Austin Terry Wins Lake Amistad EverStart
Terry hadn't fished a tournament since last year's EverStart Championship at the Ouachita River and he put in about a week of on-the-water prep at Amistad. His initial focus was to formulate a pattern he could use across a lot of water that would allow him to catch limits of 3-pounders instead of fish in the 2- to 2 1/2-pound class. Only then would he start the hunt for a kicker fish, which Amistad is known for. "A 5- or 6-pounder went a long way last week," he said. "Normally, you need five of those. It was pretty tough to keep on them and get one a day." Early on in practice, catching numbers wasn't a problem as he got bit throwing a square-bill crankbait around points and drains that had some shallow grass and subtle drops nearby. However, drought conditions in the region continue to drag the water level down and he feared come tournament time, he'd have to find something else. He spent some time out deep, thinking some bigger fish could be had with a deep-diving crank or a football jig on some ledges, but he couldn't generate much either way. "I went back shallow to what I'm used to and comfortable with and I knew there wasn't a lot of good stuff up shallow and everyone was going to find it, but that's where I'm comfortable on that lake," he said. "I stuck with the bait I knew would work and kept fishing and figured them out in some areas." With the water temperature climbing about a degree a day, he sensed that a wave of fish could start moving up to start their spawning ritual, so he refocused his efforts on the drains and points with the key being those that had some wood mixed in with shallow grass. "They didn't need to have a steep drop, but they couldn't be too flat," he said. "It just needed a little drop and preferably a couple sticks left in the shallow grass. There seemed to be fish on a lot of them."
The tournament opened under overcast skies with some fog hanging over the lake, conditions that hadn't been seen throughout practice. Terry opted to hunt for a solid limit early on with his square-bill pattern, but the area that he'd been catching 3-pounders in during practice only kicked out 2-pounders or smaller on day 1. He only had two fish by 10 a.m., the biggest being a 3-pounder. He still had plenty of spots to run to if needed and with a 4:30 check-in, enough time to do it. Around 10:30, while working the square-bill over a ledge, he stuck one close to 9 pounds that accounted for nearly half of his day-1 weight. "From there I just started looking for solid keepers because I knew they'd make a big difference," he said. He made a move to an area downlake and upgraded several times on a swimjig in shallow grass before backing off the area in an effort to preserve it. "In all of these drains in this little cove there'd be some grass in the very, very back of them," he added. "There'd only be about a foot of water, 2 if we were lucky. The mouth of the cove was only about 10. As soon as the jig hit the water, I'd start burning it back and hold my rod straight up. Almost every one, you'd be able to sense when they were going to bite." From there, he picked up a swimbait, one of his confidence baits at Amistad, and caught a 3 and several others like it which gave him a clue that some better quality fish might be starting the move toward the bank. "I was seeing some good ones and a couple of them were starting to bite," he said. "The water temperature was up close to 60 and I was seeing more wolf packs and some bigger fish, even a couple real big 'uns." His 19-05 day-1 stringer had him in 7th place.
In the morning on day 2, he ran through the same spots from day 1 and got the same results - just average-sized keepers, but no kicker. He made the move to the cove downlake a little earlier than he had on the first day, thinking they might bite better under the fog. He threw the swimbait and swimjig around for a good while, but only got two bites. Once the sun broke through about 1:30, however, the feeding bell sounded and the action picked up. "It was like a whole bunch of them started moving up," he said. "I saw even more that day." He had a limit of cookie-cutter 3-pounders, but he was fearful it wasn't going to be enough to make the Top-10 cut. "I'd been burning the swimjig on the surface and it seemed like the faster I reeled it, I think it just triggered the fish into more of a reaction bite," he said. He moved into a bigger pocket where he'd marked several fish and after not getting bit up shallow with the swimjig, he swung his boat around and picked up his swimbait and threw out toward the mouth of the pocket. "I made a couple of casts and started coming down the bank, throwing down the edge of the drain," he said. "I'd been slow-rolling it, but then I remembered how they were biting the swimjig when I'd burn it back so I tried that on my next cast." It resulted in a 6 1/2-pounder that inhaled the swimbait. He was confident then he had enough to make the cut. As he continued to work through the area, he went back to slow-rolling the swimbait, but wasn't getting bit. Around 2:30, he moved into another pocket and did as he had before - swung the boat around so he could cast his way out of the cut. Just two casts later, while burning it back to the boat, he felt a decent thump. "It was one of those bites where when you set the hook, you hope you got it," he said. "Sometimes, they'll get it, but they go for another inhale and if you don't wait for that second thump you're pulling it out of them while they're trying to get it that second time. I made sure I waited because I'd caught so many. I set it as hard as I could." The fish made a beeline toward the middle of the drain, where it was only 6 or 7 feet deep. After a good tussle, he was able to get it to the boat and in the net. It was the kicker he was looking for - a 10-pounder that anchored his 26-01 sack, the tournament's heaviest stringer, and pushed him into the lead with 1 day remaining. "I didn't realize it was that big. I though it was another 7-pounder," he said.
