BRAUER IS A LOCK ON THE FINAL DAY
Story by Matt Pangrac and Dave Rush - Photos by Mark Jeffreys, Matt Pangrac and Dave Rush
Little Rock, Ark. – Going into the final day of the Bassmaster Elite Series event at the Arkansas River, Denny Brauer's lead was over 10 pounds. The final day weigh-in was one of the most bizarre final days ever on the Bassmaster Elite Series. Ten of the twelve pros were at least 6 minutes late due to a barge in the lock, resulting in a penalty of one-pound per minute. Brauer was part of the tardy ten as he was 6 minutes late. The tardiness did not matter as Brauer earned a limit weighing 7-5, after a six-pound penalty. Brauer won the blue trophy and $100,000 by edging out Aaron Martens by 7 pounds.
1st Place: Denny Brauer
After opening up a narrow 2-ounce lead on a stingy Arkansas River after the first day of competition, it became apparent after his massive 19-7 limit on Friday that Missouri’s Denny Brauer had both hands on the wheel and was firmly in control at the Diamond Drive.
Entering championship Sunday with a double-digit lead over John Murray, his closest competitor, Brauer knew that with a decent effort on the final day and the ability to navigate two locks on the way back to check-in, he would capture the 17th win in his stories B.A.S.S. career.
The fishing part went smoothly for the Missouri veteran on Sunday but the locks proved to be an issue, as Brauer, along with nine of his fellow competitors waited nervously for a barge to clear the lock separating Pool 5 from Pool 6.
Eventually, the lock cleared and Brauer was able to race back to the check-in just six minutes late. Despite the 6-pound penalty that was assessed, Brauer’s final day weight of 7-5 (which was 13-5 before the penalty) and total weight of 52-2, easily outdistanced Aaron Martens by just over 7-pounds. “As soon as those doors on the lock cracked open, the Lock Master told us to go and we drove em’ like we flat stole em’,” chuckled a thankful Brauer.
“I guess I’m relieved more than anything else,” said Brauer backstage after hoisting the blue trophy. “It’s truly been an emotional roller coaster week and we had to make it really exciting at the end. The pucker factor went to 100% without a doubt. To be able to get in and pull this thing off, I’m totally relieved and couldn’t be happier.”
Locking down twice from Pool 6, Brauer concentrated in the back of Pine Bluff Harbor in Pool 4. “There’s a huge wash out hole with 40-feet of water,” explained Brauer. “When the fish get done spawning, they relate to the edge of the washout. There was also a long bar that ran out into the water and when I found a little rough area dragging that jig, that’s when I’d get bit. I don’t know whether it was gravel, shale rock, or what it was, but they were relating to that even more than the brush piles.”
“There’s nothing to flip down there other than a set of docks and they were getting hammered,” he continued. “When I made the commitment to go down to Pine Bluff, the structure pattern was what I was intentionally trying to make work. If you can find structure fish, the odds of winning go way up.”
Over the course of the event, Brauer relied primarily on a ¾-ounce Strike King Tour Grade football jig in Green Pumpkin Craw matched with a Green Pumpkin Strike King Rage Chunk. Brauer fished the jig on 15-pound-test Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon line and a 7’4” rod.
Knowing that barge traffic in the locks could play a factor in the tournament, on Thursday, Brauer fished the Pine Bluff pool for less than two hours before locking back up to Pool 6.
“I caught them easy on that first day,” he explained. “I was locked back into Pool 6 by 12:00 because I was scared of the locks and I didn’t want to overuse the fish.” On Friday, Brauer spent two hours in the Pine Bluff pool and amassed the heaviest limit of the tournament weighing 19-7. While four of his keepers came on the football jig, his biggest fell victim to a Strike King Series 6XD crankbait in Sexy Blueback Herring color.
I tried other baits like the Sexy Spoon and different worms and I couldn’t get them to bite any of that. I picked that jig back up and if I just sat and really grinded it out, I could get bites,” Brauer explained. “Today, I ended up catching seven keepers and caught a few right off the bat. Emotionally, that was really important because I think it settles you down a little bit and you fish better.”
Aside from the normal factors that are involved in a victory on the Bassmaster Elite Series, Brauer said that there were a plethora of unusual factors that wreaked havoc throughout the week including locking issues, fluctuating water levels, and fellow competitors fishing in close proximity.
“I fished probably the best today that I have all week as far as being able to focus and put all the distractions out of my head,” he explained. “I just fished against the fish and I was proud of that. There were some issues this week that just added a lot of anxiety to the fishing day. You can’t get caught up in the negatives and you really have to guard against doing that. I don’t know that a lot of people realize how important that aspect of our sport is.”
