KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – In the sport of professional fishing, some things cannot be explained by words alone: David Dudley is one of those things.
The Lynchburg, Va., native has proven time and time again that he is a closer.
Simply put, Dudley excels when it matters most. He trusts in his faith, focuses all of his faculties on fishing and taps into his natural instincts to get the winning job done.
For the fifth time in his FLW Outdoors career, Dudley closed again Sunday, coming from some 4 ½ pounds back to win the Wal-Mart FLW Tour event on Fort Loudoun-Tellico lakes with a two-day total of 29 pounds, 11 ounces worth $125,000.
Yesterday, Dudley seemed undaunted by Art Ferguson’s solid day-three lead. It was almost as if he enjoyed the challenge of being pinned down with the clock running out.
“I believe in comebacks in bass fishing,” Dudley said at the weigh-in yesterday. “Art didn’t completely take the wind out of me, but he left me with quite a big hill to climb, and I’m ready for it.
“You never know with this type of ledge fishing,” he added prophetically. “Art could stumble tomorrow, and I could find a big school and beat him – I’m looking forward to it.”
And that’s exactly how day four played out: Ferguson’s hot spot played out, leaving the door wide open, and Dudley walked through it with a final-day limit weighing 15 pounds, 2 ounces to win by just over a pound.
“This win means a lot to me because I did it in a way that used to be my biggest weakness – deep cranking,” Dudley said after his win. “In the last two years, I’ve learned a ton about deep-water fishing, and now it has become my obsession. I love it because it has the potential to deliver exactly what happened today – a big win.
“And that’s why Art’s lead did not bother me the least bit yesterday,” he continued. “I had the confidence in knowing that if I got on the right school of fish today, I could overcome that lead – I really believed that in my heart this morning, and that’s what happened.”
But Dudley never really found another school of fish today; he just adjusted to rekindle the school that he had fished all week.
Dudley’s key area this week was a ledge on the upper end of Fort Loudoun. He described it as being a “boulder area” that stuck out into the main river channel receiving current flow.
Earlier in the week he blistered the fish on a crankbait, which he refused to name, saying only that it ran 10 to 12 feet deep and that fellow competitor Craig Powers had hand-painted it for him in a “blue-back herring color.”
Today the crankbait was not as productive, and he had to resort to dragging a football-head jig and a 10-inch Berkley Power worm through his primary area.
And while giving up detailed lure information is not exactly Dudley’s strong suit, he makes up for it by describing his key adjustment for this tournament in simple terms, which provides some sage deep-water wisdom.
“Earlier in the week the crankbait was the deal because the fish were so competitive,” he revealed. “But the more fish you take off a ledge, the less competitive they become. And as the week went on, they were much less competitive with each other. With less competition among them, I had to slow down with the dragging-type baits to talk them into biting – and that’s what I did today.”
Visceral knowledge like that is what makes David Dudley a closer and, consequently, FLW Outdoors’ leading money winner with a grand total of $2,309,638.
Martin comes up short
National Guard pro Scott Martin of Clewiston, Fla., also crossed Ferguson’s threshold with a 14-pound, 13-ounce catch today to take the runner-up position with a two-day total of 28 pounds, 7 ounces worth $50,000.
Martin began his week shallow, fishing a Spro Little John crankbait around seawalls where he could see shad activity.
But as the water dropped on day two, Martin’s shallow-water program began to wane, and he became much more reliant on deep shell mounds on river ledges in Fort Loudoun.
He caught his deep-water fish on two deep-running crankbaits, including a DD-22 and a Brian’s Bees B-18, but he actually found the areas with a football-head jig.
“In practice, I kept a heavy football-head jig rigged up so I could feel the bottom,” he said. “If the bottom was soft and mushy, I’d move on. But whenever I felt that rubble, shelly bottom, I marked it.”
Martin also believes the color and cadence of his deep crankbaits over the shells were key. The shell mounds were 8 to 10 feet deep, and he would dredge the bait into the shells hard and fast.
“I normally use chartreuse-blue-back patterns for crankbaits on TVA lakes, but the shad-colored patterns seemed to work much better this week,” Martin said. “Also, I was really cranking the bait fast and making it real erratic, which is one reason I think I caught so many smallmouth on it.
“I know this sounds crazy,” he added. “But I really believe those smallmouth were spawning on the shell bars in about 8 feet of water. It seemed like the closer the full moon got during practice, the more smallmouth I started catching off those bars.”
Ferguson falls to third
After blasting 18 pounds, 11 ounces on day two and 19 pounds, 2 ounces on day three, Art Ferguson of St. Clair Shores, Mich., sputtered out with just four bass for 7 pounds, 11 ounces today, falling back to third.
“It just wasn’t the same on that spot today,” Ferguson said. “There was no wind. There was no current. The skies were bright and sunny – it just didn’t feel the same. I didn’t know if I should stay on the spot or leave it, and my timing got thrown off.
“Timing is everything with ledge fishing,” he added. “Over the last two days, my timing was perfect – today it wasn’t.”
Ferguson’s third-place finish was worth $40,000.
Instead he finished fourth with a two-day total of 25 pounds, 11 ounces worth $30,000.
Coulter’s day-four stringer was nearly 11 pounds better than his day-three catch of 8 pounds, 9 ounces. The difference?
“I stayed on my milk run a little better today,” Coulter said. “Yesterday, with most of the boats eliminated, many of the community holes were wide open, and I got a little distracted by trying to fish too many places. Today, I stayed inside my niche – a five- or six-hole milk run – and I just kept rotating those, and as a result, it was a much better day.”
Cherry spent the week fishing shallow on flat banks and docks and credited boat traffic with helping his bite today.
“I’ve pretty much done the same thing all week: swim a ½-ounce white Dump Truck jig around docks and shallow banks,” he said. “Today, when those big cruiser boats started running up and down the lake, it produced a mud line that was even with the ends of the docks, and that seemed to help the fish position right where I could target them best.”
“Yesterday, the water was actually a little too clear,” he added. “But with all the big boats and water-skiers today, it muddied the banks up pretty good and made the fishing much better.”
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros in the Wal-Mart FLW Tour event on Fort Loudoun-Tellico lakes:
6th: Craig Powers of Rockwood, Tenn., two-day total of 21-6, $19,000
7th: Andy Montgomery of Blacksburg, S.C., two-day total of 19-15, $18,000
8th: Andy Morgan of Dayton, Tenn., two-day total of 18-12, $17,000
9th: Jerry Green of Del Rio, Texas, two-day total of 16-5, $16,000
10th: Ramie Colson Jr. of Cadiz, Ky., two-day total of 10-6, $15,000
After stop No. 5, Andy Morgan of Dayton, Tenn., still leads the Land O’Lakes Angler of the Year race with 926 points going into the final event at Detroit. He now has a 22-point advantage over runner-up Glenn Browne of Ocala, Fla.