March and the jerkbait at Table Rock Lake, according to Bill Babler and Brian Snowden
March 02, 2012
In our Dec. 20, 2011, blog that featured Brian Snowden of Reeds Spring, Missouri, we said that we would post a story near the end of February that detailed how Snowden practiced for a Bassmaster tournament at Table Rock Lake, Missouri, on Mar. 1-2, 2004.
I am sorry to say that I failed to do that until now.
As a forward to this blog, it is essential to note that from early November of 2011 until Feb. 26, 2011, the Alabama rig had been the dominate bass bait at Table Rock.
On Feb. 26, Bill Babler of Blue Eye, Missouri, posted an interesting report on Ozark Anglers. com, noting that the effectiveness of the Alabama rig seems to have waned a touch at Table Rock Lake.
In sum, Babler reported that the surface temperature in the Eagle Rock area of the lake was 49.8 degrees at 3 p.m. From 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., he could not elicit a strike with an Alabama rig.
At 12:30, Babler picked up a jerkbait. On the first cast, he caught three-pound largemouth bass. By the time he executed his last cast at 3 p.m., he had inveigled 13 more bass on a jerkbait.
On a Feb. 28 -29, Babler wrote three replies to questions that readers posted about his jerkbait methods. Babler penned a detailed description of how he customizes each jerkbait -- especially how he deals with the buoyancy factor, which can fluctuate throughout the day. He wrote about color combinations, and he made a special note about the artistic paint jobs created by Buster Loving of Branson, Missouri and Tim Hughes of Reeds Spring, Missouri. He also noted the kind of rod and line that he uses with a jerkbait.
This is the link to Babler's report: (http://forums.ozarkanglers.com/index.php?s=1424d7bd404895fc1b03b11cb65f6317&showtopic=32260
A jerkbait was the lure that Snowden found to be the most effective one for him during the 28 hours that I watched him practice for the tournament. Many of the words in the story posted below were published in In-Fisherman's 2005 "Bass Guide," and adroitly edited by Steve Quinn. This is an unedited draft of that story.
Twenty-eight hours on the water with Brian Snowden
Rick Clunn says that bass tournament anglers are the most intelligent athletes in the world.
Clunn of Ava, Missouri, has spent nearly 30 years pondering the metaphysics of angling. As he contemplated, he compared the skills of great anglers on the bass tournament circuits to the skills of great athletes who participate in baseball, basketball, football, golf, track and other sporting endeavors. Ultimately Clunn concluded that what sets tournament anglers upon a higher rung is that their quest is rarely visible and habitually inscrutable.
But since their quarry is often unseen and enigmatic, Clunn says successful bass tournament anglers need something more than a superior intellect to catch vast numbers of big black bass. What they need, Clunn says, is a transcendental perspective, which is a phenomenon that lies outside the boundaries of ordinary human experiences.
Since this perspective lies outside the material and empirical world, Clunn says the transcendental mind goes beyond knowledge. In Clunn's eyes, the great Apache Indian scouts typify this perspective by possessing "the highest awareness of any humans about the goings on of the natural world."
Across his 31 years of competing on various bass tournament circuits, Clunn has not only fished with great intelligence, but he has also endeavored to adopt the disposition of the Apache scout. By doing so, he has won 17 major tournaments, placed in the top 10 107 times and garnered $2.2 million dollars in prize money. What's more, his colleagues call him the finest professional angler in the history of the sport.
On March 1-8, the three species of black bass that abide in Table Rock Lake, Missouri, gave Clunn and 153 of his colleagues on the CITGO Bassmaster Pro Tour an extremely exacting test.
At times, Table Rock's bass proved to be so incomprehensible that many of these extremely intelligent anglers couldn't decipher their whereabouts and how to entice them to engulf an artificial lure. In fact, 41 participants failed to catch a 15-inch bass on the first day of the event, and 38 anglers caught only one bass, including Clunn.
