HUDDLESTON, Va. – There is a first time for everything in life. In the case of Ron Nelson of Berrien Springs, Mich., it is his first time fishing an EverStart tournament and he just happened to capture his very first EverStart title. Nelson fished consistently this week – 16-15 and 16-0 on days one and two respectively – and hauled in 16 pounds today to bring his three-day total weight up to 48-15 – winning by 11 ounces. The Michigan pro not only took home the title from the first EverStart Northern Division event on Smith Mountain Lake, but he also earned a cool $32,555 for his efforts.
This victory isn’t a case of beginners luck, Nelson put in his time and effort to figure these fickle fish out on his first ever trip to Smith Mountain.
“I knew coming into this event that I wanted to do this on my own with no outside help or information,” said Nelson. “What keeps me fishing is the never-ending challenge of trying to figure fish out. It’s like solving a puzzle and I knew I had to keep an open mind.”
Nelson played the sight-fishing game this week but took a different approach from a lot of the other competitors. He focused mainly on the Roanoke and Blackwater river arms which had more of a stain in the water. By fishing the rivers it allowed him to find bedded fish that were in a little deeper water – 8- to 10-feet deep – that most people would overlook simply because they couldn’t see them.
Though he sight-fished most of the week, the cloudy weather this morning made him try to take advantage of the shad-spawn bite right away.
“I started my day in the back of a pocket on a secondary point,” said the 37-year-old paint contractor. “I thought I may have a shot to catch a random big fish early. I saw a school of shad swimming around so I used my boat to push them onto the point to try and get the bass fired up and ended up catching about a 3 ½-pounder on a spinnerbait. That really got me juiced up to have what I would call a kicker fish that early.”
After a great start to his day Nelson scrounged up a limit shortly after 1 p.m. The only problem was he still had a small fish in his livewell that he needed to cull. Nelson spent the next hour or so helping his co-angler try and catch a few fish but made the decision to run back down near the takeoff area to close out his day.
“I stopped on an island that was near the main basin of the lake with a few minutes left in my day. I saw a big largemouth cruising, made a few pitches at her but she didn’t do anything. I switched up baits and watched her swim out deep and I felt a slight tick and got her with five minutes to go. It turned a good day into a great day.”
Nelson noted that keeping the right angle on the fish to be able to see them was crucial. He would often use his boat to push right up near the bed and then pull back out to deeper water. After doing that a few times without making a cast it would get the fish more fired up each time it returned to the bed. That would usually help trigger a more aggressive bite.
Though sight-fishing smallies on bed was his main focus, Nelson also caught several good largemouth from deeper trees.
His primary bed-fishing baits were an Erie Darter and a Zoom Speed Craw – both in green pumpkin. Though, he did use a white Damiki Hydra today as well. Nelson preferred 10-pound test monofilament on Shimano reels because he likes the stretch to help absorb the shock of the hook set.
“I need to say ‘thanks’ to my wife Karla for all of her support. I also want to thank Jimmy from the Ranger service trailer for his help with my livewells this week. It’s so great that they send a crew to these events to take care of the anglers. Lastly, I want to thank the Lasota family – Rick, Bruce and Bob – for their support and allowing me to stay at their place this week.
“I’m not sure I want to go back home, I may just have to call my wife and tell her to come on down because this is such an incredible fishery.”
Wood stuck in second
Another first-timer to the clear waters of Smith Mountain was Joseph Wood of Westport, Mass., who led after day one by catching 18 pounds, 13 ounces. Wood fell to the second position on day two with a 14-2 limit and would remain there after catching 15-5 today. His three-day total stood at 48-4 to land a check worth $12,436.
“To come to a place I have never been and do this well is unbelievable,” said Wood. “These guys in this event are the best of the best from the local area. I really put my time in here and this gives me a lot of momentum for the rest of the season.”
Like Nelson, Wood also went up the Blackwater River to catch a lot of his fish. He would spend some time in Bull Run Creek but the majority of “key” bites for Wood came out of the Roanoke River.
“There was a little more stain to the water up the Roanoke,” said Wood, who finished in his second top 10. “It was a little harder to see the fish, but that also meant it was harder for them to see you and I think that really helped.”
Wood is a very confident sight-fisherman so it is no surprise that is what he did all week. He utilized a 4-inch Zoom Lizard, Strike King Dream Shot worm and a River2Sea Nest Raider to catch his fish this week. Wood used 10-pound fluorocarbon line in practice but was having a tough time getting the fish to bite right. He made the switch to 7- and 8-pound test fluorocarbon and never looked back.
