The unknown presents a volatile balance of uncertainty and intrigue to even the most accomplished of anglers. When so much is on the line, the pressure to stay on the right side of that balance is a force to be reckoned with. The fourth event of the Bass Pro Tour season took place on the famed Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. While it's an excellent bass fishery and favorite regional site for tournaments, it has not held a professional tournament in several years. It's also the first time the Bass Pro Tour visited with their every-fish-counts format. With prime springtime temperatures, most of the lake's bass were shallow. It turned into a perfect scenario for sight fishing, which was the dominant pattern during the event.
Alabama pro Jesse Wiggins won the event with 11 bass for 27 pounds, 11 ounces on the final day, besting second-place angler Dean Rojas by less than 3 pounds.
The first four days comprised two days of fishing for each Group A and and Group B, and the sight fishing immediately took center stage. The spawning bass were plentiful around the many docks on Lake of the Ozarks and the anglers racked up the pounds catching them.
Alabama's Jesse Wiggins won Group A with a two-day weight of 63-4 with 24 bass. While he caught some fish that he visibly saw protecting beds, the vast majority of his bass were caught blindly casting a shaky head to areas where bass were likely spawning. In Group B, Jacob Wheeler won with 19 bass for a 64-2 total in two days, with nearly all of them coming by fishing spawning bass with white- and natural-colored creature baits.
A total of 38 anglers hit the water vying for the eight remaining spots in the Championship Round. Wesley Strader caught the most weight of the day with 11 bass for 34-2, which he caught with a compact finesse jig.
Andy Morgan, Stephen Browning, Dean Rojas, Kelly Jordon, Jonathon VanDam, Mark Rose, and Jeremy Lawyer rounded out the group of anglers who advanced.
The night before the event's final day, several inches of rain poured into the area and a flood warning was in effect for the area around Osage Beach, Missouri. The water rose and became dirtier in some areas, making the fishing much slower than it had been all week.
A combination of the conditions and the fishing pressure seemed to have finally caught up with the anglers who were sight fishing, which led the way for someone like Wiggins to take home the win.
As he arrived at Lake of the Ozarks for practice, he was immediately reminded of his home waters in Alabama's Lewis Smith Lake. The two lakes both feature steep banks, floating docks suspended by cables, and bass that spawn in deeper water.
"Halfway through the first day of practice, I realized the fish were set up just like home--I mean identical to it," he said. "We have mainly spotted bass on Smith Lake and here it's mainly largemouth, but they use the same places to spawn. It was either dock cables, walkways, or the corners of docks if they were close enough to the bank."
Once he realized the pattern and the places the bass were using to spawn, he went to work. That pattern of fishing a Jackall Flick Shake worm in the 6.8-inch size (that he shortened to around 5 inches) on a homemade 3/16-ounce jighead was the winning pattern. He fished it on a 7-foot, 1-inch, medium-heavy St. Croix Legend Elite spinning rod paired with a Size 30 Quantum Smoke spinning reel spooled with 30-pound Seaguar Smackdown braid and a 15-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon leader.
"The key areas were the back third of pockets," he said. "I did catch three the first day that I had found on beds in practice that I could see, but the majority were not caught sight fishing. I'd cast to those areas I thought a bed should be, shake it a few times and then go to the next one."
After winning three Bassmaster Opens to kick-start his career, Wiggins was thrilled to capture his first pro-level victory, especially on a lake he'd never even fished before this week.
"To win on a lake you have never been to is awesome and gives you a little more pride," he said. "It's hard to beat these guys and the fact that it was a new lake away from home makes it even better."
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