Things toughened up on the final day, but he was still confident he could close out the win knowing he had a 5-pound cushion. "I was so pumped after weighing in on day 2 and seeing what I saw on day 2," he said, adding that he eyed multiple other fish in the 9-pound range cruising the shallows. "I knew that if the weather got right, I could possible catch a bigger bag. "As nervous as you think you'd be and seeing I had a 5-pound lead, I knew that wasn't a lot on that lake, but the way it's been fishing I knew having a 5-pound lead, I was confident I could catch 15 because catching 20 pounds was very hard to catch last week." The 10-pounders didn't show themselves on day 3, but his 13-13 limit was more than enough to seal the win. He caught all of his fish out of 2 feet of water. "I had so many wolf packs of fish and spots all around the lake that I knew I could just pull up to a point and fish it and then move to the next one if I needed to," he said.
Despite the drought conditions and water release, the warmer weather that brought the water temps up helped Terry key in on those pockets that led into the spawning coves. He started seeing beds being made on day 2 and that told him some bigger fish would be on their way to the shallows. When throwing the swimjig, he would cast across the points and rip it through the grass. "In the very backs of the pockets where the grass came out, I'd throw right up to the edge of it and keep it right over the top of it," he said. "There wasn't a whole lot in there. It couldn't be on the bottom. It had to have little patches where they had something they could get under and hide."
Swimjig gear: 7'2" medium-heavy Falcon Mike McClelland Signature Series Cara Swimjig rod, Lew's Speed Spool casting reel (7.1:1 ratio), 20-pound Sunline Super FC Sniper fluorocarbon line, 1/2-ounce Revenge Baits swimjig (bluegill and white), Reaction Innovations Skinny Dipper trailer (Spanish fly and white trash). He trimmed a little bit of the head off the Skinny Dipper to cut down on short strikes. He went with the bluegill under cloud cover and switched to white under sunny skies.
Swimbait gear: 7'6" heavy-action Falcon Cara casting rod, Lew's Speed Spool casting reel (6.3:1 ratio), same line, 1/0 Owner Stinger treble hook, 6" Jerry Rago Baits Skeet Reese SKT Swimmer (shad).
Crankbait gear: 6'10" heavy-action Falcon BuCoo Micro Pitchin' Stick, same reel as swimbait, 16-pound Sunline Super FC Sniper fluorocarbon line, Fury Lures F-4 Phantom square-bill crankbait (shellcracker and sexy shad).
Main factor: "I'd say just fishing all those little drains on Amistad. I've learned from one of the main guides there (Ray Hanselman) over the last year and I learned a bunch about how the fish set up. Also, that swimjig is my confidence bait on that lake. One of the main things I learned last year was no matter how your day's going, especially on Amistad, at any time you could hit a spot in 2 feet of water and catch 25 pounds real quick."
Performance edge: "My Falcon Rods. The BuCoo Series is a lot lighter rod with the split grip. I like them for more of the reaction baits. They seem to have a more parabolic bend to them and the rod can absorb a lot, but then all of a sudden, they hit the backbone and you can boat-flip 7- and 8-pounders."
By Todd Ceisner BassFan Editor