Thirty and forty years ago most anglers found October to be a trying time to pursue largemouth bass at the Lake of the Ozark, Missouri, but in November, the bass fishing became considerably easier.
During the first two weeks of many Novembers past, some anglers liked to wield buzzbaits on secondary points. Others liked to wake or ripple the surface with spinnerbaits at shallow points that are slightly wind-blown. There were also several anglers who work their spinnerbaits along the bluffs, casting them parallel to the bluff and retrieving them about a foot or two from the water's edge. Besides employing buzzbaits and spinnerbaits, anglers used a variety of skirted jigs affixed to a soft-plastic trailer on secondary points and around some of the thousands of boat docks that clutter the shorelines.
Buzzbaits, jigs and spinnerbaits have been Lake of the Ozarks' standard-bearers in November since the late 1960s and early 1970s. Nowadays, anglers wield various state-of-the-art crankbaits around some of the traditional November lairs. Today's anglers are also fishing deeper lairs than the old-time anglers plied; in fact, nowadays some anglers are probing depths of 30 feet or more.
Forty years ago, anglers weren't as mobile as they are now. Then the best November bass fishing normally occurred on the lower portions of the lake, ranging from the dam to about the 13-mile marker, and the Gravois arm.
Sometimes the autumn turnover phenomenon can adversely affect the bass fishing for a short spell in various areas of the lake. Turnover starts in the upper portions of the lake gradually moves down lake towards the dam. The main arm is 93 miles long, and there are many more miles of secondary and tertiary feeder creeks. Thus, even during the most potent turnover days, today's extremely mobile anglers can explore areas in this massive reservoir that aren't affected and where they can catch an array of bass.
A number of readers have asked us to publish our unedited notes on the blog about some of the practice sessions before Bassmaster and FLW tournaments that we have witnessed across the years. So today's blog is aimed at providing readers more information about the way that professional anglers practice for a tournament than what can be published on the printed page.
This blog examines the way Dion Hibdon of Sunrise Beach, Missouri, and Chad Brauer of Osage Beach, Missouri, practiced for a Bassmaster's tournament at the Lake of the Ozarks on November 10-11, 1997. After reading this blog readers will have a better understanding how two of the best Lake of the Ozarks' anglers fished the lake in mid-November back in what some of older anglers are beginning to call the good ole days.
Parts of this history lesson appeared in "In-Fisherman" magazine 11 years ago, and back in those days most Lake of the Ozarks anglers' called spotted bass Kentucky bass. So when readers cross paths in this story with the words Kentuckies and Kentucky bass, please translate this countrified termology to spotted bass.
How Chad Brauer and Dion Hibdon's Practiced on Their Home Waters in November of 1997
The Lake of the Ozarks is the epicenter of bass fishing. Several of the finest anglers in the history of the sport were baptized at this grand waterway, which stretches for 93 miles, meanders over the Osage River Valley from Bagnell Dam at it eastern boundary to Truman Dam at its western extremity, lies on the northern plateau of the Ozark Mountains and just above the 38th parallel. In between are many feeder streams, including the Gravois, Grand Glaize and Niangua; adding the miles of those tributaries, the lake spans 129 miles. It encompasses 95 square miles and includes 1,300 miles of shoreline. Its tailrace below Bagnell Dam sits 75 miles from the confluence of the Osage and Missouri rivers.
Since 1931, this impoundment has been the home of the Hibdon family, and in 1981, the Brauer family began calling it home. In the world of bass fishing, these two families are the most distinguished in the sport.
Guido Hibdon, 53, won the BASS Master Classic in 1988. After that he garnered back-to-back BASS angler-of-the-year awards in l990-9l. Dion Hibdon, Guido's 3l-year-old son, joined the professional bass-fishing ranks upon graduation from high school in 1985. Straightaway Dion was a force to be reckoned with, and, in 1997, he captured the BASS Master Classic.
Denny Brauer, 49, was the BASS angler of the year in 1987. Across the years on the tournament circuit, Brauer has won more that a million dollars. Brauer's son, Chad, joined the professional bass-fishing circuit in 1995, and this 26 year-old angler fared brilliantly from the start, winning the BASS Top 100 tournament at Old Hickory Lake in the fall of 1996 and finishing in the top ten in three other BASS affairs during his first season and a half.
In the eyes of the Hibdons and Brauers, the Lake of the Ozarks is the archetypal reservoir. Part of it is flatland, another part is highland, and some is hill-land. January and February are the only months when the bass fishing turns truly doubtful, but even then anglers can entice some bass to take a swipe at a Rogue or ThunderStick. The only bass coverts it lacks are aquatic vegetation and flooded timber; instead it is brimming with boat docks and countless man-made brush piles.
