Quite often you hear fisherman state that their best tournaments are after having bad practices and that their worst tournaments are after having great practices. Well, this was one of those tournament scenarios for me and unfortunately it was not the good kind. Within the first couple hours of practice I had found several bed fish and knew that this was going to be a spawning tournament since the weather was shaping up to be beautiful, the water temp was reaching into the 60’s, and a full moon was only a few days away. I spent the next couple days searching out beds and found lots of them, but the majority of which did not have the quality of fish needed to compete for the win. I also knew that the fish were still moving to the bank quickly and that areas I had already been through may have more fish in them come tournament time so I decided to spend some time keying in on the areas the larger female bass would be holding prior to spawning.
On the second day of practice my traveling partner and I were able to catch several large prespawn females from docks adjacent to the spawning areas. Specifically, the best docks were either the farthest into the cove or where the creek channel swung under the docks and began to taper out into the spawning flat. I didn’t get many bites but when I did they were the right kind so I spent more time on day three trying to develop this pattern and found three more large areas that fit the pattern and were producing large fish. I easily had a low 20 lb. bag of fish and for the first time during practice saw several other giants suspended under the docks. This gave me a lot of confidence heading into the tournament and I really thought this was going to be a good event for me.
I started the first day of the tournament bed fishing and caught two rather quickly. Unfortunately, most of the other fish I had marked in that area of the lake were already getting fished so I decided to hit the docks with the sun coming out. Immediately, I began seeing big fish suspended under the docks but could not coax them into biting. I was able to catch some fish, but they were nowhere near the quality I was catching in practice. I ended the day with 11 lbs. 9 oz. and was in 87th place heading into day two.
I chose to spend the second day of the tournament fishing docks all day. I knew where the big ones where since I could see them and knew all I needed where a couple of the big bites I was getting in practice to move me up the standings and take home a check. Unfortunately, similar to day one, I saw multiple twenty pound bags of bass suspended under the docks, but was unable to get them to bite. I knew I could catch a decent bag of fish if I went bed fishing, but since I was seeing the kind needed to weigh-in a giant bag I stuck with the docks. This stubbornness of mine hurt me overall and I weighed in a small limit for 9 lbs. 15 oz. and finished 95th overall.
So what changed!?!? Well, in hindsight, I had a bad tournament, but I really feel like I developed a solid understanding of what happened and the bass movements on Lake Hartwell during the spawn. Specifically, when practice started we were in the begging phases of a warming trend with water temperatures in the low 60’s. At this time, the males were roaming the banks and starting to make beds. The females were staging under the docks, waiting to move in to spawn. All of the bites I was getting were coming off the bottom on a 1/8 oz. Scott Canterbury Shaky Head rigged with a green pumpkin Zoom Trick Worm or a Brown Craw Dirty Jigs Tour Level Pitchin Jig. I never saw any fish suspended until the last day of practice and I believe that’s because the prespawners were on the bottom following the creek channel off the main lake. We continued to have really warm weather on our off day and during the first couple days of the tournament, which moved the females off the docks and to the bank to spawn. This left the docks rather barren of fish except for the large females I was seeing suspend under the docks. These suspenders I believe were postspawn fish and therefore extremely lethargic with no interest in feeding as they were recovering from the spawning process. I think they suspend at the same depth they spawned at since it was the warmest water nearby and would be easier on them not having to regulate their swim bladders.
Heading into the event, I figured if those females moved in to spawn new ones would move in and replace them. But, as we all know, the bass spawn in waves and the next wave is probably going to move in around the next moon phase, which is why no new fish moved in. This is just my observation and some anglers may disagree with my breakdown, but it seems to make sense to me and the few anglers I have mentioned it to. Seeing those giants suspended under the docks kept me fishing them, which hurt me in this event, but having this understanding might allow me to make better decisions the next time I find myself in a similar situation. Hopefully, this recap provides some useful information for those of you trying to become better dock fisherman.