Drying out after Douglas

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013
by Mark Hicks

The Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open on Douglas Lake was my first opportunity to cast for bass in 2013. I drove down to the Tennessee reservoir from southern Ohio, knowing that the event was likely to be dominated by the Alabama Rig.

That’s what happened the week before during a PAA tournament at Douglas. The continuing cold weather assured that the bass would stay put for the Douglas Open and hold off moving shallow for another week or more.

I brought plenty of A-Rigs with me, but I wasn’t looking forward to fishing with them. The A-Rig is cumbersome, plunges into the water like a 10-pound anchor and is practically foolproof. Aaron Martens calls the A-Rig the “stupid rig.” I’m not sure if that’s because he thinks the rig looks stupid or that stupid fishermen can catch bass with it.

I tolerate the A-Rig when the bass are slamming it. I hate it when I can’t get a bite with it. I hated it at Douglas. I fished it hard and never got so much as a sniff.

A host of Elite Series pros competed in the Douglas tournament, including Gerald “G-Man” Swindle, Rick Clunn, Chris Lane, Aaron Martens and local fan favorite Ott DeFoe of Knoxville, Tenn. DeFoe and Lane were the only Elite pros to qualify for the final round on Saturday.

Some fishermen may not like competing against some of the nation’s top bass pros at Open events. I welcome the Elite Pros, even when I fish as a boater. They add legitimacy to the Opens and make victory even sweeter.

My first day partner at Douglas was Dewayne Wilson, who lives 60 miles away in LaFollette, Tenn. This was his first Bassmaster Open. He was pumped but composed.

Wilson had been building custom rods as a sideline until the company he worked for moved away a few years ago. He started making rods full time and is doing well. His rod company, Dixie Custom Rods (dixiecustomrods.com), can make a rod to any specifications you wish, including the color of the wraps.

Several Dixie Custom Rods were on Wilson’s front deck that morning including one matched with an A-Rig.

A cold rain began before take-off. It never stopped and the temperature refused to rise. It was physically one of the most miserable days I’ve ever had fishing. My gloves were soaked all day. Every few hours I removed my shoes to dump water out of them. We made many high speed boat runs that had me kicking myself for not wearing the thermal underwear I had packed.

We started by fishing main lake points with the A-Rig. It wasn’t until our third or fourth stop that Wilson popped his first bass. We stayed in that area for a while and saw another competitor land a huge bass on an A-Rig.

When we came to a small rocky point on a pebbly bank, my subconscious shouted “jig.” I wisely listened, put down the A-Rig and cast a jig to the rocks. A bass weighing over 3 pounds engulfed it.

About 70 yards up the same bank, we came to another little rocky point and I nailed bass number two on a jig. I had another jig bite at a similar spot about 30 minutes later. I set the hook and my jig came back without the pork trailer I had tipped the hook with.

The trailer was an Uncle Josh Meat pork frog. Unlike the original Uncle Josh Pork Frog, it doesn’t have the tough rind that can impede hook penetration.

It had been so long since I fished a pork frog on a jig I had forgotten what a terrific action it has. No piece of plastic can duplicate it. Meat chunks also come in a flat plastic bag, so they’re as handy as any plastic bait. I’m definitely ordering more of them.

Those were my only two bass of the day. They weighed 6-6 and landed me in 17th place. Wilson caught two more bass on a jerkbait. We tried several different locations and fished the A-Rig hard, but it let us down.

Day 2 started clear and cold and grew warmer. It was a welcome change. My partner was Christopher Mcreynolds. He knows Douglas well, but caught only two bass on Day 1 because mechanical problems cost him more than half his fishing time. He was out to make amends.

Our first stop was a long flat that had rockpiles 15 feet deep far from shore. Mcreynolds slow rolled an A-Rig deep enough to clip the rocks and occasionally snag in them. I followed his lead. He quickly caught a keeper largemouth and a smallmouth well shy of Douglas Lake’s 20-inch minimum for this species.

We hit several different places that day and fished water as shallow as 2 feet deep. I learned a great deal about the type of places the bass at Douglas frequent, but they weren’t cooperative that day. Mcreynolds caught another bass on the A-Rig and a third on a squarebill crankbait. I caught my only bass of the day on a lipless rattler.

We had about 30 minutes of fishing left when Mcreynolds’ oil alarm went off. Since his boat couldn’t be repaired in time for the second day, he had borrowed a boat from a friend. No one had checked the oil level. The well was dry and there wasn’t any spare oil in the boat.

I waved down the first boat to drive past. It was Avery McCormick of Mobile, Ala., and his co-angler Bobby Snyder of Charlotte, N.C. I’m not surprised that McCormick was from Alabama. Sweet Home grows the nicest people I’ve ever met.

McCormick gave us a ride in so we could weigh our bass on time. My single fish was enough to keep me in 30th place. I was pleased to see that Snyder also made the top 40, which is the last place to receive a check.

Besides fishing the tournament, I wrote the articles covering each day’s proceedings for Bassmaster.com. I didn’t make the cut to fish on Saturday, so I spent the morning with official Bassmaster photographer James Overstreet. He shoots incredible tournament action photos.

The water level was coming up about 1 foot a day during the tournament. The rising water pulled logs and other debris off the bank, creating serious boat hazards.

On our initial run up the lake to find tournament leader Patrick Bone, we hit a log floating just under the surface. Fortunately, it had loosened the prop nut without damaging the prop or the lower unit. We backed the boat up to the shoreline so Overstreet could wrench the nut tight. Then we were back in business.

We followed Patrick Bone and his partner Clofus Christopher Barnett most of the morning, along with a handful of spectator boats. The spectators were respectful and gave Bone plenty of room to operate.

Overstreet ran the electric motor from a bow fishing chair and kept his Canon SLR with its giant telephoto lens busy. He stayed close enough to take good shots without getting in the way and seemed to have a knack of knowing when things were about to happen. Overstreet took amazing photos, never missed the action and made it look easy.

I got an education as I watched Bone fishing the A-Rig. I learned that there is more to it than blindly slinging this contraption. As with any bass bait, you have to know where to fish the A-Rig and how to retrieve it.

When we left Bone, he had four bass in his livewell with about four hours left to fish. He had his winning limit by the end of the day.