With my home state of Minnesota’s lakes now frozen as I write this in December, winter provides reflection upon the past year’s bass fishing as a professional who earns his living catching bass.
Every year I go through a wide range of successes/failures that make this sport never-ending in excitement. Keep in mind when I talk about winnings, entry fees for FLW Tour Majors were $4,000, for the FLW Ray O Vac events were $1,500, the Rainy Lake Tournament, $800/team, and the U.S. Open on Lake Mead something like $1,500.
So here in Part 1, I share some of my more memorable fishing moments during the first half of 2014’s season and will share more later next week in Part 2.
Lake Okeechobee, Florida, Feb. 6-9. Fishing League Worldwide (FLW) Tour
After competing here like a dozen times over the years, the nuances of Okeechobee still leave me baffled. And again in 2014, the same thing happened. On the first day of the tournament, I caught a decent limit reeling a bladed jig over submerged grass and thought I had a good thing going. The limit included one bass over six pounds, which absolutely smashed the jig on the hit. I still can close my eyes and place myself on the exact spot of that grassline where that bass slammed the lure. What a moment! Then on Day 2, I don’t know what happened, but I couldn’t get any bites on the bladed jig. Grasping for ideas with great uncertainty, I began flipping grass mats blown in against cattails using a 1-½ oz Texas-rigged creature. This change wasn’t the best answer, but I managed a five-bass limit (only five I caught) that held me in position to cash money for the event. The largest bass on Day 2 elevated my heartbeat and had me short-breathed as I had to dig it out from under a mat with my hands. Thankfully it stayed hooked!
I finished 78th in a field of 178 and caught 10 bass with a weight of 26 pounds, 9 ounces, and won $4,000 (my entry fee).
Lake Hartwell, South Carolina/Georgia, March 6-9, FLW Tour
What stands out here the most is the cold showers I endured at my campground. BRRRR! Cold weather! Regarding the bass fishing, it was a struggle. I managed a check by catching most of my fish around boat docks with an All-Terrain Football Jig. Day 2 was a real struggle as I had to throw my head into “wing-it” mode. The best decision that day was when I revisited a short cove a second time that had produced two bass earlier. Here I managed my fourth and last keeper of the day, falling short of a limit. My largest bass that day came as I was bringing my jig through a brushpile off the corner of a dock. A bass grabbed it, I set the hook, reeled it up a few feet and then it became unhooked. Instead of reeling the jig up and recasting, I dropped it back down to the bottom and triggered another bite. I’ll never know if it was the same bass or a different one, but it went about 3-1/2 pounds!
I finished 61st in a field of 175 and caught nine bass with a weight of 18-15, and won $4,000.
Sam Rayburn Lake, Texas, March 27-30, FLW Tour.
On the evening after Day 2s competition, a severe storm knocked power out in the whole county including my campground. I’ll never forget the wind-driven rain pelting the windows of the lodge’s restaurant while my family and I ate some wonderful home cooking made by the owners. I wasn’t sure those windows were going to hold up! Regarding the bass fishing, I pulled a rare feat where I never moved from one area during Day 2. On Day 1, I can barely remember what I did, except that I had a brief flurry in the back of a creek on just one pass through it. I had a meager first-day catch, needing much better results the next day to make a check. With the spawn coming on and warm weather driving a rise in water temperatures, I decided to begin Day 2 in the area that produced the small flurry on Day 1. It was shallow water with wispy submergent plants sporadically topping out – a prime area to draw spawning bass. I chose to swim a frog across it, hoping to draw reaction strikes. The plan worked as I caught bass throughout the day from the relatively small area. Bass seemed to move into the area as time moved forward. It was never fast and furious action, but every 30 minutes or so, I would catch another bass. The biggest one came aboard about midday. It was a 5-pounder that savagely struck with intent to kill. The moment lives on in my imagination. I love it! A late 3-pounder provided the final touches on a good day’s fishing, and moved me into cashing a good check.
I finished 45th in a field of 176 and caught 10 bass with a weight of 24-12 and won $10,000.
Grand Lake, Oklahoma, April 3-5, FLW Ray O Vac Series.