During the three days of practice immediately before the tournament, Brian Snowden of Reeds Spring, Missouri., was one of the anglers who ultimately unraveled some of the piscatorial mysteries.
Snowden, 32, is a member of the new and fourth generation of professional bass anglers. The first generation began in the late 1960s and early 1970s and is represented by Roland Martin of Naples, Florida., and Rick Clunn. The second generation began in the late 1970s and early 1980s and is represented by Guido Hibdon of Versailles, Missouri, and Gary Klein of Weatherford, Texas. The third generation came of age in the 1990s and Kevin Van Dam is that generation's model. And Snowden's generation entered the fray near the dawn of the millennium.
Snowden is a quiet and rather reserved angler, who grew up fishing in southern California. After attending Fresno State University for two years, he transferred to Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri, in the early 1990s and received a bachelor's degree in biology. One of the main reasons that Snowden moved from Fresno to Springfield was that he wanted to reside at one of the epicenters of American bass fishing.
As a 20-year-old college student, he joined a bass club that was brimming with superb anglers. During Snowden's early club days, several members instructed him in the art of twitching a Rogue, pitching a jig and cranking the vintage Storm Wiggle Wart at reservoirs such as Beaver, Table Rock, Bull Shoals, Norfork, Stockton, Truman and Lake of the Ozarks.
In the mid-1990s, he competed as an amateur in several regional tournament circuits. By 1997, he quickly became a force on the professional side of the leaderboard of the Central Pro-Am Association's tournament circuit. Starting in 1999, he quietly began plying the Bassmaster circuits, and he fared well. By February of 2004, Snowden's tournament ledger included six first place finishes, 14 top-five finishes and 24 top-10 finishes. He has also finished in the money in 60 percent of the tournaments he has fished.
Yet despite his fine credentials, Snowden is virtually unknown. Some observers suspect that his pleasant and subdued demeanor tends to overshadow his extraordinary abilities as an angler; thus, he doesn't draw the attention of the media. Snowden pooh-poohs that notion, saying in his self-effacing way that he doesn't deserve any notoriety until he proves that he can win a Bassmaster event and then continue to win several more of them.
His anonymity was reflected in a BassFan. com story before the Table Rock event. They picked Snowden as one of the ten likely anglers to win, and they described him as: "Who is this guy? He's from Springfield, Mo., is 6th in the BASS points and has been fishing Bassmaster Tour events since 2000 [sic]. Maybe he knows how to get these fish to eat."
In many ways, Snowden's angling profile is similar to that of some of the other college educated members of the newest generation of tournament competitors, such as Tim Horton and Edwin Evers. Like Horton and Evers, Snowden has spent a considerable amount of time studying and pondering the art and science of tournament bass fishing. In fact, Snowden has become a virtual scholar of the sport by chronicling the tactics of tournament winners at Table Rock and other waterways.
Snowden's chronicles are similar to Clunn's "Tour Summaries" on his Web site (http://www.rickclunn.com/html/the_tour.html).
And some of the information is stored in Snowden's GPS +WAAS unit on his boat.
Nowadays, Snowden's historical accounts have become an important element in his preparation for a tournament. For instance, prior to his participation in a tournament, Snowden regularly consults the chronicles. After he studies and ponders them, comparing past conditions to current conditions, he devises a strategy on how to fish a particular body of water during a certain time of the year. In essence, he melds his intrinsic abilities as angler with a multitude of historical and present-day facts to formulate an intelligent approach to finding and catching his quarry.
What follows are a synopsis of his first day of practice and then some detailed observations about his second and third days of practice.
On March l, the sky was partly cloudy, some area thermometers hovered around 60 degrees, and the wind howled out of the south, reaching gust of nearly 40 mph.