It also is chock-full of three- to five-pound bass and a multitude of small bass. Talented anglers like the Hibdons and Brauers can tangle with at least 12 largemouth and Kentucky bass on the worst of days. On run-of-the-mill days, they can catch and release more than 30 bass. Furthermore, there is no telling how many can be caught when all is right in the bass and angler's world. And be it the best or the worst of days, the bulk of those bass are caught around docks.
The number of docks that litter the lake's shoreline has increased radically since the 1970s. As more and more vacation homes are built, the number of docks escalates. The heavily populated arms of the lake, such as the Gravois, contain thousands of docks. Many coves and hollows at other locales around the lake are so cluttered with docks it is virtually impossible to fish the shoreline.
Even though docks are an eyesore, they are a wonderful habitat year-round for bass. And since the docks at the Lake of the Ozarks are so difficult for the average angler to fish, the bass that live around docks are seldom harassed.
In addition, many of the dockless areas at the Lake of the Ozarks have been overfished. Thus, the fishing at many of these dockless locales, according to Dion Hibdon, isn't as fruitful as they once were.
Dion is a master at fishing docks. In fact, he won the Classic on August 9, 1997, at Logan Martin Lake, Alabama, by fishing docks.
To probe the docks at the Classic, Dion employed a six-foot, three-inch Team Daiwa medium-heavy spinning rod by Daiwa and a 2600ss Daiwa reel, which was spooled with 14-pound Triline XL line. On this outfit, Dion tied either an l/8- or l/4-ounce ball-type jig that was affixed to a two-inch, twin-tailed, skirted grub, which is called Dion's Classic and manufactured by Gambler. At shallow spots, he often switched to another spinning rod that sported a five-inch tube lure, which Dion called a flipping-and-pitching tube.
With his spinning outfits, Dion skipped the grub and G-5 under Logan Martin's docks. This is a tactic that his father perfected many years ago as a method of getting a lure under objects that lie close to the surface of the water. It is similar to skipping a rock across a lake's surface. Most of Dion's casts skipped six to eight feet under the docks, but on occasions he was able to muster a 20-foot skip.
After Dion won the Classic, he said that his prowess at fishing boat docks was developed at the Lake of the Ozarks, fishing at his father's side.
Even though fishing docks with a jig is one of Dion's angling fortes, he readily admits that his father and Denny Brauer are still the kings when it comes from extracting bass from docks.
But many observers say it won't be long before Dion will take the helm from his father. In fact, Guido Hibdon has frequently remarked during the past decade that Dion has finally "dragged his ol' dad into the late 20th Century," and many of the tactics that Guido now employs were the ones that Dion taught him. Nowadays the Hibdons are virtually mirror images of one another.
Like Dion, Chad Brauer is giving his father a run for the money. Denny Brauer is often heralded as the best flipper and pitcher afloat. And even thought Denny nearly won the BASS Top l00 tournament on Oct. 16-18, 1997, at Lake Gaston, Virginia, by pitching an electric-blue 3/8-ounce Strike King jig at docks, Chad says that he is better than his father at pitching a 3/8-ounce jig around a dock. His father, however, is still the master with a 1/2-ouncer.
Chad, of course, learned the ways of dock fishing from his father at the Lake of the Ozarks. And after Chad won the BASS tourney at Old Hickory, he said that he fished Old Hickory the same way he fished the Lake of the Ozarks in the fall, which is probing docks and nearby environs.
But a BASS tournament, which ran from Nov. 10 through Nov. 16, 1997, at the Lake of the Ozarks gave Dion Hibdon ,Chad Brauer and 328 other anglers a nasty test. The elder Hibdon and Brauer were wise enough to forgo this grueling ordeal, but both the elders said it was a good character-building experience for the intrepid youngsters of their clans.
During this six-day event, anglers endured sleet, fog, cold rain, driving snow, razor-sharp wind and frigid temperatures. To withstand windchills of less than five degrees, some anglers were layered with so many clothes that it was virtually impossible for them to set the hook when a bass took a pass at a lure. Furthermore, many anglers reported that some areas of the lake were turning over or were being afflicted with an algae bloom. Thus, when turnover or an algae bloom is coupled with radically falling water temperatures, the bass usually become extremely sullen, and the fishing turns inordinately sour. And it got so cold from Nov. 10 to Nov. l7 that the water temperature in the back of Turkey Creek, which is at mile marker 81, dropped from the low 50s to being ice covered.
