Jay Kendrick of Grant, Ala., picked up the win in the Rayovac FLW Series Southeast Division event on Lake Guntersville with a three-day total of 83 pounds, 7 ounces. He sealed the deal by keying on deep fish around bridges, but his was hardly the only road to success in the Mercury-presented event. The rest of the top 10 anglers caught them shallow and deep on just about everything. Here’s a look at how they did it.
For a look at the baits mentioned below, check out the top 10 baits gallery.
2. Hall Wears Down One Spot with Lipless Crankbait
Joe Hall of Lake City, Minn., finished second with 77 pounds, 6 ounces. He led on day two, but predicted his downfall as early as the first day.
“I don’t have one regret about this whole tournament,” says Hall, who won’t be able to fish the final stop of the Southeast Division on Lake Seminole due to work commitments. “I qualified for the Rayovac FLW Series Championship a while ago, and I’ve been wanting to get back into tournament more, so this all worked out great.”
Hall was dialed in on a specific shell bed on a flat near a main-lake point that was about the size of a boat.
“The area below it was where I found them in practice,” Hall says. “I did not figure them out until the first day of the tournament. It took me two hours to re-find them on Thursday.”
A veteran of Mississippi River competition, Hall was initially led to the area because he believed an adjacent point coupled with the secondary river channel would work as a bottleneck to force prespawn bass through it.
Once he re-found the bass, Hall had what was “literally a one-cast deal” on the small shell bed for the first and second days. On the third day, as Hall ran low on fish, the bass also began to randomly school and bust bait around his area.
Slow-rolling a 3/4-ounce chartreuse baitfish-colored Strike King Red Eye Shad was the key, but Hall also picked up a few schooling bass the final day on a Fringe Tackle Company swimbait on a 1-ounce Buckeye Lures J-Will Swimbait Head.
3. Thrift Junks It Up for Third
Shelby, N.C., pro Bryan Thrift showed why he’s one of the best in the world by doing something only he could do – fishing all new water each day and improving his catches each day as well. All told, Thrift weighed 74 pounds, 3 ounces over the course of the event.
“I didn’t have a very good practice,” says Thrift. “I spent my whole practice looking for one magical spot and I didn’t find it. So I just went junk-fishing and Guntersville is a great place to do that because there are so many big fish.”
Thrift ended up catching fish off of just about everything: Docks, mud banks, grass, lay-downs and even offshore. He says he average about 15 bass per day and caught most of them with an ER Lures umbrella rig teamed with Damiki Anchovy Shads and 3.8-inch Keitech Swing Impact FATs, a brown Z-Man ChatterBait and a real shad-colored Damiki Brute crankbait.
4. Rose Goes Shallow and Deep for Fourth
Walmart pro Mark Rose of West Memphis, Ark., also upped his weights each day for a total catch of 73 pounds, 10 pounces.
The Tennessee River veteran mixed fish from rocky points and deeper grass lines (in about 12 feet of water) with fish caught from shallow grass in coves.
He also reported seeing fish spawning on the final day.
“They were real spooky, but I caught like five of them,” says Rose. “I would just back off and make a long cast.”
Rose reports catching his fish on a 5-inch Strike King Shadalicious on an umbrella rig, a square-billed crankbait and Strike King Rage Blade.
5. Tournament’s Biggest Limit Carries Gautney to Fifth
Cameron Gautney had a gem of a spot – it just didn’t last for the entire event. The Muscle Shoals, Ala., angler caught 33 pounds, 8 ounces on the first day, but ended up 13 pounds shy of the win with a 70-pound, 8-ounce total.
Though Gautney caught a few fish off some secondary areas, his primary place was a drop about 18-feet deep on a point at the mouth of a creek where bass were staging up before moving back to spawn. On the first day he mined it with a two timer-colored Profound Outdoors Z-Boss 20 crankbait, but he changed to Big and Little Head swimbaits from True Bass with 3/4-ounce J-Will Swimbait Heads on subsequent days. Gautney dyed the tail of his swimbait on the second day, but he says they ate it better un-dyed on the final (much sunnier) day.
