Grinding for three days on Neely Henry was rough work, but Mark McCaig totaled up 33 pounds, 12 ounces for the win in the final Toyota Series Southeastern Division event of the season. Weighing 10-3 on the final day, McCaig earned $21,190 for his win, plus the $35,000 Phoenix Bonus and a $1,500 Mercury Bonus for a total of more than $57,000.
It’s a good possibility that McCaig of Oxford, Ala., could be a professional angler on the national tours if he chose to. However, McCaig is perfectly content fishing semi-professionally in the state of Alabama where he can do what he did this week: enjoy the camaraderie and competition of a Toyota Series event against some of the best anglers in the world – 45 minutes from his home.
“We live in a very unique area here in Alabama,” McCaig says. “We have two things that make this state one of the most special places on earth: a rich diversity of great bass lakes and some of the best bass fishermen in the world.
“I love bass fishing,” he continues. “But I don’t want it to be my job. I love the competition. I love learning from this state’s incredibly rich talent pool of anglers – from local anglers to Bassmaster Classic Champions. Fishing at this level is all I need because you never know who is going to show up. Look who was here this week: Terry Tucker is a legend in these parts and Jordan Lee, one of the hottest young talents on tour.”
McCaig says above all he relishes the friendships he has with world-class fishing talent near home. Off the top of his head, he rattled off names like Scott Canterbury, Russ Lane, Chris Rutland, Jamie Horton, Chris Lane, Aaron Martens – just to scratch the surface of the centuries of collective fishing experience that reside in Alabama.
For McCaig, he enjoys learning bits and pieces from each one of them on how they think when on the water.
“This sport is not just about rods, reels and lures,” McCaig says. “It’s about the how, when, why and where; that’s what makes these guys so good. I love learning about their mental approaches and applying it to my own fishing.”
And learning from the best and applying it to his own fishing is exactly what McCaig did today en route to winning the Southeastern Division event on Neely Henry.
Fishing in the moment
McCaig’s personal knowledge of current along the Coosa chain combined with a little inspiration from Jordan Lee’s ability to his fish off pure instincts during a tournament day worked together for his victory.
“I’m good friends with Jordan,” McCaig says. “And he has something very special that he was born with when it comes to fishing. It’s something you can’t just learn overnight or buy off the shelf. But it is something that you can observe and try to incorporate into your own game. This year I’ve learned to fish a little looser and fish by the seat of my pants a little more. I’m learning to trust those little feelings you get when you run down a lake, see something that just looks good, pull over and catch a fish off it.”
McCaig knew, from generation schedules, that current would not be present in Neely Henry until noon each day. With a check-in time of 2:30 during the tournament, that gave him just 2 hours of prime fishing time to work current related areas. The question became what to do with the other five hours.
“The thing I tried to be better about in this event was not going down the lake to those current spots too early,” he says. “If I jumped the gun and ran them too early and they didn’t work, I might get frustrated too soon.”
Instead, McCaig decided to play a game of run and gun with his intuition early in the day, even fishing places where he's ever cast a lure before.
“I caught several fish this week in places I didn’t even know existed,” he says. “Anything I caught before noon was all a bonus.”
Several of those “bonus fish” came from skipping a SPRO Bronzeye Poppin' Frog up under overhanging bushes that were casting shade, one of the patterns that he allowed his gut to guide him on.
Another bonus fish pattern was running and gunning docks, pitching a Big Bite Baits Fighting Frog. McCaig has several pet docks that he knows work when the current is running, but wanted to run docks he had never fished before in hopes of finding a pleasant surprise.
“For most of the mornings, I just junk fished, running shade with the floating frog and the Fighting Frog,” he says. “That helped get a few solid keepers in the boat before the current came on.”
Once the current started running, McCaig moved to more of his tried and true docks, rock points and shallow offshore sweet spots that collect current-driven debris like logs. He also switched to a square-bill crankbait to work the eddies formed by the debris.
“I caught most of my fish after noon in current,” he says. “But I would not have won the tournament without catching a few key fish early just running around junk fishing shade on places I have never been and that’s what feels good about this event.”
Top 10 pros
1. Mark McCaig – Oxford, Ala. – 33-12 (15) – $57,690
2. Kyle Glasgow – Guin, Ala. – 32-14 (15) – $8,265
3. Hunter Hayes – Gadsden, Ala. – 28-13 (15) – $6,357
4. Andrew Johnson – Glencoe, Ala. – 28-4 (14) – $5,298
5. Josh Butler – Hayden, Al. – 28-0 (15) – $4,768
6. Derek Hicks – Rocky Face, Ga. – 26-14 (13) – $4,238
7. Clabion Johns – Social Circle, Ga. – 26-12 (13) – $3,708
8. Cal Lane – Guntersville, Ala. – 22-5 (14) – $3,179
9. Terry Tucker – Gadsden, Ala. – 18-12 (10) – $2,649
10. Scott Towry – Lawrenceburg, Tenn. – 18-8 (10) – $2,119