If you don’t believe that summertime bass fishing in the dog days of August is all over the map, just take a look at the top 10 patterns from the best bass pros on earth at the 2015 Forrest Wood Cup on Lake Ouachita.
Brad Knight captured the Cup by mining one small creek end for four days. But beyond that, the rest of the top 10 patterns ran the gamut, from targeting schoolers over 40 feet to wolf packs of bass on the bank to brush piles to grass to mud flats and everywhere in between.
Here’s a rundown.
2. Ramie Colson Jr. – Cadiz, Ky. – 47 pounds, 13 ounces
Keep it simple. That was Ramie Colson Jr.’s approach to Lake Ouachita, and it landed him in the runner-up spot with a four-day total of 47 pounds, 13 ounces.
Colson started and ended the week primarily with one bait: a Zoom Ol’ Monster Texas-rigged with a 5/16-ounce weight and tied to 14-pound-test Sunline Shooter fluorocarbon. His key colors were blue fleck and plum apple.
Colson created fireworks with his simple approach on day two when he showed off the Cup’s biggest limit –17 pounds, 14 ounces – which included the event’s biggest bass, a 5-pound, 14-ounce kicker.
Colson focused his efforts on numerous brush piles in the Crystal Springs area of the lake.
“The whole key was fishing slow,” he says. “In order to get the bites I had to almost dead-stick the worm in the piles.”
Colson might have won the Cup had it not been for a cratering day three when he brought just four fish to the scale for 6 pounds, 8 ounces. He thinks dark skies on that day hurt him the most.
“That bite was much better when it was hot and sunny,” he adds. “When it gets high and bright in that clear water I think those fish really tuck down in that cover. But when it gets dark, they move out and start roaming all over, and I’m afraid that’s what got me that third day.
3. Brandon Cobb – Greenwood, S.C. – 47 pounds, 11 ounces
Brandon Cobb made a strong showing in his first Forrest Wood Cup with a third-place finish, checking in 47 pounds, 11 ounces for the event.
Cobb spent much of the week fishing in the back of Big Blakely Creek, but he was not fishing as far back as tournament winner Brad Knight or ninth-place finisher Mark Daniels Jr.
Cobb caught his fish off wood targets on shallow flats on a Knight’s Custom Lures buzzbait with a white or green pumpkin Zoom Horny Toad as a trailer.
“If the water had any chop on it, I went with the buzzbait and toad combination,” he says. “But when it got dead-slick, I’d go to just a Horny Toad to keep it more subtle.”
Cobb also ran some water up in the rivers each day with a Lucky Craft Gunfish, which helped put a few better fish on the scales
4. Jacob Wheeler – Indianapolis, Ind. – 45 pounds, 13 ounces
Jacob Wheeler led days one and three of the Forrest Wood Cup, but his chance to be the first two-time winner of the Cup was dashed on the final day when he brought in just three bass for 4 pounds, 12 ounces.
Wheeler says a massive storm that thrashed his primary areas with thunder, lightning and wind derailed his afternoon topwater bite on the final day.
“Those fish in shallow, clear water don’t like it when all that lighting and thunder is going on above them,” Wheeler says. “The area of the lake I was fishing got hit the hardest with that storm. Some of the guys fishing other areas didn’t get all the weather.”
In the mornings Wheeler hung around schooling areas waiting for fish to pop around him. When the fish would come up he fired at them with a Storm Arashi Top Walker. Once they went down, he rolled an under-spin tipped with a Keitech swimbait through the schools.
Once Wheeler got a few keepers in the well, he would go hunting better quality bream-eating fish in the skinny water with various topwater walkers, including the Top Walker and a smaller size Reaction Innovations Vixen. On days one and three he scored quality bites. On the final day, however, his bigger bites failed to materialize to close out the win.
5. Scott Martin – Clewiston, Fla. – 45 pounds, 4 ounces
Scott Martin, the 2011 Forrest Wood Cup winner on Lake Ouachita, threatened to add another Cup to his mantle last week. But he ended up fifth with a four-day total of 45 pounds, 4 ounces.
Martin ran so many patterns on Ouachita that he could have given Bryan Thrift a run for his money in the junk-fishing department.
Martin’s mad fishing menu included: cranking a Strike King 6XD in the river, running shallow banks with a River2Sea Rover, and throwing a Fish Head Spin and 3-inch Tightlines UV swimbait on a 1/4-ounce head to schoolers.
“Out of all of it, I really felt the schoolers were my best chance at winning,” Martin says. “There were some really big bass in those open-water schools. Using my 7-foot, 11-inch Okuma TCS rod, I could launch that Fish Head Spin so far out there that I couldn’t even see where it landed. If the fish were up feeding, I’d burn the Fish Head just under the surface. If they were down and I could see the school on my Garmin Panoptix, I’d count the Fish Head down to where they were and roll it right through them.
“The Panoptix technology and the Fish Head Spin are the best schooling-fish tools available today,” he adds. “Now I don’t have to wait for fish to come up busting to see where the school is. I can see them way out in front of the boat on the Panoptix. And the Fish Head Spin is so versatile, you can burn it on the surface or slow-roll it down as deep as you want.”