In addition to the automatic entry into the 2012 Classic, Brauer said that the win was all the more sweeter because he hasn’t visited the winners circle since 2006 at Lake Champlain. “It’s been five or six years since I’ve won, so that makes this one special. Every tournament that you win, you wonder if that’s your last one or if you’ll ever get in that position again.
“Getting into the Classic is a relief,” said Brauer. “I would like to qualify without the win and that just puts me in position to do that now, so we’ll go over to Lake Wheeler and give it the best shot we can give it. It’s also nice going to Wheeler knowing that you’re in (the Classic) incase you do have a bad event,” he concluded.
2nd Place: Aaron Martens
While 11 anglers fishing on the final day made the decision to battle the locks, Alabama’s Aaron Martens stayed in Pool 6 for the duration of the tournament and the decision paid off with a four day total weight of 45-1 and a 2nd place finish.
As it turned out, Martens was the only angler in the final 12 who did not occur a late penalty this week due to locking issues, as Ish Monroe was delayed on Day Three after locking up and 10 anglers were late on Sunday after locking down.
Martens said that the decision to stay in Pool 6 was based on the simple fact that it was the only area on the River where he was able to get consistent bites. “I don’t know why everyone keeps asking me why I didn’t lock down,” said Martens. “This pool (Pool 6) was good – there was nothing wrong with it.”
Fishing a Reaction Innovations Swamp Donkey frog in backwater areas and drop shotting a 4” Roboworm with a 3/32-ounce weight along chunk rock on the main river, Martens was plagued by lost fish throughout the week.
“I thought that I’d catch them on a frog the whole tournament but that just lasted the first day,” he explained. “On the second day, I missed like 10 fish. They’d suck it under and I would just miss them. I was getting really frustrated so I just went to the drop shot pattern. I have no idea why I lost them.”
After opening the tournament with 10-8 and 10-14, Martens said that he wished he had fished a little harder to open the tournament. “I backed off of them the first few days as I wish that I wouldn’t have because when they don’t bite here, they just don’t bite.”
On Sunday, Martens managed just four bass for 10-11 but late word of a barge in the lock gave him a beam of hope. “I heard a rumor that there was a barge in the lock and I saw it go through the area earlier in the day,” he explained. “I didn’t think much about it but then everyone started coming over and watching me and I started getting a little frantic to catch a limit incase they didn’t make it back. That last half-hour, I fished really hard.”
3rd Place: Gerald Swindle
On the weigh-in stage earlier in the week, Alabama’s Gerald Swindle quipped that he “felt more lost out there than an albino hitchhiker in a blizzard.” During the weekend, the snow storm apparently subsided and swindle got a little pigment back, as he brought limits weighing 12-1 and 7-12 (13-12 before the 6-pound late penalty) to the scales to finish in 3rd place.
Locking down twice to the Pine Bluff area, Swindle keyed on shallow offshore structure in three to six feet of water and relied on two primary baits including an RC 2.5 crankbait in Sexy Shad color which he threw on 12-pound-test Vicious fluorocarbon line and 7’0” Quantum KVD cranking rod with a Quantum Smoke reel. “The 12-pound-test really allowed the bait to dig the bottom and get a little deeper,” he explained.
He also used a Zoom Trick Worm in Plumb Apple on a ¼-ounce shaky head with a Quantum Shaw Grigsby Signature Series spinning rod and Quantum PT30 reel. “Once I figured out to drag the worm and not work it, that was the whole deal,” he said.
“I really hurt myself on the first day by starting wrong,” Swindle explained. “I caught a bunch of fish out of the marina and I started in it. I didn’t have anything after two hours and then went out to the ledges. I picked up that shaky head and started putting things together.
“With such a small amount of fishing time, you just don’t have much time to adjust,” Swindle concluded.
4th Place: Ish Monroe
Sitting in 2nd place after the first day, California’s Ish Monroe was able to remain in contention for the remained of the tournament despite failing to reach double digits in any of the final three days.
While nine of the final 12 anglers chose to lock down to Pool 4, Monroe was one of the few competitors, and the only one who made the final day cut, to lock up to Pool 7. “I felt really lonely today because I was in the lock all by myself,” he joked. “It was interesting because when I got through the lock, the first thing that I saw was a barge and I thought to myself, ‘Those boys might be in a little trouble if it’s going all the way down river.”
With four bass weighing 6-15 on Sunday, Monroe jumped into 4th place. “The water wasn’t flowing right so I was happy to catch the four that I caught. With the penalties that those other guys had, it’s almost like I caught a big bag today.”
Monroe’s primary pattern involved keying on backwater areas with a Snag Proof Ish’s Phat Frog. “The Phat Frog was in effect all week, pitching it up shallow in the backwaters,” he said. “The water temperatures were all the way up in the mid 90s and I was catching them so shallow that their backs should have been out of the water.
