OSAGE BEACH, Mo. – Though the sight-fishing bite may not have been as wide open as folks hoped for heading into the event, the end result of the Tackle Warehouse Invitationals derby on Lake of the Ozarks turned out to be dominated by bass around beds. In fact, four of the top five pros caught almost all of their weight off beds, with others in the Top 10 mixing bed fish in or committing to it 100%.
Here’s what worked best for the top pros.
Although he didn’t commit to bed fishing in practice, John Cox ended up doing all his damage with his eyes and a spinning rod in the lower portion of the lake. Looking for three days in a row to catch bedding bass and fry guarders, he totaled up 55 pounds, 14 ounces to edge longtime team partner Keith Carson for the W.
All week, Cox used an Abu Garcia Pro Series rod, an Abu Garcia Zenon spinning reel, Berkley FireLine and a 10-pound-test Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon leader. For baits, he rolled with either a wacky-rigged Berkley PowerBait MaxScent The General or a Berkley PowerBait Jerk Shad.
Going into Day 1 with over 100 beds marked, Carson was all-in on the sight-fishing bite. Even with rain in the forecast, he committed his practice to it, and it ended up paying off with a runner-up trophy and $50,000.
To catch the fish, Carson used an Abu Garcia Pro Series rod, an Abu Garcia Zenon spinning reel, Berkley FireLine and a 10-pound-test Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon leader. For baits, he rolled with either a wacky-rigged Berkley PowerBait MaxScent The General or a Berkley PowerBait Jerk Shad. Sound familiar?
Young Marshall Robinson didn’t fully intend to sight fish for the entire event, but when it started to happen for him he didn’t argue and ended up catching basically all but one of his quality fish sight fishing.
Notably, he beat his dad Marty Robinson by 100 places.
“I hate it because he taught me how to sight fish, and he loves sight fishing more than I do,” Robinson said. “He went the whole different approach, and I pretty much sight fished all week. I guess I’m proud to say I out-sight-fished him.”
Like Cox and Carson, Robinson fished mostly in the lower end of the lake, but couldn’t really figure out a magic formula.
“To be honest, there was not much pattern,” he said. “The only thing I could figure out was that they were spawning deep. The water was about 3 ½ foot low, and I don’t think they wanted to get in the backs of the pockets and creeks. So, they were in the side pockets and creeks, anywhere they could get protected, and they could slide right out deep. That was the only rhyme or reason to what I was doing.”
“It’s one of the baits I can never get them to bite on bed,” he said. “You’d think it’d be right, but it don’t entice ‘em back home. I had it tied on from Eufaula, I get here, and see a spawner, and pitch up there and she eats it. So, I’m like ‘Maybe there’s something to it?’ I started pitching it on these fish here, and ended up catching a lot on it.”
These days, you can pretty much count on Drew Gill to be LiveScoping his way into a Top 10 every week or so, and Lake of the Ozarks was no different. Targeting fish in the shallows and mediums, Gill used a variety of finesse offerings.
“I was throwing the Hit Worm weighted and weightless, depending on the mood of the fish,” Gill said. “If they were moving around fast, I threw the weighted one to try to trigger them. If they were dormant and slow I would throw the weightless worm.
“For the Senko, I threw a 6-inch Senko, and it was weightless the whole time. I wanted a bigger, more intimidating profile for fish that were trying to protect their young.”
Both in practice and the event, Gill also located and shook fish off with a jig, noting that he thinks he was able to conserve more than a pound of weight on Day 2 that he put in the boat on the final day.
The clear Angler of the Year leader, Ron Nelson knocked down his third top-five finish of the season. Naturally, he relied heavily on sight fishing, but never quite got the lower end of the lake dialed like Cox, Carson and Robinson. Instead, he did most of his best work more mid-lake, though still in water that was quite clear.
A 5-inch Yamamoto Senko on a wacky rig was key for Nelson, and he also caught one quality fish on a ChatterBait. But, his best bait for big fish on beds was actually a little off the beaten path.
“The lizard was really hot for me, that was actually my best bait for bigger fish,” he said. “It was a 6-inch Zoom Lizard with a 5/16-ounce weight.”
This year’s Invitationals field is loaded to the gills with Missouri anglers, and many did well at Lake of the Ozarks. Still, a buzzsaw of talented sight-fishermen made the headlines. Doing the best of any of the locals, “THE” Andy Newcomb knocked out a sixth-place finish on the home pond, thanks in large part to a 19-pound bag on Day 2.
