The weather patterns have not changed in months. A quick look at the forecast—Hot with little chance of rain has been the script for the weathermen. The second Professional Anglers Association (PAA) event was held in the Alabama at Lake Neely Henry. I knew the forecast before I left my home. I made adjustments on my tournament strategy.
Neely Henry is on the Coosa River chain of lakes. It fishes much more like a river than a lake. The 77 mile lake length is 100% current driven and moving water really makes the fish bite.
Hydro-electric generation is needed to make electricity to cool homes and this week the Corps of Engineers had a very strange schedule for generation. It was scheduled to run from 2pm-6pm. That was all. The tournament hours ran until 4:30 pm. This meant only a very small window to fish running water. With the dams not be turned on at the prescribed times it would making catching even tougher.
The Coosa River is home to the meanest black bass species. Micropterus henshalli is the genus specie of the Coosa River Spotted Bass. It is a good thing that they do not grow to an extremely large size as a jet ski would become fantastic topwater bait. This bass makes up for its size with aggression and fight. In normal conditions they bite with regularity. Hot and still water will make an angler wonder if they were still in the lake.
I pulled an old trick out of my garage and dusted it off. My plans were to get to waters a full size bass boat could not reach. This meant going over logs, rocks, and shallow water to get to resident fish that did not need current to be active. My Skeeter boat would get the week off as not to damage it on all of the hazards I would encounter. My second boat is a G3 with a 90hp Yamaha. It is really my six year old son’s boat. Ask him about our boats and he’ll tell you they are both his.
This aluminum boat has a shallow draft which allows me to enter areas that would be detrimental the existence of fiberglass. I had to find areas in the back of major creeks that had natural flowing water. Every reservoir in the country has this type of environment. Hot summertime angling will find a population of bass in these creeks that live there all year. Some creeks will have a very small area of depth and flowing water. Other creeks will allow an angler long distances if they are prepared to jump rocks and logs.
On the first day of practice I located an area that met my criteria. I managed several 2-3 pound bites on a Chart/black Strike King 1.5 crankbait. The key to this squarebill crankbait was cranking it on 15lb Seaguar InvisX fluorocarbon. I had to “crash it” in to the cover. If it was slow rolled around the cover, then I would not create the strike.
I left that area in search of more water. My eyes were glued to my Lowrance unit. The entire goal is to find cooler water. I found three other areas with cooler temperatures and fish in them. I flipped a Strike King Rage Craw in a black with blue flake to any cover available on the creek channel.
As I was leaving the final creek of the day, I hit a log with my trolling motor. This is something I have done a many times. This time I bent the prop shaft of my troll. I was “up the creek without a paddle.” In total I spent 14 hours on the water, in a 110 degree heat index.
Morning dawned and my rig was sitting in front of Buck’s Island Boat Sales. These folks know me well as I am a regular customer when I come to Neely Henry (I can tear up anything). We have sold my Skeeter boats together in the past. They replaced my trolling motor with a bigger more powerful model. I was back on the water by 10:00 am. That is service beyond the call of duty!
The only issue was I didn’t feel well from the long day of practice on day one. On day two I only spent an additional five hours on the water. Practice was over for me. The heat won.
Day one of the event started at the city launch. My fellow Strike King pro Greg Hackney parked his boat next to mine. Greg looked over a jumbo size cup of coffee and said, “The economy has really got you down doesn’t it Mark?” What he really meant was where are you headed in that small boat? He was not worried about how little gas the 90hp Yamaha was going to burn.
As I headed out at 42 mph, he waved at me as he blew past me in his fiberglass rig. I was on my way to “No man’s land.” Ten hours later I arrive at the check-in dock with a 13 ½-pound bag of bass. It was anchored by a 3 ¾-pound spotted bass I caught with 5-feet of line. I was in fifth place for the day.
Coosa River Spotted Bass are special creatures.
Photo Credit: Chris Dutton
The second day of competition opened with the morning low of 82 degrees. It was forecasted to top 103 degrees. I was able to flip my Rage Craw to the tune of 11 pounds. This solidly put me fishing in the finals in tenth place. I was really happy with my performance. I had landed every fish that bit in two days. I was in striking distance of Greg Hackney the day 2 leader. He was only two pounds ahead of me.
Day three has the pro anglers fishing with observers. I could really focus on getting big bite by slowing down. My first stop yielded four nice keepers, with Rage Craw doing all of the work. I rounded a bend in the creek and picked up a black buzzbait. On my fifth cast, the world exploded. It was the sound of a big bass. I reared back on the 4 plus pound Largemouth bass as it jumped 2-feet out of the water. The buzzbait was not in sight. The fish swam out from under the boat and I was lifting him in the boat. The buzzbait reappeared without the fish. I have done this a million times in my life. The best fish of the event was gone.
I told my partner that cost me. My stomach was in knots. After a quick break to regain my composure, a Rage Craw was pitched in a root of a tree. I saw a slight boil and my line moved. A wild three pound spot landed in my livewell.
Fifty yards down the bank, I was getting ready to make another flip. I was out of position to set the hook. The bass is streaking under the boat with my craw. I swing as best as I could only to get a look at a 3 lb. Spot roll and swim away.
The top 15 weighed their fish. My 11-pounds kept me in 10th place. The loss of the buzzbait fish may have been the difference in hoisting the winner’s trophy. Two casts kept me from the top spot. It is a razors edge from winning and losing an event. My strategy paid off with a top 10 showing. I can take some relief as I am in fourth place in the Angler of the Year standings. The PAA has one additional qualifying event on the Arkansas River in Oklahoma. My focus will be on the AOY next month.
I’ll be in the garage placing my tackle back in to my Skeeter boat this week. The final Elite Series is next for me. I would love to have another strong event at Lake Oneida like Neely Henry. I will just need to make two better casts at this event verses the last one!
Mark Menendez is a professional angler from Paducah, KY. You may follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and at www.markmenendez.com.