West Point Eliminator Series Bass Tournament Diaries
Post-frontal conditions killed Billy Boothe's dynamic shallow cranking bite. John Allen stuck with a Carolina-rig, and it paid off in the end.
It’s not the way John Allen wanted to make the Skeeter Eliminator Series championship, but he’ll take it.
After a very tough day of fishing April 14 at West Point, thanks to a post-frontal conditions, John’s 5.98-lb. sack was enough to send him to the finals at Lanier in June. John was fishing heads-up against Billy Boothe, who was on a big sack of fish prior to the tournament. Billy weighed in two fish that went 5.46 pounds.
John goes on to face the winner of the May Eliminator match-up, Mark Cornwell or David Lowery.
GON editors were in the boats for the West Point tournament, taking notes and photos so you can see how they chased a spot in the finals. Below are the tournament diaries. Neither angler minded if we printed specific locations where they fished.
West Point: Round 4
7:00: No early morning run for John. He eases around the houseboats docked at Highland and goes under the walkway bridge and behind the slips. His first casts are under and around the walkway where it enters from the parking lot. He’s skipping a GrandeBass Rattlesnake worm on a 2/0 hook, using spinning gear with 10-lb. Berkley Trilene Big Game line.
“I hope to get three in here before we leave,” John says, counting on fish that bit when he practiced the weekend before the Eliminator semi-final event.
7:11: John tries a 1/4-oz. Texas-rigged lizard under the walkway and around a small patch of rip-rap rocks on the bank. It’s a green-pumpkin Zoom lizard, “with the juice,” referring to JJ’s Magic, which John uses on everything. The weight is pegged with a toothpick about 4 inches above a 2/0 hook.
7:16: After fishing the walkway, John works along the bank in front of the Highland cabins that are back behind the boathouse slips. Twenty yards down the red-clay bank, John sets the hook.
“That’s the kind of nothing bite we’re getting,” John says as he swings a 12-inch short fish into the boat. “I didn’t feel anything, but it doesn’t cost anything to set the hook.”
7:35: John doesn’t go back into the pocket at the restaurant, instead picking up a Carolina-rigged Zoom Super Fluke, watermelon seed in color and soaked in JJ’s, and fishing back down the red-clay bank.
“Think my leader is long enough?” John says smiling, showing the 6 1/2-foot leader on his rig. “With such a long leader, you really have to have a tight line on them when you set the hook.
“I’ll be doing a lot of Carolina-rigging today. You can’t go wrong with it this time of year on these clay banks. When the weight bumps up against something, you pop your wrist and that fluke kind of walks the dog under the water.”
7:43: John picks up the Rattlesnake worm and skips it to the bank near the walkway, and quickly sets the hook. It’s a 13-inch spotted bass.
7:44: John idles out from behind the boat slips and back into Highland Cove past the ramp where we launched. John begins Carolina-rigging the clay bank and small service boat ramp, but now he’s throwing one rigged with a merthiolate Zoom Trick Worm.
“There’s probably 100 Christmas trees off the end of this slip,” John says, pointing to the small dock at the service ramp.
8:12: Working the rig on a small point farther back in Highland Cove, John sets the hook. His third fish of the morning is his first keeper, but barely. It measures right at 14 inches, but it is very skinny and has a big gash on its back that looks almost like a boat prop grazed it.
8:26: John hooks a small bass, but it quickly comes off.
8:32: John sticks to his plan of staying in Highland Cove for the first hour and a half. Now it’s time to move. He runs down the lake, past Wedhadkee and Amity, into Indian Creek.
8:53: As the boat settles, John is on the front deck getting ready to fish when he looks back and sees the transom covered in oil. He quickly discovers that his oil cap wasn’t secure.
“For a second I thought I blew the engine,” John says, but now he’s worried water may have backwashed up and gotten into the oil tank when he came off plane. He quickly gets on the phone and is talking to Mike at State Line Marine, who eases John’s mind, saying it’s unlikely any water got in, and tells him just in case to prop up the tank so any water would collect away from the intake.
“Those guys are the best,” John says, getting back to fishing.
9:48: For about 45 minutes, John has been fishing the bright-orange Carolina-rigged Trick Worm on what he calls a big spawning flat in a cove in Indian Creek. Finally, he sets the hook, and immediately a good bass comes up off the shallow flat and jumps. John holds the rod tip low, but the bass jumps four times before he gets it to the boat and swings it aboard. It’s a 3-lb. largemouth.
10:34: John moves farther down the lake, past Southern Harbor Marina, to a main-lake point at the mouth of a small pocket on the Alabama side.
“I’ve won some tournaments on this spot over the years,” John says. “There’s some chunk rock as big as this boat through here.”
John starts with the Carolina-rigged fluke. He works the point, and then into the pocket and back out the other side.
11:03: At a blowdown, John makes a few casts with the Texas-rigged lizard, and then goes back to the Carolina-rigged fluke on the main-lake point at the mouth of the pocket.
11:11: John runs across the lake to No-Name Creek. He starts with the Carolina-rigged fluke.
11:40: He makes a short run toward the mouth of No-Name to a small pocket.
12:05: John sets the hook and connects with the Carolina-rigged Trick Worm, but it’s a 10-inch peanut.
12:10: The boat is on plane again, this time up the lake to Bird Creek on the Georgia side. Past the hard-right turn in Bird, John stops at a brushpile on a shallow flat next to a deeper ditch that cuts toward the bank. He starts with the fluke.
“It was a fish every cast here Saturday,” he says.
12:30: John notices some loons working bait back in the creek, and he heads that way, but the bass aren’t cooperating.
12:50: John moves down the lake and into the creek at Glass Bridge Access.