Such bad times are a marvelous teacher. They provoke the most adroit anglers to employ their best tactics, and other folks can be enlightened by witnessing the rigors that these masterful souls exert in battling these wicked spells. Thus it was illuminating to watch the talented Dion Hibdon and Chad Brauer combat the bad times that Mother Nature rendered.
So, here is how these savvy youngsters went about the task of fishing boat docks and neighboring lairs during two practice days prior to the tournament:
On at 6:23 a.m. Nov. 11, Chad Brauer launched is boat at Larry R.Gale Access in the Niangua arm. The full moon was four nights away. The lake measured three feet low. The thermometers around the lake read 36 degrees at 6:00 a.m. Then the early morning temperature dropped for a spell, and at 7:30 a.m. a tad of ice began to form on the guides of Chad's rod. A mostly cloudy sky muted the sunrise, but by midday the sun on occasions shone brightly, sending the temperature into the mid-40s. This turned out to be the warmest and easiest day to fish of the week; yet anglers galore carped that the bright sun put a whammy on the early afternoon fishing.
Even though this was the most temperate day of them all, Chad looked as if he was dressed for an arctic adventure. And while he fished, he wore a pair of thin brown cotton gloves through most of the day.
After launching his boat, Chad traveled 11 miles down the Niangua River to the Osage River arm. At 6:45 a.m. he stopped at the mouth of Eddy Hollow, where the water temperature measured 56 degrees and water clarity looked greenish-brown, hinting of turnover or an algae bloom, and registered about two feet of visibility.
Strapped to the deck of his boat, Chad had five jig rods, one buzzbait rod, one Zara Spook rod and one spinnerbait rod. At the mouth of Eddy Hollow, Chad extracted a jig rod, and began his day of pitching jigs at docks.
The jig was a l/2-ounce Strike King Denny Brauer Pro Model that sported at Bo-Hawg Junior Frog. The color of this combo was black and blue. The jig's fiber guard was cut so that it was a scintilla short of touching the point of the hook. The skirt of the jig was trimmed to extend about quarter of an inch past the bend of the hook. Chad says that cutting the skirt this way allows the skirt to flare with the slightest movement of the jig.
The jig was tied with a palomar knot to 20-pound High Impact Stren line, which Chad said was a tad too stiff for pitching in cold weather, and he would change to 25-pound-test regular Stren before the first day of the tournament.
The rod was a 7 1/2-foot pitching and flipping stick by Team Daiwa; the reel was a Team Daiwa model, too. Except for the size and color of the jigs, the other four jig rods were identically rigged. The spinnerbait, buzzbait and Zara Spook outfits were Team Daiwa outfits, too.
Eddy Hollow is virtually lined with docks. And Chad probed an array of them as he worked from inside the main-lake point to the back of one of the hollow's three branches.
When prospecting docks, Chad pitched his jig at ladders, poles, pilings, sides, boats, corners, front and back ends, gaps in the Styrofoam logs that keep the docks afloat, and piers that support the ramps or walkways from the shore to the docks.
At the Lake of the Ozarks, all the docks are buoyed by floatation devices, such as plastic barrels or Styrofoam logs.
According to Chad, the most productive docks are usually the ones that are supported with white Styrofoam logs. For some unknown reason the white logs become heavily ladened with algae. Then the algae attracts small fish. And those small fish regularly attract bass.
But on this day, Chad didn't discriminate between types of docks, he fished every one that crossed his path. Even the ones without algae, he fished methodically and with great precision, pitching his jig at any unique spot of a dock's architecture.
To maneuver his boat around and between the docks, Chad used a finely tuned and noiseless foot-controlled Evinrude trolling motor, which he operated with balletic grace. On top of that, he approached each dock quietly, always carrying a furtive air.
Most of the time on this cold fall day, Chad slowly hopped the jig on the bottom. He worked the jig as shallow as two feet and as deep as 12 feet. This was accomplished by allowing the jig to fall to the bottom after the pitch; then he held the rod at the 2:00 position and slowly lifted it to the 1:00 o'clock position.
During the lift, Chad shook the rod, which activated the rattle chambers of the jig. Chad thinks that noise, such as rattles, entices bass
When he probed the sides of a dock, Chad would often pitch the jig past the back corner of the dock. Then he hopped the along the bottom and parallel to the dock and worked it several yards past the front corner of the dock. He worked the sides of the boat slips the same way he worked the side of the docks.
In Chad's mind, the cold spell should have kept the bulk of the bass from suspending around the dock. Therefore the bass would be near the bottom or in a submerged brush pile.
Chad constantly prospected for brush piles. About half of the docks have brush piles
anchored around them. When Chad discovered a brush pile, he always moved the jig slowly through the innards of the pile. As the jig climbed over the labyrinth of limbs, Chad shook the rod in order to enliven the jig's rattles. Often he made more than one pitch to a brush pile and worked it at different angles and directions.
