November on Table Rock usually offers excellent fishing as the water cools down into the low 60s and the bass put on the feedbag. This year, for the Costa FLW Series Championship, that wasn’t quite the case. An extended summer (the temperatures in practice approached record highs) kept the fish scattered between offshore summer patterns and shallow fall patterns, and as a result, the fishing was pretty tough. Nonetheless, the top 10 all caught them pretty well, considering the pressure from nearly 200 boats and the fact that a fog delay on day two robbed them of about two hours of fishing time. What follows is how they caught their bass.
2. Bird is king of the Kings
Because of the unusually warm conditions, a number of competitors fished the event a lot like the Forrest Wood Cup has often been fished, and went way up rivers for cooler and more oxygenated water. Champion Pat Fisher did it the best, but Cody Bird weighed 38-11 and nearly beat him out.
Fishing way up the Kings River, Bird targeted laydowns with a square-bill for the majority of his fish.
“There were a lot of smallmouths in there, and they wanted it as fast as I could burn it,” says Bird. “I’d usually hit the wood, and that would get them to chase it, and they would follow it out to the boat.”
Bird reports catching three limits worth of smallmouths on the final day, and his ability to get relatively easy keepers was critical in the tough tournament.
“The first couple days I caught good largemouths,” says Bird. “But I never could get a big one today [Saturday].”
Bird slowed down a tick when he was targeting largemouths, but continued to fish roughly the same mix of laydowns, from laydowns well out in the middle of the creek on flats and channel swings to others way up on the bank. Bird says he used a 6:1 gear ratio reel to crank as fast as he could and a 6th Sense Crush 50X (black back with chartreuse sides) for most of his catch.
3. Birge does the river thing again
If there’s ever a bite up a river, Zack Birge seems to be a man to watch. Weighing 36-14 over the course of the event, Birge sampled Long Creek, the Kings River and the James River.
“In practice, about the only places I got bites were the very back of the Kings, the very back of Long Creek and the very back of the James,” says Birge. “The first day I started in Long Creek, ’cause that’s where I caught my big fish in practice. I caught a 4-pounder in the morning, and I caught two more keepers. It got to about noon, and then I decided to run to a spot I knew we could fill a limit. So I ran up to the Kings and caught No. 4 and No. 5 in five minutes.”
On day two, Birge knew that Chris Jones, Travis Fox, Cody Bird and more were fishing in the Kings, so he elected to run up the James. There, Birge actually started above where Pat Fisher was fishing. He targeted the tail end of a shoal and a run above that shoal, which was literally the last place he could get to with his boat. His upper area held solely smallmouths, but he caught both largemouths and smallmouths from the lower shoal on the final day.
Birge says his baits of choice were a 6th Sense Crush 50X square-bill crankbait in the chrome shiner color, a 6th Sense Crush Dogma topwater bait and a peanut butter and jelly-colored Santone Lures Texas Finesse Jig with a Missile Baits Baby D Stroyer trailer.
On the first day, Birge alternated between the crankbait and the jig, and he did nearly all his work with the crankbait on day two. On the final day, Birge caught the beginnings of a limit on a topwater and filled it out and culled with the jig.
4. Bohannan cranks up the leaderboard
Greg Bohannan did better each day, and weighed 33-1 for fourth place.
“I was cranking down transition banks and flipping docks in the afternoon,” says Bohannan. “When the sun came out I would flip docks. When it was cloudy or windy I would crank.”
Bohannan says that he usually targeted just the ends of bluffs, but would fish down along them if they had a shelf. He says he caught fish from the bank all the way down to 10 feet. For the docks, Bohannan looked shallow around flats in the backs of pockets.
“When the sun finally came out today [Saturday], I went to docks and lost a 4-pounder and caught a 4-pounder,” says Bohannan. “But those fish weren’t there when it was cloudy.”
Bohannan’s baits of choice were a Skirmish Baits A10 crankbait in the Bohannan green color, a Gambler Lures Burner Craw and a Strike King Rage Bug. He fished the James River arm the whole week, and went as far up as the 76 bridge on day one.
5. Jones goes as far as he could
Chris Jones had about the worst luck possible until the final day. The first day of the event, Jones broke down once he’d gotten to his area and had to hitch a ride to weigh-in from Zack Birge. On the second day, on his way to his area, Jones broke down, and fellow competitor Juan Ruiz essentially gave him his boat to use, a la Shin Fukae and Clark Wendlandt at the Potomac River FLW Tour event last season. On the final day, Jones was back in action at full strength. Through it all, he sacked up 31-7 for fifth place.
All week, Jones fished way up the Kings River.
“I made it up there and back, and I didn’t break down,” says Jones of his final day. “I didn’t get any bigguns, but I think I punched my ticket [to the Cup], and that’s what I wanted.
“I actually went and threw topwater for about three hours because I had a full day of fishing, and I was looking for a couple bigguns. I had a couple keepers, but I never got the big bite I was looking for.”
Jones used a variety of baits on the week, ranging from a Heddon One Knocker Spook in the Z-Shad color, an XCalibur square-bill in foxy shad, a YUM Flash Mob Jr., a tinfoil-colored YUM Christie Critter and a 1/2-ounce Booyah Finance Jig with a green pumpkin skirt and YUM Bad Mamma trailer.
His targets were not nearly as varied as his bait choices.
“It was stumps and laydowns off the channel on the mud flats,” says Jones. “It was basically just river fishing, and I was going as far as I could possibly go. I actually had one little spot I was saving that I was getting in and nobody else was getting to. That’s where I went yesterday [Friday] when I only had an hour and a half to fish [due to the fog delay and distance from takeoff]. That place kind of saved me every day.”
Jones’ backup spot accounted for all his weight on the fog-shortened day two, and he had to push in using a push pole. On the final day, using his own boat, he ran into the area on plane.