He found over 350 fish on beds this week but learned quickly that much of the field found them as well. He managed to survive with his sight-fishing pattern all week, showing that the fish he found in the dirtier water were enough to keep him in the hunt. Wood fished clean today, but lost a few good bites earlier in the week that could have won the tournament for him.
Johnston slips to third
Chris Johnston of Peterborough, Ontario got off to a great start to the event after catching 18 pounds, 4 ounces. His weights slowly diminished every day from 15-6 on day two down to 12-10 today. With a 46-4 total for the week Johnston will claim his sixth top 10 in EverStart competition and an $8,000 check.
Johnston was one of the few anglers that took adavantage of the shad-spawn bite as well as going after bedded fish. The cloud cover early in the day gave hope that his prespawn fish would fire but it never panned out.
“I just couldn’t get bit on my swimbait this morning,” said Johnston. I think it was just too calm. Every fish I caught today came off a bed.”
As if his day didn’t get off to a slow enough start, Johnston ran into a tough situation with a bedded smallmouth.
“I was working a smallmouth that was probably 4 ½ pounds for a while. She would look at it and not really make a move. Finally I threw dead-sticked a Senko for 15 seconds and when she grabbed it I ended up hooking her outside the mouth so I had to let her go. That fish really hurt.”
Johnston used a Jerry Rago swimbait to entice his prespawn fish into eating throughout the week. When he went after bedded fish he would throw a Zoom Speed Craw on 20-pound Berkley 100% fluorocarbon and a G. Loomis rod.
The 23-year-old pro ran all over the lake to catch his bedding bass with no particular areas that he focused on. When it came to his prespawn fish that focused on the shad spawn, Johnston ran main-lake points.
Local pro Derik Hudson of Hurt, Va., held onto his fourth-place position he claimed after day two with a 13-pound, 2-ounce limit on the final day. That moved his three-day total weight to 45-13 and left him carrying $7,325 in prize money.
Hudson also took advantage of both the shad spawn and bedded fish this week. While days one and two produced his big bites from the shad spawn, today saw him focus on bedded fish.
“I had an up and down day,” said Hudson. “I started on a male and female that were bedded together. I got the male to bite right away and the female pulled onto the bed once I got him out of there. I wasted 30 minutes on her and ended up foul-hooking her. I let her go and hoped she would get back on the bed. That was kind of a blessing though because it made me stay in that area and I ended up catching two good fish that I weighed in.”
Hudson ran up the Blackwater arm to target the shad spawn. While the remainder of his time was spent on the lower end of the lake looking for bedded or cruising bass.
“The largemouths were a lot deeper than people expected I think. I caught mine in around 7 to 9 feet of water. I know that my Costa Del Mar sunglasses with 580 lenses really help give me an advantage to see those fish.”
Hudson used a PowerTeam Lures Tickler worm rigged on a ¼-ounce VMC Rugby Head jig for his sight-fishing combination. When he chased the shad spawn he would throw an A-rig with PowerTeam Lures Swinging Hammer swimbaits.
Jarabeck rises to fifth
Castrol pro Philip Jarabeck sat in sixth place throughout the week but managed to move up a notch on the final day. The Lynchburg, Va., native accumulated a three-day total weight of 44-12 to earn $6,511.
Jarabeck is no stranger to Smith Mountain having learned a lot of his fishing skills form this body of water. He caught most of his fish sight-fishing but knew that getting a key bite from the shad spawn would go a long way.
“I stayed away from a lot of the pressure and went into the dirtier water of the Blackwater River,” said Jarabeck. “I think those fish had a lot less pressure. What changed my day today was going up the river to try and catch a fish from the shad spawn. I caught a big one early in the day on a spinnerbait doing that and it was the only fish I caught on a spinnerbait all week.
“Today was a lot tougher for me though, I told my co-angler that this was the toughest sight-fishing day I have seen on this lake. Because of the full moon the other day a lot of the fish that were up shallow were fresh. They just weren’t in the right mood to bite.”
Jarabeck used an assortment of Tightlines UV products to catch his fish off of beds this week.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top-10 pros in the EverStart Series event on Smith Mountain Lake:
6th: Donald Sheffey Jr. of Concord, Va., three-day total of 44-11, $5,697
7th: Cory Johnston of Peterborough, Ontario, three-day total of 43-7, $4,883
8th: Luke Nichols of Moneta, Va., three-day total of 41-13, $4,069
9th: Matt Stoupa of Colonial Heights, Va., three-day total of 38-12, $3,256
10th: Russ Simpson of Charleston, W.V., three-day total of 34-6, $2,442
The next EverStart Series Northern Division event will be held June 20 on the Potomac River.