Hanselman dominated the Rayovac FLW Series Championship on the Ohio River by opting to fish for smallmouths in the connected Tennessee River below Kentucky Dam. Hanselman was not alone in opting to fish the Tennessee. In fact, he was joined by six other members of the top 10.
Here is a closer look at how the rest of the top 10 fished in the Championship, which was hosted by the Paducah Convention & Visitors Bureau and the City of Paducah Oct. 28-31.
2. Brandon Perkins – Counce, Tenn. – 38 pounds, 9 ounces
Brandon Perkins relied on his background knowledge of Tennessee River current and smallmouths, gleaned from fishing Pickwick Lake, to finish runner-up in the Rayovac FLW Series Championship.
Perkins put in four days of pre-practice and concentrated much of that time on using side-imaging in the Tennessee River to find rock piles and other current breaks in various depths.
In all, Perkins found 15 likely offshore current breaks that suited his liking. During the event he burned a Strike King 6XD (chartreuse blue back) crankbait through the current breaks in 10 to 15 feet of water to trigger reaction bites from smallmouths. He fished the crankbait on a 7-foot, 11-inch Hammer rod.
“I had to go down to 10-pound-test Seaguar fluorocarbon to get the bait down where it needed to be,” Perkins says. “It was a heck of a risk to go to such light line in rocks for big smallmouths, but it’s what I had to do to get the bites. Once I got one hooked up I would play it forever to get it in the boat.”
Perkins also caught a couple of his weigh fish during the week on a 3/4-ounce spinnerbait fluttered down through the rocks.
3. Trevor Fitzgerald – Belleview, Fla. – 38 pounds, 2 ounces
Trevor Fitzgerald had the comeback story of the Championship. It started on day one when he caught just one keeper weighing 1 pound, 15 ounces. But on day two he caught a bag of smallmouths weighing 18-11 to rocket into 10th, the last qualifying spot for Saturday’s final round.
On the final day, Fitzgerald continued his climb up the leaderboard with 17-8 to finish third.
“I’ve never weighed in a smallmouth in my life until this tournament,” Fitzgerald says. “We don’t have those brown fish in Florida, but I have to admit, they’re pretty fun to tangle with.”
The difference in Fitzgerald’s fortunes was switching rivers. On day one he tried to fish the Cumberland, which had become high and muddy. On day two he switched to the Tennessee River and hit pay dirt.
“I had several rock piles I had side-scanned in the Tennessee during practice,” he says. “I went and checked them the second day, and one of them had a barge parked right overtop of it. At first I didn’t think I would be able to fish it because most of the rock pile was under the barge. So I started casting to the nose of the barge and sort of drifted my jig under the barge into the rock pile – then it was game on. I started catching them one after another from underneath the barge. It was crazy.”
Fitzgerald’s primary bait for the smallies was a homemade jig (green pumpkin) with a Zoom Fat Albert twin-tail grub fished on 15-pound-test Seaguar line. He says that in order to make the jig “roll under the barge” he had to switch from a 3/4-ounce jig to a 1/2-ounce jig.
“Lightening up the jig allowed the current to take it up under the barge, and that made the difference,” he says.
On the final day, Fitzgerald switched to a 4 1/2-inch True Bass Little Head swimbait on a 3/4-ounce Revenge swimbait head to do his damage. He fished both baits on his own Fitzgerald Rods medium heavy-action 7-foot, 3-inch Stunner HD.
4. Brian Holder – Belmont, N.C. – 37 pounds, 4 ounces
Brian Holder played out a junk-fishing strategy along the Tennessee River for a fourth-place showing in the Championship.
Holder’s best spots were pea gravel points and the eddies behind them. But since he only had two of those types of places, he had to improvise with other current breaks such as boulders, riprap, bridge pilings and creek mouths.
His best three lures on the week were crankbaits: a Strike King Red Eye Shad (sexy shad chrome), a Rapala DT10 and a DT14. He fished all the cranks on 14-pound-test line and selected each according to the depth of the current break.
“That river claimed so many of my crankbaits this week,” Holder says. “I got hung up so many times that by the final day, I was using whatever color DTs I could find in my box.”
5. Nick Prvonozac – Warren, Ohio – 36 pounds, 10 ounces
Nick Prvonozac spent his week in the Tennessee River as well, but he targeted largemouths and didn’t weigh in a single smallie.
