March 22, 2016 by Rob Newell
Sight-fishing, wacky rigs and shaky heads were the consistent themes among the top-10 patterns at The Walmart FLW Tour presented by Evinrude and hosted by the Anderson Convention & Visitors Bureau at Lake Hartwell March 17-20. A super-fast warm up during practice put fish on beds a little early and consequently the sight bite came into full focus during the event.
Tournament winner John Cox used sight-fishing and wacky-rigging the first three days of the tournament to climb to the top of the leaderboard. Just when the excellent sight-fishing weather deteriorated on the final day, Cox gave the rest of the field the slip and ran far up the Seneca River to a small backwater pond where he captured his victorious limit.
The rest of the field continued to wacky rig and sight-fish through the adverse conditions on the final day. Here is a closer look at what they used and how they used it.
2. Wendlandt’s plan worked, conditions didn’t cooperate
Clark Wendlandt nearly pulled off one of his trademark sight fishing wins at Lake Hartwell last week. Posting weights of 17-9, 15-7, 19-9 and 14-6 for a total of 66-15, Wendlandt was on track for his fifth FLW Tour career win before John Cox nipped him at the finish line.
Despite finishing runner-up, Wendlandt executed a flawless strategy of following primary waves of sight fish down the lake as new groups of fish moved up to spawn.
As the first of the bass spawn started during the practice round, the spawning began in the midlake region where the water warmed the fastest. Down in the southern portion of the lake, the water was still too cold for spawners. But Wendlandt knew that as the temperatures continued to climb through the first two days of the tournament, the southern end of the lake would be the sight-fishing sleeper.
“I kind of bet that the southern portion of the lake – which was pretty dead in practice because the water was still cold – would come to me during the tournament,” Wendlandt says. “I started sight fishing in the mid lake, like a lot of people, but each day I worked farther south trying to catch new waves of fish that were just moving up. The third day of the tournament, I had most of that lower end to myself and fresh fish were moving up – that was a great day.”
But on a much cooler and cloudier day four, sight fishing conditions deteriorated making the peeping game a challenge for Wendlandt.
For his sight fish work, Wendlandt used Strike King Bitsy Tubes (green pumpkin and white) rigged with ¼-ounce weights and tied to 14- and 16-pound fluorocarbon. When looking for beds, he would fan cast a wacky-rigged Strike King Ocho to dark spots, old reed stem patches and docks. He did catch a couple of his better fish on the wacky rig during the week, but most of his weigh fish came from direct sight-fishing.
3. Horton skips up to third
Jamie Horton of Centerville, Ala., brought in the biggest limit of the final day (17-12) to push himself to third place overall with 62-9 for the week.
Horton found success with a 5-inch Reaction Innovations Pocket Rocket (green pumpkin) on day one and stuck with it all week. He wacky-rigged the Rocket on a #2 Owner Wacky Hook and fished it on 10-pound test Seaguar InvizX tied to 10-pound test braid. He skipped the Rocket to shallow docks with a 6-10, medium-heavy power Phenix Maxim rod.
When Horton would see a fish on bed that would not cooperate, he would resort to a 6-inch lizard with a 5/0 Owner Offset Wide Gap hook on 20-pound test Seaguar InvizX. For sight-fishing he preferred a 7-2, heavy-action Phenix M1.
4. Gussy did a little bit of everything
Jeff Gustafson of Keewatin, Ontario finished fourth at Hartwell checking in weights of 16-9, 12-14, 15-12 and 14-11 for a four-day total of 59-14.
On day three he got on a hot suspended spotted bass bite with a Jackall Dowzvido 90SP jerkbait near Portman Shoals Marina. On the final day he switched to 3.3-inch Keitech Swing Impact swimbait on a ¼-ounce head and swam it through the suspended spotted bass when they quit hitting the jerkbait.
5. Thrift ‘stung’em’
The ever dangerous Bryan Thrift of Shelby, N.C. lurked around in the top 10 all week with catches of 18-3, 12-15, 15-2 and 13-4, looking to strike should any one above him blink. He ended up fifth with a four-day total of 59-8.
Though Thrift threw a “little bit of this and that” all week, he says most of his damage was done with a wacky-rigged 4-inch Damiki Stinger fished on 8-pound test P-Line Ultimate Fluorocarbon on spinning tackle.
“I threw a swimbait some and I sight-fished a few off beds with a Damiki Air Craw,” Thrift says. “But I was at my best skipping that Stinger to docks, dark spots, stalks with algae in it – just anything that looked good.”
