When I looked at the schedule for the HD Marine Lake Lanier tournaments and the date for the FLW Bulldog series tournament on Lake Lanier I knew it was going to be a grind. This grind included the grind of telling my wife I was going to be busy fishing for 3 weekends straight and probably doing a lot of pre-fishing in between. Now what fisherman can pull that one off without winding up in the dog house?? Well, you know what they say; “behind every good fisherman is an understanding wife”. They do say that you know…. Thankfully, I have an understanding wife, or she just wants to get rid of me, one of the two…..
Just over a month ago a few of my retired buddies and I were hitting the creek and catching fish out in the ditches and along the edges where the water runs up shallow. It’s not my style of fishing but I suffered through the agony of jerkbaits, underspins and spoons while the fish made their winter home out in deep water. The whole time I was just biding my time till my shallow water bite came around. While hanging out in the shop on the bad weather days I was making crankbaits in preparation for warmer days and the upcoming tournaments. I knew that we would have some nice days and from past experience it wouldn’t be long till our winter started giving way to spring and the bass would start foraging on the rocks. Usually when the water temps reach the 50 degree range the crawfish get active and the bass start fueling up for the upcoming spawn. On the sunny days the bass will hit the rock piles to find just a bit more warmth and whatever food source they can scavenge. It’s not like they always stay on the rocks but they will stage in deeper water and run up and down the shallow rocks when it’s time to put the feed bag on. When this happens I like to hit the rocks with crankbaits and jigs. Here’s a picture of the cranks I made and a good one I caught right after making them.
Just over 3 weeks ago we had a sunny day and I was starting to pre-fish my first tournament of the 3 week stretch. I decided to hit a few rocks with some custom DT10 knock-offs I made in a shad pattern. It’s a pattern that I’ve been making for a few years now and it’s a pattern that works really well on the rocks when the bass are foraging. To that point I had been zeroing on the rocks with the crankbaits but on that day the pattern came around and I caught some fat bass up on the shallow rocks on a sunny day. That gave me some hope and something to go on. This was on the south end of the lake but I pretty much knew it would be the same up north too. There are some good rock piles up on the north end of the lake and that made it more convenient than running all the way down south from a tournament that launched on the north end, which all 3 of the upcoming tournaments did. Prior to the tournaments the best pattern I found while pre-fishing was throwing the crankbaits and jigs up on the rocks so I made up my mind that’s what I was going to do. The day before the first HD tournament was a sunny day so I checked my rock piles up north and I was right, the fish were on the rocks and I caught a nice limit. That gave me confidence for tournament day. The only drawback was that on tournament day it was overcast. When we hit the first rock pile the morning of the tournament the fish had backed off the shallows and suspended in 15-20 feet of water which threw a monkey wrench in my well laid plan. That morning I was able to compensate and I caught a quick limit using my shad crankbait pattern and caught my fish slow cranking the medium diver through the suspended fish. Usually I’m working the bottom with the cranks but these suspended fish wanted it up in the column. Problem was, once I caught the limit, that was the last fish I caught for the day. We went on the hunt for bigger fish and came up empty. We strolled into the weigh-in with just short of 10lbs and there were a lot better fishermen than us out there on that day.
Moving on to the FLW pre-fishing, my creek buddies were giving me some intel on a good pattern they had been using and that was using crawfish colored crankbaits. I knew I was going to have to bust double digits in the FLW tourney and it seemed that the crawfish pattern was yielding some bigger bass than my shad pattern. I made a few of my little DT-10 knock-offs in a crawfish pattern but as usual I started shopping at Tackle Warehouse. “Forget Holly Madison, if anyone ever hacks Tackle Warehouse I’m screwed”.
After looking at pictures my retired creek buddies had sent me, I was looking for anything in a crawfish pattern that caught my eye and that’s when I found the Rapala DT-14 in Red Crawdad. It caught my eye and it was perfect so I ordered 5. The day before the FLW tournament my buddy and I took a little boat ride and threw a few of our crawfish baits up on the rocks and we caught a few nice ones. I felt good about my chances for the tournament and I kinda knew I was going to put some fish in the boat. The tournament launched out of Laurel Park and my plan was to hit 2 of my favorite rocky points just north of Browns Bridge and try and get a couple early morning bass for a confidence builder then hammer down south all the way to Bald Ridge The night before the tournament I meet my partner at the meeting and we went over all the particulars of the next morning. I told him we were going to be making a long cold run and to dress warm.
The next morning everything went off without a hitch but when we rolled up on my first spot there was a boat on it so we moved to another point in the same area but came up empty. I pointed the boat south and ran to Bald Ridge without a fish to start the morning. I wondered if my co-angler was starting to wonder about my strategy but when you’re cranking the rocks, most times you have to be patient and give the sun time to get up and the rocks to warm up. On our first stop I zeroed but one the second stop I busted a 2 pounder to start us off. I was using the DT-14 in the crawdad pattern and I finally put one in the livewell. We went through a little lull of maybe 2 hours and I was wondering if it was going to get better. Finally I popped a 3 pounder up on the rocks and that made me feel a little better. I was just running and gunning rocks at that point. Soon I popped another 3lber off the rocks and followed it up with another 2 pounder over the course of a couple hours. Time went on and I had 4 fish in the livewell. My partner wasn’t really expecting a crankbait on the rocks bite and he didn’t have much in the way of crawfish colored crankbaits so it was slow back there for him. He did catch one on a red lipless but it just wasn’t happening for him back there. I just needed one more fish and there was less than an hour before I had to head out of the creek to the weigh-in. FINALLY, with minutes to spare I hit my 5th fish that we though was the 5 pounder that I had been looking for but it turned out to be a foul hooked 2 pounder. It was ok though because I couldn’t of ask for more in getting 5 fish to the scales in my first tournament that size. When I got to the weigh-in and started talking with other guys I realized it was a bad day for many and I was going to finish in the money!! I weighed 11.9 and finished 20th out of 142 Anglers. I was pleased. Here’s a couple pics.
One more tournament to go and was feeling pretty good coming off my finish in the FLW. I didn’t fish till the day before the tournament due to weather changes but I figured the pattern would hold since we were looking at a warming trend through the tournament weekend. My partner and I checked our rock piles the day before the tournament and busted 4 nice keepers in a matter of a couple hours on the crawfish cranks and the jigs. Here’s our 4 from the day before.
We felt good about the next day but as luck would have it, my luck ran out. Over night a weak front had past through and the fish pulled off the rocks and shut down for us. It was very hard for me to switch tactics when we realized it was going to be a tough day. We had basically came up empty through our first 4 stops and I started second guessing. We shifted to docks and pitching the shakey head but without pre-fishing the docks we were just fishing blind and pulled up a zero on the docks. We went back to the rocks and finally busted a decent fish cranking but it was too late and the fish just didn’t cooperate for us. Here’s a pic of our only fish from the tournament.
There’s a lesson in there somewhere but I haven’t figured it out yet. It’s been a long 3 week stretch and I’m glad it’s over so I can get back to fun fishing for a few weeks. Here’s a picture of the baits that I’ve been catching my fish on for the last 3 weeks on the rocks and a few random pre-fishing pictures.