KERR LAKE EVERSTART: MAY 28 - JUNE 4 HENDERSON N.C.
Day One: Finally a tournament that I don't have to drive all day to get to. In fact, its close enough, only about 90 miles, that I plan on coming home a couple nites to be with my family over the Memorial Weekend. I've fished Kerr Lake many times in the past but not much in the last couple years since I stay on the road so much. I have a good history on Kerr, having qualified for 2 of my 3 BFL All Americans there. Today I plan on just riding the lake, familiarizing myself with it again. Alot depends on the lake level, if the water is up some, there is plenty of shallow cover to fish. If the lake is down, well, the Carolina riggers and crankers will dominate. Another pattern Kerr is known for is schooling fish when the shad start spawning. I remember the first FLW I fished, it was on Kerr. In this event, which was about the same time of year, the bass where schooled up on points feeding on the shad like huge herds of shark. An interesting side note to this tournament is that I found a point that a huge school of 3 to 5 pound bass were schooling on. The first morning of the tournament, there was only 3 other boats that fished the spot. Each boat caught them, with me placing in 3rd the first day and the other 2 in the top 10 also. What's interesting about this day is that one of the other contestants was a good friend, Doyle Hodgin. We were catching fish cast after cast, all within feet of each others boat, close enough to talk to each other. But Doyle made the comment to me, "Man, wouldn't it be nice if we could catch them 2 at a time?" While I was more concerned with catching another fish, Doyle's brain was working. It was that day that set things in motion for Doyle to invent the now famous Front Runner lure, which is still very popular on Kerr Lake.
Today I will catch a few fish running points for schooling fish, see the lake, start developing a game plan and drive home to be with my family.
Day Two: My plan today is to spend some time up north, perhaps find some stained water. The lake is slightly up some, with a few bushes with enough water on them to hold fish. I also try to run some points again looking for a topwater bite. I just don't seem to be able to get on much with the schooling fish. I do manage a few bites on a Hawg Caller spinnerbait, mostly small fish. I run into a friend who says that the Carolina rig bite down the lake is good. He even goes as far as to say its easy to get a 10 - 12 pound limit doing it. I hate a Carolina rig, but I guess I will look at it tomorrow. Again I will drive home tonight to be with my family. My hope was to be on enough fish to spend the entire next day with them at a family cook out. Right now, I feel its time better spend on the water. I again will get up early, drive the 90 miles to be on the lake by day light.
Day Three: I begin my day casting topwaters. It will start off well, landing a nice 5 pound fish early. But from there, I will only get small fish with an occasional marginal keeper. When I switch to a Carolina rig, it doesn't take long for me to realize why I hate this slow and boring way to fish. Now don't get me wrong, I know it will catch fish and probably will be a factor in the tournament, but its not for me. Late in the day, I run into my good buddy Little E. He has been throwing a c-rig for most of the day, and some other days, having little success. I tell him I'm done with it, I'm going back to the dirty water and figure them out or go home.
Tonight I move into a hotel with Chris B. Though I enjoyed being home with my family, it will be a welcome relief to be able to sleep alittle later and fish alittle longer. Bump tells me that he thinks he can catch some fish that are still bedding, but overall, he finds the bite tough.
Day Four: Its back to find stained water. The weather during practice has been warm and sunny. This should have pushed some fish up tight to the cover. I pick up my flipping stick and start searching. The first couple stretches of trees I hit, I get bit on. I set the hook on a couple, and both are decent keepers. I begin running, looking for similar water and cover. I will end the day with several bites, having shaken most off. I talk to Little E again today, and even though he put in that morning in the same area as me, he took out at lunch and went back to the lower end. His day did not go too well, and after I tell him of my success, he plans on spending his last practice day back up in the stained north end.
Back at the hotel, Bump ask me how I did today and I tell him pretty good. I start feeling sorry for him, thinking he had a bad day until he says that he thinks he could have a good limit also on the lower end. I tell him that for me to win or do well, my confidence is in the upper end. Bump laughs, saying "My confidence is and always as been in the Nutbush arm of Kerr". That's one thing good about Kerr, its big enough to find your own style and water.
