Rookie FLW Tour pro Bradley Dortch of Atmore, Ala., seems to have a knack for the postspawn time of year when bass are retreating off beds and headed “out” to their late spring haunts. Last May, Dortch won his first Costa FLW Series event on Lake Wheeler by putting himself in front of bass that were leaving beds due to rising temperatures and falling water.
Dortch used that same postspawn strategy during the FLW Tour event presented by Ranger on the Harris Chain to take home his first Tour win Sunday with a five-bass final day limit of 22 pounds, 2 ounces that pushed his four-day total to 73 pounds, 9 ounces, good for a 1-pound, 13-ounce margin of victory over runner-up JT Kenney.
“I don’t know what to say, this is crazy,” Dortch says. “This is something I’ve been dreaming and working toward for years. It’s a dream come true – I can’t even believe I won it.”
After an unseasonably warm winter where Harris Chain bass got a head start on the reproductive process, the FLW Tour arrived just in time to catch the tail end of the spawn. While others took the headlines early in the event by sight-fishing, Dortch bet that the postspawn train would be coming down the track if he just waited them out at stations located on the outsides.
And it appears he was right. Each day of the event, Dortch climbed a little higher in the standings, passing those whose bedding canals were emptying. He started the event in 29th with 15-4. On day two he brought in 21-2 to rise to 5th. On day three he lost two big bass that left him with 15-1, holding him in 5th. And on the final day, he saved the best for last, checking in 22-2 to blow by sight-fishing ace John Cox to win with a four-day total of 73-9.
Ironically, it might be Dortch’s aversion to fishing slow that earned him the Harris Chain title. The primary reason he is always first in line “on the outsides” to welcome post-spawn fish into his livewell is because he doesn’t like the slow, meticulous nature of fishing for spawning fish, especially in Florida.
“Man, I just want to cast and wind,” he says. “It’s so hard for me to put my trolling motor on one and just creep around pitching those pads. I want to cast moving baits – reaction baits – so that’s probably why I’m so anxious for them to get out of the spawning grounds and get out where I can catch them winding.”
Dortch did pitch pads all day the first day of the event, using a junebug-colored NetBait Salt Lick on a 5/16-ounce tungsten weight. But after the pads only produced two bass on the morning of day two, he made a move to start fishing outside hydrilla lines because he was “bored.”
“I just couldn’t do it any more,” he says of the pad-pitching game. “I had two little ones in the well and I put the worm down, cranked up the trolling motor, picked up a trap and went winding. I stopped on one place and had a huge flurry; I loaded the boat on an old XCalibur One-Knocker pretty quick.”
With the 21-2 catch in his well on the second day, Dortch knew he and his trusty old Excalibur XR50 One Knocker in chrome and blue were going to become pretty good friends over the next two days.
“I started on my best outside spot the third day and that’s where I lost the big ones,” he recalls. “It was the point of an island in Harris and a trough ran right by the end of the point. Right where the trough brushed by it, the grass stopped suddenly, creating almost a wall of clumps out in about 6 feet. I had a single cast I could make through that grass that produced several of my biggest fish over the last three days.”
During Sunday’s overcast conditions, Dortch switched to a Tennessee blush shad-colored Booyah One Knocker to match the conditions. That color switch brought a 7-pounder early. After seining the grass with the One Knocker for a few more solid keepers, Dortch switched to a junebug NetBait Big Bopper paddle-tail worm with a 3/16-ounce Picasso gunmetal-colored tungsten weight on 20-pound Sunline fluorocarbon and caught yet another big one in the 7- to 8-pound class.
“I went to that worm because of the big fish I lost the day before on the One Knocker,” he says. “Plus the 7-pounder I caught that morning was foul-hooked in the back. I figured if I could catch them on that worm instead of a treble hook bait, I’d have a better chance of getting them in.”
As for his penchant for catching post-spawn bass, Dortch says it comes mainly from his disdain for slow-poking with a worm.
“I did catch some fish out of pads this week that helped me win,” he says. “But I just got so bored with it I had to go find something else to do. And as it turned out, that something else was the right thing to do for the big ones.”
Top 10 pros:
1. Bradley Dortch – Atmore, Ala. – 73-9 – $100,700
2. JT Kenney – Palm Bay, Fla. – 71-13 – $30,000
3. John Cox – DeBary, Fla. – 69-1 – $25,000
4. Shane LeHew – Catawba, NC – 66-1 – $20,100
5. Matt Reed – Madisonville, Texas – 64-14 – $19,000
6. Bryan Thrift – Shelby, NC – 64-9 – $18,000
7. Chris Whitson – Louisville, Tenn. – 62-14 – $17,000
8. Joshua Weaver – Macon, Ga. – 57-10 – $16,000
9. Aaron Britt – Yuba City, Cali. – 56-3 – $15,000
10. Rusty Trancygier – Hahira, Ga. – 54-14 – $14,000