It should be noted, however, that plenty of bass abide at docks that are devoid of brush; at those docks it may be a piling or the type of rock on the bottom that attracts the fish. The bass at the Lake of the Ozarks sometimes prefer gravel; at other times they like large chunks of limestone, sandstone or dolomite. Moreover, the depth of water around the docks is an important factor for anglers to consider.
At the Lake of the Ozarks, the preponderance of docks hold only one catchable bass. Of course, there are days when a talented angler can extract two bass from a dock, but unless it is an extremely large dock, catching more than one bass per dock is an uncommon feat. It is not unusual, however, to entice several bass from a brush pile that is adjacent to a dock. Chad has taken as many as eight from one pile of brush.
When Chad pitched a jig to a precise spot at dock, such as a piling or a brush pile, he wanted the jig to fall straight to the bottom. To accomplish this, Chad peeled line off the reel with his right hand as soon the jig hits the water. If the spot was six feet deep, Chad peeled off seven feet of line.
Where there was a long stretch of shoreline between docks, Chad normally employed a lure, such as a spinnerbait, that could be fished at a faster clip than a jig. At such spots during the first two hours of this cold morning, Chad tested a white buzzbait, a Zara Spook and a Strike King 1/2-ounce tandem spinnerbait with a No. 5 gold willow leaf blade and a No. 2 1/2 silver Colorado blade and a white skirt.
Throughout this day, the bulk of Chad's casts were made at the short spans of shorelines between docks with a spinnerbait, which he retrieved at a pace that was a tad faster than a slow roll. Thus as Chad worked the spinnerbait near the bottom, he held his rod at the 4:00 o'clock position, pointing the tip at the spinnerbait. Along these dockless sections of Eddy Hollow, Chad primarily focused on boat ramps, visible brush piles, isolated logs, odd rock formations, and places where gravel merged with big rocks.
What follows is an abridged chronicle of Chad's day of practice:
At 7:34 a.m. and about halfway inside the hollow, Chad landed the first fish of the day. It was a fat Kentucky bass, which nailed the l/2-ounce black-and-blue jig at the outside corner of a dock in about eight feet of water.
At 7:45 a.m. Chad picked up the rod that sported a 3/8-ounce jig with a brown-chartreuse-green skirt and black Zoom Big Salty Chunk. Since this jig falls slower than the 1/2-ounce model, Chad thought that some of the bass might be adversely affected by the cold front and would prefer this slower jig . And for the rest of the day, Chad periodically tested several 3/8-ounce and l/2-ounce jigs, trying to determine if the bass had a particular bent.
At 7:50 a.m. Chad picked up to the l/2-ounce jig again, and immediately he elicited a strike at the side of a dock.
At 7:55 a.m. Chad made a pitch with the 3/8-ounce jig and drew a strike along the side of a dock that sat about 200 feet from the end of the hollow.
Then at 8 a.m. Chad landed a keeper-sized largemouth, which engulfed the 3/8-ounce jig at the outside corner of a dock, where the water was three feet deep. This was the next-to-the-last dock from the back of the hollow.
After releasing that bass, Chad crossed over to the other side of the hollow and began working his way out of Eddy Hollow. He worked a pea gravel bank with the white l/2-ounce spinnerbait. As he prospected the shoreline with a spinnerbait, Chad wondered if the cold weather had driven the bass off the flatter gravel banks to the steeper chunk-rock banks. According to Chad, that is the normal pattern in the fall at the Lake of the Ozarks. And that is why the docks at lower end of the lake, which has more steep chunk-rock banks, is normally better as the weather turns cold than the middle and upper sections of the lake.
Once the stretch of gravel petered out, Chad put down the spinnerbait and used the 1/2-ounce jig to probe several docks.
At 8:15 a.m., he made three casts with the white buzzbait to a shoreline of chunk rock. As he worked the buzzbait, Chad said that he hoped that the cold weather would put a damper on the buzzbait fishing by driving the bass into 10 to 12 feet of water. But as of Nov. 11 the water was still warm enough for the bass to be shallow and hit a topwater bait. And in fact the contestant who finished fifth in the tournament caught the bulk of his bass on a buzzbait, which was worked around docks on secondary points.
Since pitching a jig to docks is Chad's specialty, he wanted the majority of bass to be 10 to 12 feet deep and under the docks. He also wanted to see ultramarine skies, and that is because in sunny weather bass regularly lie at the shady recesses of a dock. Moreover, the majority of anglers aren't adept at pitching a jig into those shady nooks and crannies. Chad, of course, possesses the skill to pitch a jig into the most difficult hideaway.
