Focus on the Winners

First an Apology for no entries of late, I could give you lots of good excuses but I will not bore you.

Clarks Hills a.k.a J. Strom Thurmond Lake
Winner – Mike McClelland
Here is how he did it:

McClelland said he fished “extremely shallow” water. “I never caught a good fish in water deeper than 4 feet. They were all very shallow places, but they did have deep water close to them. They were all clay points with scattered rock mixed in. That was the key.”

He added that “99% of them were post-spawn fish, but they weren’t in an area they should be in. The points they were on were very susceptible to wind and weather. They were waiting on the blueback to show up. “I think that’s the reason the jig worked so well. They weren’t schooling yet on the blueback. They were up there trying to find something to eat, and that 1/2-ounce football jig was the perfect morsel.”

Technique Notes
A football-head jig, by design, is meant to catch on rocks. About how he worked his jig, McClelland said: “I did it a number of different ways, but probably the most consistent bite was dragging the jig on bottom until it hit a rock. Then I’d almost try to shake it in place. I’d just raise my rod up high, shake it as much in one place as I could, then snap it off the rock.”  Most of his bites came on the shake, but plenty also came as he snapped it off the rock.

Photo: ESPN Outdoors

One part of McClelland’s success was he let his fish rest and reposition.

Winning Gear Notes
He used two different rods – a 7′ heavy-action Falcon Expert and a 7’3″ medium-heavy Falcon Mike McClelland signature series. “You had to have that long rod to make a pretty aggressive hookset,” he said. “Typically, when you’re fishing deeper and dragging the jig more, you can get away with a more sweeping hookset. But these fish weren’t eating the jig good. They’d suck it in quick, and if you didn’t hit them then, you’d miss them. When they’re shallow, they do that.”

 He used a Quantum Tour Edition casting reel with a 6.3:1 gear ratio. He noted that the 7:1 Quantum “Burner” would have probably been better, but he hadn’t fished with it yet and was more comfortable with the 6.3:1. The high gear speed was important, he added, because a lot of times the fish ate the jig and swam toward him, and he needed to take up line quickly before the hookset.  He spooled up with 15-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon.

> His primary jig was the same one he used to win at Grand – a 1/2-ounce Jewel Heavy Cover Finesse football jig in peanut butter and jelly, tipped with a green-pumpkin/purple Zoom Super Chunk.

 He also threw a 3/8 oz. Jewel finesse jig on occasion.

 He used the stock finesse-style skirt that comes with the 1/2-ounce football, but often removed it and went with a bulkier skirt. Notable is that Hite won last year with an oversized skirt on a Mop jig.

 About the bigger skirt, McClelland said: “The gentleman I fished with the first day was a local, and he got the first bite on a jig. He was using the Mop jig. And I actually caught my first 6-pounder on the finesse skirt, but he was getting a few more bites than I was, so I bulked up and it made a difference. I caught fish on the finesse-style skirt all week – probably five or six that I weighed – but the bigger, bulkier jig was the key to getting quality bites.”

Lake Norman – FLW Tour
Winner – Larry Nixon
Here is how he did it:

Everybody knew the Norman FLW Tour would be an event predicated on razor-thin margins & just about everybody fishes docks. They’re everywhere on Norman’s highly developed shoreline, and fish in all stages of the spawn utilize them at this time of year.

It took an angler with the savvy of Arkansas legend Larry Nixon to come up with something a little bit different. He primarily stayed away from the docks – and the crowds of anglers that gathered around them – and caught quality fish off isolated pieces of structure.

Nixon went to Norman with an idea to target spawning bass, but not the ones that could easily be seen by other competitors.

He looked for isolated stumps and made long casts to them with light line, a 1/16oz. jighead and a Berkley PowerBait Wacky Crawler. If he got closer than 20 feet, the spooky fish would usually swim away, and would in all cases refuse to bite.  Accuracy was paramount, and the pattern was much more effective if the sun was shining and he could clearly see his targets.

