Like Nick LeBrun, Bradford Beavers arrived on the FLW Tour with very impressive credentials. The first-year Tour pro from Summerville, S.C., has already won the Costa FLW Series Championship and finished 10th and 11th in the FLW Cup, along with a bunch of other Costa FLW Series and T-H Marine Bass Fishing League (BFL) top 10s on his resume.
Beavers started the year off about as badly as he could, finishing 121st at Rayburn, but he’s been on a tear ever since, finishing 54th at Toho before banking back-to-back top 10s at Seminole and Grand.
Despite the recent rebound for Beavers, this week’s FLW Tour event presented by Lowrance on Cherokee Lake figures to be a unique challenge for him. Like Grand, it’s far outside of his grassy, Southeastern comfort zone. It also has a lot of smallmouths, and Beavers has only ever caught a handful of smallies before.
Being a fan of smallmouths, east Tennessee and Beavers, I was looking forward to watching him at work on day two of practice.
After arriving at a secluded ramp on the lower end of Cherokee in the dark, Beavers drops the boat in the water and waits until the official practice start time of 7:11 a.m. ET. As the sun rises and he waits, it’s apparent we’re in for another gorgeous day in east Tennessee, even accounting for afternoon rain in the forecast.
Once it’s officially time to go, Beavers strikes out across the lake and pulls up to a sloping point near the mouth of a creek.
Beavers casts a swimbait as he works his way back into the creek. He says that he intends to target smallmouths as much as he can in practice and the tournament, but it’s not a strength of his.
“I don’t know anything about smallmouths,” says Beavers. “That’s what I want to catch here this week, and I’ve caught about eight my whole life. I don’t know their habits really.”
Perhaps 15 casts into the day, Beavers hooks up and brings a chunky smallmouth to the boat.
“You can’t get largemouths to pull like that,” says Beavers.
After moving a little farther into the creek, past a stretch of likely looking rock he marked in pre-practice, Beavers quickly strikes again. This time it’s a largemouth. Then, about 50 yards farther along, a big smallmouth jumps on his crankbait. After a decent fight with a couple of jumps that seem to take the fish 10 feet out of the water, Beavers lands his new PB smallmouth. The fish weighs a whopping 4 pounds, 12 ounces on his scale and is fat as a pumpkin.
“Let’s get out of this cove,” says Beavers, as he poses for one more photo and then releases the lunker.
The next stop is out on the main lake, where Beavers picks up a swimbait to start. Beavers came prior to Grand for a day of pre-practice, and he mostly idled around. One of the rock piles he marked back then is totally out of the water now.
“You think there are any fish on it?” jokes Beavers. “I don’t think I even need Side Imaging to see it now.”
After a brief idle over an offshore hump, Beavers swings back to the bank to pick things up at a similar-looking stretch as where he left off, and he continues to catch nothing else.
Beavers has everything on his deck that he’ll use for the day, including a handful of spinning sticks and baitcasters that have all the bases covered. From Ned rigs to crankbaits and swimmies, he’s pretty well got it all. The only notable absence was a jerkbait, which he says he sort of regrets, but willingly admits it isn’t among his confidence baits.
Moving back into a creek after another stop on the main lake, Beavers starts with a swimbait and then transitions over to a Ned rig after a minute of fishing along. He’s had a good run on Tour so far and recounts some of the highs and lows.
“It started out not fun. I got my clock cleaned at Rayburn,” says Beavers. “But I’ve hit the point where I’ve broke even now, so I’m not gonna lose any money. That’s a big weight off my shoulders. Now it’s about making money.”
Beavers says one of the big adjustments has been practicing on new lakes with limited time.
“In my opinion it’s very hard to break down a lake in three days,” he says, “not just see the whole lake, but really get dialed in. I would at least give myself four days for the Costa FLW Series. And they were all Southeastern areas, so I’d been there before and could pre-practice if I wanted to.
“It’s easy to get overwhelmed on a new lake with three days to figure it out. It’s almost like you’re out of time before you ever even get in the boat. Did I do anything different at Grand than I did at Rayburn? Not really. But it just clicked. Sometimes it does, and sometimes you could give me three weeks and I couldn’t put it together.”
After shaking another one off, it sure looks like Beavers is putting it together on Cherokee. Or, the fish are really biting this morning.
Idling across the creek, Beavers manages to get hung up on a Ned rig with no hook – surely an impressive feat. He also notices that things seem to be slowing down as the sun climbs higher.
“This is just like yesterday,” says Beavers. “They bite in the morning, and then it gets tough. I don’t know if the fish are sitting in the same areas all day and not biting, or if they’re moving as the sun gets up.”
Out by the mouth of the creek, Beavers makes a short move and then catches a little one.
“That’s what I was hoping you’d see all day,” says Beavers, acknowledging his penchant for secrecy. “I caught a lot like that yesterday.”
He gets a pretty good bite and breaks it off. "That’s what you get with 8-pound-test when you don’t re-tie," says Beavers as he digs for a new Eye Strike head.
With rain coming in from the lower end, Beavers runs across to an island and suits up. Then, he begins fishing a stretch of rocky bank where he hooks one pretty quickly and loses it, then follows it up with a little one.
Soon it’s raining harder – a good soaker. Beavers works to the point of the island with no more bites, so he runs around through the wet to the backside of another island.
Beavers starts out on the main part of the island before working his way into a pocket with no results. He even gets a chance to make a few casts at a willow tree that is shockingly far into the water. While idling another 100 yards or so, Beavers marks some likely rock and continues past to a rough-looking stretch of bank.
Once there, it doesn’t take long for him to hook up with a frisky and big smallmouth. This one is dark brown and pulls hard. It’s a pretty good way to cap off the morning.
With the rain intensifying and Beavers eager to keep exploring unencumbered by a photographer, he heads back to the ramp to drop me off. As I trudge up to the truck, Beavers heads back out to find more smallmouths.