When it is cloudy, a bass can be positioned almost anywhere around a dock. Thus it takes longer to fish a dock on a cloudy day. That was another reason why Chad was wishing for blue skies and a bright sun; then he would only have to fish the shady portions of the dock.
For the next 40 minutes, Chad worked five more docks, using a 3/8-ounce jig to explore every possible lair, but he failed to garner a strike.
At 8:55 Chad left Eddy Hollow and headed up lake, traveling as far as Proctor Creek at mile-marker 56. After Eddy Hollow, he gave up on the Zara Spook and buzzbait, but he did twitch a Long A Bomber for a spell. In addition, Chad employed a 1/2-ounce brown jig and frog and a 3/8-ounce black-and-blue jig and frog. He also had a 3/8-ounce electric-blue jig at the ready, but he never put it into play.
Chad fished all the other hollows the same way he fished Eddy Hollow. He also worked two main-lake points, part of a main-lake bluff , and a mile or so of steep rocky and dockless shorelines; at these three spots, he wielded the white spinnerbait with a slow retrieve.
Around 10 a.m., Chad changed spinnerbaits, opting for a 1/2-ouncer with a chartreuse and white skirt. At 10:55 a.m. in the back of Sumner Hollow, which is 47 miles from the dam, he landed a four-pounder that engulfed that spinnerbait along a pea-gravel bank. Here the water temperature was 54 degrees.
For the next five hours, the bass in this section of the lake became nearly impossible to entice. And in Pearson Hollow at 2:56 p.m., the fishing turned so sour at this middle sector of the lake that Chad wished that he was fishing at the lower end of the lake, and he predicted that the tournament would be won at the lower end of the lake, somewhere from the Grand Glaize to the dam.
By 3:30 p.m. he said he had enough and headed for the Niangua arm and predicted that the tournament would be won at the lower end of the lake, somewhere from the Grand Glaize to the dam.
At 4 p.m. Chad arrived at the back of the Little Niangua arm. Here the temperature was 49 degree, which he thought was too cool. Even though the water was too cold for his taste, Chad spent six minutes working a shallow bluff, which was devoid of docks, with a white and chartreuse spinnerbait and 3/8-ounce black-and-blue jig. After that brief spin along the bluff, he decided to scout for some warmer environs.
The water began to warm as he headed out of the Little Niangua. At 4:15 p.m. Chad stopped at a long string of docks upon a flat that sat about two miles inside the Little Niangua. These docks were a long way off the bank, floating over five to 10 feet of water and over a gravel bottom. The water temperature at the first dock registered 53 degrees.
At 4:17 p.m., he elicited a strike at the end of a dock by using the 3/8-ounce black-and-blue jig, and at 4:18 p.m.Chad landed the third keeper of the day, catching it from the same spot he garnered the strike a minute before.
By the time Chad reached the seventh the dock, the water temperature hovered at 56 degrees. Then at an outside corner of this dock, Chad made a pitch, and after two lifts of the jig, he latched onto a two-pounder, which was the fourth keeper of the day.
Upon releasing that bass, Chad called it a day and prepared to head for home. But before starting his motor, Chad put his tackle away and talked about how arduous the day had been. As Chad talked, he attempted to formulate a pattern of how he caught the bass: The big bass took a spinnerbait along a gravel bank, and the rest engulfed a variety of jigs that were hopped slowly along the bottom. All the bass except one were near or under a dock, and none were in brush piles. By the time Chad had finished his chores, he was a tad glum and concluded that there wasn't much of a fish-catching pattern for him to devise a strategy for the three days of tournament angling.
But those four keeper-size bass mildly pleased him. Chad hoped that he could catch four or five similar bass each day of the tournament by pitching jigs at docks in the hollows at the lower end of the lake. If he could do that, he would be near the top of the leaderboard. And that is how Chad's day of Nov. 11 closed, ending with a faint air of hope.
Nov. 12 was the last day of practice, and the weather worsened. On that cold morning, Dion Hibdon woke to a dank, steel-gray sky. By the time he arrived at the boat ramp at 7:l5 a.m., a sharp wind angled from the east. Around 9 a.m. snow began pelting him, and it continued at a furious pace for nearly two hours, which made fishing and traveling from hollow to hollow a damp and trying endeavor.
After launching his boat at the mouth of Brushy Creek near mile marker 38, Dion
headed down lake less than a mile and stopped at a small gravel-banked cove that housed a marina. Before he made a cast, Dion removed nine Team Daiwa casting outfits from his rod box. And throughout the day, there wasn't a spinning rod in sight.
