Phoenix Boats founder Gary Clouse followed his instincts on Lake Tawakoni. (PAA Photo: Chris Dutton)
By Alan Clemons
GARLAND, Texas – Gary Clouse knew things could change pretty quickly with the number of top anglers working many of the same areas on Lake Tawakoni.
So the founder of Phoenix Boats found himself making subtle changes after the first day of the PAA Bass Pro Shops Tournament Series presented by Carrot Stix. He switched to lighter line on his reels, lighter sinkers for his baits and then hit a few isolated spots where he had a bite or caught a fish in practice.
The plan obviously worked, because Clouse finished among the leaders in eighth place with 37.81 pounds. His opening play on the first day was on bass at the base of the dam and other nearby cover. That included some riprap, a few rocks or points, and some shallow cover in pockets.
Some guys call it junk fishing, with an array of rods and baits laid on the deck. Others call it instinctive fishing, a “fly by your pants” mentality. BassCat pro John Crews of Virginia will have a SPRO topwater frog, Little John crankbait, jig and a soft-plastic creature bait on hand. Covering the water column and being ready for whatever cover or situation presents itself is a key.
Whatever you call it – junkin’ or instinctive – Clouse believes sometimes it’s the best thing to do.
“You really have to pay attention to what’s going on around you and follow your gut instincts,” he said. “When you see the same names at the top of the standings over and over, that’s a big thing of what they’re doing. They trust their instincts to make the adjustments, and that can be a tough thing to learn.”
What worked in practice, or an area that worked in practice, might change by tournament time or during the event. We’ve all seen that scenario … fish pull away from shallow cover or drop off a channel ledge into deeper water. They may move because of the bait, weather, angler pressure, all of those or for some other reason.
We often find ourselves trying to force the issue. We hear tales of “I tried to force them to eat a jig” or “I stayed in the area too long” or something similar. We can’t force fish to eat anything or to be in a specific spot. When things change, it’s time to figure out what happened and make any adjustments.
“That can be hard because you have to trust yourself and sometimes that’s difficult to learn how to do,” Clouse said. “You mess up by trying to do what you did yesterday. You know deep down in your heart what you’re doing isn’t right, but you keep doing it and that’s when you get tripped up.”
Clouse primarily worked a Bass Pro Shops tube on a 5/16ths sinker, along with a NetBait Paca Craw and a Lucky Craft RC 1.5 crankbait. Wherever he saw small minnows flitting around cover, that often indicated at least a good amount of bait if not bass in the area.
“Learning to trust your instincts is critical,” he said. “When money’s on the line, you have to adjust.”