Three days before the second event of the 2021 Toyota Series Presented by A.R.E. Central Division Presented by Neat Companies season, the heavens opened up and dumped massive amounts of rain across much of the country. Dale Hollow felt Mother Nature’s wrath as lake levels rose more than 7 feet over the course of the weekend. For better or worse, most of the anglers who had already been practicing on the Cumberland River reservoir had to start fresh with their practice efforts.
What resulted from that sudden paradigm shift was the emergence of just a couple predominant patterns, one of which ostensibly fizzled out by the end of the week. Anglers who made Friday’s top 10 did so various ways, but in the end, you were either fishing shallow or looking up the leaderboard at people who were.
Winner Adam Wagner was among those who spent all their time up shallow. You can read more about his winning pattern here.
Because of the timing of the event, bass were making a hard push to the bank to begin spawning. The high water only encouraged that behavior, though a cold front that moved in behind more rain on Wednesday may have momentarily hit the pause button and forced some fish back offshore.
Still, most anglers caught the majority of their fish up on the bank in shallow water either winding a spinnerbait or flipping cover that was previously several feet out of the water. But, being a prespawn event, we did see some anglers find success running typical springtime patterns on points and areas leading to spawning pockets.
Here’s a breakdown of how the top 10 boaters caught their fish in the second of three Central Division presented by Neat Companies events of the season.
Brandon Cline notched his second-place finish fishing the lower-third of Dale Hollow, spending most of his time in spawning pockets where he got bit during practice. Throughout the week, he expanded on his pattern and added in some new areas in which he believed fish would be coming to him.
Cline put together a solid Day 1 before weighing in one of the largest bags of the day on Thursday (17 pounds, 7 ounces). Given the conditions (sunny and cold) and the fact that Friday’s weather ended up being much like Thursday’s, it seemed like Cline was onto something that could prove to be the perfect recipe for a win. That recipe included a little help from his co-angler, Mark Bell, late on Day 2.
“I went to some new pockets that were similar to the ones I was fishing and ended up catching two, and then my co-angler said he had a little spot where he caught one late in the day [Wednesday],” he says. “We went and tried it out and I caught a 4-pounder on it on a spinnerbait.”
Things just got tougher on Day 3 and Cline managed just three keepers for 11-5, though a $20,250 payday is a nice consolation prize.
To catch his fish throughout the week, Cline relied on three baits: a 1/2-ounce black-and-blue flipping jig with a black-and-blue craw trailer, a white-and-chartreuse spinnerbait with willow leaf blades and a SPRO RkCrawler that he fished to about 14 feet.
Thinking the event might be canceled due to high water, Bass Pro Tour pro Bryan Thrift opted to forgo practice and just idled around for a couple hours on Tuesday to see if he could find anything good.
On Day 1, Thrift weighed in a solid bag (10-15) fishing the submerged tree line, but came up one fish short of a limit. He got right on Day 2 with a 17-3 bag after making a switch to a dragging bait (due to a change in water clarity) on a point that featured a flooded campground.
Mostly, though, Thrift worked several areas in which he knew there were fish. The resulting third-place finish isn’t too bad considering he admitted to not really knowing what he was doing except fishing around and looking for bites.
On Day 1, Thrift relied on his soon-to-be-released signature “Big Blade” ChatterBait from Z-Man on a 7-foot, 3-inch heavy-power Fitzgerald Stunner rod and Abu Garcia Revo STX (7.3:1 gear ratio) spooled with 12-pound-test P-Line Tactical Fluorocarbon. Thereafter, he caught most of his fish on a shaky head tipped with a 5-inch Damiki Stinger rigged on the same line and reel, which was paired with a 7-foot, 3-inch medium-heavy Fitzgerald Stunner rod.
Fresh off a win in the opening event of the Central Division slate on Guntersville back in February, Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit pro Jimmy Washam continued to add to his potential Angler of the Year resume with a fourth-place finish at Dale Hollow, thanks in part to a Carolina rig with which he dragged gravel points to catch some key fish on Day 1.
Later that day, Washam ran into a creek off the Obey River not far from takeoff with some muddy water and figured out something that would carry him through to Day 3.