At Table Rock, anglers often covet a brisk wind, finding that wind and waves tend to make the bass that abide in the lake's crystalline waters less wary. But the wind's intensity on the first day of practice inhibited Snowden's ability to deftly swim a four-inch grub affixed to a 1/4-ounce jighead over deeply submerged cedar trees around main-lake locales. It also interfered with his agile touch at pitching a brown Booyah Boo Bug Jig and YUM Big Claw around boat docks.
Snowden hadn't fished the lake since January 15, and on March 1, he though that the preponderance of main-lake bass would be still abiding in their deep, wintertime haunts. Therefore, he concluded that it would be difficult to catch a significant quantity of bass on the wind-blown shorelines of the main lake with a crankbait, when the main-lake's surface temperature at 42 degrees at dawn. After unsuccessfully trying to probe some traditional winter coverts in the main lake within the vicinity of Point No. 7, Snowden concluded that the best place to find bass on wind-blown shorelines would be in the upper reaches on of the James River, where the water temperatures would be warmer. So, he traveled up the river, venturing above Flat Creek, and wielded a crayfish-colored Cordell Wiggle O, casting and retrieving it along wind-swept shorelines. On these shorelines, he focused on spots where river channel swings away from a steep bluff and on flatter locales where the makeup of the rock changes from ledges to gravel. Across the years, Snowden has found that it is important when probing shallow and windy shorelines on Table Rock to establish a rock pattern, such as ledges, chunks or gravel. By day's end, however, he hadn't established a rock pattern, and he was extremely disheartened with his catch of only three keeper-sized bass. Not only was the fishing difficult, but the James was also being pummeled by many other competitors.
The wind hardly stirred for most of the morning of the second day of practice, making much of Table Rock's waters glassy. The lack of wind allowed Snowden to easily and skillfully ply numerous deep-water coverts and a multitude of boat docks from which he has extracted countless numbers of wintertime black bass in years past.
He launched his boat at 6:03 a.m. He traveled several miles down lake, went inside large hollow and stopped at a deep secondary point that contained three large boat docks.
These docks were spaced from 50 feet to 75 feet apart. According to Snowden, some of Table Rock's bass frequently gamboling about in the environs between docks, and their propensity to do this has been documented with a video camera at several areas around the lake. And from his many years of pursing these bass, Snowden has found that the most fruitful way to allure them is to swim a grub.
His first cast was executed at 6:42 a.m. with a spinning rod, spooled with green six-pound-test AN40 Silver Thread monofilament and sported a 1/4-ounce darter-head jig and a four-inch white twister tail grub. The jighead also brandished a white weedguard.
Snowden's boat floated in 62 feet on water. His casts traveled 90 feet and landed about 50 feet from the gravel shoreline.
After the jig and grub hit the water, Snowden slowly counted to ten and then holding his rod at the two o'clock position, he began retrieving the grub at a slow pace and continued to retrieve it until it was under the boat.
As he cast and retrieved, he slowly maneuvered his boat with an electric trolling motor. As fished, he continually monitored his X-15 Lowrance sonar. And if he spotted a school of fish under the boat, he subtly placed the grub near the school and attempted to illicit a strike.
Between the first and second dock, his sonar reflected a lot of fish suspended and milling about between the docks in 20 feet of water, which was the depth that he was trying to retrieve his grub.
On the fifth cast and retrieve, he enticed a strike after he retrieved the grub for 30 feet. On the sixth cast, he caught a 13-inch largemouth.
After releasing the bass, he began wielding another spinning outfit, which was spooled with six-pound line. Attached to the line was an 1/8-ounce horsehead jig and a crane swivel with a spinner. The jighead was fitted with a vintage smoke-and-silver flake soft-plastic minnow body. After three fruitless cast and retrieves with this outfit, he put it away for the day, saying he wasn't heavy enough to cast 90 feet and retrieve at the correct depth.
Between the second and third docks, he employed the white grub, but he failed spot any fish on the sonar, and his grub didn't entice a bass.
