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TFO Ambassador Tucker Smith Basking in the Glow of a Championship Run

TFO Ambassador Tucker Smith helped Briarwood Christian win the 2018 Mossy Oak Bassmaster High School National Championship this past summer. The Birmingham, Ala. resident joined with Briarwood Christian teammate Grayson Morris to prevail in the prestigious Paris, Tenn. event.

Smith chatted with TFO blog editor Mike Hodge about his championship run, his favorite tactics for bass, his mentor Joey Nania and his goals down the road among other things. Below are excerpts from last week’s interview.

TFO: How much did the national title mean to you?

TS: “That (win) meant everything, because the past year I’ve focused on fishing a lot. I quit all the (other) sports. Fishing’s my only thing right now. It means the world to me. I started fishing when I was … I’ve been fishing since as long as I can remember. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. It’s my biggest passion.”

TFO: What was the key to victory for you in that tournament?

TS: “Staying in one spot, focusing in and being patient, waiting for those key bites. We knew we were around fish. We had to keep fishing and not give up, because we knew the fish were there. Basically, it was a matter of being patient.”

TFO: Do you have any tournaments coming up, any more events you’re looking forward to?

TS: “Our high school season just started. Bass Nation, all the tournaments are just starting up. I plan to fish around fifteen team tournaments this year, but with weekend tournaments maybe a little more than that.”

TFO: Do you have any short-term goals you want to accomplish in the next year or two?

TS: “Obviously a goal is to win the (national) championship again. A smaller goal is to qualify for it. Qualifying is hard. It’s a huge deal. Sometimes it’s harder to qualify than the actual tournament. We qualified at Toledo Bend. We had never been there before. It was tough, but we got third in that one, so. ..”

TFO: Any long-term goals, maybe to fish competitively in college?

TS: “I’ve been looking at Montevallo, Bethel and Auburn. When we won the championship, we got a scholarship to Bethel. I don’t know if I want go there or not.”

TFO: Anytime someone competes, they usually get something out of it, whether it’s basketball, baseball or football? What do you get out of fishing?

TS: “It’s my favorite thing to do. You can win money doing it. I think that’s really cool when you do something that you love and can get money out of it. That’s great, especially as a high school angler. I would never think that’s something you could do. That’s really cool.”

TFO: What appeals to you about bass fishing?

TS: “The camaraderie. I’ve gained so many friends from fishing. I know people from different schools that I fish with. All of my buddies. We all hang out on the lake and stuff. It’s good to get together with people and have fun.”

TFO: What’s your favorite way to catch bass? Your favorite tactic?

TS: “In the national championship, I was using a Chatterbait. That’s probably my favorite way to fish. I’m a power fisherman. I don’t like the finesse stuff as much. I’ll do it if I have to.”

TFO: Any advice you’d give to those who want to improve their fishing?

TS: “Time on the water is the most important thing. I fished ponds to start out and fished until I got those techniques down, then moved on to the lakes. Time on the water makes you better. You have to spend time on the water to find the fish.”

TFO: What do you think of TFO’s equipment, the rods?

TS: “I’m really good friends with (TFO Ambassador) Joey Nania. He’s been my fishing mentor. I grew up fishing with him. He introduced me to (TFO’s) rods. I’ve been fishing them ever since. I love them. They’re not too heavy and they’ve got great action. The 7-3 Heavy, you can throw so many things on that.”

TFO: What about the Pacemaker series? Do you like those rods?

TS: “I do. I just ordered eleven rods from (Bass Category Manager) Collins (Illich). I just got some Pacemakers. I haven’t fished with them a lot yet, but I like them so far.”

TFO: What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned from Joey?

TS: “How to locate fish. The best thing he taught me is finding fish deep. A lot of people can fish the bank, but not a lot of people can look at their graphs, find fish and catch them. I’m a shallow guy, but catching fish when it’s cold is a real big key.”

