DAVY HITE - THE CURRENT CHAMPION
Story by Matt Pangrac and Dave Rush - Photos by Mark Jeffreys, Matt Pangrac and Dave Rush
Florence, Alabama – Entering the third tournament of the 2011 Elite Series season on Pickwick Lake, South Carolina’s Davy Hite hadn’t ventured to the winner’s circle since 2006. There have been close calls, the last being at Guntersville last year where he led going into the final day but eventually finished second.
After three days of competition on Pickwick this week, Hite again found himself in the lead, precariously holding onto a 12-ounce cushion over Keith Poche. While it’s always nice to be looking down at the rest of the competition with just one day left, Hite was quick to point out that in a tournament where 20-pound limits were undoubtedly going to cross the stage each day, 12-ounces wasn’t anything to hang his hat on.
Add to that the fact that Hite’s bite was solely dependent on the eddy and current breaks generated by the water flowing immediately below the Wilson Dam, and Hite’s eighth victory was anything but certain.
Camping below the dam for the majority of the tournament, Hite had waded through a plethora of drum and stripers in anticipation of a short flurry when the largemouth and smallmouth bass would feed on shad. With the water dropping on the final day of competition and the current flow a fraction of what it had been all week, by 11:00 am it looked like Hite’s chances were slowly drifting away with the slack current.
The possibility of less current was a fact that Hite was prepared for. “I kind of anticipated that,” he said. “I made a mark (of the water level) by the ramp yesterday knowing that if they slowed the generation down, the water would drop. I drove up this morning and it had dropped 18-inches so I knew what was going on.”
Just after 11:00, the TVA sounded the alarm and started generating current. It proved to be the difference maker. “God shined on my bright when I heard that horn sound at 11:00,” explained Hite. “When I heard that horn, I knew that I had a real chance. It’s unusual for them to run water like that at 11:00 on a Saturday.”
With the increased current flow, Hite went to work. With the help of a last minute kicker, Hite weighed in 21-1 on championship Saturday to boost his four-day total to 84-9 and run away with the Pickwick title by 8-pounds over second place finisher Bobby Lane.
“This is why we get up at four in the morning and stay out in the heat, the cold, the rain, the sun and all those things,” said an emotional Hite after his victory. “I can’t describe the way it feels to win one of these things and I don’t take for granted winning number eight, that’s for sure.
“I wanted this one as bad as the very first one that I’ve won. I get emotional at 46-years-old but life is short and you take simple things for granted. Whether you’re 26 or 46, you don’t have many opportunities to win in this sport.”
Although Hite ran 30-miles down lake to a secondary area on the first day of competition, he spent the rest of the tournament keying solely on the fish below Wilson Dam. Every fish that he weighed-in from the area came on a Berkley Hollow Belly 5” swimbait in Tennessee Shad fished on either a ½-ounce or ¾ ounce Gary Yamamoto swimbait head.
While the majority of the other anglers fishing the tailrace were also utilizing swimbaits, Hite said that his bait selection was key. “Everybody was throwing swimbaits up there but with the swimbait head that I was using, the bait was outside of the head and you have a better feel. The bait also rotates more than other baits and I think that was critical. I would rig up 20 baits at night and end up rigging more in the boat. When you’re fishing in a group of people you need to at least feel like you have an edge and I felt that I had that edge with the bait that I was using.”
Sharing his area with Keith Poche who eventually finished fourth, Hite had nothing but praise for the way the Poche, a second year Elite Series pro, handled the pressure of fishing next to the leader on the final day. “There was a lot of pressure for both of us,” said Hite. “When it’s all on the line, it shows what type of person you really are when you’re under pressure because a lot of people are nice when there’s not $100,000 on the line. I saw his true character and I told him that I’ll always respect him for how he handled it. That sort of thing will always come back to help you eventually.”
Aside from the win, Hite also punched his ticket to the 2012 Bassmaster Classic, a fact that wasn’t lost on the former Classic champion. “It really makes you rest at ease because it’s huge for my sponsors,” he said. “I barely missed the Classic the last couple of years and I feel like I haven’t really done my sponsors justice if I don’t qualify for the Classic each and every year.” .
2nd Place: Bobby Lane
Lurking in the Top 10 for the duration of the tournament, Florida’s Bobby Lane waited until Saturday to take his best crack at the top spot on the leader board. Displaying remarkable consistency, Lane recorded limits of 19-12, 20-9, and 19-2 during the first three days.
On Saturday, Lane brought in his lightest limit of the week at 17-2 but the effort was good enough to jump his total to 76-9 and slide into second place by the conclusion of the weigh-in.
