While Walmart FLW Tour rookie Buddy Gross took advantage of Pickwick Lake’s new crop of eelgrass for his first Tour win, those behind him fished shad spawns and offshore structure to finish in the top 10 in the Walmart FLW Tour presented by Quaker State and hosted by Florence/Lauderdale Tourism on Pickwick Lake. Here’s a closer look at how those pros in the 2 through 10 positions fared.
2. Neal grinded offshore
In the end, Michael Neal of Dayton, Tenn., was the only angler to give tournament winner Buddy Gross a run for the winner’s purse at Pickwick.
Neal started the week with a 23-pound limit that put him on pace with Gross, but over the next two days he could only manage limits in the mid teens and Gross got way out in front of him with 20-pound plus bags.
On the final day, Gross checked in just two fish, but Neal’s final-round effort of 16-8 was not enough to take advantage of Gross’ stumble and Neal finished runner-up for the second time at Pickwick.
As the tournament progressed, Neal became more perplexed by Pickwick’s deep game, which seemed to lose steam over the week instead of gain steam.
“There were literally more fish out during practice than there were during the tournament,” Neal says. “Instead of more coming out each day, it actually seemed like it got less and less each day. Normally, I can add places to my rotation during the event because they are moving out so fast. But this week I started with about 15 places and ended up with only three – that’s going backwards. And on the few places I did have, the fish were really scattered out and not grouped up real tight. It was really odd.”
Neal spent the week fishing 10- to 12-foot humps, drops and ledges in creeks and along the river. His primary ledge arsenal included a homemade 1-ounce bucktail jig, a 5-1/2-inch Big Bite Baits BB Kicker swimbait (blue gizzard) on a ½-ounce TrueSouth head and a magnum spoon. All those lures were fished on 20-pound test Sunline Sniper fluorocarbon.
He also caught a few weigh fish long-lining a Spro Little John DD using 10-pound test Sniper.
2. Shad spawn delivers for Suggs
Scott Suggs of Alexander, Ark., spent the week bouncing back and forth between a shad spawn in grass and shell bars out on the river channel to amass a total of 65 pounds, 1-ounce.
Like others mentioned, Suggs says the offshore bites were very sporadic and unpredictable. Given that, he spent his mornings fishing a shad spawn in grass along a river bar in 6 to 8 feet of water. On the first day he scored big on the shad spawn, boating 21 pounds, 5 ounces. But as the tournament wore on, his shad spawn area just kicked out keepers and he had to drag along shell bars for upgrades.
When targeting the shad spawn Suggs used a ¾-ounce War Eagle Spinnerbait, a Zoom Swimmer swimbait threaded on a ½-ounce War Eagle swimbait head and a Keitech 4.8 Swing Impact FAT also on a ½-ounce swimbait head.
To drag along the shell bars, Suggs used either a Zoom Magnum Trick Worm or a Zoom Z-Craw threaded on a ¾-ounce Gene Larew Biffle HardHead.
“I used the fixed Hard Head, not the hinged one because I wanted the bait to kick up when it hit the shells,” Suggs says. “I also caught some on a new Berkley Dredger deep-diving crankbait on the shell bars, too.”
4. Jamie Horton goes shad spawn then deep
While most pros fishing the shad spawn at Pickwick were targeting grass, Jamie Horton found a sizeable shad spawn occurring along a sheer bluff rock wall in a creek. His shad spawn catches combined with a few bonus fish from river ledges added up to 64 pounds, 14 ounces for the week to finish fourth.
Horton says the key to the shad spawn in the creek was to get there in the morning when the bluff cast a large shadow to extend the darker conditions. He slow-rolled a ¾-ounce Nichols Pulsator double willow spinnerbait along the bluff wall, down to about 7 feet. He tied the spinner bait to 20-pound test Seaguar InvizX and fished it on a Phenix rod with a Daiwa Tatula reel.
After the sun chased the shadow off the bluff wall, Horton moved out to river ledges to crank Strike King 10XD and 6XD crankbaits for a quality bite. Three of the four days Horton caught a kicker out deep on the cranks. In order to handle the big 10XD, he fished it on an 8-foot Phenix flipping stick with 15-pound test Seaguar InvizX.
5. Shad spawn lifts Surman to fifth
Mike Surman of Boca Raton, Fla., saved his best catch for the last day, bringing in 20 pounds to top off a total of 63 pounds, 11 ounces for the week.
Surman fished a 5-mile stretch of thick grass along a main river ridge. The grass along the ridge grew in 4 to 8 feet of water and Surman found several key spots along the ridge where shad were spawning.
