LONGVIEW, Texas. – It's cool when a plan comes together. Case in point: Ritter Ferguson's leading performance on day one of the EverStart Series Texas Division tournament on Lake of the Pines.
The Diana, Texas, pro caught a first-round limit of 19-10 and took the early lead by a margin of 1-13. Ferguson attributed his success to a good practice, during which he dialed in on something he had hoped would carry over once the official competition commenced.
"Everything went well for me today," Ferguson said. "I located the fish in practice, hoping they would still be there. Luckily they were."
Ferguson caught his fish in the mid-lake region and found his best action on channel drop-offs. He held his cards low on bait particulars, but he did note that Texas-rigged plastics were his mainstay.
"I fished a jig a little bit, but in the spot where we were, it just suited me better to throw a Texas rig," he said.
After working his main area for a few hours and sacking up a good limit, Ferguson decided to branch out and explore other options. It didn't take long for him to realize his original plan was the one he needed to pursue.
"I left the spot and went and tried to catch some schooling fish and let my partner get a limit, but everything we were catching was small," he said. "We both decided we'd go back to where we started and I ended up catching the biggest fish when we came back."
Ferguson said he intends to go back to his key spot on day two. He's optimistic that he'll find more fish ready to bite.
For Ferguson and his fellow EverStart competitors, the sunny conditions of day one helped position fish tight to the lake's abundant cover. Stumps, lay-downs and scattered remains of old trees dominate the scene, but rocks and vegetation also hold fish. With the latter, dependable habitat has become increasingly rare, given the lake's decreased water level.
At normal pool, this impoundment of Little Cypress Creek covers some 18,700 acres. Currently, the Army Corps of Engineers lake is about 4 ½ feet low. The receding waters have left broad stretches of bank exposed, while uncovering stumps, bars and other shallow features. Lily pads and other shoreline vegetation has, in many places, been drained so low, that minimal bass habitat exists.
This habitat reduction has concentrated a lot of the fish into relatively tight areas where anglers have been competing within close proximity to one another.
Brasher's experience leads him to second
Spring, Texas, pro Christopher Brasher is no stranger to Lake of the Pines, but it was the help of other anglers that helped him locate a quality bag of fish that weighed 17-13 and put him in second place.
"I was fishing isolated brush piles, but I have to thank some of my (local) friends because all the brush I had when I was growing up is gone," he said. "I had some buddies tell me where they've re-brushed some stuff. I hit a lot of isolated spots and junk fished a lot."
Brasher said his most productive baits were deep diving crankbaits and 3/8- and ½-ounce shaky heads with Kicker Fish High Tail worms. Water depth factored heavily into his day. As he explained, the shallow bite has been producing the most dependable action, while deeper structure holds the greatest potential for quality.
"It's hard to get bit on spots any deeper than three feet but when you do get bit out deep, it's a (big fish)," he said. "I went and caught five, but it took me way longer than I wanted to. Hopefully, tomorrow I can get a limit a little earlier. I had a little spot that I didn't think anyone would find, but I got there this morning and there's three boats sitting on it."
Trio puts Wilhoit in third
Simply put, the numbers don't lie. That being said, it's clear to see that Alton Wilhoit found the kind of quality fish that can win a tournament. The pro from Harrah, Okla., placed third on day one with a weight of 16-11. He did this with three bass. One of those fish weighed 7-3 and shared Big Bass honors with Texas pro Randy Cisler.
"I got on an isolate wood pattern and used a Storm Short Wart and I threw it all day," Wilhoit said. "I think too many people are flipping and I think the fish are up a little higher. They're not really aggressive; they're just suspended down about three or four feet."
Wilhoit said he got four bites all day and had his two biggest fish by 8 a.m. The common strategy of bumping structure with a square-bill crankbait proved ineffective.
"I bounce it off, bounced it off and bounced it off and never got a bite," he said. "But I think we had to hit the fish to wake them up today."
Wilson's plan yields fourth
Like Ferguson, fourth-place pro Kris Wilson came into the event with a precise strategy and rode it to a fourth-place limit of 16-9. The Montgomery, Texas, pro got bit on both stages of his operation, but knowing when to shift gears was the key to securing a strong opening performance.
"I had a game plan set, I stuck to it and it pretty much worked out like I had planned," he said. "I started out cranking and caught a limit first but I wasn't able to catch any good ones doing that, so I just went flipping the rest of the day. I had over five bites, I lost the biggest one and put the rest of them in the boat."
Wilson fished a Strike King 5XD in sexy shad and a black/blue jig with black/blue Paca Craw trailer.
Birge, Cecil tied at fifth
Birge caught his fish on a football head jig with a Biffle Bug. While many competitors targeted wood, he fared best by fishing his bait over shallow rocks.
"I think that's just what I have confidence in – what I'm used to," Birge said. "Yesterday I spent a lot of time in the wood, just exploring and trying new stuff. I never felt right doing it so I just ran what I felt comfortable doing."
Conversely, Cecil spent his day flipping wood in the north end of the lake and found plenty of action doing what he prefers. He caught his fish on a Big Bite Baits Coontail Worm and a jig with a Big Bite Swimming Craw trailer.
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top-10 pro leaders at the EverStart Series Lake of the Pines event:
7th: Darold Gleason, of Leesville, La., 15-5
8th: Timothy Griffin, of Zapata, Texas, 15-3
9th: Austin Terry, of San Angelo, Texas, 15-0
10th: Brian Clark, of Haltom City, Texas, 14-9
Honeycutt swims to co-angler lead
Topping the co-angler division was Keith Huneycutt, of Temple, Texas. He sacked up a limit catch of 17-5 and took the early lead by a margin of 3-13.
"We started down south and I caught a few small keepers on a worm," Honeycutt said. "Then we moved up north to an area that my (pro) partner had and I caught all my (weight) fish on a swimbait. We were in an area where there was a bunch of shad and I had a couple of key bites and I was able to get them in the boat."
Honeycutt opted to keep his bait particulars under wraps for now, but he said that a patient retrieve was essential for the kind of presentation that enticed the bass.
"The fish were up shallow and it was just a slow presentation," he said.
Line choice was also important for Honeycutt. He fished his swimbaits on 15-pound fluorocarbon, and while that may be a little outside the norm, Honeycutt considered it a calculated risk.
"That was dangerous for the area we were in," he said. "But you have to get them hooked before you can lose them. I've always had the theory that if you'll just take your time, you can just go to them if you get hung up. Everything worked out and I didn't break any off."
Marc Logan, of Lawton, Okla., placed second with 13-8, while Daren Scott, of Fort Worth, Texas, took third with 12-6. Kenny Moser, of Alba, Texas, placed fourth with 10-3 and Kevin Burks, of Kountze, Texas, was fifth with 9-7.
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top-10 co-angler leaders at the EverStart Series Lake of the Pines event:
6th: Bill Fussell, of Thibodaux, La., 9-5
7th: Dan Wilson, of Pilot Point, Texas, 8-8
8th: Michael Savage, of Clever, Mo., 8-1
9th: Chuck Nelson, of Elmore City, Ok., 7-13
10th: Kevin Carter, of Spring, Texas, 7-5
Day two of the EverStart Series Texas Division tournament on Lake of the Pines continues at Friday’s takeoff, scheduled to take place at 7:00 a.m. (Central) at Lakeside Area Recreation Area located at 2669 FM 726 in Jefferson, Texas.