On the first two days Prvonozac stayed inside the creeks in the Tennessee, flipping a YUM Wooly Bug to laydowns on the bank. He rigged the Wooly Bug with a 1/2-ounce weight and fished it on 17-pound-test Silver Thread Fluorocarbon.
A hard drop in water level prior to day three left the creeks dry, and Prvonozac had to resort to umbrella rigging near the Kentucky Dam with a YUMbrella Flash Mob Jr. with 4-inch swimbaits.
Even when using the umbrella rig near the tailrace, Prvonozac still caught only largemouths.
“Isn’t that crazy?” he questions. “I’m from Ohio. I fish Erie all the time, and all I could catch in this river was largemouths.”
6. Tyler Suddarth – Valdosta, Ga. – 35 pounds, 14 ounces
Tyler Suddarth went rigging and jigging on the Tennessee River for his sixth-place finish.
In practice, Suddarth found five specific deep current breaks in the Tennessee that were made up of rock piles or pea gravel. Each day he would rotate among the breaks with Carolina rigs and jigs.
For the Carolina rigging, he used a Gambler Burner Craw or a Big Bite Baits Fighting Craw, both in green pumpkin. Suddarth was diligent in making sure each craw’s pincers were dipped in just the right amount of chartreuse before being offered up to the smallies.
In the jig department, Suddarth used a 1/2-ounce Strike King football jig teamed with a Burner Craw and a 3/8-ounce football-style shaky head with a Burner Craw as well.
In addition, he fluttered a 3/4-ounce spinnerbait down around deep rock piles for a couple of keepers.
7. David Barnes Sr. – China, Maine – 35 pounds, 4 ounces
David Barnes Sr. shocked the weigh-in crowd on day one when he toted five smallmouths across the stage that ended up weighing 21 pounds. Barnes’ day-one catch was the first indicator that the Rayovac FLW Series Championship would be dominated by hefty smallmouths from the Tennessee River.
Barnes’ primary strategy was to drift and roll a Carolina rig though big holes and depressions in flats where smallmouths were tucked in out of the current.
His plastic of choice on the rig was a 4-inch Zoom Ultra Vibe Speed Craw (green pumpkin) with the pincers dipped in chartreuse. He fished the rig on 15-pound-test line and inserted a worm rattle into the body for extra noise.
“I used a 1/2-ounce weight on the rig because I wanted it to naturally drift and roll with the current into the holes,” Barnes says. “Anything heavier and it would hang up and not look as natural.”
8. Jeff Hippert – Hamburg, N.Y. – 35 pounds, 3 ounces
Jeff Hippert utilized two rivers for his eighth-place finish in the Championship.
On day one, Hippert fished in the Tennessee and focused on small cuts and washouts along the main banks of the river. One days two and three, he stayed close to Paducah on the Ohio, looking for current breaks.
His go-to lures on each river included a Zoom Finesse Worm (green pumpkin) on a 1/8-ounce shaky head and a Rapala DT10 in Helsinki shad.
Hippert notes that he soaked his Finesse Worms in goby oil before the tournament began to give them a little more scent in the river currents.
9. Bill Chapman – Salt Rock, W.Va. – 34 pounds, 8 ounces
If you were wondering if there were any other top-10 finalists that did anything else other than target smallmouths in the Tennessee River, then Bill Chapman is your man.
Each day, Chapman ran far up into the Smithland Pool to catch largemouths and spotted bass on wood targets with a crankbait.
His lure of choice was a Lucky Craft 1.5 square-bill that was hand-painted in a splatterback pattern. He fished it on 12-pound-test line and made casts to shallow logs buried in flats.
A sudden drop in water mid-tournament left his logs high and dry, and Chapman had to resort to fishing down the creek channels with a 5/16-ounce Eakins Jig trailed with a Cabin Creek twin-tail grub.
10. Denny Brauer – Del Rio, Texas – 33 pounds, 4 ounces
Fishing legend Denny Brauer also made runs to the Smithland Pool the first two days to make a top-10 finish in the Championship.
Surprisingly, though, flipping and pitching, which Brauer is known for, were not at the top of the list of the pro’s techniques in Smithland. Instead, he spent much of the tournament fishing logs and stumps with a Strike King HC Flat Side crankbait (sexy blueblack herring) on 12-pound-test Seaguar Tatsu line.
On the final day, Brauer decided to stay close and fish near Paducah, but still relied on the Flat Side crankbait to catch his bass.