OSAGE BEACH, Mo. – Making a 50-mile run takes commitment. Doing so on a shivering-cold morning with a stinging rain requires an absolute certainty in the objective. In short, that was the script for James Dill, who won the American Fishing Series Central Division opener on Lake of the Ozarks.
The Laurie, Mo., pro left the dock at the Grand Glaize Recreation Area and made a two-hour run up the lake to fish the fertile backwaters he located during practice. Conditions were right, and Dill made the decision to stake his tournament fortunes on these distant spots.
“I found a couple of creeks loaded up with fish, and I knew I could go there every day and catch a limit,” he said. “I just didn’t know what the limits would weigh. It was a long run. I will say that – a long run. My non-boaters, I have to give it to them; they hung with me to run that distance.”
Dill caught all of his fish on a 5/16-ounce Crock O Gator Zapper jig in the Ozark Craw color.
“I used the same jig all day today,” Dill said. “It just comes through the rocks and brush really good.”
After two days of mostly sunny conditions, day three saw a cold front roll through the area in the morning. Anglers faced rain, sleet and snow throughout the day, and air temperatures topped out around 38 degrees. Finding a warm spot was essential to Dill’s success.
“The water temperature up there has been 47 degrees for a good week, and the other week I had 50 in there,” he said. “I just keyed on that. All of these fish were just coming in, and they were staging on the channel banks. You can go to any channel swing up there and catch fish. I caught probably 14 keepers up there. It was just a good bite today.”
With many of his fish biting gingerly, Dill said that hookups required heightened sensitivity and response. Fifteen-pound Berkley 100% fluorocarbon line facilitated this.
“It was really just a matter of feeling them. Those fish would pick up the jig and just hold it. You had to keep a rhythm going and keep contact with that jig. If you didn’t have rhythm going, you’d never feel them. If that rhythm stopped, you’d better set the hook.”
Dill placed seventh on day one with 13 pounds. He improved to fifth the next day by adding 13-15. In the final round, he caught his best bag of the tournament – 16-1 – and posted a 43-pound total. He won $22,121 plus a Ranger boat, motor and trailer.
Kowal sticks with jerkbaits, finishes second
Shawn Kowal of Linn Creek, Mo., grabbed the second-place spot on day two and never budged. He caught limits all three days, with weights of 15-12, 13-6 and 12-14 yielding a 42-pound total and $7,521. Kowal said he struggled to get a big bite on day two, and he hoped that he had a spot with quality fish identified for the final round. Regrettably, he said he let the crowd factor get to him.
“I made some pretty good decisions the first two days, and I really thought that today I’d catch a lot bigger fish,” he said. “I had the spot to probably win this tournament, and I left it too early. There were a lot of boats in there. Today, there was a (local) tournament launching from (this area), and there were four other boats in there. It was tight, so I figured I’d make a run and finish out my limit, but it didn’t work out quite that way.”
Targeting specific notches in the shoreline contour, Kowal fished Megabass jerkbaits, including a hot new color that has not yet been released to the public.
“I was fishing pretty warm water, so I could move the bait pretty fast,” he said. “This afternoon, I fished in cooler water, and I had to let it sit for a while. I just had to keep changing up until I figured out what they wanted.”
Newly engaged Garrison takes third
After placing third on day one with 15-11, Earl K. Garrison IV of Bull Shoals, Ark., kept that position on day two with 13-1. He added four fish that weighed 12-5 on day three for a 41-1 total worth $5,309. Garrison caught all of his fish on Megabass jerkbaits, some of which were custom painted by Fall Creek Lures.
“I had two rods out every day, and I just alternated colors on different spots,” Garrison said. “It was real simple fishing, but I just came up one short today.”
After weighing his fish on day one, Garrison surprised his girlfriend Jennifer Swackhammer with a marriage proposal – on her birthday. Jennifer said “yes,” and Garrison said she is the catch of his life.
Ives makes big run, takes fourth
Steve C. Ives of Rockford, Ill., ran about 17 miles from the launch site, fished with rods and jigs from his company, Top 10 Tackle, and caught a strong limit weighing 14-7. Pairing that with his first two weights of 12-4 and 13-10 gave him a fourth-place score of 40-5 worth $4,424. Three of Ives’ final-day keepers wore brown suits with stripes on their faces.
“Those smallmouth were a real surprise, and that big one was a joy because I was having a tough morning when I got that one,” he said.
Ives described his bait presentation: “Sometimes I was dragging it, and sometimes I just stopped it. When the bite slowed down, I really slowed down the jig. I’d pull it against the structure and just let it sit for a second. I’d wait, and usually a fish would come by and pick it up.”
Taylor falls to fifth
Bub Taylor of Tontitown, Ark., led the Pro Division after day two, but dropped to fifth with a tournament total of 39-8. He earned $3,982.
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top 10 pros at the FLW American Fishing Series Lake of the Ozarks event:
6th: Roger Fitzpatrick of Eldon, Mo., 38-14
7th: Marcus Sykora of Osage Beach, Mo., 38-3
8th: Joe Partain of Farmington, Ark., 35-12
9th: Bob Richardson of Granite City, Ill., 33-6
10th: Mike Foree of Osage Beach, Mo., 32-0