At the pairings meeting, I see allot of old familiar faces from my BFL days. There are more locals in this Everstart than I can ever recall, or maybe its just that I recognize more names here than when at somewhere like Michigan. There was a BFL on Kerr last week, and the top 5 finishers from that are in this one. My co-angler for tomorrow is from VA. He is an elderly gentleman and ask if we are running far. I tell him we will eventually, but plan on running a few topwater spots early. There was a big laugh during the meeting when the tournament director said "Take off will take place at Satterwhite Pt. in BrushNut". Its called Nutbush.
Tournament Day 1: The weather for today calls for sun early with an big front coming thru late with heavy ran. I really think I need the sun to get those fish tight to cover. I start the day off running some topwater area's. It don't take me long to realize that its just not working for me. My first flipping spot I run to, I am pleasantly surprised that there is very limited boats there, just one other. First thing I notice is that the water level has dropped a few inches. But my second tree that I flip to, I land my first keeper, a solid 3 pounder.
In about 15 minutes, another 3 pound fish comes into the boat. I'm beginning to feel pretty good about my decision. I will fish the area some more with little success and decide to move to another area. It takes some time but I manage another keeper there. I move back to my starting area and begin whacking them. I land two solid fish off one willow. Once I have my limit, I begin running little shoots here and there that has cover. The whole time my co-angler, who says he has fished Kerr most of his life keeps saying "Man, you have taken me places I never knew existed on Kerr". Just before we need to begin our trip back down lake, I miss a good fish off a tree. I tell my co-angler I will come back tomorrow and get it. On the return trip, it begins to rain.
At the weigh in, it is obvious that they caught them good. The wait for our bag number to be called is forever. During the wait, my roomate Bump comes riding up shotgun in another boat. He ask me to wait on him, he has blown up his motor, and needs help getting it back to the ramp and loaded. Man, I hate that, he didn't get to fish his fish at all today. I will weigh in alittle over 16lbs today, ending in 9th place overall. Good news is that I am in the top 10, bad news is that I will have to catch atleast that again tomorrow to stay there.
Tournament Day 2: We awake to rain. Not what I had hoped for. I need the sun to make my flipping bite work. My co-angler today is a young guy from Hawaii. Yes, Hawaii. Its interesting hearing him talk about the islands and life there. I was surprised to hear that there is a good smallmouth fishery there. I can also tell he is very jet lagged from the time change. He makes the comment his sleep pattern is been screwed up for days. I decide to go straight to my flipping fish today. The rain is supposed to get heavier as the day progresses. My key area starts out really slow. It will be up into the morning before I catch a keeper. My noon, its obvious the flipping bite is off, so I pick up my trusty Hawg Caller spinnerbait and start running and gunning. It takes me most of the day, but I will land 4 keepers. With not much time left, I make the comment to my co-angler about the fish I missed late in the day yesterday. I tell him its a long run up river even from where we are, but with out 5 fish, my odds of making the cut are slim. We secure our gear, and off I go. When we get there, I tell him exactly which tree the fish was on. I don't ask him, but he says "Go for it, I'm not going to fish, I want to see you catch it".
My first flip in there, nothing. Second one, nothing. My third, I go to lift my jig and the fish boils on it. My co-angler yells, "Whoa"! Ok fish, just give me one more chance. I pitch in there, nothing. I pitch back, my line jumps, I sit the hook and in seconds, swing the good fish in the boat. A quick high five with my partner, and we are off to the races for Satterwhite.
My limit today will weigh in at around 14 lbs, moving me into 6th place and a secure place in the Top 10 finals. It was that last fish gamble that I made that made the difference. Surprisingly, the field didn't catch them as well. But then again, neither did I. I really think it was the lack of sun that hurt me. The forecast tomorrow is more rain, perhaps even severe thunderstorms. The top ten field is full of some really tough fisherman, not only on Kerr, but nationally. Craig Powers is coming off a recent Everstart win, he's there again. Along with a couple good friends of mine, Chris Baldwin and Rodney Sorrell. My co-angler for tomorrow is from Canada. Boy, I'm going around the world in 3 days, lol.
