Lucky Craft pro staffer Brent Ehrler of California slammed the door shut on the FLW Tour season-opener last week at Table Rock Lake with a dominating performance, catching 20 bass weighing 69 pounds, 11 ounces.
Ehrler was third after the first day with 16-6 before moving into the lead with his stunning catch of 22-2. He caught that on a Lucky Craft Pointer 100DD jerkbait, including a 6-pounder, and added 14-6 on Friday to make the final day Top 5 cut. Ehrler then put it away with a limit weighing 16-13 to win his first Tour-level tournament since the 2005 Forrest Wood Cup championship.
Along with the jerkbait, which was Pearl Wakasagi, he used a Lucky Craft RC 2.5DD crankbait in MJ Ghost Minnow and a Yamamoto Baits 5-inch single-tail grub in Smoke or Natural Shad. Despite the strong showing, Ehrler left nothing to chance on the final day.
“That was a lot of fun,” Ehrler said. “I’ve fished enough to know that when you pull up to a spot where you’ve caught them good for a couple of days, it can get tougher. I never knew when that day would happen, when they would drop out and be gone. I was a nervous going into the last day because it was my tournament to lose. I didn’t want to have that kind of lead and blow it.
“I’m not the guy who says I’m going to that spot and I’m going to catch them. I’m just not cocky or anything like that … my take is there’s only one for-sure thing and that is that nothing’s for sure. I love it when a guy comes in and says ‘I’m jacking them’ or says he’s going to win, because they usually tank. Basically they get caught up on what they were doing and not what they are doing. It’s hard to make that adjustment. Nothing’s for sure. You can’t know you’re going to pull up to this spot and catch them. You don’t know if something has changed down there and they’ve moved.”
They didn’t move for Erhler, though, who found the White River channel bend with timber on it during. It just looked too good, he said, and a couple of solid fish with the grub confirmed it. Timber in water about 30 feet deep reached to about 10-15 feet, and the slope of the bank also enabled the fish to suspend over the wood.
That meant casting to the bank, about 10-12 feet deep, with the grub or hard baits and then working them through the suspended bass. Ehrler rotated his baits during the tournament to mix things up.
“I caught the biggest ones on the Pointer 100DD jerkbait and was fishing it fairly slow, with what I’d call a ‘cautious count’ retrieve,” Ehrler said. “I would get it down and then snap it twice, count to three-one thousand and then snap it again once or twice. If I saw a good tree or if the water was calm I’d fish it slower and count to 5.
“The thing was, a lot of guys were fishing in the area with shallower jerkbaits. The fish were suspending and maybe they didn’t want to move as far to grab the bait, so one that got deeper was getting to them. I think the Pointer 100DD was crucial to getting there. Some guys were going right over the top of the fish.”
Knowing that crankbaits are popular and effective on Table Rock sent Ehrler’s mind into motion after that first day. He dug into his truck to find an RC 2.5DD crankbait and had confidence in it.
“I was doing my tackle and figured they might bite the crankbait, and I knew it would get down where they were suspending,” he said. “On the second cast with it I caught a 5-plus pounder and limited out before culling.”
Ehrler capped his trio of baits with the Yamamoto 5-inch grub, which was rigged on a quarter-ounce jighead. He would cast to about 12 feet, let it hit the bottom and then start winding off the flat over and into the deeper water.
“The thing about fish suspending over trees like that is they can just drop out of sight into the trees,” he said. “I was fishing it like a crankbait but was able to get into deeper water.”
Rarely do professional anglers use one lure for an entire tournament, but Lucky Craft pro Joe Thomas of Ohio did just that during the recent FLW Tour event on Table Rock Lake.
Thomas knew the White River’s deep timber and cold water temperatures would have bass suspended over the timber. That’s no great secret. Lucky Craft pro Brent Ehrler won the tournament by targeting the same areas.
But Thomas got dialed in early in practice with a Lucky Craft Pointer 100DD and never changed during his practice or tournament days. He finished the tournament in 20th place with 24 pounds, 15 ounces.
“It was tough but I started out pretty good,” Thomas said. “I caught every fish in practice and in the tournament on the Pointer 100DD in Pearl Ayu color. I think a big part of that is the bait got deeper than the shallow running jerkbaits other guys were throwing.”
Jerkbaits in cold water is not a new tactic, either with shallow-running baits or old-style “spoonbill” baits that run deep. The Pointer 100DD has a bigger lip that isn’t as pronounced as some older baits, but its design take it deeper. Thomas was throwing it on 8-pound test Lake Fork Tackle Parallelium Fluorocarbon and a Lucky Craft 6-10 Pointer Rod.
“I literally fished with one, rod, reel, line and lure combination all week,” Thomas said. “I respooled my line at night and checked everything, but other than that I didn’t change a thing. Anytime you have your arsenal limited to two or three rigs on your deck that means you’re in tune with what’s going on.
“I had great days in practice and was using not only the right bait but also the right cadence and pause with it. I knew exactly what I was going to do and that was a great feeling. We practiced under cloudy conditions and I knew they could change, but that (jerkbait) pattern is pretty stable at Table Rock.”
Thomas said one of the keys was “making extremely long casts” that helped the Pointer achieve its depth on the 8-pound test line. When the jerkbait hits the water, he engages the reel, points the rod tip just above the surface and reels 2-3 times before snapping the tip.
“The DD has a pretty radical dive and gets down vertically,” he said. “You don’t have to crank it down before you start your retrieve. Another advantage is with the fluorocarbon, which sinks, but with smaller diameter line it reduces drag in the water. All that helps.”