The last couple years Keith has been doing really well in the Opens – in 2022 he got a 1st at the Red River and 2nd at the James River, and in 2021 he got 7th at the Douglas Lake Open fishing way upriver. Seems like 5 fish and rivers are his deal, and with the Bass Pro Tour now doing the best 5….
Here’s how he won this tournament…which he was fishing while also trying to dot his I’s and cross his T’s for fishing the Bassmaster Classic:🤯
Going in and practice
> “Going into the season, I was originally supposed to run the big [20′] Gator Trax…nonetheless I ended up fishing out of a little boat. Seeing [Douglas/Cherokee] on the schedule, I fished the Open on Douglas way up the river and made a top 10, and at the Open on Cherokee last year should’ve possibly won it up the river [he finished 39th]. So I thought if I could just make to Cherokee [the BPT fished Douglas first], then there might be a chance.
> “I devoted all my [practice] time to Douglas…I was also dabbling in pre-practice for the Classic so I was back and forth. On my practice days on Douglas, I learned how to get up the river and which one was the best to put myself into a position to advance.”
> “I caught pretty much all my fish on the Nolichucky River – the French Broad goes to the right and the Nolichucky goes to the left.
> “…bad shoal, really bad…about a 30-yard stretch. You couldn’t get up there with fiberglass. With that little boat and being able to jack that motor up and run over that stuff, I’d still hit [the skeg] each time.
> “You had to time it just right…wide open, all the way up then trim it up so the motor was barely slapping, then trim it back down and try to keep my momentum. I had to do that 4 times and each time I was getting slower and slower.
> “It was shallow, like 4 inches. I chipped the skeg but made it up there both days. The water dropped each day and it got a little hairier.
> “…laydowns, throwing a shakey head with the [Berkley] General. I caught most of them on that and a couple the first day on a Frittside Biggun [ghost morning dawn].
> “But mostly on the General pitching steep banks with wood and some chunk rock…the largemouth were on that wood. The first day I only had 11-12, but the 2nd day the 3-4 lbers showed up. I fished the same stretch….”
Biggun gear: 7′ MH Fenwick Elite Rod, Abu Zenon MG-X Reel, 12-lb Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon.
> “Going into Cherokee, I hadn’t looked at the water other than looking at the level on my phone…TVA app. It looked pretty similar, like when I was there before.
> “[The first day] I ran up almost all the way there and started hitting some stuff. I wanted to ease my way into where it really got nasty, where I wanted to fish at the dam. I caught a couple [on the way] – one was a 3-something that ended up helping me the first day.
> “…I got to where the sketchy part is, eyeballed it – it looked similar to what I remembered last year when I ran it. So I just hammered down man. I ticked one little time, just hit the skeg….
> “…got up to the dam and went to work man. I was catching some on a crankbait, the [Berkley] Hollow Belly [swimbait], a shakey head with a General on it…all 3 contributed to my 16-something lbs.
> “Last year when I was there for the Open, I caught almost 18 lbs the 2nd day on the Hollow Belly so that was definitely part of the strategy. I didn’t know if that was a fluke last year or if it was something they really wanted. So I was dabbling in several things….
> “[His day 1] told me a couple of things: I was using the right stuff, I was getting bites, and a lot of fish were there because I had lot of bites. Things were flowing – I felt good abut it.
> “The final, 2nd day on Cherokee I had a camera man and ran the whole way [upriver]. I did not hit one thing. No problems.
> “I went to work and started throwing that Hollow Belly, and started catching them. I threw a crankbait a little and the shakey head, but I was not getting bit [on them]. The Hollow Belly really showed out that day, and the sun popped out too so the smallmouth could see real well….
> “…really surprised when I caught that 4-05 largemouth on a jig. …the Hollow Belly got me there and closed the deal.”
How he fished the dam
> “Certain spots I felt were more productive – the way the current was, how deep it was, more rock…. Where the water shoots down below the dam, there’s a hole right there. Then it comes up and makes a white wash. There’s a hole there all the way across, and the current boils back toward the dam which kind of creates a little eddy. The fish were sitting right in front of that – just on the other side of the edge of where it starts going down below the dam.
> “I would throw my bait where [the water was going down the dam and into that hole] and would let the current move it around. I didn’t really reel it. I would reel the slack, but I wanted it to look natural…let the current take the bait.
> “…let the current take [the swimbait] down there…move the bait like it wants to make it look natural. The fish would hit it – I had to pull the fish out of that hole.”
> 4″ Berkley Hollow Belly Swimbait (sexy shad), 3/8-oz Berkley Fusion19 Swimbait Head, 20-lb Berkley Trilene 100% Fluoro, Abu Zenon X Reel (8:1), 7′ 3″ H Fenwick Elite Rod.
> Swimbait color: “I tried a couple different colors the first day, but that ‘sexy shad’ was what I got all my bites on. That’s what I caught them on last year. The water had a little color to it – it wasn’t crystal clear. That little bit of brightness just seemed to be what they wanted, and they could see it. It wasn’t just be white caught up in the white bubbles.
> Why so light a head in current: “I wanted it to be natural. You don’t want it to go straight to the bottom – you’d get hung up every time. I wanted it to stay up off the bottom and look a little natural.
> “Most of the damage was on that swimbait.”
> Shakey head (on a baitcaster): 5″ Berkley General (gp), 5/16-oz head, 15-lb Berkley Trilene 100% Fluoro, Abu Zenon MG-X Reel, 7′ 3″ H Fenwick Elite Rod.
> Electronics: “The only thing it did was help me follow my same track to get to a fishing spot.”
> Fenwick rods: “What I really like about them is they’re high-end rods that are extremely durable. If you see what I put my equipment through – they get stepped on, limbs are hitting them – they’re so durable and they feel amazing.
> “I keep like 7-8 rods in my boat. They’re the same rods I film ‘Off the Grid’ with, the same rods I fished the Classic with, the same rods won I Cherokee with. I don’t switch rods. They’re beat up, they’re scratched, they’re dirty.”
> “…if I can get to places I don’t have to worry about somebody fishing, that’s my goal. But it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes there’s no fish there, and sometimes I can’t get there.”
> “Gator Trax is definitely the #1 reason I’m able to do what I do…in combination with my Mercury motor, Bob’s Machine jackplate and low-water pickup – that combination allows to me to do what I do.”