At 7:20 a.m., he picked up a pitching-and-flipping outfit, spooled with eight-pound test Silver Thread fluorocarbon line and festooned with a brown 5/16-ounce Booyah Boo Bug Jig and three-inch YUM Big Claw.
He used the rod to pitch the jig into the boat stalls of the second dock. At several stalls, he pitched the jig over the metal arms and protrusion of boatlifts. Although extracting a bass from that maze of metal was problematic, he noted that an angler can't catch a bass without coaxing one to bite; therefore, he would worry about wrestling a bass from that metal labyrinth of a boat lift only after he had enticed a bass to engulf the jig.
After he executed a pitch and the jig hit the water, Snowden striped line from the reel, allowing the jig to plummet straight to the bottom.
As he striped line and the jig fell to the bottom, Snowden watched his line, looking for the telltale sing of a bass attacking the jig as it fell.
Once the jig reached the bottom, he delicately hopped the jig by raising the rod from two o'clock to one o'clock, and after a short pause, he slowly lifted the rod to noon, moving it at what he termed a snail's pace. Rather than always hopping the jig, he occasionally dragged it. Periodically, he used his trolling motor to move the boat and simultaneously drag the jig around the outside corner of a stall or around the end of the dock.
Throughout the morning and afternoon, Snowden probed 13 massive boat docks, pitching the jig into 81 stalls.
At another 15 stalls, he pitched a watermelon-red-flaked YUM Shakin' Worm that was Texas-rigged on an Excalibur 1/0 3X Point Hook and weighted a 3/8-ounce Excalibur TG slip sinker. He noted that his worm often elicits more strikes than his jig, but the bass that he catches on the worm are usually smaller than the ones that he catches on a jig.
At a four stalls, he tested four-inch black-neon YUM Garrett Mega Tube that was rigged on a Excalibur 4/0 3X Point Hook and weighted with a 3/16-ounce Excalibur TG slip sinker.
To Snowden's chagrin and surprise, he failed to catch a bass from any of those stalls.
At 7:45 a.m., Snowden moved from the secondary point inside the cove to a large flat, main-lake point on the outside of the cove. The water's depth on this point measured from 44 feet to 60 feet. He used his outboard motor to slowly search with the sonar for bass suspended in the submerged trees. Eventually, he found one likely looking tree. Here, he employed a spinning outfit spooled with eight-pound test green AN40 Silver Thread line. Tied to the line was a 3/8-ounce round jighead inside a four-inch Ozark Smoke YUM Garrett Mega Tube. By examining his sonar, he followed the tube's descent, and he stopped the descent once the tube reached to top branches of the tree. Then he slowly and carefully worked the tube across the top of tree and around its circumference. But despite his deftness at manipulating the tube amongst the maze of limbs, he failed garner a strike.
When the water temperature is 40 degrees or less, this spot is a traditional wintertime thicket from which to catch good numbers of Table Rock's bass. But the thermometer on Snowden's boat indicated that the surface temperature was 43 degrees; thus, Snowden surmised that the rather large congregations of extremely deep-water gizzard shad and bass had scattered.
From the deep flat point, Snowden motored directly across the lake to the area of a bluff where the White River channel starts to angle way from the shoreline. He picked up a spinning rod spooled with green eight-pound line and rigged with a 3/8-ounce darter-head jig and a four-inch smoke-and-purple twistertail grub.
As Snowden made a long cast, his boat floated in 113 feet of water. After completing the cast, he counted to 10 and then commenced a slow and steady retrieve.
At 8:04 a.m., on the third cast, he caught a 14-inch spotted bass, and he caught another one on the fifth cast; it weighed about three-pounds.
Snowden surmised that there could be a goodly number of spotted bass suspended anywhere from 20 feet to 50 feet of water along this bluff end, and the best way to catch them is to cast and retrieve a grub in about 15 feet of water.
After releasing the three-pounder, he moved to the back of Cow Creek.