Tournament Day 3: All 10 pros are to meet at the ramp by 5:30. Right now, the weather is just cloudy, but looks like the bottom could fall out any minute. Once we get our boats tied up to the dock in take off order, a brief meeting takes place, along with a word of prayer and introductions. Then the playing of the National Athem begins. I've been fortunate to have experienced this moment several times, but it still gives me goose bumps.
Time to go to work. The chase boaters have all ready gathered waiting to follow us. I get to see the first 5 boats go out, and watch with interest which pro got the most attention. Interestingly, I have a couple who jump on me. I decide to stop on a quick topwater, a long rocky point. My co-angler quickly picks up a nice 4 pound fish on a Senko. I feel like I'm fishing with one of the McKensee brothers. My Canadian co-angler says "Aaaa" alot, which I find amusing. I ask him if he knows who the McKensee brothers are, and he does, even though its obviously before his time. It doesn't take long for the day to turn from amusing to sheer frustration.
I work it long enough for the clouds to burst open. It begins to rain hard. I tell my partner its time to make the run North. By the time I get to around the cut thru, there is not a boat to be seen behind me. Suddenly my alarm goes off and my motor violently shuts down. My heart falls to my feet. Its raining so hard, you can hardly see the trolling motor. But I can see my co-anglers eyes, and there's a look of despair there. He yells over the pouring rain, "what happened"!
I tell him I must have hit something, perhaps due to the intense rain storm. But I try and start the big motor and it fires up like a charm. I put it in gear, and the motor begins to shake. I look at him, tell him I think we threw a blade from the prop. Once I raise the engine, its obvious that's what happened. The good news is that my engine is fine. The bad news is that this is a new boat, and I didn't put my spare prop in it. Amazing, its really the first time I have never had a spare, and the first time I have every lost a blade. I tell him "we are dead meat because no way I can I get to my fish up river like this, and its a long ways back to the ramp." Any other day, there would be boat after boat buzzing by us, but today, the lake is void of boats as any January day. Our only hope is to limp back toward Nutbush, and then fish there. We begin the slow journey back.
All I have to think about is how my chances now of doing well are slim. Not only for me, but I can tell my co-angler even doubts he will get to weigh in his 4 pound fish. I can't just give up, so I try and make the best of it under the conditions. I really have no fish what so ever in Nutbush, but with the rain and clouds, pick up my Hawg Caller spinnerbait and begin flinging it at rocky points. I land a small fish here and there, then a keeper. My co-angler will get another keeper on top. The rain has stopped, so I decide to change over to a CLU bass pop towater bait.
This turns out to be my saving grace. I will go on to catch just five keepers today, the only five I weigh in with it. 5 that will weigh 12 lbs. It will leave me back in 6th place, but it will leave me with still a chance to win. That's all I really ask for, is to survive today with a chance to win. Be it a slim one, with CP catching all most 16 lbs today, but least I have one. I feel the good lord blessed me with the focus and effort to be where I am today.
Final Day: My co-angler today is from Conn. I tell him that I think the weather will be in our favor today. The forecast is for mostly cloudy early, and sun late in day. Once again we line up in our current standing order, I will fill the number 6 slot again. The chase boats have really gathered today. There's a big tournament tomorrow, so I guess everyone is interested in where the fish are being caught. It starts off with the same order of business as yesterday, prayer, fisherman introductions and the National Athem. One of the FLW officials will sing the Athem live today, and what a super job he does.
Its all or nothing today. I'm almost 4 pounds off the lead. And the only way I know to have a shot is to pick up the big stick and go flipping. I know I can't catch them with topwater, least not the weight I need. As we idle out, I tell my co-angler get ready to ride.