12:59: With an hour to go, John is working the Carolina-rigged lizard on a secondary point when he sets the hook. A 15-inch spot goes into the livewell, his third keeper of the day.
“It came out of a tree, and he hammered down on it,” John said.
1:37: John makes his final move to the pocket on the Alabama side just before the railroad trestle. He fishes a roadbed near the trestle rip-rap back in the pocket.
1:53: John gets a hit, but the fish doesn’t eat the lizard.
1:57: Just three minutes before his fishing time is over, he gets another hit.
“It’s hitting at the tail, a sign it’s not a keeper,” John says.
7:03: Billy stops on a blowdown in Half Moon Creek, just before the bridge and on the right.
“I’m just going to be running blowdowns today,” says Billy.
He slings a chartreuse-colored Lucky Craft Fat CB BDS Series crankbait.
“It runs about 2 feet,” he says. “Most of the fish have come off the main trunks.”
7:10: A small fish swipes at the plug but misses. Billy is using a 7-foot, 6-inch American Rod Smiths Magnum Casting Rod.
“A lot of fish are tight to cover and will hit the bait near the boat. I need that longer rod when they hit right by the boat,” he says.
He’s using 15-lb. Yo-Zuri Hybrid line, which is a fluorocarbon and monofilament combo.
“Any bite before 9 o’clock will be a bonus. These laydown fish have been biting from 9 on,” he says.
7:33: “I fished laydowns for three days with a spinnerbait and just started throwing this crankbait yesterday,” says Billy. “Not a lot of people are throwing a big square-billed crankbait in the middle of the laydowns.”
The day before, Billy had three fish that would have gone 13 pounds and had a 5-pounder get off at the boat.
7:33: Billy catches two short fish.
“It’s gonna be on this afternoon,” he says.
The water has risen at least 18 inches overnight.
7:46: In a pocket above Highland, he connects on a 13-inch largemouth, which goes back in the lake.
8:20: Still fishing blowdowns, he puts the crankbait down and pitches a 1/2-oz. Tabu jig in black/chartreuse. The jig is dressed with a black Mann’s HardNose trailer.
8:25-8:31: Billy moves to fish a blowdown at the Yellowjacket bridge and works down the rip-rap. He catches a 6-inch bass.
“It may be the smallest fish in Eliminator history. It takes a strange skill to catch one under 8 inches,” says Billy.
8:46-9:00: Billy fishes the Yellowjacket access floating docks with a Mann’s finesse worm in watermelon candy.
“Normally you can pop some pretty good spots up here doing this,” he says.
9:00: Billy goes into the creek on the left above the ramp.
9:11: For about three casts, he slings a 1/2-oz. white War Eagle spinnerbait.
9:18: Back with the crankbait in a blowdown, Billy connects on keeper No. 1. The fish would later weigh 3.12 pounds.
“You have to stick with this pattern. You might fish 45 brushpiles and only get bit in six or seven of them, but chances are it’s going to be a 3-pounder or better,” says Billy.
Billy’s goal for the tournament was 15 pounds.
“If I get sent home with that, I don’t have any complaints,” he says. “You don’t know how bad I want to get to Lanier.”
9:32-9:50: Billy goes up Yellowjacket and fishes more blowdowns in pockets. He briefly fishes a finesse worm on a dock but goes back to the square-billed plug.
9:56: Billy runs across Yellowjacket to a long cove, which has the WMA boundary on the north bank. His first cast with the plug is taken by a 2.34-pounder. The fish followed the bait way out from the blowdown. Keeper No. 2 gets ready for a boat ride.
“The Eliminator is a drug for me,” says Billy. “I really like fishing it.”
10:12: Billy’s rod loads up, and he sets the hook. A 2-pounder is briefly hooked but comes off.
Billy later talked about how this fish would have sent him to the championship. At the weigh-in it’s revealed that .52 pounds separated him from John.
“He hit it before the bait deflected (off the tree), unlike the others that hit after it deflected,” said Billy.
10:15-10-50: After several runs, Billy is still sticking with his cranking plan. He has one 2-pounder follow the plug to the boat.
11:00-11:24: The sun finally comes out. Despite muddy water, Billy goes to an area he saw a 3 1/2-pounder on bed the afternoon before. The water has come up since then, but he’s hoping to see the fish. He ties on an orange Brush Hog and uses a 1/8-oz. weight and a 5/0 Gamakatsu hook.
The water is too deep to see the fish. He blind casts to the area, but the fish doesn’t bite.
11:27-12:15: He cranks blowdowns in several pockets. Billy cranks using a reel with a 6:3:1 gear ratio.
“I like the gnarliest deflection I can get off the tree,” he said.
12:26-12:30: Billy fishes a roadbed at the mouth of Whitewater with a Carolina rig. He uses a Mann’s HardNose lizard.
“The panic button has been pressed. It’s scramble time right now. Right now I’d be tickled with a 14-inch spot,” says Billy. “I got two bites here in practice, but I didn’t set the hook.”
12:30: He picks the crankbait back up and slings it into a blowdown.
12:33: “OK, don’t laugh, but I’m going to have to break out the secret weapon,” says Billy. “My girlfriend told me to tie this on if I wasn’t doing any good.”
Billy attaches a designer, hand-made scarf to his shorts.
12:40-12:53: He continues targeting blowdowns with the crankbait, but he also works a spinnerbait and jig.
1:01: With a 6-inch Mann’s Wonder Worm, he flips a dock.
1:03: “That was fun. Now back to cranking,” he says.
Billy spends the last hour of the tournament up Yellowjacket, sticking with his cranking plan to the end.
Other Articles You Might Enjoy