At Cow Creek, his boat floated in 58 feet of water. Here, he used a 1/4-ounce weedless darter-head jig and white grub, casting it to the edge of partially flooded trees, counting to 10 before he started to retrieve it. He allowed the grub to slowly swim over the top of scores of totally submerged cedar trees. As he fished a 70-yard stretch of submerged cedar trees, he became concerned that he could spot any shad and gulls working in Cow Creek. Without shad, he suspected that this traditionally March spot for catching largemouth would be fruitless, and it was fruitless.
At 9 a.m., he left Cow Creek and spent the rest of the day exploring and quickly fishing a potpourri of late-winter and early-spring coverts. He ventured from North Indian Creek past Point No. 12 in the James River, traversing more than 21 miles of the lake.
Most of the time, he either slowly swam a darter jighead and grub between the docks or pitched a jig into boat stalls. In addition, he tried to catch spotted bass from several bridge piers. He swam a jig and grub over flooded trees at bluff ends. He search for and found coves with shad and diving gulls. He vertically fished a small cut in a main-lake bluff, using a 3/8-ounce jighead in a four-inch tube to probe for deep-water bass abiding in massive congregation of submerged cedar trees. For a short spell, he twitched a tequila-hue Rogue on flat gravel points.
But he failed to set a hook into a bass until 4:10 p.m., when he lands a 2 ½-pound smallmouth bass, which he inveigled to strike a 3/4-ounce brown-and-purple football jig. When he caught this fish, his boat floated above 29 feet of water, and he was slowly dragging through brushpiles on a flat gravel pocket and point in the vicinity of Joe Bald Public Use Area.
During the 10 hours that he was afloat, he caught three bass. He was dismayed and a touched worried, saying that the easy wintertime fishing had disintegrated as the deep-water fish had dispersed and become widely scattered. Not only were their whereabouts difficult to decipher, they were hard to allure without a mild-mannered breeze to lessen the effects of the sun glistening overhead. He was heartened, however, that the weather forecast for the next two days was for rain, which he hoped would spur the effectiveness of a Rogue.
Before the third day of practiced commenced, he studied his chronicles of past tournaments in early March at Table Rock and decided to spend the day twitching a Rogue along a 10-mile stretch of the White River from a mile below Point 24 to two miles above Point 26. If he failed to catch a significant number of bass in that area, he planned to explore the Kings River arm.
Snowden elected to make the long journey up the White River because the upper portions of the lake are shallower and not as expansive as the lower sections around Highway 13, and it also eliminated the number of potential bass hideaways that he had to probe.
The Rogue he selected was Purple Darter model that was customized to sink about a foot every three seconds. In addition, the split ring on the Rogue's nose had been replaced by a No. 2 snap. He worked with six-foot, two-inch medium-action St. Croix casting rod spooled with 10-pound-rest green AN40 Silver Thread monofilament.
Snowden retrieved the Rogue by pointing the rod tip towards the lake's surface. The rod's butt was pointed at his navel. He held the rod directly in front of his body. After making a 60- to 70-foot cast, he reeled in the slack line and then dropped the rod tip, which pulled the Rogue several feet under the surface. Once the Rogue was under the surface, he allowed it slowly sink, and as it sank, he gradually reeled in some of the slack line. The length of time that Snowden allowed the Rogue to sink varied throughout the day; at times the pause lasted only five seconds and at other times it lasted 20 seconds. After the Rogue paused for the requisite amount of seconds, he flexed his wrist and twitched the rod tip, causing the Rogue to make a delicate side-to-side roll and flutter. Sometimes he used a triple twitch, other times it was a double twitch and periodically he used a single twitch. He was trying to determine the best pause-and-twitch cadence.