“The last time that I fished here I didn’t like what I saw in the Pine Bluff pool, and there’s too much water up river that’s perfect for a frog so that’s what I decided to do,” said Ish. “The water willow didn’t play much of a factor and most of my fish came from rock and wood.”
5th Place: John Murray
Fishing in sight of eventual winner Denny Brauer for the majority of the week in Pine Bluff Harbor, John Murray keyed on isolated brush piles located in deeper water off the end of docks to finish in 5th place.
“I just buckled down and fished finesse techniques trying to get five because it was so tough out there,” he explained. “I didn’t do anything special trying to catch big ones and I caught big ones being ‘finesseful’ so I just stuck with it. We didn’t get much fishing time once we got down there, so you had to make the most of your time. Today, the area finally wore out.”
Murray relied on a Roboworm that he fished on a drop shot and also caught a few fish on a River2Sea crankbait. “The key was finding the brushpiles that were over a cast away from the docks.
“It’s been over three years since I made a Top 5, so I’m pretty happy,” he concluded.
6th Place: Jonathon VanDam
Final Day Thoughts: “I just wasn’t able to get bit early like I did on Saturday. I didn’t catch many but the ones that I would catch were good ones.”
Pattern: “I was fishing brush piles and hard places offshore in the Pine Bluff area keying on the bigger post spawn bass.”
Baits: Hand-tied mop jig with Strike King chunk trailer.
Key To the Week: “Taking advantage of the bigger bites. I really hurt myself on the first day by losing two good ones. I knew that would come back to haunt me.”
Week in Review: “My goal was to have a good end to the season and finish as high as I could. I got the job done this week, so hopefully it will carry into Wheeler next week.”
7th Place: Matt Reed
Final Day Thoughts: “Every Classic point is huge, so I ended up getting a little weight out of the deal and that was huge.”
Pattern: “I was fishing offshore in the Pine Bluff pool, concentrating on little ridges with rough spots and brushpiles.”
Baits: 10 inch Yum worm and an Xcalibur Xcs100
Key To the Week: “Adjusting to the fish every single day based on the conditions was the key for me.”
Week in Review: “It fished about how I expected it to fish this week.”
8th Place: Timmy Horton
Final Day Thoughts: “Any time you fish on that final day it is a good tournament. I had a chance to make up some ground, but the lock hurt me today.”
Pattern: “I was cranking shell beds and brushpiles.”
Baits: Bomber Switchback Shad in Roux color
Key To the Week: “Getting a few of the right bites was key for me this week.”
Week in Review: “It was a good tournament. I never thought I could have caught them off shore this week. It was a really fun week for me, I enjoyed it.”
9th Place: Billy McCaghren
Final Day Thoughts: “I’m not happy that I finished 9th. I came here to win this tournament but overall it was a good day and a great event.”
Pattern: “I was fishing brush and wood in the Pine Bluff area.”
Baits: Zoom Mag II worm and a Talon Lures Spinerbait
Key To the Week: “Deciding to stay in the Pine Bluff area and not fishing other areas of the river that I normally fish.”
Week in Review: “I had a great week. The last couple of days kind of fell off, but it was a good tournament.”
10th Place: Kevin VanDam
Final Day Thoughts: “I’m still scratching my head about what happened to the fish today. I lost a few fish that would have helped today.”
Pattern: “I was fishing some shallow drops and deeper drops with brush and cover.”
Baits: KVD 1.5 and a Strike King Series 5
Key To the Week: “Concentrating on the Pine Bluff area and just making the most of the limited fishing time.”
Week in Review: “I got a lot accomplished this week, to make a Top 12 is good and I came out of it with a lead in the AOY.”
11th Place: Greg Vinson
Final Day Thoughts: “I had a big one on this morning that I lost today, other than that I caught everything that I could have.”
Pattern: “I was fishing little ledges with brush in the Pine Bluff area.”
Baits: Davis X-Wire Spinnerbait and a Net Bait Big Bopper
Key To the Week: “Coming up here and checking the river out before it went off limits. I used everything I learned then to make the top 12 this week.”
Week in Review: “This was a great week for me. I knew it was going to be a tough tournament, so I am real happy about how it turned out.”
12th Place: Jason Quinn
Final Day Thoughts: “The lack of current and getting locked out just killed me today.”
Pattern: “I was on the main river flipping water willow and cranking current breaks.”
Baits: Rapala DT 6 and a Trigger X Craw
Key To the Week: “Staying in pool 5 and having most of my water to myself.”
Week in Review: “This was a pivotal tournament for me, it was tough fishing but I like to grind it out.”