Six of the rods were 7 1/2-foot pitching and flipping rods that carried from l5- to 20-pound-test Triline XL line and sported a variety of jigs and one 1/4-ounce black slip-sinker with two yellow eyes and a Texas-rigged green plastic bait that resembled a hybridization of a lizard and a crayfish.
One jig was a 3/8-ounce brown-and-black model, which was adorned with a No. 11 brown Uncle Josh pork frog. Another jig was a 3/8-ouncer with a white skirt and No. 1 Uncle Josh pork frog. The third rod sported a 3/8-ounce jig with a black skirt and a four-inch piece of a silver and black Gatortail worm, which is a big twister-tail worm. Before the worm was affixed to the jig, it was dipped into boiling water and then dropped into cold water; the Hibdons say this procedure makes the tail more flexible. And the Hibdon clan has found that this particular jig and worm combination is particularly effective around the docks, logs and brush piles in the upper half of the Lake of the Ozarks.
On each of the other three flipping and pitching rods, he tied on a 3/8-ounce jighead that held a four-inch Dion Classic in green, black and brown. By the way, these three lures were dyed and customized in the Hibdon lure laboratory, which is adjacent to Guido Hibdon's home.
None of Dion's jigs contained rattle chambers. To Dion's mind, noise wouldn't provoke the bass to strike on this outing, implying that the water would have to be more stained before rattling jigs would be effective.
On another Team Daiwa casting outfit, Dion tied a l/2-ounce spinnerbait with two copper No.6 Colorado blades and a white-chartreuse skirt.
Dion's 7 1/2-foot fiberglass crankbait rod was rigged with a vintage Bagley's Diving B II in brown and yellow. And a silver 5/8-ounce Bagley Balsa B was tied to Dion's ninth rod.
Nearby laid a blue-and-bone suspending Rogue; a 1/2-ounce single-spin with a No. 7 nickel blade with a dark skirt; and a 3/8-ounce single-spin with a No. 4 nickel blade with a white skirt. All of Dion's spinnerbaits were devoid of plastic trailers.
Dion's boat is virtually free of gadgets. For instance, there is no temperature gauge or graph. He does, however, use a Zercom flasher. Like all of the great anglers in the Hibdon clan, Dion prefers to fishes au naturel.
The most important tool mounted to Dion's boat is a foot-controlled Johnson trolling motor. With that trolling motor, Dion is a wizard at guiding his boat through a jungle of docks. When he approached a dock, he was as shifty as a hawk. His boat moved from dock to dock as a hawk would glide among the thermals. And on this cold morning, his quiet ways of angling were more than majestic.
At 7:40 a.m., Dion made his first pitch of the day, which was directed at one of the boat slips at the marina. The lure was the brown and black jig . He hopped the jig on the bottom by slowly lifting the rod from the 2:00 o'clock position to the 1:00 o'clock position. On the third pitch, Dion registered a strike, and he let the fish drop the jig. This strike occurred at the back of a dock.
After that strike, Dion made a long pitch with the slip-sinker rig to a small rock pile that was surrounded by many yards of gravel. Then he made four pitches to another dock with the brown and black jig.
Following those four pitches, Dion worked a boat ramp with the big tandem spinnerbait, making four cast to the ramp and retrieving the spinnerbait so that it made a small wake on the surface.
From the boat ramp, Dion moved to the next dock. The first pitch was to the back of the dock. Here he adroitly dropped the brown and black jig at the junction of the dock and the ramp from the shoreline and across several cables. After working the back of the dock, Dion probed its side by hopping the jig on the bottom. Next he worked the jig inside a slip that housed a pontoon boat. From the slip, he worked the dock's other side by hopping the jig over the gravel bottom from the back corner to the front corner and parallel to the side of the dock. Then Dion made several pitches at the gaps in the Styrofoam logs. At these gaps, he skipped the jig as much as four feet under the dock.
To perform a skip cast with a pitiching and flipping rod, Dion says, it is necessary to employ a 3/8-ounce or heavier jig. A lighter jig results in too many backlashes.
Throughout the day, he executed scores of crafty presentations, hitting crevices and hideaways that most fishermen would neither notice nor be able to hit. And using the magic skills of Harry Houdini, Dion dexterously extricated countless jigs from a maze of cables and pieces of metal that protrudes from the sides and bottoms of the docks.
Dion's next target was a visible brush pile, which he probed with the large tandem spinnerbait, making the blades create a subtle wake. As Dion worked to the back of this small cove, he continued to employ the spinnerbait with a rapid retrieve. He probed several large logs that extended a long way off the gravel bank into three feet of water.