“Late on Day 1, I ran into the mud and figured the fish had to be recovering from the high water,” he explains. “I pulled in there and me and my co-angler both caught a big one on a spinnerbait, so Days 2 and Day 3, I went classic – the way I grew up fishing – and put on a black-and-blue jig and a spinnerbait and a squarebill and just went fishing down the bank.”
Ultimately, Washam narrowed down his search for suitable water to two stretches that he could cycle through multiple times a day.
“It seemed like cuts off moderately sized creeks and arms, small cuts off of those near the mouth seemed to have the better fish in them and the numbers of fish,” he says. “I ended up dialing it down to two stretches that I could cycle through and I could go down and get a bite in the morning and come back in the afternoon and get another bite.”
Washam’s jig of choice was a 1/2-ounce Black Bass Tackle Industries flipping jig (black and blue) paired with a similarly colored Strike King Menace Grub. He also used a Black Bass Tackle Industries 1/2-ounce spinnerbait (chartreuse-and-white) with tandem gold Indiana blades and a curly tail grub as a trailer, as well as an Azuma Square Dance crankbait. He used Hammer rods in various lengths, powers and actions for all three baits.
Robert Reagan has three Phoenix Bass Fishing League presented by T-H Marine wins to his name on Dale Hollow, so it’s safe to say he knows a thing or two about what to look for on his home lake. In this case, it was water with “a little more color.”
“That lower end got colored up, otherwise I wouldn’t have been there,” he says of his decision to focus his efforts on the area of the lake nearest the dam.
In that area, Reagan flipped his way to 26-4 over two days “as far back as you can get” in water shallower than 6 feet. On Day 3, he made an on-the-fly adjustment after catching just one fish in his then most productive areas, making a move to mid-lake to fish a shaky head.
Reagan’s bait of choice on his shaky head was a Zoom Trick Worm in June bug. For flipping, he relied on a 1/2-ounce black-and-blue jig of his own making paired with a Strike King Rage Tail Craw trailer (Okeechobee craw). He used G. Loomis rods for both tactics.
Seven of the top 10 pros fished in the lower end of the lake on Day 3, Derek Remitz included. In that section of the lake, Remitz keyed in on transition banks – particularly those with sparse cover.
“I just kind of was looking for transition banks – cleaner banks where you can make a cast with all the overhanging stuff with the water being so high,” he explains. “I had to run and gun all day. That’s what I spent most of my time doing, rotating around in areas where I thought fish were replenishing and looking for new stuff every day.”
On Friday, in need of something different, Remitz switched tactics and resorted to a shaky head.
“I made a little adjustment today that I probably should have done yesterday,” he admits. “I went to a shaky head and picked up a big one on it. I was just trying to push what worked so good the day before, but you never know. That’s how it works in this game.”
Remitz caught a ton of smallmouth throughout the week, mostly on a hand-painted deep-diving SPRO RkCrawler and a Storm Wiggle Wart. Other than a shaky head, he did the rest of his damage on a Megabass Vision 110 jerkbait, which he fished on 10-pound-test line to keep his bait in the 8- to 10-feet range.
Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit pro Ryan Salzman likens what he did on Day 1 to fishing in Florida – though instead of punching grass mats, he was punching through masses of debris mats full of leaves and wood.
With the air temperature falling into the 20s overnight into Day 2 and never really warming up much the rest of the week, Salzman realized he’d have to make some adjustments.
“As the tournament went on, we had that cold front come through,” he says. “I caught them first thing in the morning and then that pattern kind of died.”
As such, he turned to a shad-pattern crankbait and shifted his attention to bluff walls in little pockets off Mitchell Creek at the lower end of the lake after that morning flipping bite died off.
“It’s not what you would think it would be,” he explains. “Usually, with the sun, you’d think flipping, but when it was low-light, I’d catch them flipping. Fish are fish and they do what they want to do. In the sun, it seemed like they were wanting to react to the crankbait for me.”
