Day One: The second FLW event of the year is somewhat a short drive. But it will be a long hard drive. I leave home with a heavy heart and somewhat feeling I should be there for my family. I have family members who are failing in health. My dad is sick and I leave not know what is wrong with him other than he is in good care at Moore Co. Regional hospital. I also feel like I need to be there with my wife. Her mom has taken ill, and was admitted to Duke Hospital as I was about mid way to Tenn. Its a part of the sport that is somewhat cruel, having to leave loved ones when you know they need you. My wife understands and told me to go, but I can't help feeling guilty for not being there for her. One thing about tournament fishing, you can't call in sick, you can't take a leave of absence, and you can't make it up. Either you show up on the date, or you miss the event.
Little E and I met up in Greensboro and arrive to a sunny warm Knoxville. What a change. I can't remember the last time I fished without long johns or gloves. I have never fished Fort Loudoun/Tellico lakes. Its kind of unique, similar to Santee Cooper Lakes, in that a canal separates the two lakes, allowing you to choose either lake.
Day Two: My first day on the water. Its March, and it 82 degrees! My suitcase is still backed from Austin, nothing but winter clothes! I will spend most of the day fishing in and around the canal area, basically looking at what the two lakes have to offer. Each lake is diverse in its on way, and each has a diverse population of species of bass.
Both lakes have 3 species of bass; largemouth, smallmouth and spotted. And each species has its own legal length size: 14", 18" and 12" respectively. I don't think you will do much with a limit of spots, but you never know. Word is the lakes are fishing tough. And judging by my first day results, I agree. I will only catch small fish today, numbers of small fish.
Day Three: Tellico Lake is the clearest of the two lakes. I don't usually like to fish clear lakes that require finesse, but with the rising water temps, I think the fish are gonna move to the banks to spawn. It will be easier for me to judge this in the clear waters because I should be able to see the fish sunning or cruising. But I will not see the fish up shallow, making me wonder if they have moved up or will move up. On a good note, I do manage to catch a limit today, with one really good largemouth around 6 pounds. But I still don't feel comfortable on Tellico. Tomorrow, I'm hoping Loudoun will offer me some color.
Day Four: Today its Fort Loudoun. And I like what I see from the get go. Even though the lake is down about 5 feet, its still full of docks, laydowns, rock, brush and some stained water. Most of the shallow cover is high and dry, I'd love to come here when the lake is at normal pool. From what I have heard, we are about a week too early, as TVA brings the lake up to summer pool April 1.
I find a little pattern that seems to be working for numbers and size. I can take a new Custom Lures Unlimited hand carved balsa crashbait called a Laker Pro, blister it around any shallow cover and the bass will crush it. The only thing that worries me about this pattern is that the lake continues to drop about 4 inches a day. I think most people, and the shallow stuff is getting pounded, are fishing with jigs and spinnerbaits, so the Laker Pro is something they haven't seen. Its an awesome bait, reminiscent of the old Big O. I've never seen a crankbait go thru cover like it does, almost like the H2 of crankbaits. The 'Hummer' of crashbaits.
I have to be off the water early today for a "meet the Pro" special appearance tonight. I feel pretty good about what I found today, well atleast better than what I found on Tellico. I got a bad feeling that this thing will turn into a sight fishing bonanza. At the "meet the Pro" night, my worst fears get confirmed. Word is that the fish really hit the bank today on Tellico. We have had 4 straight days of sun and 80 degree weather, making the shallows hit almost 70 degrees. I heard that local angler and tournament favorite Wesley Strader made the comment that the fish won't move up until the water comes up. I'm not so sure bout that being a factor more than the water temps. I really don't want this to become a sight fishing tournament.
Day Five: Today is a short day, FLW mandates that everyone get off the water by 11am. I decided to fish Loudoun during the tournament days, so the plan is to spend the short day just riding up the river, noting anything that will fit my pattern. The city of Knoxville is directly on the river that feeds Fort Loudoun. So is the U of TN. The massive football stadium sits right on the shores of the river. A big yacht cruises up along the stadium, I can only imagine the scene on game day. Paint the town and lake orange. The lake seems deserted today. Perhaps everyone is sleeping in or maybe everyone is on Tellico looking for spawners.
Again, I will be rushed to make an appearance for Pedigree. But today, it will be heart felt, attitude adjusting visit. I am gonna visit the Knoxville Children's Hospital, making personal visits to individual kids who are suffering from an illness.
Other members of the Snickers team will join me, along with fellow Pedigree Pro Greg Pugh. Its kind of ironic that I find myself visiting young patients in Knoxville while my mother in-law continues to receive care at Duke. My dad is doing better, my wife assures me that her mom is doing better.
Upon arrival at the Children's Hospital, we are greeted by two assistants who will be our escorts through out the hospital. They brief us on the kids, ages from 13 months to 16 years old. Our first visit is a young man who is 11. He is really excited to see us, and tells us of his desire to become a professional baseball player. And he loves to fish!
