Topwaters help anglers reach the top.
by Rob Newell
FLW PRESS RELEASE
By day three of most Walmart FLW Tour events, catch rates begin to fall off, and those atop the leaderboard start looking for ways to dig in and hold ground as weather changes and fishing pressure take their toll. Lewis Smith Lake, however, refuses to conform to that convention this week.
On day three of the event, which is presented by Evinrude, it seemed as if the fishing got even better, which is particularly ironic for a lake that is historically known as a stingy fishery – and on a day in which competition began with a 31-degree air temperature. One angler joked this afternoon, “Did they issue a 12-pound starter limit to everyone at takeoff this morning?”
Catch weights at Smith continue to be so strong that the word “slugfest” has even been tossed around a time or two. It’s certainly a case of no rest for the weary at Smith. Despite frosty windshields and iced-up rod boxes at takeoff this morning, there was no dropping back and punting today. Anglers had to stay on the offensive, striving for the 15-pound mark to even have a prayer of staying in the top 10 to fish Sunday.
Another surprising slant is that rookie pro Zack Birge, who had never laid eyes on Smith Lake before official practice, continues to bring in hefty limits of largemouth bass to hold of all his spotted bass challengers. Today he sacked yet another 17 pounds, 11 ounces of “largeheads” to take a 3-pound, 11-ounce advantage into the final day with a total of 54-8.
Essentially Birge, of Blanchard, Okla., has applied his Okie style at Smith Lake with unstoppable success. Birge continues to milk the backend of two creeks for his catches and admits that the replenishing factor of spring is working in his favor.
“This is a similar situation for springtime fishing in Oklahoma,” Birge says. “Largemouth bass are funneling into these two areas, and I’m intercepting them as they come in. They come in small waves, and I’m waiting on them when they get there.”
During the week Birge has literally watched the packs of bass migrate in along a 5-foot ditch through a flat. They move into the flooded bushes to ambush shad for a while and then pull up on the shallow flats to spawn. Earlier in the week all of Birge’s fish were prespawn. But for the first time this week, he caught several off beds.
“I made a pass through my primary area of bushes this morning and didn’t get a bite,” he recounts. “So I moved over about 100 yards into a spawning flat, and sure enough, there were new beds that I had not seen earlier.”
After spending some time plucking his limit-starters off beds, Birge made another pass through the bushes and the bite was on.
“Every day at about noon it’s like a whole new wave of them moves in off the lake into the bushes, and they start eating shad,” he says. “From noon until 3 every day is when they really eat the Santone buzzbait and a floating frog the best. To see the whole process take place – from the migration to the feeding in the bushes to the actual making of beds – is pretty neat.”
Another freeze is suppose to occur tonight, but Birge remains undeterred in his commitment to largemouths on the final day.
“The process has started, and I don’t think anything is going to stop it,” he says. “It’s going to be cold, and the water temperature will probably drop again, but it’s like these fish are on autopilot. The migration is going to continue.”
Top 20 Pros
1: Zack Birge – Blanchard, Okla. – 54-08 (15)
2: Clark Wendlandt – Leander, Texas – 50-13 (15)
3: Tracy Adams – Wilkesboro, N.C. – 49-10 (15)
4: Drew Benton – Panama City, Fla. – 48-09 (15)
5: Jason Reyes – Huffman, Texas – 47-13 (15)
6: Scott Martin – Clewiston, Fla. – 46-09 (15)
7: Dave Lefebre – Erie, Pa. – 46-00 (15)
8: John Cox – Debary, Fla. – 45-15 (15)
9: Andy Morgan – Dayton, Tenn. – 45-13 (15)
10: Clayton Batts – Macon, Ga. – 45-12 (15)
11: Matt Arey – Shelby, N.C. – 44-13 (15) – $12,000
12: Ishama Monroe – Hughson, Calif. – 43-14 (15) – $12,000
13: Luke Clausen – Spokane, Wash. – 43-12 (15) – $12,000
14: Wesley Strader – Spring City, Tenn. – 42-13 (15) – $12,000
15: Anthony Gagliardi – Prosperity, S.C. – 42-13 (15) – $12,000
16: Jayme Rampey – Liberty, S.C. – 42-06 (15) – $12,000
17: David Dudley – Lynchburg, Va. – 41-09 (15) – $12,000
18: Adrian Avena – Vineland, N.J. – 41-02 (15) – $12,000
19: Scott Wiley – Bay Minette, Ala. – 40-04 (14) – $12,000
20: Shinichi Fukae – Palestine, Texas – 39-13 (15) – $12,000
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