 

Be sure to follow Tucker, Joey, Cliff Pace and other TFO ambassadors/advisors on one of our social media channels.

TFO’s Lund Celebrates Big Win at Alamo Lake

The cliché, shall we say, is true. Patience is a virtue. So is perseverance. … in life and in bass fishing.

So it was with TFO ambassador Steve Lund and his partner Steven Boyce earlier this month when they won the Alamo Lake (Ariz.) leg of the Bass Junkyz series. But it was not easy. It took a bit of trial and error to prevail in the one-day affair.

“We started off in the morning and it was a little slow, the water and the air temperature was a little cool,” Lund said. “We caught one 5-pounder in the morning in the river end (of the lake). We missed a couple fish. It was kind of a little slow going. After three hours, we only had one fish, but the bite got better as the day progressed. We decided to go to the dam and try to jig fish, because the shallow bite was getting beat up (with pressure) and everything. We tried that. That didn’t pan out. I thought we were really going to have to slow down with all this fishing pressure. We decided to cycle through our areas and we’d catch one here and one there. The bite just got better as the day went on.”

By the time it was over, the winning team amassed 24 pounds from the five-fish limit. In all, Lund and Boyce, caught 15 fish, several with the GTS Swimbait rod.

Their biggest fish weighed 6.3 pounds, the second biggest of the 88-boat tourney. Boyce caught it on a chatterbait, a lure that complemented the pair’s approach.

“It was the depth,” Lund said. “We were fishing 10 foot or less with little stickups. That was a good bait. You had some bushes and single stickups. It’s a reaction-type bait that you can actually get through that type of cover. And when it hits that cover, it triggers strikes. The water temperature the way it was you could swim a spinner bait and pick up a couple fish. The fish were a little lethargic. They were wanting to come up and feed, but hitting that cover makes them want to commit.”

The other offerings of choice were ratchet baits and square bills. Their strategy focused on simplicity and having a firm grasp of the obvious.

“We didn’t get a lot of pre fishing time for this one, either,” Lund said. “My partner wasn’t able to get out at all. So I went out the day before and got some pre fishing in. I went to a lot of different areas. I went to the river end and tried some of the backwaters and back in the coves.  I went to the northern end. Fish were looking to move up in warmer water. Caught a 5-pounder there. I felt like there were four key areas that I was comfortable with that had the type of fish we were looking for in the tournament. So with that, going into the next day, those were the areas we focused on. We really didn’t focus on any new areas. We didn’t have much pre fish time or anything else. We knew where a few big fish were hanging out in and we kept working through those areas.”

Lund and Boyce pocketed nearly $5,500 in prize money for their performance and generated a smidge of momentum on the tournament circuit after the convincing victory.

“It makes you hungrier I guess,” said Lund, 48, who retired from the Marines after 21 years in the service. “Seeing the payouts on the Bass Junkyz, they’re really a great circuit. These last couple of years they’ve put a lot of money and effort into their organization. You can see the results of their hard work that they’ve been putting into it is attracting a lot more boats. They’re bringing a lot of sponsors in like Triton and Nitro to bring extra contingency money in. It’s attracting more boaters and teams and that kind of thing.”

As for the next step on the Bass Junkyz circuit, Lund isn’t quite sure.

“That’s another one where my partner and I are up in the air,” he said. “We have to figure out where we are points wise. I have a wedding I have to go that Saturday (during a Bass Junkyz tournament). It’s not my wedding, but I have to decide do we realistically want to put the time in? Wedding or the tournament? Does my partner fish solo? What are we going to do here?”

A solo angler, Lund noted, is at a significant disadvantage in a two-person event.

“When you have two anglers out there throwing baits, you can fish two different ways and pick up fish,” said Lund, who has qualified for the Arizona Bass Nation team five consecutive years and fished the 2015 Geico Bassmaster Classic. “One guy can fish fast. The other can fish slow. If you get dialed in on a certain bite like we did, then both fish the same way and we got twice as many casts, which increases your odds of picking up more fish than you need.”