6. Bryan Thrift – Shelby, N.C. – 45 pounds
Bryan Thrift has scored yet another top 10 in Forrest Wood Cup competition. Consider that out of the nine Forrest Wood Cups he has qualified for, Thrift has finished in the top 10 seven times.
For his sixth-place finish this time around, Thrift relied on his patented run-and-gun, junk-fishing style. The types of targets he fished included schoolers, bream beds, brush piles and the back ends of creeks. His arsenal of lures featured crankbaits, topwaters, worms, swimbaits and spoons.
A Damiki Backdrop Spoon (20 grams) was Thrift’s primary schooling bait.
“That thing is so awesome for schoolers,” Thrift says. “I can cast it farther than anything else in the box. When the fish come up schooling anywhere, I can reach them with that 20-gram spoon. Once it lands in the school, I just reel it about 6 or 8 inches under the water.”
The first two days he caught numbers of fish on a Damiki DC 300 crankbait off a creek channel bend littered with stumps. Thrift’s best quality fish, however, came from a Damiki Rambler topwater walker fished shallow for wolf packers.
7. Larry Nixon – Bee Branch, Ark. – 44 pounds, 10 ounces
Larry Nixon was one of the few contenders in the Cup who was able to parlay a grass pattern into a top-10 finish, ending up in the seventh spot.
“I focused on grass most of the week,” he says. “I had one grass bed that I was casting a worm to and then other areas where I was pitching to clumps of grass.”
Nixon’s worming water was a point that was 12 to 13 feet deep, which featured sparse, scattered grass. His worm setup was a Yamamato Pro Senko on a 3/16-ounce shaky head cast on Seaguar Smackdown braid tied to a 10-pound-test Tatsu fluorocarbon leader.
His pitching water featured shallower clumps of grass growing around islands in the 6- to 8-foot-deep range. Nixon flipped a Yamamato Flappin Hawg topped with a 3/4-ounce weight on 15-pound-test Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon.
Nixon says about half his fish came from the grass bed he was casting to and the other half came from flipping areas.
“I wasn’t really punching grass, just pitching to visible clumps of it,” he says. “And I had to really pop the bait out of the grass to get them to react. I’d pitch to a clump, hop it really hard and that was the trigger. I actually saw a lot of the fish chase and bite the bait after I had popped it out of the grass.”
Nixon’s grass bite completely died on the final day, and he headed for the bank with a Yamamoto Shibuki Popper to catch 12 pounds for a closing-round effort.
8. Zack Birge – Blanchard, Okla. – 43 pounds, 11 ounces
Zack Birge spent his week far up the Ouachita River and South Fork combing shallow flats and mud banks for his eighth-place showing in his first Forrest Wood Cup.
“I just fished wide open all week,” Birge says, “trolling motor on high and covering water. There was no rhyme or reason to where I would get a bite. If I came to a little brush top or stump, I’d slow down and throw at it multiple times just to see if I could aggravate one into biting.”
Birge’s shallow-water arsenal featured a Stanley Top Toad on 50-pound-test Sunline braid, a 6th Sense Crush 50X shallow-running crankbait on 12-pound-test Sunline and a Santone 1/4-ounce spinnerbait.
9. Mark Daniels Jr. – Tuskegee, Ala. – 37 pounds, 12 ounces
Mark Daniels Jr. finished his sophomore season on the Walmart FLW Tour with a ninth-place showing in the Forrest Wood Cup.
Daniels found the same productive area as Brad Knight in the very back of Big Blakely Creek. Similar to Knight, Daniels relied mostly on finesse tactics to fool the wary fish.
“I found that place during practice by fan-casting a 1/2-ounce Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap,” Daniels says. “I got a couple bites on the Trap, and then my practice partner [co-angler Stephen Crawley] started pitching a drop-shot to some of the wood in there and got a few bites. That’s when I figured those fish had probably seen too many standard flipping baits on 20-pound-test line.”
For the tournament Daniels scaled down his approach to a drop-shot Roboworm in Aaron’s morning dawn and oxblood red flake. He fished 6-pound-test Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon backed with Smackdown braid. He also caught a few key keepers on a small Reaction Innovations Vixen topwater.
“My bite got better later in the day,” Daniels says. “It seemed like when the sun got up, those fish would really get on those pieces of wood a lot better. But if you plopped a big lure on them, they were wise to it. Pitching that lighter drop-shot to the wood was the whole key. When that worm just appeared out of nowhere, they couldn’t stand it.”
10. Chris Baumgardner – Gastonia, N.C. – 37 pounds, 9 ounces
Chris Baumgardner finished 10th by going “old school” up in the far reaches of the South Fork where the water was stained and shallow. His first bait of choice was a Z-Man ChatterBait on day one. But then he resorted to a 3/4-ounce Hawg Caller spinnerbait with a No. 6 willow blade the following days.
“I was fishing wood targets out in those flats – logs and brush tops that I could see,” Baumgardner says. “The spinnerbait just came through the wood cover better. Plus, the shad up there were pretty big. So as the week went on, I found I could get better bites with that big spinnerbait.”