All 4 tournament days unfolded pretty much the same way for Nixon. He fished a swimbait in the mornings until the sun got on the stumps, and then he went about culling everything he’d caught to that point.

“I went to the same area and did the same thing every day,” he said. “I never really changed up anything.  He was in 32nd place after day 1, and then jumped 22 spots on day 2 despite catching just one more ounce. He got into the cut with 3 ounces to spare.

Photo: FLW Outdoors/Rob Newell

A 4 1/2-pounder he caught on the final day was Nixon’s biggest fish of the tournament.

He vaulted to the top of the leaderboard on day 3, and then formulated a specific strategy for the final day – he wouldn’t go near his best stuff until about 10:00, when the sun was high enough for him to see beneath the surface.

“I tried everything I knew to keep from going in there early. I knew I’d get discouraged if I didn’t get a bite for a couple hours, and I didn’t want to do that. I just stayed away and fished some other areas until the time was right.”

His stumps weren’t productive on that last day, so he caught his fish from adjacent logs and pieces of brush. A 4 1/2-pounder – his biggest fish of the tournament – was his fifth keeper, and he improved his bag with a couple of afternoon culls.

Pattern Notes 
 He prefers a straight-tailed worm for fishing beds due to its vertical fall.   He caught a few key fish on a Texas-rigged worm, but has more confidence in one rigged on a jighead when targeting spawners. “They’re notorious for missing baits, and you get a higher percentage of hookups on a jighead.”

Winning Gear Notes 
 Jighead worm gear: 6’6″ medium-fast Fenwick Techna AV Spinning rod, Abu Garcia Cardinal 804 spinning reel, 8-pound prototype Berkley Trilene fluorocarbon line, 1/16- or 1/32-ounce Japanese-made jighead, Berkley PowerBait Wacky Crawler (green-pumpkin).

 Texas-rigged worm gear: Same rod, Abu Garcia Revo casting reel, 14-pound prototype Berkley Trilene fluorocarbon, 1/8 oz Tru-Tungsten colored sinker (green-pumpkin), 2/0 Gamakatsu worm hook, 7-inch Berkley PowerBait Shaky Worm (green-pumpkin).

 He threw a 6″ Basstrix Fat Minnow swimbait (blueback herring) in the mornings.

Main factor in his success – “Spotting some things that maybe other people missed, and staying far enough away to where I could catch those fish.”

Performance edge – “My Solar Bat sunglasses. If I couldn’t see what I was throwing at, I wouldn’t have been able to catch them.”

Guntersville a.k.a “Big G”
Winner – KVD – Kevin VanDam
Here is how he did it:

VanDam started day 2 with a spinnerbait on the shad-spawn bite, but there were a number of boats on his starting area.   

He said: “It just wasn’t happening, so I just kept moving. After a little while, I hit a spot and was able to catch three or four decent ones on a spinnerbait, and ended up with a limit.”
After that, it was upgrade time. He visited a few of his crankbait spots (but not the one he was saving). One that he “sort of snuck into” produced seven fish in seven casts. He then exited quickly and quietly.  

VanDam started day 3 with a spinnerbait again, out on a ledge, and never got a bite. Then he moved to another piece of structure and didn’t get bit where he expected to.

“They’d moved a couple hundred yards,” he said. After he contacted them again, he and his partner caught a “handful, and lost a few, and moved around to a couple of other places and just kind of scrounged them out.”

He noted: “One of the things that I think really helped me was my Biosonix. I was running it with an active shad pattern up into the day, and it seemed I could keep them on my spinnerbait all day long. The other guys said their shad were done at 10:00 or whatever, so I think the Biosonix was a big plus here.”

That was pretty much his day 3. He caught 19-10 – which put him 4th again, but just 1-11 behind Butcher – and his co-angler, Bryan Talmadge, won the amateur division.

Day 4 delivered a drastic change in conditions. Gone were the clouds and wind, and most of the field struggled with the morning bite. The sun and dead-still conditions ended the shad-spawn party almost before it started.