At one of the logs, Dion pitched the black jig and Gatortail worm. As he slowly worked the jig and worm, hopping it on the bottom and parallel to a log, he remembered scores of bass that he had taken from that shallow log in years past.
He also recalled how shallow bass can be in the dead of winter. There are Hibdon tales galore about how his grandfather ran across gargantuan bass in a foot or two of water while he gigged suckers at night in January near the mouth of the Gravois arm. Thus, Dion doesn't need a temperature gauge to tell him where the bass will be; he knows where they are; he merely needs to figure out how to make them attack a lure.
The first cove that Dion fished this morning was shallow and consisted primarily of gravel; it was no larger than five acres. Dion worked his lures from the shoreline into 10 feet of water. According to Dion, the bass in November are at the same places the bass are in April, and small coves like this one are an excellent place to locate bass during those months.
After failing to entice a strike at the logs, Dion began working the other side of the cove. This stretch was dockless. Therefore, he used the spinnerbait and Bagley Diving B II, and he used these lures all the way past a wind-blow point and until he reached another dock.
Once he arrived at dock, Dion probed one side with the jig and worm. Water was so shallow that the trolling motor hit the bottom, and that noise spooked a big fish. After spooking that fish, Dion moved swiftly and quietly to the front of the dock and pitched the jig and worm to every potential hideaway on the front and other side of the dock. The last pitch at this dock was to a concrete pier, the pitch landed several feet on the other side of the pier, and he hopped the jig several yards past the pier.
At 8:15, Dion picked up the white 3/8-ounce jig and white pork chunk. Before he made his first pitch with the white jig to a dock, he said that this lure can be extremely exciting and frustrating. Since the jig is fished only a foot or two under the surface, an anglers can watch the bass, which are primarily Kentuckies, make an attack. When they attack, the bass roll all over and around it, but often fail to get hooked, which causes an angler much consternation.
On Nov. 11, the second day of practice, Dion had three big bass take swipes at the white jig. He didn't set the hook on them, and one of them looked to be a Kentucky that weighed more than four pounds. When all is well in the world of the Kentucky bass, Dion said that it is an easy chore to catch a limit on this white jig. And he was hoping that would occur today and during the tournament.
The retrieve of the white jig is accomplished by pitching it past a potential lair. Then the jig is allowed to sink about two feet or less. After that Dion twitches the rod tip thrice, as if he were jerking or twitching a Rogue. Following the three twitches, he allows the jig to glide for a few seconds, which is succeeded by three more twitches and a glide. The triple-twitch-and-glide routine is executed until the jig is several yards away from the edge or corner of a dock. It is a quick retrieve, emulating a frantic and injured gizzard shad and designed to entice suspended bass.
For 10 minutes Dion fished several docks in the cove with the white jig, and he didn't entice a bite.
At 8:26 a.m. Dion moved to the bluff north of Hurricane Deck Bridge, near mile marker 35. Here he worked the tandem white-and-chartreuse spinnerbait parallel to the bluff. At times the boat's side nearly touched the bluff. The spinnerbait was retrieved so that the blades created a delicate wake on the surface, and Dion tried to keep the bait close to the face of the bluff. At 8:35, a small Kentucky engulfed Dion's spinnerbait.
The first hints of snow were seen at 8:38 a.m. This was about the same time Dion came upon at a series of five docks near the end of the bluff. Before he made his first pitch, Dion said the he discovered a couple years ago that docks which float over deep water are always a good place to catch Kentuckies by twitching a white jig. To Dion's way of thinking, the best dock on a bluff is a solitary one, sitting at least a 100 yards away from another dock. In fact, they are so fruitful that Dion seldom bypasses a dock that is the only one on a massive bluff. And at some isolated docks, it is possible to catch a bass at every corner of the dock. For example, there is isolated dock along a mile-long bluff near Turkey Bend, where Dion once wielded a white jig and allured seven Kentucky bass into the boat.
On this morning at 8:41 a.m. at the bluff above Hurricane Deck, Dion garnered a strike at the corner of a boat slip at the first dock. After that strike, Dion quickly but furtively approached the second dock and pitched the white jig a few feet past the front corner and once the jig was a foot past the corner another bass took a pass at the jig. On Dion's second pitch at the dock, he boated a 15-inch Kentucky. That was three strikes in three pitches at two docks, and that was enough action for Dion. So, he moved further east.
For the next five hours, while battling a two-hour snowstorm, Dion worked quickly and methodically. And each move down the lake was a painfully cold trek. By day's end, he ventured all the way to the 12-mile mark, scouting nearly 29 miles of the lake.
