Changing conditions are nothing out of the ordinary in a tournament, but in the Ozarks adapting with the changes can be the difference between catching them or not. Fish in the region are notorious for firing up or shutting down depending on the weather and those with experience in the area will tell you keeping an open mind is the best approach from day to day.
Day two of the Costa FLW Series Central Division event on Lake of the Ozarks – presented by Evinrude – saw plenty of local hammers slide up the leaderboard on a wet, cold day of competition, which was a far cry from the sunny, breezy conditions on day one.
Stacey King has all kinds of experience in the Ozarks and it led to him busting the biggest bag of the event for his day two limit – 23 pounds, 2 ounces – and has the pole position heading into Saturday.
2. David Ryan – Levasy, Mo. – 34-15
Hot on the heels of King is another Ozark Ace in David Ryan. Back in 2011 he won the Costa Series event in March on Lake of the Ozarks and he’s primed to add another trophy to his collection.
Yesterday, Ryan played the sunny conditions to run up the Osage River to sack up 19 pounds. While contemplated running the opposite direction today, his gut told him otherwise.
“I made a game time decision this morning to go back up the river,” Ryan says. “I’ve caught them up there in bad weather like today so I had a ton of confidence and I figured since I got 19 pounds from it yesterday that the quality is there.
“Right away this morning my co-angler caught a 4 ½-pounder. A little later I lost a 3-pounder and on my next flip I caught a 3-pounder. I just had little flurries throughout the day and probably only caught eight keepers.”
Ryan did expand a bit today, fishing three new creeks he didn’t bother with yesterday. He kept a rotation of six or seven baits going from topwaters to flipping baits and kept moving all day.
“I worked hard today,” he adds. “I’m exhausted. I didn’t even take time to drink any water or eat a protein bar. I just had to keep grinding it out because I knew this would be the toughest day of the week weather-wise for me.”
The last two days have been fishing instinct and making decisions right out the gate. With the forecast tomorrow calling for temperatures in the mid 50s and sun, he’s already got his game plan dialed.
“I know what I’m doing tomorrow,” the Missouri pro says. “When it’s cold, sunny and windy I have to go back up the river and do what I do. All I wanted was the opportunity to try and win and now I have this tremendous opportunity right in front of me and I’m going to give it my all.”
3. James Watson – Lampe, Mo. – 32-8
A year ago James Watson was sitting in the exact same spot he is now in the Costa Series event on Lake of the Ozarks despite only five hours of practice this week.
Watson, who’s known for his prowess with a River2Sea Whopper Plopper in the fall, tried to make that game work for six hours on day one. With just one bite to show for it (which he caught on a spinnerbait), one fish in the box and an hour left to fish, he remembered an area a buddy of his caught fish from back in 2009 and decided to give it a try.
“I was running all over the lake like a chicken with its head cutoff the first day,” Watson says. “At 3 o’clock I went to check a place and it was on. I tried to boat flip a 4-pounder over a cable, it bounced off the front of my deck and came off. If I got that fish I would have culled up almost 3-pounds.
“I ran the same program today and lost a 6-pounder. If I can land everything that bites, I’d be in good shape.”
Watson’s main program is skipping docks with a Jewel Special Ops Tactical Flip'N HD jig and covering as much ground as possible. And while that’s got him to where he’s at, Watson still feels the need to keep tabs on the Plopper bite because when it turns on, its game on.
“I’m going to run the same program tomorrow, but I might put more effort on the topwater. When those big grizzlies (gizzard shad) get on the bank that’s when the topwater bite takes off. I’m hoping it does that tomorrow.”
4. Jeremy Lawyer – Sarcoxie, Mo. – 32-7
Like the guys above him, Jeremy Lawyer has no lack of experience or success on Lake of the Ozarks. Because of that, he was able to shrug off a less-than-ideal practice and put together a solid tournament.
“I caught my fish yesterday from an area I didn’t even look at during practice,” Lawyer says. “I was flipping docks because the conditions seemed perfect for it with the sun out. I went back to that same area today, but I knew the docks wouldn’t be the deal because we had rain and clouds. So, I picked up something to wind and just kept shaking and moving.”
Fishing today was fairly decent for the 2016 T-H Marine Bass Fishing League All-American champ. He caught about 10 keepers and is doing way better than he thought he would.
“You know, any time you make the cut you need to swing for the fence,” Lawyer says of fishing Saturday. “I’m going to keep fishing the general area I’ve been in, but I’ll probably have to mix in new water to have a chance to win.”
5. Arnold Payne Jr. – Kokomo, Ind. – 31-15
After fishing as a co-angler in the Central Division for 11 years, Arnold Payne Jr. was convinced to try it from the front. Though the first two events didn’t go as planned, he’s making up ground this week.
Payne is the lone outsider in the top five even though he has a few top 10s as a co-angler on Lake of the Ozarks. He’s also one of the only guys focusing solely on brush.
“The first day I caught all my fish on a big worm in brush piles from 12 to 18 feet of water,” says Payne. “Today, with the clouds it moved the fish out of the brush and they wouldn’t eat the worm. I threw a 1-ounce jig and caught them on the edges of the brush.”
Working from Grand Glaize to the dam, Payne has been hitting about 25 brush piles each day – some more than once. He’s also been catching nearly a dozen keepers each day, which is better than some.
“Tomorrow I am going to go through all my brush and it’ll take me all day to figure out where they are sitting. I’m just going to cross my fingers and hope something happens. If they are there, I could probably catch another 18 pounds or even 20. The worst I can do is 10th tomorrow, so we’ll see.”