LONGVIEW, Texas – Ritter Ferguson was well aware of the dreaded hometown curse, but he was more concerned over big-name competitors like Kellogg's Rice Krispies pro Jim Tutt and Texas legend Harold Allen. In the end, neither local jinx, nor heavy competition could stop Ferguson from claiming the wire-to-wire win in EverStart Series Texas Division action on Lake of the Pines.
Making his home in Diana, Texas, just a short drive west of the lake, Ferguson brought plenty of local knowledge into this event. But unlike the common scenario of a local stick over-thinking his wealth of information, he mentally prepared himself with a solid game plan complete with tactical options and went to work hammering out a solid performance.
"I was lucky enough to have several locations I could run to and pull off my main spot and finish out limits," he said. "I had a game plan going in and luckily it worked out."
Drought conditions have this East Texas impoundment down a good 4 1/2 feet, so competitors often fished in close proximity, but Ferguson located a spot that he had to himself for three days. Fishing about mid-lake, he targeted a hump near the Alley Creek area and found his bass mostly on the edges.
"There were just coming up onto that spot to feed," Ferguson said. "I would cast across the spot and drag my bait over it. I was catching my fish on the drop-offs in about six feet of water."
Ferguson did most of his damage with a Texas-rigged Zoom Trick Worm, but he switched to a Baby Brush Hog in the final round. With both baits, he used tungsten bullet weights and a brass ring between hook and sinker.
When his primary spot slowed, Ferguson would give it a rest and visit main lake drop-offs where bass were corralling shad schools. Dragging a Carolina-rigged Grande Bass Rattlesnake through the activity delivered several bites. These were mostly smaller fish, but Ferguson used them to fill out his limit as needed.
On day one, Ferguson caught the event's heaviest bag – 19 pounds, 10 ounces – and took the lead by a margin of 1-13. He added 13-11 on day two and stretched his lead to 3-2. In the final round, Ferguson sealed the deal with a limit of 13-4 that gave him a total to 46-9 and a winning margin of 2-8.
After receiving his trophy, Ferguson pointed to heaven and gave thanks for a gracious ending to what could have been a tragic day. Throughout the tournament, he had struggled with bass that wanted to turn on their sides in his livewell – a clear sign of a stressed bass. He had been treating his livewell water with a fish care additive other than the Rejuvenade used in FLW's release tanks and he finally became suspicious today when a peak in his well revealed two of his best fish weren't doing too well.
"After I caught my first three fish, we got ready to leave and go to another spot, and before we did I looked in the well and all three of them are laying over," Ferguson said. "I said 'This is what was (threatening) those fish all week.' So we pumped that water out and pumped new fresh water in there.
"We continued fishing and I was a little worried about it – a little distraught about (possibly) loosing at least a pound in dead-fish penalties. But we went to another spot and started catching fish and my partner looked in the well and said 'Dude, these fish are alive.' I went back there and looked and sure enough, they're swimming around like there's nothing wrong with them. It was amazing."
Ferguson also noted that using a Hydrowave improved his opportunities. The patented device emits the sounds of forage fish and predators eating them. Such sonic stimulus often spurred the bass to start feeding and this gave Ferguson more shots at enticing aggressive fish.
"I think that made a difference for me," Ferguson said. "The Hydrowave kind of activated the school a little bit and made them bite here and there."
Tanner bolts up to second
John Tanner of Quitman, Texas, departed the takeoff spot at Overlook Park, turned left and headed straight for the Ferrell's Bridge Dam and spent the majority of his day working the edge of the massive rip rap tower. There, he would sack up 18-11, the heaviest sack of day three – second heaviest of the tournament. His total weight of 44-1 moved him up six notches from eighth place to second.
"Today was pretty incredible," Tanner said. "I didn't even think I was going to come this week, but the good Lord decided otherwise. I knew I was supposed to be here – I guide back home and I didn't have a single trip booked this week."
Tanner said he caught fish on shaky heads, drop-shots, crankbaits and ChatterBaits. On day three, the latter did most of the heavy lifting – with the exception of a toad, estimated at 8 pounds.
"I had a limit by about 8:45 a.m.," he said. "Like yesterday, my biggest fish came on a deep-diving crankbait."
A surprise catch added an element of interest to Tanner's day. In his first hour on the water, cast toward the dam rocks drew a connection that felt a lot like a fish – at first.
"The fish were biting kind of easy – there were just loading up on it," Tanner said. "There were just kind of easing out off the bank and you'd have to hit them. That's what happened and I was fighting this thing and suddenly it stopped doing anything and just started coming up and I pull up a rod and reel. It was pretty dirty."
Texas legend Allen takes third
Allen said that versatility was his biggest asset, as changing conditions impacted the lake. Day one was sunny and flat, but with a cold front approaching, day two saw increasing wind and afternoon cloud cover. The cold front arrived just in time for day three and brought overcast skies, occasional light sprinkles and a temperature drop of about 10 degrees.
"The fish changed every day and we had to change every day – no days fished alike this week," Allen said. "Today, we caught them pretty early and I had that bag in the first couple of hours, but then we went through a long period where we didn't catch anything. I finally caught a couple of keepers toward the end of the day and culled up a little bit. It was hard work. It never did come easy."
Allen caught most of his week's fish by flipping a Strike King Rodent.
Wilson finishes fourth
Kris Wilson, of Montgomery, Texas held steady at the fourth-place spot since day one and ended there with a tournament total of 42-12. His best bag was a 16-9 on day one, with catches of 11-11 and 14-8 following.
Wilson caught his fish on a Strike King 5XD in sexy shad and a black/blue jig with black/blue Paca Craw trailer. He fished a 1/2-ounce jig on day one, but moved up to a 3/4-ounce bait for the windy conditions of days two and three.
"I dialed in on flipping for the big bites and that got me to where I am," Wilson said. "I started early every day cranking on the south end and then I ran north and started flipping stumps."
Clark slips to fifth
Brian Clark of Haltom City, Texas, had two days of nearly mirror catches – 14-9 on day one, 14-10 on day two – but struggled on day three with a 9-13 effort. Totaling an even 39 pounds, Clark fell two notches from third to fifth.
His top bait was a prototype squarbill crankbait by Excite. He also caught fish on jigs.
"I was fishing way up the river and the water was really dirty up there, so I was cranking stumps and lay-downs," he said. "We needed some sun today to put the fish on that wood. There were just out there roaming. I caught a bunch of fish today; I just never got that big bite."
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top-10 pro leaders at the EverStart Series Lake of the Pines event:
6th: Austin Terry, of San Angelo, Texas, 36-0
7th: Stewart Herndon, of Graham, Texas, 33-11
8th: Joe Don Setina, of Pittsburg, Texas, 33-3
9th: Russell Cecil, of Willis, Texas, 29-12
10th: Bert Thompson, of Benton, La., 26-9