He used the white jig to probe three isolated docks on bluffs. Then at a dozen wind-blown docks, Dion used the white jig to entice several strikes. In small hollows and tiny coves, he prospected a profusion of docks with the white jig, brown and black jig, jig and worm, and a variety of Dion Classics. By using this potpourri of jigs, Dion fetched more than a dozen strikes; most were from suspended bass and the rest were on the bottom in four to 12 feet of water. And he didn't allure a strike at a brush pile.
To elicit the strikes, he made oodles of acrobatic pitches to perilous obstacles, such as over a bench and across five feet of dock flooring into an opening that hid a brush pile.
Dion says that every dock has a prime lair, which Dion calls a sweet spot, at which bass normally abide. To locate such a sweet spot, an angler often has to pitch a lure into a labyrinth of ungodly looking stuff -- cables, steel poles and angle irons. The location of that spot might be determined by the angle of the wind; amount of algae growing at a particular portion of the dock; whereabouts of sunfish, shad and other prey; contour or composition of the bottom; architectural angles and other accouterments of the dock; and the location of a brush pile.
Dion thinks the reason why it is unusual to catch two bass at a dock is that most of the docks at the Lake of the Ozarks are small, and, therefore, the commotion of catching one bass spooks the other bass.
But once a bass is caught and removed from a dock, another bass will quickly takeover the sweet spot. In the past, Dion has tangled with a different bass at the same lair day after day.
On this morning, the dock bass were such a jittery lot that when a suspended bass made a swipe at Dion's white jig, it was impossible for him to garner another strike from that bass. When that occurs, Dion says the best tactic is just move to the next dock. Then return to the site of that missed strike 30 minutes later.
Docks, of course, aren't the only lairs to ply at the dock-laden hollows of the Lake of the Ozarks. According to Dion, there are days aplenty when the 50- to l50-foot stretches between docks yield more bass than the docks do.
During the mid-morning hours on this practice day, Dion tested three different spinnerbaits along the short spans of shorelines between the docks. The bulk of the cast were directed at boat ramps. Some of the small coves Dion fished contained at least 10 ramps. And there are coves that contain dozens of ramps.
Once Dion reached the coves around the 13-mile marker at 12:15 p.m. a significant pattern emerge. Here he began registering a strike or catching a bass at every third boat ramp by using the big copper-bladed tandem with a white and chartreuse skirt. These boat-ramp bass preferred the spinnerbait to make a slight wake. And the best ramps laid on gravel banks.
It was 1:27 a.m. when Dion made his last cast on this bitter day. As he put away his tackle, Dion appraised the day's angling.
In short, it was lackluster. Dion had registered 23 strikes and boated nine bass. Thus he had only a tenuous scheme for the tournament.
On the first day of the event, he planned to pitch a variety of jigs at docks, working for suspended bass at isolated docks along the bluffs with the white jig and using several 3/8-ounce jigheads and Dion Classics to ply the bottom for bass in six to 15 feet of water around docks in small coves. Then as he moved from dock to dock in those coves, Dion would pummel the boat ramps with a quickly retrieved spinnerbait. And a blue-and-bone Rogue would be at the ready.
Across the years, the Hibdons have discovered that the smaller hollows and coves are underfished, especially at tournament times. Most anglers prefer to fish the big hollows and creeks. Since the Hibdons are basically contrarians, they fish where others won't fish. And they have the uncanny ability to find and catch fish where others fear to go. Of course, Dion fishes as his ancestors fish and fished. And that was the way he fished on this day and throughout the tournament, plying lairs from mile-marker 35 to mile-marker six.
Despite their fine piscatorial lineage and extraordinary talents at catching bass, neither Chad Brauer nor Dion Hibdon fared well during the three days of the tournament. Chad finished in 52nd place, and Dion was 56th. The winner, like Chad on Nov. 11, worked a 1/2-ounce black-and-blue jig through brush piles around docks, and the second-place finisher, like Dion on Nov. 12, employed a spinnerbait, retrieving it at a quick pace, round boat ramps in coves.
On the day after the tournament, Dion said that the big bass eluded him. And the best fish that he caught came from brush piles around docks in 13 to 15 feet of water at the lower part of the lake. He failed to get a good fish with the white jig around the docks and the spinnerbait on the ramps.
For two days of the tournament, Chad fished jigs around docks at the lake's lower end, but on the last day, he returned to the Niangua arm in hopes of finding some three- to five-pounders.
Some astute observers surmised that Dion and Chad might have been plagued by the persistent nemesis of tournament angling, which is fishing a tournament at the lake you cut your teeth on: "you know too much for your own good." And Chad concurred.