We greet each child, introduce ourselves to them and their families. We give each kid a Pedigree Pup stuffed animal that really brightens their faces. The young lady in the photo to the right tells us that she plans to grow up and become a scientist to help find a cure for all sickness. I tell you, it really makes you appreciate having healthy kids and how fortunate we all can be compared to others. Its a short time that we get visiting the remarkable kids, one that I will remember how they touched me instead of how I touched their day or life. Its a stark contrast to what we do, and something that I am honored to have been part of.
Back at the pairings meeting, everyone is either whining about how tough it is, or very very quiet when it comes to fishing. I think those who have located bedding fish are counting on getting an early blast off. Me, I'd rather have a late number since I have avoided the sight fishing urge. When my name is called, it will be about the middle of the pack. My first day co-angler partner is from NC and to our surprise, staying at the same hotel. A quick exchange of info, and its off to the Yamaha Pro Staff meeting. After a few updates with Yamaha service routines, some official Yamaha business, its finally time to sit down to a great meal courtesy of Yamaha.
Tournament Day One: Again we awake to warm weather. I can't remember ever fishing a FLW event where we had such great weather. Great for the body, maybe not so great for what I want to do, but for sure great for the sight fishermen. I have decided to fish the slightly dirty water of Loudon. When I say 'slightly', I mean visibility of only 3 feet opposed to 5 on Tellico. My first stop is not a long run, and I begin fishing the crankbait. As I'm going along, I notice a fish on a bed next to a cedar. I toss a jig next to eat and it inhales it. First keeper in the boat is a bonus but it brings to reality that the sight fisherman are gonna kill us. The day will go as planned, with alot of small fish in between a keeper. I manage a limit, and my co-angler manages fish too. In fact, he will have the better day, securing a really nice largemouth kicker that will put him in the top 10 on the co-angler side. I find myself in the mix for a check and with a little better bag tomorrow, a shot. They really caught them better today than the dock talk would have suggested, course they always do. As expected, the sight fisherman dominate the leaderboard. Overall, the standings are tight. The difference being who got a better fish with the limit.
Tournament Day Two: I get some really good news last night, my mother in-law is doing much better, her stint operation went well, and she was released from the hospital. My dad is improving also. I'm getting older, as is our parents, making it a reality that the responsibilities at home are gonna increase with health issues with them. My dad has always been a workaholic, with his hobby being mowing grass with a push lawn mower or just "tinkering" around the farm. Before I left for Tenn, the hot water heater went out in my parents house, my father and I replaced it. Not a major job except that the water heater was under the house, requiring digging out a passage around heat ducts and even removing the flooring to get old and new in place. I'm almost sure that this had alot to do with my fathers health issues, I am sore from it. I mention this because my father has always run circles around me when it comes to manual labor, even as he nears 70 years young. I guess that's why he never really has understood the concept of "fishing" for a living. He comes from a work ethic that if you had time to go fishing, you had time to go pull cuckerberries from the fields. My hands would stay stained green as a youngster.
Back to fishing. My day two partner is from TN. He hasn't fished the lakes much, spends his time on Old Hickory. The weather today is more the same, only with more wind forecasted. I really think this will help my shallow crankbait pattern, and perhaps hurt the sight fisherman. My first stop of the morning starts off quickly, as my co-angler will land a nice 3 lb largemouth. It doesn't take long for me to get bit. I call for the net, it feels like a good fish. The fish will jump out of the water, showing that the crankbait is hooked outside the mouth, on top of the head. I make the remark to my co-angler that I will have to have some luck to land this one. My luck isn't good, the fish pulls off. That hurt, not only was it the first fish of the day, it was the kicker I needed. Several cast later, I will boat my first keeper. I'm not getting the numbers in bites like yesterday, but the quality is better having not to cull thru small fish for a keeper. I will have four keepers in the box by 10 am, everything is going as planned. One really good fish, and I will have a good shot of moving up into the better money. Its decision time, do I pick up my trusty Skeet's flipping stick or do I go looking for a big smallie on the bed. For me, my confidence is more with the jig, so the flipping stick it will be. As the day gets closer to my appointed check in time, I can't help but replay that first fish that got off over and over in my head. I can't believe it, but I will stay stuck on 4 keepers. I don't know what's harder to catch sometimes, that first keeper, or that 5th keeper.
At weigh in, I can sense that I will be ounces from a check, just one small keeper that would have finished off my limit. The lines are long waiting to weigh. Word is that they didn't catch them as well today, perhaps I still have a chance to cash. I idle by my friend Matt, he says that the weights are way off, that Bump, who was in 6th place yesterday, only had 4 small keepers. My four keepers will keep me in the money in final standings, but only ounces from $10,000 check. A small check is better than no check.
The next couple days will be spend working for Pedigree. In the morning, I take some Pedigree personnel fishing, in the afternoon, I met and greet fishing fans in the Pedigree Pavilion at the Knoxville Convention Center. The crowds are huge, simply amazing. I barely have time to look up from signing trading cards and bandana's. Being downtown Knoxville brings back some childhood memories, as I visited the city when it hosted the Worlds Fair in the early 80's. The huge sphere build to showcase the event is still a center piece of downtown, as is the park dedicated to the Worlds Fair. Next up. The Lake Norman FLW. Even though it is in NC, I have never fished Norman. Well, least it will be a short drive.