Teamwork, obviously, was key for Lund and Boyce. Will they prevail again? Stay tuned for more info on Lund and other TFO anglers on the bass tournament trail.

How to Fish Lake Okeechobee

Lake Okeechobee is one of the top bass lakes in the United States. It’s also one of the most challenging, given its sheer size and changing conditions. Two-time junior Bassmaster world champion and TFO Ambassador Joey Nania weighs in with a few tips on how to find bass in Lake O.

Preparation is Key

“The big thing is to do your research learning those key areas like the Monkey Box, certain places like that. Do your research on those backwater areas with good hard reed lines. But from what I heard the last hurricane wiped out the hard reed lines. And normally the key on that lake is finding the hard reed lines, even with the wind is blowing. Find a reed line that’s got good backwater behind it. Those kind of places are going to filter out the dirt and the sediment and the mud. Those Florida bass love to be in that clear water. Your best bet to catch them is in that not-sediment-filled water. Those reeds lines filter that out.

Expect the Unexpected Given Florida’s Recent Tropical Weather Trends

“A lot of stuff has changed. It’s one of those flat, shallow Florida lakes. A hurricane comes through and that can change the whole lake. It’s the same in Louisiana in those low-lying marshes. That vegetation can easily get ripped up and destroyed and killed. It can become a mess. Daytime decisions are a big thing. Understanding the wind, which way it’s blowing and which way things will be protected or blown out. Running away from the wind can be very important to having success.

Start Small

“I’ve always done well in the rim canal, those canals that go all the way around the lake. There’s some good backwaters off those rim canals. Those places are going to stay a little more stable in terms of wind conditions and weather.”

Think Outside the Box

“The spawn is always a good time. A lot of fish will spawn through the fall and into the winter. That will depend on the conditions. One of the most fun times I know of is to go down there is post spawn — April — when the fish are still shallow, but a lot of them have done their thing. They’re just in a full feed mode. That’s a great time to swim a jig. They’re done spawning and they’re in full feed mode. They’re feeding hard. That time of year is a lot of fun.

The key is finding clean water, somewhere that’s not filthy and dirty. And then it’s a matter of figuring them out. …”

The Right Equipment

“A 7-6 heavy action rod to punch the grass mats. Something to punch with 65 to 80-pound braid, something in the 1-2 ounce range to consistently punch through with every pitch. You don’t want half your pitches not go through the mat. A heavy rod with a good backbone to throw a decent jig with a soft tip. That’s really important. I would say a 7-6 Heavy Pacemaker is a great rod. The 7-6 is a perfect length. It’s not so long that it’s overwhelming and too much to fish with. It’s a got a good bounce to it. You can flip with that thing all day and not get tired. I would use a high-gear ratio reel for the punching technique, something that can punch through those mats and get the bait back to the boat quickly to get to as many fish as possible.”

The Right Technique

“It’s about getting as many flips as you can and hitting them in the head when you’re punching. With punching, it’s important to know when you’re getting the bite and nine times out of ten, your bite comes on the initial fall when you pitch it in there and let it drop, or it will be on the first hop, when you pitch it through the mat, hop it, let it fall, and they’ll get it. And if the water is really cold, you have to hop it in the hole for a long time. Normally, it’s punch it in there, let it fall once and hop it, let it fall and get it to the next good looking area or clump.

Don’t Get Frustrated

“That lake can be overwhelming. It’s overwhelming because it all looks the same. Finding the right area that has the right water quality and grass and an abundance of different grass. Work that area. And you’ve got to think there’s a population of fish that use that backwater to spawn and go through their life cycle. It’s finding that right area, hunkering down and figuring out are they on the outer edges and outer reed lines in the deeper water, or are they up in the flats trying to spawn? Do that type of thing.