Opting to avoid the mayhem taking place in the current below Wheeler Dam, Lane flipped and fished a frog for the entire tournament. Fishing his strengths was a big key to Lane’s performance at Pickwick this week. “I had a limit early on the frog and later in the day I switched it up to the Berkley Havoc. I alternated between a black and blue and a black and red. The frog was sort of a mixed leopard color,” he said.
Going against conventional wisdom, Lane dialed in on the fact that despite the falling water the bass were about as far back in his primary pockets as they could get. “In my primary pocket I was throwing that frog as far back in the trees as I could. I pulled two four pounders over and through some huge trees yesterday. I was really fortunate to land everything I did this week,” Lane commented.
3rd Place: Denny Brauer
Doing what he does best, Missouri’s Denny Brauer flipped his way back into the race to qualify for the 2012 Bassmaster Classic this week on Pickwick Lake. Bouncing back from a dismal Florida swing, Brauer was able to log a strong finish by milking a few key areas near the lower end of the lake. “I went back to the areas where I caught them all week. I had two little pockets that were producing, and I caught two good ones first thing. I committed to those to pockets and spent the entire day there.”
Attributing much of his success this week to a very productive practice, Brauer was able to carry that momentum over into the competition days. “I got real fortunate and figured something out in practice. Once in a while you get on a roll and really get in a rhythm which allows you to figure out what to key on. When that happens, it seems like you can really find some of the premier areas and get dialed in,” Brauer commented.
Relying heavily on a Strike King Rodent and his signature flipping stick, Brauer executed flawlessly this week on Pickwick weighing in 18-3 on the final day to total 75-5 for the tournament. “This week I fished four days and never lost a fish. The rodent was really the only bait I fished all week long,” he concluded.
4th Place: Keith Poche
Riding the current below the Wilson dam to a 4th place finish, Alabama pro Keith Poche was unable to duplicate his late day heroics of Day 3 on Saturday. Choosing to mix it up all week with the numerous Elite Series anglers fishing the tailrace, Poche weighed in 11-6 on the final day coming up short of the victory, but gaining some valuable TTAOY points in the process with a total of 74-2.
Although the outcome wasn’t exactly what Keith Poche would have liked, he was able to take some positives from his experience this week on Pickwick Lake. “I’m happy with how I performed this week. I learned a lot about myself and I learned a lot about fishing. All in all it was a really good week,” he said.
Milking the swimbait bite that was productive for most of the Elite anglers who chose to fish the tailrace, Poche targeted the eddies created by rocks and other underwater obstructions below the dam. “I was throwing a chartreuse shad swimbait out in the little eddies where the current was coming out of the main turbines. They were there, I caught them all week I just didn’t get the types of bites I needed today,” Poche concluded.
5th Place: Alton Jones
Texas pro and current Toyota Tundra Angler Of The Year leader Alton Jones weighed in 20-6 on the final day of the Alabama charge on Pickwick Lake to finish in 5th place with a total of 73-6.
Alton, who was among the anglers in the field this week who chose to avoid the crowded confines of Wilson dam, had a stellar final day to pad his lead in the AOY standings. “My first fish today was a four pounder and I thought then I was going to have a chance at a really good day. What really hurt me in this event was the second day. The fish made a change and I should have figured it out by what they told me,” he said.
With his fish transitioning from a pre-spawn mode to an all out spawn, Alton made the key adjustments on Day 3 and was able to dial in on his pattern on the lower end of Pickwick Lake. “The fish repositioned themselves. Instead of being in the heavy cover they were set up beside it or in the holes in the heavy cover,” he said.
Casting a YUM Dinger and flipping a 4’ YUM tube, Jones got 30 to 40 bites per day to cull up to his final weight of 73-6. Keying on specific cover was a key to Alton’s finish this week. “I was fishing brown, dead saw grass, which was the deepest cover available. That’s why those fish were there,” he concluded.
6th Place: Greg Hackney
The “Hack Attack” Greg Hackney flipped up 18-1 on the final day at Pickwick to finish in sixth place with a total weight of 71-13. Targeting the flooded bushes and grass of Pickwick Lake, Hackney relied on a Strike King Rodent, Strike King Tour Grade frog, and a ½ ounce Hack Attack jig to do his damage this week. “This is no exaggeration, I’ve probably been through 250 Rodents and no telling how many jig trailers this week,” he said.
Keying on specific sections of the lake rather than a certain type of cover was a big reason for Hackney’s finish this week. “I was keying on a specific part of the lake. The sections of the lake that had hydrilla in them were the areas I really spent my time in,” Hackney commented.
Although he was disappointed in not getting the win, Hackney made the most of his time on one of the best fisheries in the country. “It’s been fun. I’ve jacked on them this week. I can’t hardly open and close my hands they are beat up so bad. The first morning I got 100 flipping bites. That type of stuff just doesn’t happen,” he concluded.
