The 2016 FLW Tour event on Kentucky Lake was one of the biggest moments of Brian Latimer’s rookie season. Back then, after chalking up a measly 10 1/2 pounds on day one, Latimer smashed 19-14 on the second day to rocket from nothing to a check for the first time in an offshore tournament on the Tennessee River. This year, Kentucky Lake is a little bit different – there are a lot more carp, and the fish are undeniably less removed from the spawn. After spending most of the first two days searching shallow on Lake Barkley, Latimer let me climb aboard to see how he approaches the final morning of practice.
After yours truly started the morning by driving to the wrong ramp, Latimer and I finally connect around 6:50. He’s in the middle of re-rigging and still buried in rods and tackle when I walk down the ramp. A few more baits get tied up, and Latimer finishes tweaking his arsenal before he’s ready to roll. Even though he’s getting a late start, there’s plenty of time left to fish. It’s summer now, and the days are long.
The first stop is a shallow bar out in front of Jonathan Creek on Kentucky Lake. Picking up a crankbait, Latimer starts winding his away along the edge.
“I am not going to let the Tennessee River kick my butt,” says Latimer, as he relays his early practice experience. So far, it sounds like things have been slow – not impossible, but his early hunting offshore quickly forced him toward Barkley and the bank. Now, he’s trying offshore one last time.
“You should be proud of me,” says Latimer as he comes to the end of the bar. “I just cranked down, like, a quarter-mile of ledge.”
Sure, there weren’t any fish, but it’s an impressive commitment nonetheless.
Just as he starts to quit the offshore game, Latimer decides to crank one more spot that catches his eye. Idling over it, he marks some magnum Asian carp – and no bass – on the Lowrance. Nonetheless, it gets a handful of casts just to be sure. Then he’s off again.
The final stop offshore is the site of Latimer’s epic 2016 comeback, and it might be the last time he checks it this week. Unlike some established ledge masters such as Clent Davis and Jason Lambert, Latimer doesn’t have a screen jammed with waypoints, but he’s got a pair of stop signs on this spot and some previous trails from day one.
Latimer starts with a crankbait and then pulls out a spinning rod and rigs up a Neko rig to milk it a little more. In between, he fields a call from fellow competitor Curtis Richardson and holds the phone in a truly unique manner.
Finally, biteless after almost two hours of fishing, it’s time to go shallow.
Latimer runs toward a smallish pocket off the main lake with a marina and sits down on the point leading into it, where he begins lobbing a swimbait around. He works his way through some docks on the bank, and then hops over to some marina docks from there.
“At home the postspawn residuals love to hang around these marina docks,” the South Carolina pro explains. “Between bream and shad there’s so much life around them there, but it’s a different dynamic here.”
As far as bass go, these docks appear to be lifeless, as he can’t even coax a follow on his swimbait.
Idling out of the pocket, Latimer takes a minute to drink some water and chow down on a section of a wrap before taking off. His next stop is a point at the mouth of one of the bigger creeks on the lake. He lobs around a big swimbait for a few minutes and then moves on. So far the mouths of creeks have been ghost towns today.
“For the most part I’ve already got what I’m gonna do,” says Latimer, who is planning on running to Barkley to fish shallow. “It’s either going to work, or it won’t. Today is just a day to try this and that.”
Swinging over to the break wall at Moors, Latimer finally hooks up with a fish on his crankbait. Unfortunately, it’s a catfish. A minute later, after a fraught decision about whether or not to set the hook in front of another competitor, Latimer swings on a tiny bass with a Neko rig.
He breaks off on the next cast and takes a moment to re-rig before heading out. Instead of a typical nail weight, Latimer has a prototype weight designed just for Z-Man plastics. It’s basically a little lead-head with a wire keeper in the style of the Ned rig jigheads. Stuck into the end of a Mag FattyZ, it is a very tempting package.
After re-rigging, Latimer fires up and rolls back into the creek to a pocket with a few docks and some slightly flooded brush in the back. First he tosses the Neko and the swimbait on the docks. Next comes a frog and a jig, which he fishes through a little creek in the pocket. Coming back out of it, he spots a bass guarding fry and a light goes off.
“Yeah, buddy,” he says. “That’s a sign. That might be the first time I’ve seen a fry-guarder on the Tennessee River. That tells you that they aren’t all out. They can’t be all gone and there still be fry around.”
A few feet later, Latimer spots another, and it’s time to tie on a popper.
Latimer fires the popper, and a bass immediately crushes it. He’s tickled to death to get bit on top even though the fish isn’t a keeper.
Now that his arsenal has expanded to topwater, Latimer is building up a decent pile of rods on deck. He’s got a little bit of everything covered, which is certainly atypical for a Kentucky Lake event this time of year. Normally you’d just expect some finesse stuff and every ledge fishing bait in the books.
Latimer moves to a new pocket, and after a few more throws a good one smokes his popper. Both of us think it’s about a 5-pounder for a moment, but it turns out to simply be a healthy one that would probably weigh close to 3 pounds.
“We might be on to something,” Latimer says. “I’ve got to bend my hooks down. I need to find them, but I don’t need to be hooking them. I can catch ’em like this over at Barkley. I never tried it; I just flipped, but I know I could.”
After easing around some docks into another pocket, Latimer gets bit again on the popper, and you can tell his wheels are spinning.
“If I can get four or five bites the rest of the day I might stay in Kentucky,” he says. “This could be something I could run with. I haven’t been getting bites. Literally, from 2 o’clock until dark yesterday afternoon I didn’t catch a single fish.”
Tying on a walking bait, Latimer continues prospecting along the bank, albeit in an area where the pockets look decadently less fishy.
“It’s been in the back of my mind to do this all week,” says Latimer. “But, I haven’t done it all week. I don’t know why. You know how these bushes are too shallow to flip? You just need to get out in front of them a little.”
After finishing out the stretch we’re on, it’s time for me to get off the lake. Not only is it hot as blazes, but I’ve run out of water bottles, and I don’t want to cut into Latimer’s budget.
Idling out of the shallow water in the pocket, Latimer pokes around on his graph for his next honey hole. There are all kinds of little pockets to prospect in, so depending on how much longer he decides to chase the topwater bite he’ll have options. After a decent run back to the ramp, he drops me off and quickly gets back on plane to keep hunting.