Bryan is a Norman local and thus a favorite, but typically there’s no home lake advantage in tour-level events, especially if they are championships. Often all that fishing history – especially on a dock and brushpile lake – can mess with a guy. But when the fishing is tough overall, it can help, which it sorta did for Bryan. Anyhow, here’s how he did it:
> “It’s been several years, probably 5-7 years, since I got to spend time on Lake Norman in the pre-spawn/spawn timeframe. Feb-Apr is our busiest time of year on the Bass Pro Tour – I’m always traveling so I don’t get to fun-fish around the house that time of year….
> “Practice wasn’t real good. The first day I ran a lot of history, a lot of places they have a tendency to maybe group up. I was looking for a place where I could pull in and get a 10-12 lb limit pretty quick, and I found that one place.
> “I didn’t think it was gonna be as good as it was – it was the place I started…. I made 2-3 casts and caught a 2-lber and left….
> “The 2nd day I practiced what was actually happening at the moment – fishing the lake like I’d never been there before. Running the pockets, running what was going on based on the weather we had, and that ended up getting me dialed in on a swimbait bite on the docks…to try to catch a kicker fish. It was very random.”
After the first 2 days the first cut was to 20 for day 3, then it was cut to 15, and the top 10 fished the last day. The minimum scoreable size fish was 1-07.
> “I had some topwater fish on the Long A wake bait – I started on those fish and actually thought it would be better than it was. I only caught 3 scoreables, then I ran over to that ditch [spot]. I caught 11 lbs there in about 20 minutes – it was really good. That calmed me down.
> “Now I had 2 periods to throw the swimbait shallow to try to catch a kicker or 2. I ended up [catching at least 3] that helped me.
> “The 2nd day I started on the ditch and caught 11-something in the first 30-45 mins. Then I went and threw the swimbait the rest of the day. I thought I had enough to make the cut.
> “…went and practiced on random pockets and running things, but I couldn’t get any bites. I was getting frustrated. I was sweating. I ended squeaking in at 19th, which killed all my confidence for day 3 because I was expecting 2-3 bites a day on that swimbait shallow for bigger largemouth.
> “Day 3 I ran to the ditch…took me longer but I had almost a 12-lb bag. That freed me up to throw the swimbait again for 2 whole periods, and I ended up getting 3-4 bites.
> “Day 4 I did the same thing – I started on my ditch, but I knew it would be tougher because I didn’t get as many bites there the 3rd day. It was a bigger bag but not as many bites. And it did take me longer.
> “After 2.5 hours, I had 4 scoreables for like 7 lbs. I had to bail on it – I’d already burnt 2.5 hours so I started running pockets with the swimbait. I caught a pretty good spot, a 2.5-lber, which gave me a limit so I was feeling pretty good.
> “…ran around throwing that swimbait but I couldn’t get any bites at all. I had a place up the lake that I’d been saving. I’d sampled it in practice and had 2-3 bites. It was a place I was hoping that if I ran into dire straights I could maybe run and catch a decent bag off it.
> “Late in the 2nd period on the 4th day, I told my camera man I was going to do something crazy. I ran 15 miles, and as soon as I set the boat down, 20 minutes later I had 13 lbs in the box and turned the whole day around. It ended up being a lot better than I thought it would be.
> “With 30 minutes left I started running pockets again, and the first pocket I ran to I caught a spot that weighed 4-10 on the swimbait.
> “The last day I decided I was gonna start on my ditch again. I made up my mind that I was only going to give it 30 minutes…7-8 bites and only 1 scoreable. I got outta there. I was not gonna burn my whole first period in there.
> “I started running brush, some offshore stuff, just to get a sample of it, to see if that bite was going. I ran to 2 places and ended up catching 3 more scoreables. That gave me 4. I was feeling okay – they were small, 1.5 and 1.75 lbs.
> “The whole time I was thinking about that spot up in the river [he fished the day before]. I starting running pockets and got a decent one, like a 2-13 spot, on the swimbait. …few more pockets, didn’t get any bites – the whole time I was thinking about those river fish. I was like, To heck with this. I’m gonna go up there earlier to ease my mind and calm down.
> “In 30 minutes I had 13-10 and culled every one I had…and it was game over.”
His starting spot:
> “It was a creek channel. There’s a lot of good pockets on that lake where fish will get on bait when the water’s cold, pre-spawn. [This creek] had the bait in it…. That’s a deal where you can’t really [predict it]. You have to see where the bait is at that particular point in time. As soon as I set the boat down [in practice], I started marking bait everywhere and caught one real quick.
> “…25-30′, a few stumps scattered around on Mega 360 and Mega Live but the fish don’t really relate to them. It’s just random roaming fish in the ditch with bait. There’s no rhyme or reason to where you’d catch one….
> “The main thing was just the presence of baitfish. The 2nd or 3rd day of the event I caught a couple that came up schooling. Just a lot bait and activity….”
His winning spot:
> “…an area with stumps on the river channel in 3-5′ of water. The water is abnormally low for this time of year, and I was thinking that…some of those backwater fish have to be pulled out to the main river.
> “…one little stretch I knew about – I got a few bites there in practice. I guess they all pulled out of some of those pockets….”
> Deep spot: 3″ Damiki Armor Shad (pearl white) on a 1/4-oz Damiki Underspin [a Damiki Rig head with an underspin], 12-lb P-Line fluoro, Fitzgerald VLD 10 Baitcaster (6.5), 7′ MH Fitzgerald Stunner Rod.
> Pockets/docks/wood: 5″ swimbait (shad), 20-lb P-Line fluoro, same reel (7.2), 7′ 2″ MH Fitzgerald Bryan Thrift Frog Rod.
> Upriver stumps: 1/2-oz Z-Man JackHammer (spot remover) with a shad trailer (white), 15-lb P-Line fluoro, same reel (7.2), 6′ 9″ MH Fitzgerald Bryan Thrift Chatterbait Rod.
> “Humminbird Mega Live and Humminbird Mega 360 is a very deadly combination. Not only can you see in real time where the fish are sitting and how they’re reacting to a bait [he also said “which area are active”], when you mix in 360 you can see all the structure around as well.
> “…the bigger fish seemed to sit on stuff away from everything else, but they tended to sit really close to the bottom. So you can’t see them as well with forward-facing sonar…360 you could see which way the creek channel ran and which stumps would be more high-percentage….”
> “I just want to throw a shout out to everyone, all my friends, all the people that came up to me at shows this winter asking me if I was excited for Norman and telling me they were pulling for me. I had a ton of hometown support – it’s just an amazing feeling…to have that kind of support to know everyone’s pulling for you.
> “It was also kind of nerve-wracking, that extra pressure – like man I don’t want to let everybody down. I couldn’t be more happy it worked out as good as it did. It’s rare for a gameplan to work as perfectly as mine did this week. Very rare.”