He executed his first cast at 7:12 a.m., casting and delicately twitching his Rogue around a series of cedar trees on a bluff end at the mouth of Carter Hollow. On his ninth cast of the morning, as he paused the Rogue for 15 seconds between double twitches in thicket of cedars on the end of the bluff point, a five-pound largemouth bass inhaled the Rogue. At this spot, the lake's temperature was 44 degrees, and his boat floated in 35 feet of water.
As they day wore on and he moved up lake, the surface temperature reached 47 degrees at several locales. He observed that 47 degrees is traditionally an ideal temperature for cranking such lures at a Wiggle O or a vintage StormWiggle Wart, and out of curiosity he cranked a Wiggle O for 10 minutes along a bluff inside Rock Creek, but it was to no avail.
By 11:30 a.m., eight keeper-sized bass had engulfed Snowden's Rogue. Seven of them came out of cedar trees, and one came from a thicket of submerged oak tree branches. All of them were caught within a five-mile span of the lake, running from Carter Hollow to a mile inside Rock Creek. Besides the five-pound largemouth that he caught on a point, two largemouth were caught inside Cedar Creek, two spotted bass were caught in a flat, shallow and gravelly cove that was graced with many schools of gizzard shad and two dozen sky-diving gulls, and three largemouth were caught inside Rock Creek. All of these bass were suspended in the trees and stationed many yards away from the shoreline.
After landing the eighth bass on this cool, drizzly morning, he was confident that he had found a method that would put his name near the top of the leaderboard as long as the weather remained cloudy and drizzly
Alas, during the night before the competition began, a deluge struck Table Rock's watershed, riling the water in most of the areas that Snowden caught bass the day before. For instance, the water clarity changed from more than four feet of visibility to eight inches of visibility at the mouth of Cedar Creek. The only spot that yielded fish on the first day of competition was the flat, shallow, gravelly cove about 43 miles above the dam, and there he caught two spotted bass that weighed five pounds, three ounces, putting him 54th place.
Before the second-day of competition began, Snowden made plans to wield a Wiggle O, spinnerbait and black-and-blue jig along the stained and rocky shorelines of Carter Hollow, Cedar Creek and Rock Creek.
It was a stellar plan. In fact, it was so good that the tournament winner, Mark Davis of Mount Ida, Arkansas, employed a similar strategy in the stained waters of the Kings River.
But on route to those areas, Snowden stopped at a bluff end near Highway 13 and began reeling a white grub. Straightaway he and his amateur partner caught and lost several nice-sized bass. After those quick hookups, he wrongly concluded that he discovered a pattern in which he and his partner could catch a limit, and for the rest of the day, he plied similar spots in the lower portions of the reservoir.
That decision cost him dearly. He caught only one bass, finished in 92nd place and fell from sixth to 22nd place in the Bassmaster angler-of-the-year race.
As he reflected upon his two sorry days of competitive fishing, he concluded that the radical aftereffects of the deluge, which foul his Rogue fishing, discombobulated him to such an extent that he made several miscalculations and failed to track the bass as they moved to the stained water that flowed into the lake. Even though he was cognizant of the proclivities of Table Rock's bass to quickly inhabit areas where fresh and stained water rushes into the lake in March, he had never experienced such a radical change as the one that occurred on the night of March 3.
In retrospect, Snowden said that should have fished a white grub on bluff ends in the vicinity of Highway 13 on the first day of the tournament, and on the second day, he should have ventured up to Point 24 and worked the stained shorelines of the hollows and creeks with a crankbait, jig and spinnerbait.
The winning tournament stratagems are often centered upon being at the proper location at the proper time and executing the proper presentation of a lure or lures. At Table Rock, Snowden said his timing and his decisions about locations to fish were awful. But he also mentioned that astute anglers often learn as much from failure as they do from success, and he thought that his failures at Table Rock would make him a wiser fisherman.
This is the link to the Dec. 20, 2011 blog about Brian Snowden: http://www.in-fisherman.com/2011/12/20/how-brian-snowden-fishes-table-rock-lake-for-bass-recreationally-from-january-through-december