7th Place: Matt Reed
Final Day Thoughts: “Today was a struggle. Nearly every day but yesterday was a struggle for me. Today I started up at the dam and caught three little largemouth and went flipping. I went back to the dam at 2:00 or 2:30 with 11-pounds and managed to cull most everything out before I left.”
Pattern: “My primary pattern was to cast the Money Minnow up there in the current and if they were eating, it was the deal. The bite was really tough until after lunch each day.”
Baits: YUM Money Minnow on a 3/8-ounce jig head; YUM Wooly Bug.
Key to the Week: “I weighed three fish the second day. I dumped 11 pounds on three fish that should’ve made it to the boat. That put me in too big of a hole.”
Week in Review: “It’s been a great week. I stumbled that second day, but that’s fishing. It’s just been a wonderful week. I caught a smallmouth that weighed nearly 7-pounds the second day. What more can you ask for?”
8th Place: Terry Scroggins
Final Day Thoughts: “I couldn’t wait to get down to my spot this morning. I noticed on the way down that they’d dropped the water about a foot and they weren’t pulling any water, so I knew that it was going to be a tough day – and it was.”
Pattern: “I cranked a ton of water everyday and I would alternate by flipping as many bushes as I could fit in. It was really a matter of just covering water. I started the week just flipping bushes and ran across the cranking deal midway through the week.”
Baits: Fat Free Shad (BD7) in Citrus Sparkle; Black and Blue YUM Wooly Bug
Key to the Week: “Water current was the main thing, and with not generating today it kind of killed it.”
Week in Review: “I’m tickled to death. If you looked back over the practice week, we had bad weather every single day so it was really hard to define the pattern. To come out where I am, I’m tickled to death.”
9th Place: Kelly Jordon
Final Day Thoughts: “I was so excited to go fishing today because I’d found a bunch of big fish that had just moved up to spawn but the falling water backed them off. I spent all day trying to find them again, but wasn’t ever able to do it. From what I saw yesterday, I really thought 30-pounds was a real possibility today.”
Pattern: “I went ‘all in’ on sight fishing, and that’s what I did all day. They were gone today, but I hoped I’d run into something eventually. Other than that, I flipped and threw a swimbait during the first three days.”
Baits: Lake Fork Tackle Flipper; Chatterbait with a Lake Fork Live Magic Shad; Lake Fork Craw (sight fishing)
Key to the Week: “Falling water hurt me bad this week. I kept up with it for the first two days, but it dropped again overnight and it just killed my bite. I flipped around while I was looking today, which is how I wound up weighing anything.”
10th Place: Nate Wellman
Final Day Thoughts: “Today was a struggle. I really think I just ran out of fish.”
Pattern: “I spent all week long just pitching and flipping to every piece of standing timber in a creek channel I was fishing. It was just awesome.”
Baits: ½-ounce Bass Assault Lures Pro Flip Jig
Key to the Week: “Understanding that the water was falling so the fish were coming out of the flooded timber. Really, I think just staying put and fishing everything I could is what made it work for me.”
Week in Review: “I have worked hard all my life to get here, so I have no complaints at all about the week. But it really was awesome fishing-wise. Everything worked out just as I’d planned, but I came up just a little short for the win.”
11th Place: Michael Iaconelli
Final Day Thoughts: “The falling water shouldn’t have had any effect on me, but it’s the only reason I can think of that it didn’t work like it had been. I tried everything I could do get them to bite, and I’m happy just to have scrounged up what I did to tell you the truth.”
Pattern: “I concentrated on the secondary points around Bear Creek. The last point in the back of a pocket is where they were all week and I just ground it out and made the absolute most out of what I’d found.”
Baits: Rapala DT6 and/or DT10; Berkley Havoc Devil Spear in Green Pumpkin.
Key to the Week: “I tried to buck the norm by fishing the subtle secondary points. The crankbait was the key for me because I caught a good fish or two everyday with the plug.”
Week in Review: “It was a good tournament. I started out and was like nowhere on the leader board and I’ve been able to grind it out and finish 11th overall. Outside of a win, that’s about all that you can ask for.”
12th Place: Shaw Grigsby
Final Day Thoughts: “It was a blast today and worked out just like I’d planned – they just weren’t big ones.”
Pattern: “I was flipping all week. Just any visible cover you could find was the deal. It hurt me because the water dropped 20 to 24 inches over the course of the tournament but I can’t complain any. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Baits: Strike King Rodent
Key to the Week: “My execution this week was just great. I can count on one hand the number of fish I lost this week, and when you can do that it’s been a good tournament.”
Week in Review: “I just stayed down here and did my deal all week long. Over the course of the week I went through every single Rodent I had. In fact, I used every one that Mark Menendez had, and every one that Greg Hackney had too.”