By Clark Reehm

Before I get into my analysis of my own performance, I need to congratulate my friend Cliff Crochet. I’ve known Cliff for years and he’s established himself as this year’s super-rookie. He had a top ten at Clear Lake, but at this level you need a win or a second place finish to put yourself on the map and he did that at Clarks Hill.

Most impressive was the fact that he fished differently from the rest of the field. That’s been a mini-trend this year – like Skeet throwing a swimbait at Smith Mountain while everyone else sight-fished. It takes courage to do your own thing, because when you’re living check-to-check it can also be suicidal.

As the title of this entry indicates, I HATE blueback herring. They totally screw up a fishery. Not that it necessarily gets worse, but the largemouths become almost a different species, more pelagic, keyed in exclusively on the movement of the baitfish. Clarks Hill is loaded with boat docks but the bass didn’t seem to be using them. We had mad current flowing but they didn’t set up on current breaks. All the damn fish cared about was following those herring and they’re completely mystifying to me. I wonder if they somehow eradicated the herring how many generations of bass would have to be born for the fish to act normal again.

Now that I’m done bitching, let me say that I am happy to have eked out a 44th place finish. That’s five checks in six Elite Series tournaments and it keeps me inside the Classic cut.

We came there on the tail end of the heavy-duty blueback bite. Those fish had been getting pounded for a month and we all knew how to catch them that way. Davy Hite (mop jig), Mike McClelland (football head jig) and Kenyon Hill (Sebile Magic Swimmer, Pencil Popper, Spooks) pretty much laid out the key baits and the points to fish when they’re on that bite are obvious. I looked for it, but couldn’t really make anything happen, so I turned to two other techniques – a Carolina rig and a dropshotted Kicker Fish Hightail worm (smoke/purple). I supplemented that with topwater and a fluke, but the dropshot and cannonball were the ticket.

I got lucky on the second day and caught a four-pounder, which was about half of my weight, but then again a lot of guys experienced the same lucky break, so I’m not going to put myself down.

I hope I’m not sounding cocky. No check is ever a given at this level of competition. At the same time, as I wrote on my Facebook feed, I really feel like I’ve learned to “prefish smarter, not harder.” You hear about the dark-to-dark efforts all the time, and at this level that’s what most of us have to do to be competitive, but I’ve also learned that sometimes you can overdo it and wear yourself – and your fish – out. When you’re just spinning your wheels, there’s no sense pushing it.

On Monday, I worked on my gear until 2pm, then fished the points where I thought the blueback would be until about 6. I didn’t’ do very well, so Tuesday I started at daylight and stayed out until about 4:30. I had a small limit pretty esily that day. I’d scouted the lake after Guntersville last year and had a pretty good idea of which points I needed to hit, so it didn’t make any sense to sore-mouth those fish. On Wednesday, I spent even less time out there – I was on the water at daylight and off by 10am. I’d picked a five-mile area and planned to hit every point in it during the event. There was no sense in reinventing the wheel at that point. In fact, I regretted catching a four-pounder off one of them during practice. That was a fish I desperately could have used during the tournament and I visited that spot about 15 times during the three days of competition and never caught a keeper. I was chasing ghosts.

We’re down to the fourth quarter and I’m in the Classic cut after two years where I was pretty much eliminated by this point, so I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t crunching the numbers. I’m feeling pretty good about the next two events, but again, you never know. It’s always possible to miss the key bite, or suffer a mechanical breakdown and your season goes to crap. Every one of these guys has been to Kentucky Lake and every one of them has 100 to 500 waypoints ready to go. It’s a big lake but it’ll fish small. The Arkansas River in Oklahoma has too many variables to predict what’ll happen. I don’t know what all the rain and tornadoes will do.

I don’t have any stellar finishes in my season so far and with the weighted points system consistency only takes you so far. I’ve got to keep on grinding. At the same time, I want to keep as many options open for making the Classic as possible so I’m getting ready for next week’s Open on the Red River, one of my home waters. So much for time off from the tour.

Again, I don’t want to sound cocky, but if I don’t make the top 15 at the Red I’ll be very disappointed. Back a few years ago when I was just starting out, just making the cut was a thrill, but now this is a business and if I don’t make any money it’s a bad deal. I’m in second in the points with one of three events done and I’m doing whatever I can, within the rules, to make sure I’m in New Orleans next February.