“One type of grass to look for and there are a couple different types that grow on hard bottom. One of them is Arrowhead. If I’m in Florida and I find Arrowhead grass and it grows in sand. It’s 2, 3-feet tall with a spear-shaped arrowhead on it. That’s always a good sign for hard bottom. And any time you’re around a full moon the first couple months of the year finding that Arrowhead grass with that sandy, hard bottom in those backwaters is really important.”

Manage Your Expectations

“(Lake Okeechobee) is not as good as it used to be it seems like. Lakes go through cycles and weather changes. It will rebound, but it’s down right now from what it used to be. Hopefully it rebounds strong. I’m sure it will. That’s how these lakes work. But it’s certainly not what it was at one point. It’s still a great destination, but I would wait till the water warms up a bit so you can get stable warmth before you schedule a trip, sometime in March or April. January and February in Florida is always up and down. Normally you’re going to hit a cold front of some sort.”

 

If you liked this story, let us know. If you want more bass fishing info, check out this interview from TFO advisor Cliff Pace.

Fifteen Minutes with DJ Muller, Part I

Some anglers fish inshore, others offshore. Some like freshwater, some prefer the salt. DJ Muller’s first love is the surf. From Maine to Cape Hatteras, Muller guides for striped bass and is the author of a handful of books on stripers. His latest work is Striper Tales: A Collection of Surfcasting Stories. The TFO ambassador was gracious enough to take a few minutes from his writing and fishing schedule to talk to TFO blog editor Mike Hodge. Here’s what he had to say.

TFO: What are your earliest memories of fishing? Did you go out with your dad, your brother, another sibling or a friend? How did you get started fishing?

DJM: “My friends and I would get out in the neighborhood and do some freshwater fishing in the pond. Then my father would take my brother and me down to the municipal docks in the evenings, when we’d catch snappers, maybe bluefish. As we got older we’d start fishing out a bit, off jetties, inlets, stuff like that, which kinda whet my appetite. I really didn’t get into it until college when I got into the striper pursuit, as opposed to a love for fishing. It turned into a striper obsession. We pretty much hunt them nine months of the year now. I travel all over the northeast looking for trophy fish.”

TFO: Who was your mentor in surf fishing? Was there anyone who showed you the way in what you know?

DJM: “Funny question. My father always took us fishing. He wasn’t a mentor, even though we grew up learning together. I really say this because it made me a good fisherman — I’m self-taught. Nobody taught me what baits worked a certain way. Nobody gave me their opinions. I didn’t have a grandfather, friend of the family, nobody. I learned by fishing, learning and reading magazines. This was before the internet. I’d read articles and try to apply it. That’s basically it. I’m self-taught. It’s funny because when I I guide, I work with a lot of guys on a lot of different levels. Some of the guys will say, ‘Well, my grandfather taught me this. He said to do this and that.’ Well, it’s totally wrong. The guy’s trying to get into striper fishing, but his foundation is a little wobbly. It’s not really clear and it’s not really accurate, what he was told as a kid or as a young man. They’re locked into these bad habits. It pushes you to the other end. They’re trying to catch fish and having a hard time doing it because they’re doing stuff wrong. They believe it’s right, but it’s wrong.”

TFO: With that trial-and-error method of learning, what kept you going? You learned by making mistakes, so progress probably was pretty slow?

DJM: “When I first started pursuing striped bass, I didn’t catch my first one for a year-and-a-half. It was extremely frustrating. You could say the first one was extremely fulfilling, extremely gratifying. I was catching big blues, which was holding me over and keeping my appetite wet, but until I got my first striper, I was frustrated, but I was working hard. I’d work, work, work and read. Work, read. Work, read. There was no internet. There was nothing to draw from. Now you sign up for Facebook, you get a post, you go out and catch five fish. There’s no work ethic and the reward is minimal. It doesn’t mean that much to those people. They read a report and go fishing. That’s the overwhelming amount of people today. They don’t want to pay dues. They just want the result. It’s a very cheap quality of satisfaction.”

 

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for part II!