These Ozark lakes in prespawn always prove challenging for me. The lake is known for good jig fishing – my specialty. So with that in mind, I dedicated a bunch of time to jig fishing in practice. I jigged shallow; I jigged deep. What a failure that proved to be! Upon completion of practice, I had nothing figured out. On Day 1 of competition, I caught one keeper bass and still had nothing figured out. However on Day 2, everything changed. I became a better angler for life. During the first half of the day, I struggled and couldn’t catch a bass. With two hours left, I finally just told myself to put down the jig and commit to a jerkbait. The water was still cold from the harsh winter and jerkbaits are good under those conditions. Plus, the day before, the amateur fishing with me had caught a keeper using one. The only problem is that I had zero confidence in it because it never works for me. So with hopeless, but determined intentions, I began throwing a jerkbait. In short time, a non-keeper hit. Then soon after that, my first keeper of the day! I was pumped! I had less than two hours to go to catch four more keepers. What a challenge I thought! Even though I had little hopes of even cashing a check, I fished the remaining time like I was ounces from winning. And sure enough I put four more in the boat to complete the limit — two of which came on back-to-back casts to the same spot. What a fun moment to relive! I really feel like I learned something of major significance on that day and have a new tool that I can fish with confidently.
I finished 97th in a field of 165 with six bass weighing 12-11 and didn’t cash a check.
Beaver Lake, Arkansas, April 10-13 FLW Tour
Every year the FLW Tour stops in Beaver Lake during March/April. So having been there over a dozen times, I am well versed in knowing what to do and when — or so I thought! But even with a bad finish, there’s always a standout memory. It certainly didn’t come in competition because I didn’t catch much, that is what stands out I guess. But I did have one excellent day of practice, and even caught the biggest Beaver Lake bass (more than six pounds) I had ever caught in all my years visiting there! The bass was positioned on a bluff wall with a slight undercut. I simply pitched an All-Terrain Football jig to the point where the water’s surface met the wall and let it fall vertically. It hit the bottom at about 10 feet and that’s when the bass grabbed it. Was I ever shocked to see its size when she came up and wallowed on the surface. With heightened anticipation, I visited this spot a couple of times during competition, but unfortunately each bite I had was merely a non-keeper. The poor finish at this event ultimately is where I point my finger and say, “that is where I failed to qualify for FLW’s championship” – the Forrest Wood Cup. The qualifying anglers competed for a first place winnings of $500,000!
I finished 144th in a field of 173 with nine bass weighing 9-11 and didn’t cash a check.
Kentucky Lake, Kentucky, May 29-31, FLW Ray O Vac Series
This tournament will forever go down as the event where I really advanced my abilities with sonar. With the lake in post-spawn mode and advancing to summertime conditions, everything was in place for classic Kentucky Lake ledge fishing. And that’s what happened. Bass school up on shell beds and channel drop-offs in huge numbers during this period. Angler’s with good knowledge of sonar can locate these schools by idling along until they show up on the sonar. Knowing this and also hoping to improve my sonar abilities, I committed a lot of time during practice to staring at my sonar while idling around. I achieved my goals as I improved my abilities with sonar and also found several schools of bass. In addition, I also improved actual fish-catching abilities. An All-Terrain Football Jig excels at catching bass from Kentucky Lake’s deep structure and it’s still my primary method. However, I did add a couple of useful supplemental techniques that produced some key bass. The first would be a big swim bait, and the second would be a giant crankbait. Typically I would hit each school with these three baits. I had a good finish to this event, having caught many nice bass. One thing that did stand out was the tremendous fishing pressure the lake receives. Many fishing guides, vacationers and local tournament anglers also found the same schools I found, which made for some frustrating moments as I had difficulty finding a place to fish without somebody else there.
I finished in 18th place in a field of 178 with 10 bass weighing 41-13 ounces and cashed a check for $3,000.
I will cover the remainder of the season later next week in Part 2. It will include more FLW tournaments, a couple of independent events, as well as some fun stuff fishing around home!
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Jim Moynagh writes a bass fishing column on sportsmansguide.com. Visit Jim on Facebook. He is a FLW touring pro, and a former Forrest Wood Open Champion with multiple top 10 finishes. In 2012, he finished in fourth place for Angler of the Year honors. He also finished in fourth place two-straight times in FLW events in 2012. His expertise is deep-water structure fishing for large and smallmouth bass. Jim’s sponsors include Snickers, All-Terrain Tackle, Chevy Trucks, and Ranger Boats.