From The Back Deck With Daniel McElrath - Old Hickory Lake

My experience with Old Hickory Lake, outside Nashville, was limited to staring at it for about 30 minutes before the commencing of the tournament. It looked pretty enough. How it fished, I had no idea. Fortunately, for the first day I had been teamed with Gary Clouse, president of Phoenix Boats, who lives close to the Cumberland River impoundment and fishes it regularly.

Not knowing what to expect in my first P.A.A. and fishing on an unfamiliar lake, I had brought a wide selection of tackle. As a full-time co-angler, I have to be prepared to fish virtually any technique, fearing none. I was ready to fish virtually anything except deep-diving crankbaits.

"We'll be deep most of the day, fishing crankbaits," said Clouse.

Naturally.

I carried only two deep-divers, both for show. They were different colors of the same model and were there mostly so I could tell myself I was "ready for anything."

ON THE WATER

The tournament began very late by bass tourney standards. Gary hightailed it to a shallow point and boated two keepers in the sparse grass on a Spook. Then topwater time was over.

"I think we started right at the tail-end of the topwater bite," said Clouse. "Anyone who was relying on topwater is in trouble."

We then headed out to deep water where we stayed the rest of the day, throwing heavy (3/4-ounce) jigs and deep-diving crankbaits.

Gary soon informed me that my brand and model of crankbait dove only about 10 feet, though it is advertised and reputed to run much deeper. He was kind enough to offer me the use of some of his, but I declined, perhaps unwisely. That was partly because he had more at stake, and partly because I'm mule stubborn.

The fish wouldn't touch a jig, but Gary was able to scratch out a limit on crankbaits. Prior to that day, I had never caught a fish on a deep-diver. That hasn't changed.

My second day partner was Bobby Lane. It was a good thing I had bought the kitchen sink with me. While Clouse had spent the bulk of the day in 20 to 25 feet of water, I don't think Lane ever had us in more than 3 to 4 feet.

We beat the grass with swim jigs, bladed swim jigs, buzzbaits, soft-plastic flip baits and frogs.

Lane works in close, right on top of cover, even casting at what others would consider pitching distance. Hell, he began his retrieve with a frog where I would have ended mine. His walk-the-dog was a marvel of fine, tight manipulations, maximizing the very active frog's time in one place.

We both had strikes on flip baits (I missed mine), then Lane settled on a buzzbait. I followed behind with a Chatterbait, finally hooking up after two days of frustration.

LESSONS LEARNED

My two boaters were a study in contrasts, with one working deep, open water and the other weed-filled shallows. Clouse inspired me to invest in different models of crankbaits and to keep throwing them when I know the fish are there. In deep water, I'll pick up a jig in a heartbeat, but there was a time long ago when I didn't have faith that lure, either.

Fishing with Lane actually made me feel better about my technique. I don't get to practice pitching/flipping much with my bass club as we fish a lot of spotted bass lakes. Lane is one of the premier pitchers/flippers on tour. It was reassuring to notice we frequently reached for the same rigs at the same time. Moreover, I could often hit the same targets. Oh, not as consistently, not as precisely and certainly not as quietly, but I was in the neighborhood.

Okay, one tournament, one fish. Not a great start, but we learn by doing. And the next stop is Neely Henry, a lake I've actually fished before. Wouldn't miss it for the world.

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