When I arrive at my fishing area, I can tell the water has dropped alot since the second day. It makes me wonder if I had made the right choice. I turn to my Conn. partner, saying "No one remembers who finished second or tenth". My first couple flips immediately gets results. A fish around 5 pounds eats my bait as soon as it hits the water. I take up slack, set the hook, turn the fish, and my line breaks. "what da heck"? I can't remember the last time I broke a fish off. Only thing I can think could have happened is that because my hands are so sore from catching fish and fishing in the rain, I may have poorly tied the jig on last night. I move on down the bank, and quickly land a 3 pound fish. Bad news is that I should already have 7 lbs or better. Good news is that my fish are here. I will have a limit by around 9:30 but from then till noon, all I can catch is fish that will upgrade only ounces. A 2.9 for 2.11 or a 2.5 for a 2.10. I flip my bait next to a little laydown, pull it up between a fork in the limb, when a fish comes up behind it before I can slide it over the limb and sucks it in. Before I can set the hook, my co-anglers says "You see that"! Yep, I did.
I set the hook and the fight is on. It will be the biggest fish I will land today, a nice 4 pound fish. Today I will catch around 17 keepers, having culled 8 times. But I can't forget the fish that bite first. I'm afraid it will hurt my chances to win even if they do slip today. I leave my area alittle early to head back to the check in area. I will arrive back with about 20 minutes to go only because I admit I was a little paranoid about what could happen, lol. I promised my co-angler I would give him time to fish a point for schooling fish he said he found in practice. Our day will end without another bite.
Everyone is quiet as we load our boats to begin the police escort to Wal-Mart. No one talks to each other. I've done all I can do. During the drive to Wal-Mart, I have time to think back on the fish I broke off. But I also have time to think back how fortunate I was the third day to even have fish. At Wal-Mart, the crowds have gathered. Several mingle around our boats has we move into parking positions. The co-anglers will weigh first, so I go for a cold 7-Up and just use the time to relax in my boat. When the co's are done, we will start with the 10th place pro, and do a shoot out format. If the next pro doesn't beat you, you stay king on stage.
The first couple pros to weigh in struggled. As the remaining pros gather around the holding tanks, I can sense a bit of tension among us. I even begin to feel nervous with the thought I may have a chance. Its my turn up on stage. But before I go, I stand there talking to the FLW official who measures and counts your fish. We exchange jabs at each other but he can tell I'm nervous. With a quick "good job", I take my bag to the stage.
I will need around 8 lbs to knock off the current leader. I know I have it, he doesn't. By three fish, he is history. It was interesting looking at his face and eyes each time I brought out a fish. My five fish bag will go 15 pounds. Now its my time to take the hot seat and sweat. The next angler up is Chris Daves, well known pro who is the son of former Classic winner Woo Daves. I rest alittle easier as he brings out each of his apparent small fish. One down, 4 to go.
Next up is friend Chris Baldwin, or as most call him, Snuffy. Before he comes on stage, T.D. Jones tells the crowd he will need almost 14 lbs to knock me off. As Chris comes on stage, he mouths to me, "I think I got 14".
The first couple fish Snuffy brings out are small, but my heart none the less is thumping hard. It comes down to his fifth fish, which needs to be atleast 2.5 pounds. Snuffy turns looks at me, then what seemed like forever, brings out a fish that instantly I know is close to 3 lbs. He will knock me off by mere 10 ounces. After a brief interview and applause from the crowd, I take my place off stage. As I come down the steps, I am greeted by 3 and 5 year old Macie and Colby Barefoot. Macie looks up to me and with her small hand reaches to give me a dollar bill. First, just like the crowd, I am bewildered to her and her brothers gesture. But I hear their dad say that she felt sorry that I got beat and wanted to give me her only dollar. The crowd gets a good laugh at this humbling moment.
I will go on to finish in 3rd place. Just a mere 15 ounces off the win. One fish. Craig Powers will win over Chris Baldwin by 4 ounces. It was a nail biter for the top 4. The crowd got their money from this weigh in.