His key baits were a Carolina rig with a Bait Cave Customs Cave Cricket and a 6-inch white back shad Megabass Magdraft.
“I caught a few off beds, but the first morning, I ran to some good ones I had marked and they were gone,” Newcomb said. “I looked for some new ones, but never found any big ones. Once I started getting some good bites just fishing, I said to heck with it.”
His C-rig was important for catching a few spawning fish.
“I was throwing that around spawning areas,” he said. “The first day I pulled into an area that had a bunch of big ones just roaming and I couldn’t get them to bite. I rolled back in there yesterday morning and drug that through there and caught almost a 5-pounder.”
The swimbait was his bread and butter, and he used it to target an emerging gizzard shad spawn pattern and anything else he could think of.
“The Magdraft was really the thing that did all the work,” he said. “I threw it at shade, wind, shad, everything”
Leading on Day 1 with 21-8, Andrew Nordbye couldn’t quite keep up the pace the rest of the way.
Most of his weight came fishing brush with a finesse jig, and he used a Strike King Tour Grade Finesse Football Jig until he lost them all. On the first two days, he used a Strike King Baby Rage Craw as a trailer, but the fish stopped biting it and he switched to a Strike King Baby Rodent later in the event. He also used a Strike King Ocho on a wacky rig.
“This week I found one area of the lake where they were in brush and set up to where they would bite,” Nordbye said. “I tried to duplicate it other areas in practice and couldn’t. But, I went in there Day 1, and it was loaded. I didn’t even hit half of the brush I found on Day 1. I figured Day 2 I could catch some big ones, too. I was pitching on brush piles with Garmin LiveScope, and they’d come out and smoke it. It was pretty simple.
“But, Day 2 they would follow it and not eat it, I scratched out just under 14 pounds,” he said. “Today, I went and fished brush the first two hours, and then I had to go run new water, I had about eight stretches where I had found bedders, and I caught about 30 on the wacky rig today.”
No list of Florida sight-fishermen is complete without Shaw Grigsby, so you had to figure he’d be in on the action if Cox and Carson were. Fishing similar areas as Cox, although a bit farther up the lake, Grigsby struggled on Day 1 and crushed it on the final two days.
Skipping and bed fishing, he did his best work with a Strike King Ocho wacky-rigged or on a drop-shot with a Trokar TK180. For the wacky rig, he used a 5-inch green bait, and he used a 4-inch bubble gum Ocho on his drop-shot, which he used because he could see it well.
“The biggest fish of the whole tournament was over two cables, I had to pitch over the top, I knew I had to get him over the cables,” Grigsby said. “So, I used a big rod, with 25-pound Seaguar AbrazX and the Strike King Scounbug to catch that fish. It’s got a smaller profile on the tails, and they move so easy – it makes it probably the best sight-fishing bug that you’ve got. It makes it look alive.”
“The final day, when I weighed in my biggest bag, my final two fish were just skipping,” Grigsby said. “I actually weighed three of them that day not looking at them, and I caught a lot more not looking at them. I’d just skip the Ocho up to the boat docks while I was looking, and the line would take off.”
Sitting at third in the points, Martin Villa put together another dynamite tournament. Fishing around docks and beds around Shawnee Bend, he put fish in the boat with a Megabass Magdraft, a lizard and a Texas-rigged craw.
Putting 19 pounds in the boat on Day 1, Matthew Stefan fell off on Day 2 and then rallied back on Day 3. The rally kept Stefan in second in the points ahead of Villa, and really helped his margin over eighth place and the Bass Pro Tour cut line.
On the first and second days, Stefan mostly bed-fished. The final day, he picked up stakes and went fishing with a Core Tackle Hover Rig with either a Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Creature Hawg or a 4-inch Berkley PowerBait MaxScent The General.
“I don’t know how far I was, I drove for almost 40 minutes, full bore,” Stefan said. “I looked at the map, I was nowhere close to the dam and the water was dirty. I pulled into some pockets and started bumping them, and I fished up there until noon and caught a couple good ones on beds, a couple just flipping around, just fishing what was in front of me. It was a blast, it was one of those things where I was driving, and I just thought ‘This feels good.’”