VanDam started slow too. He didn’t get bit on his first stop, then lost a few on his second stop. “They weren’t biting the bait real good,” he noted.  That’s when he picked up and headed to his cranking spot that he’d been saving.

Pattern Notes
VanDam caught all his fish on two baits – a 1/2-ounce 1/2-ounce Strike King Kevin VanDam Tournament Series spinnerbait, and a Series 5 Pro Model crankbait.

About his areas, he said: “I was fishing main-river ledges, main-lake points, and humps near the main lake. A lot of the water I was in was on the main river channel. The fish had spawned and pulled out to there. The areas had a mix of hydrilla and milfoil – the two together.

“I also fished some at the mouths of creeks. One of my best places was at the mouth of a creek where the fish were coming out to after spawning. That’s where the shad are, and that’s where the bass want to be – closer to the current.”

Technique Notes
About how he worked the spinnerbait, VanDam said: “I’d pretty much throw it up top (on the hump, ledge or point) and slow-roll it off the edge. When it got caught in the grass, I’d kind of rip it free. And I’d kind of have to shake the spinnerbait a little to get them to eat it. The main thing was to get it (ticking) the tops of the grass.”

With the crank, he took more of a quartering approach to the grass, meaning, if his boat was parallel to the grass, he’d cast ahead of the boat (toward the grass) at a 45-degree angle.

Photo: Strike King/Bass Pro Shops

VanDam’s crankbait was the Strike King Series 5 Tour Grade, which is a regular Series 5 with a high-test paint job (color not shown).

“I’d try to get it just in the (deep) edge of the grass and rip it free,” he said. “The Series 5 really runs about 10 to 12 feet (deep), but I was throwing it on 17-pound fluorocarbon to help rip it out of the grass, and make it run a little shallower.”

He added that most of his crankbait bites came in the 5- to 12-foot zone, and that the bite got a lot better when it was flat-calm and bright. Still, he switched between the two baits all 3 days.

“You could get them to react to that better (in those conditions), but I alternated both baits. I’d come across a school with a spinnerbait and throw it until I got no more bites, then I’d throw the crank and catch a few more.”

Winning Gear Notes 
 Spinnerbait gear: 6’10” medium-heavy Quantum Kevin VanDam spinnerbait rod, Quantum PT Tour Edition 1160 casting reel (6.2:1), 20-pound Bass Pro Shops XPS monofilament, 1/2-ounce Strike King Kevin VanDam Tournament Series spinnerbait (blue shad, double willow-leafs in various combinations of gold and silver).

 The spinnerbait is made by Strike King, but is available exclusively through It comes with a Perfect Skirt and pre-rigged Mustad trailer hook – upgrades not found on the traditional KVD Pro Model spinnerbait.

This is a picture of the actual 1/2 ounce spinnerbait that KVD used during the final day of his victory.

 On why he threw the spinnerbait on mono, he said: “With fluorocarbon, there’s too much sensitivity for me, and the rod is so sensitive, that I end up not letting the fish get the bait as well. Mono also has a little more give, and I like a little bit of stretch there.”

 Crankbait gear: 7′ medium-heavy Quantum Tour Edition fiberglass cranking rod, Quantum Energy PT 750 casting reel (5.1:1), 17-pound Bass Pro Shops XPS fluorocarbon, Strike King Series 5 crankbait (shad color).

 He swapped out the stock hooks on the crank for No. 2 Mustad Extra Strong Ultra Point trebles.

 Performance edge – “It would be between my Biosonix unit and having a GPS that’s accurate. The Biosonix unit was a big key in keeping the shad active to where I could catch them all day long. I just have a lot of confidence in it. And the places they were on were so precise – to be able to go back to an area after you fish it, without a doubt, that was (critical). I’m not sponsored by Lowrance, but those units are very good. Pair that with a Biosonix and a good spinnerbait, and it’s pretty hard to beat.” 


Felt good to do a little blogging, thanks for the recent subscribers (up to 32), they had not got much for their subscription to this point, but that should end because I intend to get on the water this weekend

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