a dock-fishing pattern during their two and a half days of practice, they trolled in to the marina waters and did their best, sans outboard power. The result was a limit of 10 pounds, 5 ounces that set Hines and Foster up to go on and win the two-day tournament with a total weight of 25-3.
Figuring Out Finesse
During practice, the Patriots had great success throwing moving baits in open water in the mornings and then fishing docks once the sun got up. But the real key to their win was shifting their focus from that two-part pattern to a strictly finesse approach in the wake of a last-minute cold front.
“The first thing we did when we got there [to Grand Lake during practice] was we noticed the water temperature was in the low 70s, and we noticed a lot of bait,” recalls Hines. “We figured the fish would be active and we could get on a typical fall pattern up shallow with moving baits.
“Then a front came through overnight on Thursday night, so when we got out Friday the air temperature was 15 to 20 degrees lower and it was a lot windier,” he adds. “The water temperature dropped about 3 degrees.”
By tournament day on Saturday, the water temp had eased into the upper 60s. Hines and Foster knew they had to slow down. Not having a big motor to run-and-gun reinforced the need for the more methodical approach.
“We threw weightless Senkos,” Hines says. “My partner threw a wacky rig. I threw one rigged Texas-style with a nail weight in the back end so it would sink a little faster and at an angle to get under the dock. We wanted to have two different presentations.
“Everyone else around us was throwing moving baits, and they were really struggling,” he adds. “We were slowing down big time and getting a lot better quality bites.”
By the end of the day, they’d slow-fished their way to a limit, and fellow Dallas Baptist anglers Trent Newman and Nathan Wood picked up Reed, who hauled his and Hines’ fish to weigh-in, while his partner waited for assistance with the boat.
Newman and Wood finished 18th and therefore didn’t make the cut to fish day two. Consequently, they loaned Hines and Reed their boat for the second day of competition.
Freedom to Move
While day one had been cloudy, the post-frontal conditions continued to change, and day two was sunny with less wind.
Hines and Reed returned to the area they’d fished on the first day and caught a couple of solid keepers right away.
“We made a move to an area that we found in practice,” Hines says. “We went to the very back of what’s called Horse Creek, where we’d found some shallow docks. Through the first five docks we caught three keepers, and one was a kicker of almost 4 pounds. We had a limit by 10:30 and were culling after that.”
A few fish did take moving baits on day two, but all of the team’s quality bites came as a result of slower tactics. A Santone Lures jig produced one kicker, another fell for a Texas-rigged Zoom Baby Brush Hog and the rest of the limit fillers ate the same finesse Senko rigs as the pair fished on day one.
“I felt like that creek wasn’t a really pressured area because when we went back in practice there weren’t a lot of people back there,” Hines adds. “In practice we caught several good fish back there and left it alone the rest of the time. It was a back-up spot in case we needed it. There was bait out in the mouth of the cove, and in the back the water was stained, while everywhere else was clearer. I think it worked in our favor to find that shallow, stained water.”
2016 FLW College Fishing National Championship Qualifiers
1. Dallas Baptist University – Zackery Hines and Reed Foster – 25-3 (10) – $4,000
2. University of Central Oklahoma– Brock Enmeier and Colten Hutson – 22-7 (9) – $2,000
3. University of Arkansas – Drew Porto and Zachary Pickle – 19-15 (10) – $1,000
4. Stephen F. Austin State University – Shelby Hutchens and Brian Blades – 19-0 (9) – $1,000
5. Southeastern Oklahoma State University – Dwight Camp and Jonathan Furlong – 17-14 (9) – $1,000
6. Colorado Mesa University – Josh Worth and Kennedy Kinkade – 17-7 (8)
7. Texas A&M University – Josh Bensema and Matthew McArdle – 16-10 (7)
8. Tarleton State University – Jacob Beyer and Dakota Ebare – 15-12 (7)
9. University of Oklahoma – Charles Vang and Landon Dixon – 14-10 (7)
10. Henderson State University – Michael Gross and Cobey Wingfield – 12-14 (6)
*11. Northwestern State University – John Ledet and Justin Cooper – 12-8 (6)
* The University of Arkansas team of Drew Porto and Zachary Pickle had already qualified for the 2016 FLW College Fishing National Championship by winning the inaugural FLW College Fishing Open tournament on Kentucky Lake last spring. Because Porto and Pickle finished in third place in the Conference Championship, thus double-qualifying, FLW extended a National Championship invitation to the 11th-place team of John Ledet and Justin Cooper from Northwestern State University.
Complete results can be found here.