Unraveling the mystery at West Point - Major League Fishing

Unraveling the mystery at West Point

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March 1, 2024 • Jody White • Invitationals

LaGRANGE, Ga. – Coming into the season, Stop 2 Presented by Suzuki on West Point Lake may not have ranked as the most exciting event on the Tackle Warehouse Invitationals schedule, but it is certainly the most mysterious. It’s been more than 10 years since a high-level tournament hit the lake, and that was in a different month, and before Spot-Lock, let alone LiveScope. According to locals, this is shaping up to be an old-school derby. Based off practice, they might be right. But, these next few days should be very illuminating.

This week, pros are dealing with late winter and prespawn conditions, with quite a range of water clarity. Down the lake and in some of the creeks, there’s a lot of mud. Up around takeoff, the water is more stained, and pretty good-looking – though there could be plenty of fish caught in the mud as well. With a mixture of Alabama bass, spotted bass and largemouth in play, the consensus is that largemouth will be the winning fish at West Point, but points matter for a lot of the field, and there’s certainly potential for spotted bass to play a role.

A typical southeastern reservoir in many respects, there isn’t a commonly trafficked tournament fishery that compares exactly to West Point. Photo by Jody White

Follow along

You can follow the action at Stop 2 Presented by Suzuki on West Point Lake March 1-3 on MLFNOW! with live coverage beginning at 7:30 a.m. ET. Thanks to BUBBA, the unofficial leaderboard should be more accurate than ever, and weigh-in will start live each day at 3 p.m. ET.

Wheeler shooting from the hip

The best in the world and hot off a win in the Bass Pro Tour event at Santee Cooper, Jacob Wheeler has never fished West Point before, and he didn’t get in a full practice. After spending almost the entirety of the first two BPT tournaments wielding a jighead minnow, he wants to put the spinning sticks up and wind down a bank.

“This lake reminds me a lot of an old-school Hartwell, minus the deep-water largemouth,” Wheeler said. “Cranking a Shad Rap like Micah Frazier, spinnerbaiting around like Marty Stone — it gives me that kind of vibe. You’re going to see a shaky head, guys cranking. I think it’s gonna be a traditional deal.

“I fished this tournament to fish old-school,” he said. “When I have no points on the line, I just want to go shoot from the hip and try to figure it out during the event. I don’t think there are as many largemouth in this lake as Clarks Hill, so I don’t think the largemouth set up offshore as much as Clarks Hill. So, these largemouth are more bank-related. I think you’re going to see more traditional patterns, like a jig, a crankbait, a swimbait, spinnerbaits, ChatterBaits.”

Wheeler seems to think that spotted bass or Alabama bass won’t factor much for the eventual winner. Instead, it’ll be about making a few of the right casts or flips every day for kicker largemouth.

“It’s almost an Okeechobee vibe,” he said. “If you get one big bite a day, you get a check. Two big bites, you have a really good finish. You could go out there and catch 10 or 15 bass and come out with 8 pounds. It’s really dependent on a couple big bites a day, and the guys that get them will ultimately win the tournament.

“I think 20 pounds a day will be really hard,” he said. “My gut tells me that if you have 16 pounds a day you have a shot to win the tournament. Consistency will be really hard. I didn’t fish a ton, I rode around a lot, but it didn’t seem like it was easy by any means.”

Padgett is hunting kicker largemouth

The field in this Invitationals event features several notable locals, and Bobby Padgett probably has as much experience on the lake as any, having fished it since the ’80s. Given the conditions and the time of year, he’s hoping for good weights this week.

“For some reason, muddy, cold water is when some of those big ones get caught up here. I don’t know why, but in that miserable weather, it’s amazing what can get caught up here,” he said. “If someone can catch a good sack two days, they’re going to win it. What I think will happen, and I could be totally wrong, but I think someone will catch 17 to 21 one day, 15 to 17 another day, and then 10 on the third day. I’m thinking 38 to 44 pounds will win it – someone will have a bad day in there.

“As muddy as it is mid-lake down, that’s going to bring the fish up shallower,” he said. “They just don’t bite deep in muddy water, they really don’t. I think it’ll be won by the person that goes down the right steep bank with blow downs, and they catch a 5 and a 7, or one bigger than that.”

Due to the muddy conditions, Padgett isn’t too high on the potential of anything but largemouth.

“If it was super clear, I think you could get a top five — I know a Top 10 — with spotted bass,” he said. “A good catch with spotted bass on this lake is five that go about 13 1/2, that’s about the max you can do.”

Padgett is also thinking that old-school is the way to go.

“I don’t think the LiveScope will come into play,” he said. “If it does, I want to watch the person doing it, because they’re better than me by a long shot.”

Can Lawrence fish his way?

One of the premier forward-facing sonar anglers in the field, Jake Lawrence finished second at Rayburn and is in the hunt for the Fishing Clash Angler of the Year and Polaris Rookie of the Year titles. This week, he’s hoping his strengths hold up against the West Point playbook.

“When you roll up to a place full of mud, you think of throwing a squarebill, a big spinnerbait, maybe a buzzbait up shallow — your standard old-school stuff,” Lawrence said. “But, I couldn’t make it work.

“The first day, you kind of mix it up, just bump around and get a feel for it,” he said. “But, I had like 13 1/2 pounds in the first three or four hours doing my deal. I so desperately want to catch them just fishing, and I have caught several, but when I get bit up there, it’s just a keeper, not a good one.”

So, Lawrence is planning on ‘Scoping and seeing where it gets him.

“I’ll be fishing a bunch of isolated pieces of cover,” he said. “It doesn’t honestly seem to matter what it is. It’s almost as if you were in your living room, which you know every square inch of, and I suddenly turned the lights off. First thing you want to do is reach around and feel something. As soon as you feel something, you’re oriented in your whole room. It’s almost like they feel that way right now, like they need to be by something.

“I like these tournaments where if you figure a little niche or nuance out it can take you a long way,” he added. “I’ve had a decent practice. It’s not been easy, but I’m getting the right kind of bites – I’m getting quite a few of those 3-pound bites, which is I think what you need here. So, we’ll see what happens.”

Fishing Clash AOY

Tackle Warehouse Invitationals anglers will compete throughout the 2024 season for the prestigious Fishing Clash Angler of the Year award and its $50,000 payday. After Stop 1 Presented by Power-Pole MOVE on Sam Rayburn, Drew Gill is in the lead.

Fishing Clash – an interactive 3D fishing simulation game that’s played by more than 80 million people worldwide – is the official AOY sponsor of the Bass Pro Tour, Tackle Warehouse Invitationals, Toyota Series and Phoenix Bass Fishing League. You can download Fishing Clash for free in the App Store and on Google Play or log on to www.fishingclash.game for more information.