“There was a shad spawn going on for sure, but I don’t think the fish I was catching were actively feeding on the shad spawn at the time I caught them,” Surman notes. “I say that because I really caught most of my bigger fish out on the deeper clumps of hydrilla that crept out to about 7 to 10 feet – it’s not like I caught them up there actively chasing shad directly on the spawning activity.”
In order to get his better bites from the deeper clumps, Surman slow-rolled a 3/4-ounce Gambler spinnerbait with a big #6 willow down deeper to contact the outside clumps. He also scored some big bites, including a 7-14 on day one, on a Yo-Zuri 3DB squarebill crankbait (chartreuse and black). Again, Surman’s goal was to contact the tops of the deepest clumps with the squarebill. For the spinnerbait, he used 20-pound test Yo-Zuri Hybrid and for the crankbait he scaled down to 15-pound test.
6. Wilson stayed near tailrace
Barry Wilson of Birmingham, Ala. spent most of his tournament week fishing up near the Wilson Dam tailrace in the area called “the Horseshoe” to piled up 57 pounds, 13 ounces.
Wilson targeted the area primarily with a ½-ounce Z-Man ChatterBait teamed with a YUM Pulse Swimbait, both white in color.
With very little current being generated, Wilson relied on lock activity to generate current. Every time the lock functioned, it released water into the river. This caused the water in the area to raise and lower, like a small tide, which stirred up fish activity for about 15 minutes.
7. Strader targeted shad spawn and the bank
Like others in the top-10, Wesley Strader of Spring City, Tenn., also targeted a shad spawn on 5 to 7 foot ridges on the river, which featured the thickest grass.
“My best shad spawn area was a high spot in the grass that ran about 50 yards,” Strader says. “It was located along a river channel ridge and it was actually the tallest, thickest grass along the ridge. Those shad would spawn there all day long, but the morning time was the only time the bass seemed interested in eating them.”
After the shad-spawn bass became seemingly full and inactive, Strader would start running shallow banks in creeks, pitching to laydowns and swimming a jig in grass.
His spinnerbait for the shad spawn was a 5/8-ounce Stan Sloan Bango Blade spinnerbait fished on 16-pound Gamma Edge fluorocarbon. His pitching was done with a Zoom Z-Craw with a 3/8-ounce Reins tungsten sinker. And the swimjig was a white Booza Bug fished on 50-pound test Gamma Torque braid. His rods were Powell Max rods (765 and 768) teamed with Lew’s reels.
8. Fox bounced back and forth
Travis Fox of Rogers, Ark., finished the week with a total of 56 pounds to finish 8th.
From the beginning of the event, Fox said he never found anything special at Pickwick and consequently he went into “survival junk fishing mode” to keep clawing his way past the cuts and into the top-10.
Foxed bounced between a shallow bay, some shad spawn areas and shallow river bars to compile his catches.
In the shallow area, he pitched duck blinds, stumps and cypress trees with soft plastics topped with a ½-ounce VMC tungsten weight on 20-pound test Sufix line. On the shad spawn he used a 5-inch swimbait with a ¾-ounce head. And when cranking out, he went deep with a Rapala DT-16 in Helsinki shad.
9. Patek commits to shad spawn
Stephen Patek of Dallas, Texas turned in his first top-10 performance as an FLW Tour pro with a ninth place finish at Pickwick with 50 pounds, 3 ounces.
Patek targeted the shad spawn along a 2-mile long grass ridge in 5 to 7 feet. His primary lure was a ½-ounce Z-Man Custom ChatterBait tied to 16-pound Sunline Sniper fluorocarbon and fished on a Phenix X13 Crankbait ?rod. Interestingly, Patek chose the color green pumpkin instead of white for the shad spawn saying he couldn’t get bit near as well on white. When the shad-spawn bite got stingy on the final day, he switched to a ½-ounce double willow spinnerbait.
10. Peter T top-10’s with shad spawn, too
Rounding out the top-10 was Peter Thliveros of Saint Augustine, Fla., with a total of 49 pounds, 7 ounces.
Most of Peter T’s weight for the week came from a shad spawn along grass-laden the river ridges in 3 to 7 feet of water. For the shad spawn he relied on a ½-ounce double-willow spinnerbait and an old-school Allen Lures Milo lipless bait. He fished the spinnerbait on 17-pound test Lew’s APT fluorocarbon and the Milo on 14-pound test APT. Both lures were fished with Lew's crankbait rods and Lew’s reels.
When the shad spawn died at about 11 a.m. each day, Peter T would resort to the inside grass lines in 3 to 5 feet with his namesake “Petey Rig” rigged with a Zoom Super Fluke in green pumpkin.