ANGLR Expert and Major League Fishing pro, James Elam, capped the inaugural season of the Bass Pro Tour off with his first Top 10 finish, finishing 10th at Stage 8 in Neenah, Wisconsin. We sat down with Elam to discuss how his event transpired across a playing field that consisted of three fisheries.
Bass Pro Tour Stage 8: What Was Your Mindset Going Into Stage 8 After a Tough Year?
I’ve done this for 6 or 7 years now. No matter if I’ve come in last place in every single tournament leading up to it, when it comes to the last tournament of the year I’m not going to treat it any differently. I’m going to go and hit it as hard as I can. I don’t let the emotions get in the way. I wanted to do well in the last tournament of the year but I also wanted to do well in every tournament this year.
It just worked out in this last one.
I had never been up there and this was a multi-venue tournament with three different lakes, so I just looked at all that and tried to plan for it. I really expected to catch smallmouth at Winnebago. The first day I got there, I noticed the water was pretty off-color and dark. It didn’t look good for smallmouth fishing. They’re in there, but it wasn’t a clear, zebra muscles and goby infested lake. It just didn’t look right for smallmouth fishing. So I thought it might be a safe deal to go fish for largemouth.
Bass Pro Tour Stage 8: Practice
In practice, I really pushed the smallmouth deal on Winnebago. But I would spend the first hour or so fishing for largemouth. I focused on the west side of the lake because it had a bunch of good largemouth habitat with bays, canals, docks and stuff like that. And it had a lot more reefs and shoals for the smallmouth to be on so I was able to pop in and out and do both.
I fished a lot of reefs, points, shoals, and humps for smallmouth. I really pushed a tube and crankbait but never really got on a good concentration of smallmouth which is what you have to do for the MLF style format.
Bass Pro Tour Stage 8: Shotgun and Knockout Rounds – Lake Winnebago
There were two bays right next to each other that had the best grass and good little backwaters and canals in them. I spent one morning in one and the next morning I spent in the other. You can catch those northern fish multiple times. So fishing behind someone didn’t bother me either. I actually caught two that I had broken off which was pretty interesting. That’s never happened to me down south.
I had one place I was catching them out in the middle of this creek that had some current flow to it. The fish were out in the middle of the creek in some milfoil and pads. I stuck to the frog in there. Then I had a couple of docks I could catch some bass skipping that stick bait. Another big deal was the willow trees that would hang over and make shade. They’d be under there even if it was only six inches of water, for some reason they loves it up there under those trees.
I had 3 places with reeds too. They were almost like sparse buggy whip type deals but I had one stretch in particular that had a ton of fish in it. I caught a lot of fish out of those both days. I had to slow down on the second day though because a lot of those fish had already been caught.
Bass Pro Tour Stage 8: Elimination Round – Butte des Morts
The Elimination Round was on Butte des Morts. I looked at it hard but didn’t think many people were going to practice it so I didn’t either. I studied the lake though and tried to look at it similar to how I fish the Mississippi River. I looked for any little current breaks I could find or shallow water for the frog, swim jig, and stick bait type stuff I was running on Winnebago.
I put a little game plan together and ran around a lot and did some of the same stuff I did at Winnebago. I started on 2 or 3 places that had pretty good current on them. I was trying to key in on those post-spawn fish. I also hit a few bays that had good grass and pads in them and frogged 1 or 2 fish out of each of those bays.
But in the middle of the day, I started running out of good stuff to hit. I had already hit all the little obvious stuff where you could sit there and catch one or two, so I started running the shade lines again and caught 6 or 7 right there at the end of the day.
That was probably the most crucial decision I made all week.
It was mostly a swim jig deal up in the shade lines. Earlier in the day, it was a swim jig and stick bait, and I think I might have caught 3 or 4 on a frog all day. But if I missed one on the frog I could throw that stick bait back in there as a follow-up bait and catch it… every single time.
Bass Pro Tour Stage 8: Green Lake – Championship Round
Green Lake was more of a smallmouth bite for sure. You could catch largemouth there, and they live there, but that lake was a different bite entirely. I would have been way better off if I had taken advantage of the 2-hour ride around on Green Lake during our practice days. Unfortunately, I had some stuff come up and wasn’t able to do that. But it looked like the typical northern smallmouth type deal where they’re going to live on those little rocky deals where there are some scattered boulders and stuff like that.
So I pushed the smallmouth from the get-go. As soon as the sun got up I could see them spawning in about 8-feet of water and I caught some of them off the bed. You could see about 22-feet when it was bright, clear, and calm… that water clarity was amazing. Especially compared to the other two lakes where the water was more tannic looking like in Florida. I found two or three of the same areas Cliff Pace (the eventual Stage 8 Champion) found but I just wasn’t doing the right stuff and fell behind.
Bass Pro Tour Stage 8: Looking Back
It was a fun year and exciting to breakdown some new lakes. We definitely went to some smaller puddles this year for sure and I liked that. Some of the best lakes we have in the country are medium to smaller lakes that can’t support huge fields. So that was pretty cool being able to go to these smaller fisheries like the North Carolina event and then up here in Wisconsin.
Bass Pro Tour Stage 8: James Elams Gear
Lure – Molix Supernato Frog – black
Reel – Shimano Metanium – 8.5:1
Swim Jig Setup:
Reel – Shimano Metanium – 7.4:1
Stick Bait Setup:
Hook – Gamakatsu 3/0 EWG
Reel – Shimano Stradic Ci4+
Leader – Seaguar InvizX – 12 pound test