Sunday, March 31, 2013

Alabama Mountain Lakes Media Event on Pickwick 3/27/13

I have every intention of giving you all a terrific breakdown of everything we did in this terrific half week. But, we fished soo much, ate sooo much, and saw soooooo much that I have to break it up into a lot of different posts. I plan on doing a post for each day.

Let's get to it.

Wednesday morning, we left Doublehead Resort on Wilson Lake and Kay Donaldson from Alabama Mountain Lakes and Alabama Bass Trail treated us to breakfast at Cracker Barrel. "Us" included myself and fellow writers John Felsher and Dennis Sherer and Pro Guides Jimmy Mason and Brent Crow (more about them later).

After we were done eating, we headed to beautiful McFarland Park on the head end of Pickwick Lake. What's our plan? Well, to catch some monster smallies, of course. Pickwick is, after all, the Smallmouth Capital of the World.

Now. Like all bass fishing, you can go to catch fish....or you can go to catch BIG fish. I explained to my two Pros that I wanted big fish. I had fished Pickwick many times, but I had little to no experience in catching smallies...that is, targeting them specifically. I had caught some good smallies there, but nothing over 4 pounds. You can read about some of my experiences here:
Last Fall
Last Fall 2
MFC Club Day Tournament
MFC Club Night Tournament

So, that was the game plan. Catch monster....and I mean, WALL HANGER....sized smallies. After all, they had said that the fishing that week had been outstanding and catching numbers...even with good size...had been no issue.

Of course, I had to explain to them that it didnt' matter WHAT had gone on before I stepped in the boat. But, when I stepped in the boat, bad luck and tough days followed. They laughed. I didn't.

It was frigid. Like, upper 20s when Pro Guide Jimmy Mason and I met at a gas station where he was filling up his Toyota Pickup and Phoenix boat.

I won't go into the full bio for Jimmy. Go see that for yourself at his website. But, he is the real deal. An Elite Series Qualifier in 2006 and 2007. That says enough.

We all stopped at Perkins Outdoors just outside of McFarland. I had never been in the store, and it didn't look like anything special. But the fact that Jimmy and Brent BOTH had things to buy in the store told me that something was interesting about this place.

That was an understatement. I have seen some great tackle shops on or near the water with great selections. Waterfront Grocery and Keller's on Guntersville, to name a few. But Perkins had a few things that I haven't seen many places. Sure, the tackle was superb. Even had things like the new Strike King 10XD(pictured below). But, they also had weight casting equipment, spinnerbait and jig skirts in unique colors, and on and on. Fantastic selection. I will be in there EVERYTIME I am on Pickwick.

Check out all these swimbaits! Now if I could only get them to carry the new PowerTeam Lures Swinging Hammer! The Smallies sure liked it!

We arrived at gorgeous McFarland Park, which has awesome amenities including nice wide ramp, tons of parking, lots of docks, and nice bathrooms. Not to mention the awesome view!

I loaded my stuff into his boat and he dunked me and the boat in the water. Off we went. In the 30s. WHEW!

We talked about the game plan. We would fish a typical early prespawn pattern by fishing the tail races of the Wilson Dam with a combination of swim baits and bama rigs. Of course, this is a widely used pattern and I admit that I was caught off guard. I had tried this approach MANY times on this lake and had limited success. I'm not a good fisherman and I admit that. I'm also not terrible and this pattern....though I had seen the videos from Bassmaster Elite Series events and read all the reports....never seemed to produce. I surely couldn't see how we would ever get on a monster bite. But, as we left out of McFarland, I noticed all the other boats doing the same. I'm a fairly humble person, so I knew...if the pros say this is what we should do...that's what we should do. And I would follow the directions to a T, though in the past I have been quick to make my own decisions.

We pulled up to the "horse shoe" and let the current drag us down river while we chunked lead headed single swimbaits. I didn't ask what Jimmy was throwing, though it looked like a Yum Money Minnow. I was throwing the new PowerTeam Lures Swinging Hammer.

It didn't take long for the pro to show out, as he hooked a beast within the first 3 casts. It was a gorgeous largemouth in the 5 pound range. Easy. As he wrangled the fish to the boat, the swimbait came on buttoned! The 5 pounder looked at us for a second as if to laugh, than swam off. Not matter, right? If it was going to be like that, no need to worry over 1 fish. Least of all a largemouth.

