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Finding a way to win

Finding a way to win

It’s no secret that I am not an ultra-finesse fisherman and have struggled throughout my career with slowing down and using those kinds of techniques when conditions warrant it.

But that’s what I had to do to win the Busch Beer Bassmaster Elite at Cayuga Lake.

We were confronted with bright clear skies and slick water on a lake that was super clear. I studied the long-term forecast during practice and determined early on that my power fishing techniques probably weren’t going to work.

I am still a power fisherman; that’s where my heart and confidence lies. But once you find an area that has fish in it, you have to do what it takes to maximize the number of fish you can catch there.

And given the high level of quality anglers in today’s Bassmaster Elite Series, you better learn to adapt.

The same goes for the weekend angler. Today’s fishing technology – excellent mapping with down and side-imaging electronics – has made all anglers more efficient. To be successful in competition at any level, it’s vital to have the confidence to do what it takes to catch more fish.

To adapt, I rigged up a number of finesse rods but relied heavily on wacky-rigged Strike King Ochos (stick worms) and fished them from as shallow as three feet to as deep as 10 feet. It was about the only way I could get those fish to bite.

The positive side of the bright, calm conditions was I could actually see the bass and the grass edges and how the fish were positioned. Although I did catch some fish on beds, I found little wads of fish holding off the grass edges but they were extremely wary.

When I caught one, it would pull the entire school with them, and I couldn’t get more to bite. For that reason, I adjusted by making extremely long casts and waited them out.

I had two wacky rig set-ups; one had a 4-inch Ocho rigged on 6-pound line with a small Mustad No. 2 drop shot light wire hook to get the slowest fall I could. I used that in shallower water if I knew where a bass or a small group of fish was holding. It had a smaller profile, sank slowly and the fish couldn’t pass it up.

My other rig was a 5-inch Ocho with 8-pound line and a 1/0, double-wide drop-shot hook that had a little faster sink rate. I used that in 8 to 10 feet.

I tried fishing an unweighted Ocho rigged Texas style in practice but the wacky rig produced far more bites.

Believe me, fishing this slow drove me crazy. Waiting for that weightless wacky rig to hit bottom was like watching time tick away on the clock. But that’s what it took to catch them.

I also drop-shotted a 4-inch wacky rigged Ocho when I was trying to cover water and I caught a few fish that way. I also caught a few under docks with the wacky rig, but fishing the flats and grass edges were the key to me winning.

I’ve used other finesse techniques to win in previous tournaments, but this tournament required me to really slow down and be more methodical.

I will always rely on power fishing when conditions warrant it. However, this tournament gave me the confidence to slow down with ultra-finesse tactics when conditions demand it.

And like I’ve always said, it’s all about the attitude!