6. Fox fishes the way he wants to
A longtime Walmart FLW Tour pro, Travis Fox finished sixth and earned his first trip to the Forrest Wood Cup with 28-3 over three days.
Like Bird and Jones, Fox focused most of his attention on the upper reaches of the Kings River.
“It suits my style,” says Fox. “I’m from Beaver Lake. Table Rock Lake fishes a lot like Beaver Lake sometimes. I fished a deal about two or three weeks ago, and the top four or five guys in this 150 to 160 boat team deal went as far up a river as they could. I checked it out in practice, and that was the only place I had two bites.”
Staying with James Watson and about 10 other anglers, Fox learned that a handful of his roommates had gotten bites up the Kings as well. With that in mind, he decided to start there on day one.
“My goal was to go up there and catch two fish,” says Fox. “And I caught three pretty quick, and then I caught four, and then I caught five. After that I knew there wasn’t any reason to go anywhere else.”
Up the Kings, Fox flipped a green pumpkin Zoom Brush Hog around laydowns that ranged from 1 foot deep to 10 feet deep. When fishing them, he particularly targeted dark spots that were a bit deeper. On the final day, Fox took a tip from Bohannan and cranked a Storm Wiggle Wart down the lake for his third fish.
7. Lawyer does it again
It takes a special skill set to qualify for the Forrest Wood Cup twice in one year. This summer, Jeremy Lawyer made the 2016 Cup by winning the BFL All-American. With 28 pounds even at the Costa FLW Series Championship, Lawyer locked up seventh place and a spot at the 2017 Cup on Lake Murray.
Lawyer is without a doubt a Table Rock local, and that experience led him to fish a few different patterns on the week, with a different bait for each situation. His primary bait was a River2Sea Whopper Plopper custom-painted with a black body and blue accents by Fallcreek Lures. He also fished a YUMbrella Rig and a 1/2-ounce Freedom Lures Live Action Hybrid Jig with a Zoom UV Speed Craw trailer.
“With the Whopper Plopper I was trying to find those big broken rock banks,” says Lawyer. “You never could tell where you were going to get a bite. Sometimes it’d be in the back, and sometimes it’d be on the point. But if there was wind or waves crashing in on it it’d be better.
“For the A-rig fish, I was trying to fish the deep trees that you couldn’t see,” says Lawyer. “The first day I caught several out of trees that you could see, but as the tournament kept going on I had to keep going deeper and deeper.”
Lawyer says that by the end of the tournament, he had his boat in 40 feet of water and was casting to trees down 15 feet in 30 feet of water. In practice, the trees produced a few kickers, but the size never materialized in the tournament.
“The second day I caught two keepers on the swing-head jig on flat gravel banks,” says Lawyer. “I was just cranking it. My co-angler the first day caught a limit that way, so the second day I decided to try some of that.”
8. Beavers cranks rock
Bradford Beavers’ catch dropped off each day, but in the end, 10 bass worth 27-14 were enough to qualify for the Forrest Wood Cup and finish eighth.
“I fished shallow for the first two days of practice and started the third day of practice fishing shallow,” says Beavers. “Then I saw a pile of rocks on my side imaging. I marked it and went down a bank and made 10 waypoints of brush piles and rock piles. I said I would fish those, and if I didn’t get a bite I’d go shallow the entire time.”
The rest is history. After shaking one off on a jig in front of another competitor, Beavers returned later with a crankbait and stuck a good keeper. The rest of practice, Beavers put together a milk run of seven rock piles in 10 to 20 feet of water in the mid-lake area where he caught all but one of his keepers.
9. Cook targets docks
Brad Cook was in fourth after day two, but a blank on the final day dropped him to ninth with 24-12.
To catch his fish, Cook used a Strike King Premier Plus spinnerbait, a 3/8-ounce black Hart Tackle buzzbait and a Bass-X 1/2-ounce jig with either a Zoom UV Speed Craw or Gene Larew Biffle Bug for a trailer.
On day one, the buzzbait accounted for nearly all his fish before 9 o’clock in the morning, but things got considerably tougher after that.
“I was targeting flat areas away from the channel with docks,” says Cook. “They would be on the pontoon that was shallowest.”
Cook says that he could sometimes actually sight-fish for his quarry because of how shallow they were holding. One key to his docks was the presence of bluegills. On the final day, fishing in the main lake and in the James River, he lost a few key fish on a spinnerbait.
10. Local knowledge pays for Algeo
Though he didn’t qualify for the Forrest Wood Cup, local pro Brent Algeo weighed in 20-15 over the first two days, which was enough to earn a payday of $4,500 and a 10th-place finish.
“I live here, and the history kind of gets to you,” says Algeo. “You know you have history with everything, and sometimes the home field advantage is a home field disadvantage.”
For part of his pattern, Algeo fished almost exactly like Cook did.
“I caught them flipping real shallow boat docks. All I was doing was making one or two flips to the shallowest float. It had to be real shallow, in 1 or 2 feet of water,” he says.
For the docks, Algeo relied on a 1/2-ounce Chompers jig with a peanut butter and jelly skirt trailed with a Chompers Super Jig Trailer (twin-tail grub) in rootbeer green. His other pattern required a Cotton Cordell Red-Fin fished on 14-pound-test Lew’s APT Speed Monofilament.
“When the wind would come down a little bit I would run cedar trees in 10 to 18 feet of water,” says Algeo. “I’d run that Red-Fin right through the tops of the cedar trees. I could see the tops in most of them, and if that bait didn’t go right though the middle, if there wasn’t a hole where you could get your line through, you would never get a bite.”
Fishing from mid-lake to the lower end, Algeo says he caught about half his fish on the docks and half on the trees during the first two days of the event.