But it got tough for a while. No bites for us, though we did see Brent and Dennis boat a nice fish.

But the clock ticked for us. We only had until 11:30 to catch fish before we stopped for lunch. So, we fished harder. In the mean time, Jimmy did a fantastic job showing me just how meticulous each cast should be with the swimbait if I wanted to be HIS level of success.  I told him what I had done before and that I had limited success. He told me why that had happened and what I needed to do. He took a painstaking amount of time to teach me, for which I am VERY grateful. Even when it was tough, Jimmy played his part of guide and still found ways to show why they are worth every penny of your money and every second of your time.

I believe this is something that many people don't understand about guides....what separates good guides from great guides. See, believe it or not, sometimes the fish don't bite. It's what a guide does on those tough days that separates them. He could have gotten desperate and started running around, he could have let us catch dinks, or he could take the slow period to instruct. And that's what he did. That's what makes all of these guides associated with the Alabama Mountain Lakes special. They don't just recommend anyone.

Again, one of the things I kept wondering in the back of my mind was....what am I supposed to be doing? The other writers would fish a little, then take notes, then take pictures. While I took some notes and some pictures, I was there to catch monster smallies. So...since it was tough, should I sit down and interview him? Take scenery pictures? What would people considering coming to Pickwick really want to read? In my mind, if you want to sell the country on Legendary Pickwick Smallies, you had to catch the big smallies. That's all that matters. And, if you want to catch them....2 lines in the water are better than 1. So, I fished harder. After all, that's my style and that's what I blog about (haha...see I didn't use write...)

Fire up the big motor, run to the dam, chunk the swimbait, reel it in. Cast again. Drift further down. Fire up the motor. Repeat. I was finally awarded for my hustle while I was chunking the PowerTeam Lures Swinging Hammer and a fish crushed it. We could tell by how hard it fought that it was a smallie. I could tell by the bend in my rod that it was a NICE one. It took a long time to wrestle her before we netted a nice 4.5 pounder. As you can see....she CHOKED the Hammer.

By then, it was lunch time...and to be honest....I was hungry. And cold. So, with a few minutes left, we fished the mouth of McFarland. Josh and I had done well at the mouth with swimbaits before. I was able to catch 3-4 small largemouths really quick with the Swinging Hammer. Jimmy caught a few fish on the Bama rig. We called it a morning. It felt tough, but in reality, we only fished for 2 hours and caught 10 fish. That included a nice 4.5 pound smallie and a 5 pound large mouth (in my boat, if it hits the side, it counts....Jimmy didn't agree with that rule...but I am counting it!). That's really pretty solid. He did a great job finding quality fish and a fantastic job with instruction. He was personable and hospitable. A very good guide.

So, we idled into the harbor and met everyone at the River Bottom Grille. It's not open yet...but if you are in the neighborhood...want terrific food, great scenery, and an awesome atmosphere....look no further. I know that I will be eating there from here on out. Goodbye PB&J and jerky! Hello fried jalepenoes, pickles, Key Lime Pie and grilled chicken!

After we were done eating, I went outside for some air before I fell right to sleep! I decided to take a few pics while i waited on my nest guide. Even Kay from Alabama Bass Trail was able to get in on some pics!

Well, it was time to swap guides. I was now with Pro Guide Brent Crow from North Alabama Guide Service. Brent also runs the Top Rod Solo Trail, a really cool tournament series in North Alabama that is COMPLETELY out of my league. He has qualified for the BFL All-American as well as the Bass Federation National Championship. You can find all you want to know on his website. Now, Brent and I were roomies at Doublehead and we had stayed awake till the weeee hours chatting the night before, so we already knew each other fairly well. We know a lot of the same people and we both fish Guntersville a lot, though he is obviously much better at it than I. We had already talked about what we wanted to do. We wanted a massive sack of smallies. I told him I was willing to grind it out. I didn't need a ton of bites. I just wanted that massive sack. I wanted a wall hanger smallie. I have caught a few high 4s and one nice 5. No 6s. I wanted to see that 6.

So, the pattern was almost identical to the one that Jimmy had been using. We fished the tail race.