Salzman’s flipping setup consisted of a Dobyns 766 Champion Extreme flipping rod with 25-pound-test Yo-Zuri T7 line and a Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver 4.20 (tramp stamp). For cranking, he turned to a Duel Hardcore Crank 4+ (shad color) tied to 12-pound-test Yo-Zuri Top Knot line on a Dobyns 742 Champion Extreme rod.
No matter which creek Derik Hudson fished in throughout the week, it always had to have one thing: plenty of bait.
“I was targeting main creek arms on the lower end that I found in practice that had a lot of shad on my Lowrances,” he says. “The ones with a lot of bait, you could see the loons diving down on them. We found out in practice that those creeks had more fish. You could cover the bank flipping and get more bites.”
So that’s what Hudson did. Day in and day out, he flipped.
While many anglers paid special attention to water color – which varied from mostly clear to chocolate milk – Hudson says it didn’t seem to matter for his fish.
“The water color didn’t matter because there’s so much runoff coming into the lake right now,” he explains. “I think they were more relating to that run-off water and relating to spawning transition areas.”
Hudson spent most of his time in the back-half of the creeks in which he identified bait. He says his key all week was using Seaguar AbrazX, opting for 20-pound-test on Day 2 to allow him to fish some heavier cover.
As for baits, Hudson relied on just one for his flipping setup: a Bizz Baits Sassy Stick (green pumpkin), which he threaded on a 5/0 Gamakatsu SuperLine hook on 15-pound-test Seaguar AbrazX before upsizing to an Owner 4X Jungle Flippin’ Hook on 20-pound-test AbrazX on Day 2. He weighted his setup with a 1/2-ounce Strike King tungsten weight and spooled everything on a Shimano SLX DC reel.
While most anglers focused their efforts up shallow, Chase Henley opted for fishing out a little deeper, employing a fairly typical springtime pattern of running points looking for staging fish. Unfortunately, on Day 3, Henley recons the fish were pushing up to the banks en masse, leaving many of the points on his 30-to-40-point rotation vacant.
“The sun really hurt me [Friday],” he posits. “I needed cloud cover. I think a lot of fish started moving to the bank and I just didn’t make the right adjustment.
“This time of year, if you don’t make the right decision, you’re behind the 8-ball. I should have just gone flipping and come across another bite or two, but that’s how it goes.”
Henley started each morning on a point where he’d usually catch bunches of big smallmouth, including some over the 21-inch slot limit. That didn’t happen on Day 3 – he ran from point to point without a bite, eventually weighing in one keeper for 2-6.
Every fish Henley caught throughout the tournament came on a Megabass Vision 110+1 in the western clown color, which he tied to 12-pound-test Sunline fluorocarbon spooled on a Shimano SLX XT (7.2:1 gear ratio). He paired that reel with a 6-foot, 8-inch Dixie Custom medium-power rod.
Of the anglers who made the top 10 at Dale Hollow, none did anything as off-the-wall as Steve Lopez, who targeted suspended fish over 30 to 40 feet of water with an Alabama rig.
“I caught them in coves, waiting to go up (to the bank to spawn),” he says. “They wanted to go up. They were suspended over 30 to 40 feet of water. When they would come up, I would catch them.”
What’s even more wild than the pattern is that Day 1 of the tournament was the first time Lopez had ever fished with an Alabama rig. He didn’t even use one in practice.
“I’ve never thrown an A-rig in my life,” he says. “I picked it up on Day 1; first time I’ve thrown it.”
The reason for the bait choice was simple: Lopez saw suspended fish on his graph and needed to find a way to catch them. It worked exceptionally well on Day 1 (15-12) with wind, rain and cloud cover, but the bite began to fade on Day 2 under a bluebird sky, and all but died on Day 3.
“That bite was fading quick,” he explains. “The sun kind of hurt it. I just didn’t have anything else (to try).”
Lopez loaded his Alabama rig with 3.3-inch Keitech Swing Impact FATs initially before upsizing to 3.8s and switching to a whiter color, which seemed to do the trick. He tied it to 20-pound-test P-Line Tactical Fluorocarbon and launched the rig on a 7-foot, 10-inch heavy Duckett Black Ice series rod and Lew’s Custom Lite SLP reel.