Casey Scanlon won the FLW Tour season finale at Lake Champlain, which he almost had to do to make the FLW Cup. Now that he’s here at Lake Hamilton, he’s got a shot at $300,000 and a possible edge over the competition due to his momentum and extensive Ozark experience.
Eager to watch Scanlon work, I’m happy to hop in the boat for day three of practice.
Between a couple of days of pre-practice and the four days of official practice, Scanlon will have put in plenty of time on Hamilton before gameday. Meeting at the Andrew Hulsey Fish Hatchery ramp just after 6:30 a.m., Scanlon backs the Nitro in over the remnants of some fresh brush-planting efforts by locals, wipes the dew off his graphs and then rolls to a nearby pocket.
Starting shallow, Scanlon grabs a buzzbait early and begins to comb some overhanging cover and bank grass.
Right away, I ask how practice has been.
“It’s been going good so far,” says Scanlon. “I think everyone is getting a few more bites than they anticipated, and I love the look of the lake. There are a lot of spots that you’re going to drive past because there’s someone on them, but there’s a lot to do here. And I think you’re going to see a lot of limits this week.”
I also want to know about the comparison to Lake of the Ozarks, which he guides on and regularly hammers fish on.
“It’s pretty much it,” says Scanlon. “Boat docks, brush piles and a lot of boat traffic. It has a lot of similarities. It feels a lot like the lakes I’m used to fishing. The only difference is it has a little bit more grass – Lake of the Ozarks doesn’t really have any grass.”
Picking up a worm to flip a laydown, Scanlon gets his first bite of the day. He’s fishing with no hooks, but it’s a welcome sign. Shortly thereafter, he picks up a crankbait to try to imitate some of the small shad flitting around. The bank he’s on is actually fairly deep – the boat is in 5 feet of water – which is not what I’d have expected based on the topography of the opposite bank. Scanlon says he picked it just for that reason and that it’s a payoff of pre-practice.
“I didn’t pre-practice for the last Cup I made, and I kind of regretted it,” admits Scanlon. “This is only 5 hours from home, so I spent two days down here. I didn’t fish a whole lot, but I got some of the graphing out of the way and I rode the whole lake to get familiar.”
Scanlon says not fishing in pre-practice is important, because things are sure to change.
“I’ve never been in a four-day event where the fishing didn’t change,” he explains. “So, you don’t want to screw yourself up by fishing too much. I just idled around and tried to get a feel for the lake.”
As we work back into the next pocket, another pro passes on the opposite bank, slinging a buzzbait up shallow in what has become a time-honored FLW Cup tradition. His close proximity is an example of how small Hamilton is, but it’s not something that Scanlon is super concerned about. After the competition passes, he gets two flipping bites fishing right behind him.
With the sun getting up in earnest, Scanlon spends a little more time shallow and then sits down to reorganize a little, pulling out a couple fresh rods and putting some down. Then, it’s time to go out off the bank to the brush. Riding straight to a waypoint, Scanlon starts casting and dragging a drop-shot and a worm, always keeping his head glued to his graph.
“It’s scattered and smaller; I think it’s pretty old,” says Scanlon of this brush pile. “Sometimes that stuff is good, because it’s not as obvious, and not obvious is going to be good in this one.”
Of course, Scanlon isn’t just going to fish waypoints today – he wants to add some as well.
“We’re going to scan around some today, too,” he says. “You can never do enough looking. I’ve never been in a tournament where I didn’t want one more spot by the end of it.”
A short distance away, Scanlon finds some previously undiscovered brush.
“Yeah, that’s pretty fresh; see how thick it is? I’m pretty sure someone moved this brush,” says Scanlon. “There used to be a line of it you could throw down and hit three piles and it really isn’t there now.”
Moved, fresh or old, this stop isn’t generating bites. He moves on.
“It’s getting to the point where you run around every 15 minutes just to cool off,” says Scanlon as he cranks the Mercury.
After bouncing another piece of offshore brush, Scanlon moves up closer to the bank – there are some docks here, and also plenty of brush around them. Moving slowly, Scanlon picks the docks and brush apart with his worm and drop-shot.
“The good part about four days on a small lake is that you can fish thorough,” he says. “You don’t need to get in a hurry.”
Moving back out, Scanlon keeps trying things and not getting bit. As the heat settles in, it seems like the brush bite is in a bit of a lull.
“I don’t think I’ve got one good bite out of brush today,” says Scanlon. “That’s kinda typical, it can be a day-to-day thing sometimes. But, a lot of times it is just a numbers game, and if you run enough you’ll catch them.”
Scanlon started the day with about 12 rods on deck, roughly organized into shallow and deep piles. That organization method has fallen apart a bit as the morning has gone on, but he still doesn’t have a ton of sticks out. A lot of pros end practice with nearly every rod in the boat on deck, but Scanlon prefers to keep it a little sparser – he says he gets claustrophobic with too much going on up front.
Scanlon decides to change things up. Running back into a pocket with some grass in the middle, he begins running a topwater along the bank. Biteless, he rigs up a vibrating jig for the grass and then flips some nearby docks. It’s a really sweet-looking area, but it doesn’t seem to have many biting fish at the moment.
I ask how he thinks the tournament might play out.
“I’ll probably fish a lot of boat docks this week,” says Scanlon. “In a championship, you’ve got to play to your strengths if you can. It’s definitely going to be a shootout, as far as who wins this tournament.
“There are some good fish in here, but the fishing pressure will get to it some. I think 36 or 37 pounds will do it. It’s hard to get to 12 pounds, there are good fish, but this time of year a lot of them are long and lean.”
Done with the grass adventure, Scanlon starts up the air conditioning again and runs out to some more brush. After a little idling, he settles on a pile and pulls out the drop-shot. This time, he garners a bite that feels a little more decent – things are looking up.
As the sun gets higher and Scanlon moves from brush pile to brush pile, I leave him when he gets within shouting distance of the ramp. He’s got about a day and a half left to really dial things in, and knowing his prowess on these sorts of fisheries, I’ve got plenty of faith in his ability to do it.