But, as the bite slowed, we needed a few more fish. The tail race bite had all but died. He made a small move, made some incredible cast, used a very specific retrieve and caught a nice one. He did it on the next cast and caught another nice one. Then he put the rod down and watched me. I did it wrong and got hung up. He calmly retrieved the lure, told me what I had done wrong. Told me what to do right, and we went to work. Again, this is something that seperates Brent from other potential guides you might use. Even after he found active fish, he took the time to put the rod down and teach me how to catch them.

So, we ground and we ground. I won't lie to you. It's hard to get excited when bites are far and few. But, when it was picture time...and we hoisted these made the effort well worth it. Check out all the species! Turned out to be a SOLID day.

Almost before I knew it, it was dinner time. We were in for a real treat, even if I didn't know it. We were going to head to Stanfields. I was told it was a local steak house. Now, I won't lie. I am a steak snob and when they told me it was in Rural Rogersville and not downtown Florence, I was REALLY skeptical. But, I trusted Kay. Stanfields is a benign looking restaurant which did nothing to assuage my skepticism. But, when my appetizers of fried mushrooms showed up...I realized that I had been wrong. By the time my Delmonico Ribeye showed up, I was already saving their address for my next trip. Service? Terrific. Food? Outstanding. Price? Very affordable. Like I said. I am a steak snob. I wouldn't lie to you about it. It was a fine meal for under $20. If you are staying at Doublehead, which you should, it is a MUST STOP.

By the time we got back to Doublehead, I was nodding off. I didn't even really chat with Brent and thank him for the great trip. I headed upstairs, wrote a quick blog post, and I was O-U-T. Out.

So, That was it. You know. No big deal. Great breakfast. Fishing with 2 big time accomplished guides. 20 pound sacks of smallies. 3 6 pounders and 1 7 pounder. Lunch on the river. Steak dinner. No big deal. While I was fortunate enough to have these accomodations paid for, I'd venture a guess that you could get a night in Doublhead, a full days guided trip with these two guys, and all your meals for under $1,000. I know that sounds like a lot, but I can almost gurarantee you that it would get you the smallie trip of a lifetime. And that is priceless. Look, if I can do it...I know you can.

So, could I honestly say that I could have caught fish without the guides help? Sure. I have run that pattern with limited success many times. I've watched the TV shows. I've read the articles. But, there were 3 guides on the water with us and each guide had a smallie over 6 pounds including 1 that went 7 pounds 3 ounces. Yep. Get some of that. Each boat had a smallie limit over 20 pounds. If you took 100  good amateurs and put them on the water, there might be 1 smallmouth over 6 pounds weighed in. And every one of these guys had one with a sack on a "tough day" by their standards.

Of course, I wanted to know what THEIR definition of a "not so tough" day was, to which each replied that I should come back on another trip and they would show me. So, I am calling them out on it right here....Jimmy....Brent....I want to go out again and stroke them to yalls definition of "not so tough!"

Pickwick is a well known lake, but there aren't nearly as many guides for Pickwick as there are from Big Brother G about 2 hours up the road. I was able to fish with a couple of those guys that guide and watch a few more. Let me tell ya....there might only be a few, but they make up for quantity with quality even on those tough days. While catching a 10 pound largemouth is really awesome and something that I still haven't done,  I've got a pair of 8s on the G and a lot of 7s, so really I am a long way....but I am in the ball park. You can and will luck into one on the G eventually. Now, that could take years, don't get me wrong.

But seeing multiple 6 pound smallies and one over 7 boated in one "tough" day is really a once in a lifetime experience for most amateur anglers like myself. While luck can get you any where, most anglers don't want to wait their whole lifetime for luck. Especially when a few hundred dollars for a guide, some terrific food, and wonderful accommodations are right at your fingertips.

One of the main purposes for being invited to this event was to show I could show you...that it's easy to book a great trip and very affordable. Alabama Mountain Lakes, Alabama Bass Trail, and even the counties and cities associated with Pickwick have made the info readily available to you, and if you want secondary sources, the different Chambers and Tourism offices for the associated counties are all waiting for you to call. Don't believe me? Look it up for yourself. The hotels, guides, eateries, and entertainment are all easily found at their websites. And if that isn't enough, call them representatives directly. They are all happy to assist you.

Talk to yall soon!