6. Darrel Robertson mostly went “wacky”
The Lake Hartwell FLW Tour event was a simple one for Darrel Robertson. He racked up weights of 20-6, 14-7, 12-4 and 12-2 by simply throwing a wacky-rigged Yamamoto Senko and Zoom Trick Worm (green pumpkin or watermelon) at anything on the bank in the Saddler’s Creek/midlake area.
Robertson would cover water with the Trick Worm on a spinning rod, but when he found a fish on bed, he switched to a Senko on a casting rod to pester it into biting.
Both of his wacky rigs were tied to 10-pound test fluorocarbon joined to 15-pound test braided main line. His hook preference was a 2/0 and 3/0 Gamakatsu Drop Shot/Split Shot hook.
7. Nixon shunned sight bite
If you are wondering if anyone in the top-10 caught bass on Lake Hartwell any ways other than wacky-rigging and sight-fishing, then Nixon is your guy. He checked in weights of 19-4, 14-9, 12-0 and 11-7 for a four-day total of 57-14 to finish 7th.
Nixon avoided the sight-fishing fray by targeting prespawn spotted bass on main lake points in the lower end of the lake. In the low light of the mornings, he spent the first hour fishing a suspending jerkbait on main lake shoals, looking for a bonus feeding bite. After that, he would pull out his spinning rods and creep down main lake points finesse fishing for big spotted bass.
For the finesse fishing he used a traditional shaky head with a green pumpkin-colored Yamamoto Pro Senko on a 3/32-ounce head. Nixon also used a Ned rig, which consisted of a 1/16-ounce mushroom jighead with half of a 5-inch Yamamoto Senko (chartreuse pepper) threaded on the hook. He fished both the shaky head and the Ned rig on 30-pound test Seaguar Smackdown braid tied to 10-pound test Seaguar Tatsu leader.
Nixon noted that the shaky head was better when he fished around grass stalks with “that scummy algae” and the NED rig was better out on deeper bare rock points.
“I had those big prespawn spots dialed in on those points in practice,” Nixon says. “It lasted for two days of practice and the first day and a half of the tournament. Each day my weights went down and I think that was because the males moved in and the females went on beds. Each day I caught more fish, but my weight went down, which tells me those bucks got up there and ushered all those females away.”
8. Johnston put the drop-shot on bedders
Cory Johnston of Cavan, Ontario finished in 8th place with a four-day total of 56 pounds, 5 ounces.
Johnston spent his week with the trolling motor on high, covering water and looking for good fish on beds.
“I was covering new water to find new fish each day,” Johnston says. “But I didn’t go back in the pockets much. I stayed out on the main lake looking around inconspicuous little cuts and bars that were not such obvious spawning pockets.”
To tease the bed fish into biting, he used a Jackall Crosstail Shad (green pumpkin) or a Roboworm Straight Tail Worm on a drop-shot with a ¼-ounce weight. His preferred line for the drop-shot was 8-pound test fluorocarbon tied to 8-pound test PowerPro.
If the fish were not interested in the drop-shot he went to the bed with a 4-inch Zoom Lizard with a 3/8-ounce weight tied to 15-pound test fluorocarbon.
9. Peter T used shaky heads and swimbaits
Peter Thliveros of St. Augustine, Fla., ended the week in 9th place with a four-day total of 55 pounds.
Peter T is known for his sight-fishing savvy, however, at Hartwell visibly bedding fish constituted very little of his actual weigh fish each day. Instead, he found better quality “just fishing” with shaky heads and swimbaits in main body of the lake where the all the rivers come together.
His shaky head rig consisted of a Zoom Trick Worm (green pumpkin green flake) with a 1/8-ounce head. The swimbait was a Zoom Swimmin’ Super Fluke Jr., (Arkansas shiner) fished on 1/8-ounce head. He fished the small swimbait on a medium-light power Lew’s Custom Speed Stick Inshore casting rod spooled with 10-pound test Lew’s APT Speed Braid joined to 10-pound test Lew’s APT Speed Fluorocarbon.
10. Kemp looks at them
Powell Kemp of Scotland Neck, N.C., spent the week sight-fishing in Seneca River area to the tune of 54 pounds, 10 ounces.
Kemp carried out his sight-fishing work with three different baits: an 8-inch lizard (green pumpkin) with a 3/8-ounce weight, a 5/16-ounce NetBait Paca Jig and a Zoom UV Speed Craw (green pumpkin and white) with a ¼-ounce weight.