James Watson of Nixa, Mo., won the Walmart FLW Tour Invitational presented by Quaker State on Norris Lake with topwaters – mostly buzzbaits and River2Sea Whopper Ploppers. But Watson wasn’t the only one who dialed in the buzzing bite at Norris. More than half of the pros in the top 10 had a buzzbait figured into their game plan. Here is how other pros fished to make the cut at Norris.
2. Lambert cranks, finishes runner-up
Jason Lambert of Pickwick Dam, Tenn., gave James Watson a last-minute scare for the Norris Lake title, coming within 3 ounces of raining on Watson’s victory parade. He ended up second with 36-7.
Lambert fished Norris “Tennessee River style,” dredging a crankbait on deep structure.
“In practice I spent a lot of time graphing for schools,” Lambert says. “I found one pretty good group of fish located on a little drain running through a flat. The flats were 6 or 7 feet on top, and the ditch bottomed out in about 18 feet. There was a big rock pile on the edge in about 12 feet, and that was ‘the juice.’”
Lambert dredged the ditch with a Strike King 6XD in the mornings to score quick limits and then spent the rest of the day throwing a 1/4-ounce V&M buzzbait to cull up. On the last day, his fish on the hot spot wised up to his crankbait, and he had to resort to a V&M J-Mag Worm on a 5/8-ounce homemade shaky head to coax them into biting.
3. Adams scares a win on docks
Tracy Adams of Wilkesboro, N.C., turned in stronger limits each day, weighing in his best limit on the final day – 13 pounds, 8 ounces – to finish third and come within a pound of victory with a total of 35 pounds, 10 ounces.
Adams’ approach for the week was simple and efficient: pitch a jig to docks up the Clinch River.
“I was fishing the shallowest shade I could find,” Adams says. “And that meant fishing the backsides of floating docks up the river.”
His dock-fishing weapon of choice was a 7/16-ounce Jewel Finesse Jig teamed with a YUM Mighty Bug on 17-pound-test fluorocarbon.
Adams notes that he had to bump up his line from 14-pound test to 17-pound test due to the dock cables and zebra mussels costing him some fish on the first day.
4. Blake buzzes Norris for fourth
Derrick Blake of Rockwood, Tenn., parlayed his familiarity with Norris Lake into double-digit limits every day to score a fourth-place finish with 33 pounds, 14 ounces for the week.
Blake’s program was to hit as many visible targets in a day as possible. Such targets included laydowns, docks, rocks and stumps. His lure lineup consisted of a 1/2-ounce jig teamed with a Zoom Fat Albert Twin Tail Grub trailer and pitched on 25-pound-test fluorocarbon, as well as a 1/2-ounce Strikezone Grinder buzzbait teamed with a Stanley Ribbit and fished on 50-pound test braid.
“The first day, when it was hot and slick, I mostly flipped,” Blake says. “But once the clouds and colder weather moved in with the front on day two, I switched to a buzzbait.”
5. Strader staked claim in Clinch for fifth
Local favorite Wesley Strader was consistent at Norris Lake – almost too consistent. After posting almost identical weights of 10-11, 11-2 and 11-2, he spent all three days of the tournament in fifth place, finishing with a total of 32 pounds, 15 ounces.
Strader staked his claim in the upper reaches of the Clinch where he focused his efforts on intermittent rock piles and seams along the river’s edge.
“I was trying to get up the river where there was a little more current and color in the water,” Strader says. “Most of the riverbanks were mud, so any rock along the bank was key.”
Strader’s two best lures were a Stan Sloan’s Zorro Head Knocker buzzbait tied to 50-pound-test braid and fished on a Powell CB Max 3D rod and a Zoom Z-Hog Jr. tied to 16-pound-test Gamma Edge and fished on a Powell 795.
Strader worked parallel to the riverbank, trying to make contact with his buzzbait against the rocks.
“The fish were set up on any little vertical surface created by rock along the bank,” Strader says. “The first day I caught them on the buzzbait. But the last two days I did better pitching the Z-Hog Jr. up to those little rock faces.”
6. Neal shimmied up shallow for sixth
Michael Neal ran his boat some 45 miles far up the Clinch River to get to its shallowest point and posted a sixth-place finish with a three-day total of 29 pounds, 1 ounce.
Once far up the river, Neal targeted mostly steep, flat rock and some isolated wood with buzzbaits, vibrating jigs and spinnerbaits.
His lure selection in the shallows included a 3/8-ounce True South Beater Buzz Buzzbait with a Big Bite Baits Suicide Shad, a 1/2-ounce True South Shimmy Jig with a Big Bite Baits Cane Thumper swimbait and a double willow-leaf spinnerbait.
“I was up there as far as you could go,” Neal says. “Any farther and you could wade the shoals.”
Neal’s strongest day was day two when he weighed in 12 pounds, 14 ounces after switching to a vibrating jig.
“I think I might have forced that buzzbait a little too much the first day,” he says. “On day two I picked up that Shimmy Jig and a spinnerbait and connected with a lot more bites.”
7. Arey blades his way to seventh
Quaker State pro Matt Arey of Shelby, N.C., finished seventh, catching 27 pounds, 9 ounces on the week.
Arey caught some fish on jigs around docks, but ended up doing most of his damage on a spinnerbait.
“I fished a spinnerbait here more this week than I have in the last five years,” Arey says. “I didn’t even have any with me. I had to borrow one from Blake Nick on the second day just to get by.”
Arey found the spinnerbait bite to be ultra-shallow, catching some of his keepers in less than a foot of water.
“Flatter mud banks were the ticket,” Arey adds. “I think after they pull a lake down like this and the water stabilizes, they get up there very shallow to feed.”
8. Vicchio nails down eighth with one-two jig/buzzbait combo
Ken Vicchio of Bluff City, Tenn., finished the week in eighth place with a total of 26 pounds, 12 ounces.
“It was a pretty simple tournament for me,” Vicchio says. “I fished the buzzbait in the mornings and then flipped a jig in the afternoons.”
9. Campbell uses one lure for top 10
William Campbell of Middlesboro, Ky., needed just one lure to amass a total of 24 pounds, 2 ounces for ninth place: a 1/2-ounce buzzbait with a Zoom Swimmin’ Super Fluke Jr. trailer.
“I was looking for points that had rocks, gravel and mud,” Davis says. “Having a little wind on those kinds of points helped, too. The fish sit down in the shadows of the rocks on those points, and when the buzzbait comes by overhead, they eat it.”
10. Canterbury rounds out top 10 on flats
Quaker State pro Scott Canterbury of Springville, Ala., took the last spot in the top 10 with a total of 24 pounds.
“All I could really figure out about this lake is that the fish weren’t on the real good-looking stuff,” Canterbury says. “They were on the most nothing-looking stuff in the lake. The most consistent thing I could find was any little piece of wood up on a bare flat. Anytime I saw that, I’d cast a shaky head to it and catch a fish.”
Earlier in the week Canterbury covered a lot of water with his namesake Pro Buzz from Dirty Jigs Tackle teamed with a Zoom Horny Toad and a double willow-leaf spinnerbait, but mostly caught non-keepers. Once he slowed down and picked apart the wood targets with a Dirty Jigs Scott Canterbury Shakey Head with a NetBait T-Mac worm (scuppernong) he caught better quality fish.