‘’It started really well, I thought for sure I was going to bust a 30-pound bag,” says Gautney of the final day. “But, I graphed around after noon and there were only three fish left on it, they just kept scattering out.”
Though he still got bites on the final day, the amount of pressure the area received may have been its ultimate demise. Both Gautney and tenth-place pro Billy Brindle fished the spot on the second day, and secondhand reports placed a few non-tournament boats on the spot before Gautney arrived on Saturday. Despite not closing it out, Gautney made a strong impression in his first Rayovac FLW Series event.
6. Oilar Rides Flat and Docks to Sixth
Coming off a win with Don Amsden in the 2015 U.S. Angler’s Choice Championship on Guntersville the previous week, Ed Oilar of Monticello, Ind., used the key spot from that event and docks to make money two weeks in a row on Guntersville.
Oilar’s starting spot was a nondescript shallow flat that that was loaded with bait and bass. Unfortunately, it petered out as the week wore on and Oilar was forced to rely on a milk run of docks that had proven themselves to be productive in the past.
A 5/16-ounce Rock Jig on the docks and a red-colored Rat-L-Trap on the flat accounted for most of Oilar’s weight.
7. Digh’s Shallow Fish Dry Up
Rob Digh of Denver, N.C., concentrated on shallow grass in Spring Creek the entire week. That combination led him to his 15th top-10 finish with FLW and a $7,000 payday.
Digh says that his shallow areas were hurt on the final day by weekend boat pressure, and that he only caught nine keepers and had a big one pull off. He also reported seeing spawning fish, but didn’t attempt to target them as Rose did.
The North Carolinian used a 1/4-ounce Strike King Red Eye Shad to catch some fish and a Shane’s Baits Blades of Glory umbrella rig with 1/8-ounce heads and 3.8-inch Keitech Swing Impact FAT swimbaits to catch most of his fish throughout the week.
8. MDJ Taps Pad Stems with a Rat-L-Trap
Mark Daniels Jr., who is now leading the Strike King Angler of the Year race in the Southeast Division, brought in 58 pounds, 8 ounces to earn eighth place.
Goose Pond was Daniels’ goldmine, but like many of the other top pros’ locations, it was worn out by the final day.
Daniels targeted shallow milfoil and pad stems with a 1/2-ounce Cali craw-colored Rat-L-Trap. He was particularly successful when he could deflect the Trap off the pad stems to trigger a reaction strike.
Daniels also caught a few fish each day with a bruiser flash-colored Missile Baits D Bomb that he flipped on a 1 1/4-ounce Eco Pro Tungsten weight.
9. Fitzgerald Slings Swimbait and Umbrella Rig for Ninth
Trevor Fitzgerald, who is right behind Daniels in the Strike King Angler of the Year race, caught 55 pound, 15 ounces to earn ninth place.
“I started where I caught 22-pounds yesterday and I never had a bite there,” says Fitzgerald of his day three. “I left and went to where I caught the 12-pounder and there was a boat sitting there when I got there. They were real nice and saw I was in the Rayovac and gave me the spot, but they had caught about 20 pounds off of it. I never caught anything there, so I just went shallow.”
Fitzgerald’s key spots were both small areas on the main river, and he used a 7-inch Basstrix Paddle Tail Swimbait on a 3/4-ounce Revenge Swimbait Head and a Shane’s Baits 5th Element umbrella rig with 3.8-inch Keitech Swing Impact FAT swimbaits to catch his fish. He caught his day-two giant on the umbrella rig.
10. Brindle Targets Prespawn Bass
Billy Brindle of Calhoun, Ga., landed 55 pounds, 9 ounces to notch his eleventh top-10 finish with FLW.
Brindle said that he targeted prespawn bass staging on main-lake points for the entirety of his catch. He used a Hog Farmer umbrella rig with blades and 4 1/2-inch blue gizzard shad-colored Strike King Shadalicious Swimbaits almost exclusively.