Both FLW Tour ANGLR Pros, Grae Buck and Matt Becker finished inside the Top 10 at this event. Buck and Becker have extensive experience chasing smallmouth and were able to apply some of their smallmouth knowledge to find success on Cherokee.
Grae Buck’s 2nd Place Finish
Planning to start Day 1 chasing big largemouth was a key in Grae’s tournament success, as was his ability to put together seemingly random catches in practice of bigger smallmouth bass. When Grae launched on Day 1 and pulled into his first two primary largemouth areas, he found that other boats were already on the areas that he wanted to fish. Rather than continuing to burn time and gas to check some of his other spots, he made the decision to scrap the largemouth plan and go hunting for some of the bigger smallmouth that he found during practice.
On Wednesday – the off-day for anglers – a warm front pushed through, warming water temperatures and pushing a wave of smallmouth to the bank to spawn. Having been able to catch some pre-spawn smallmouth in practice was a key for Grae in identifying the mid-lake section as his primary fishing region. Arguably more important however, were a couple of ned rig smallmouth catches that came on days 1 and 2 of practice. One thing that he noticed was that when pitching his ned rig up into the cracks and crevices in the shallow rocks, he was able to pick up some better quality smallmouth.
Knowing that smallmouth need to spawn in areas protected from wind and waves, Grae put together these bites to recognize that the Cherokee Lake smallmouth were pushing up into these rock cracks to spawn.
During the tournament, Grae relied on these spawning fish to carry him through the event. Once he figured out that these fish were spawning in the larger cracks and holes in the many rocky shorelines of Cherokee Lake, Grae used his ANGLR satellite mapping to identify productive spawning banks and areas to locate his 2nd place fish. Grae relied heavily on the ANGLR mapping to not only find these areas, but pattern them around the lake, looking at wind direction, using the zoom features to look for specific bank compositions, and identify areas that were protected enough that they’d hold the better quality smallmouth bass.
There were 2 main baits that Grae used to trick over 100 bass throughout the event – both light line, finesse presentations – a 1/13-ounce Ned Rig and a ⅛-ounce Shaky head Worm.
Ned Rig Setup
Grae’s ned rig setup started with a 1/13-ounce Hayabusa Brush Easy Head. This allowed him to reduce the amount of hang-ups where the head of the ned rig would get caught on the rocks when casting it into the many cracks and rock-crevices across Cherokee Lake. He then relied on a Z-Man Finesse TRD in “The Deal” color to catch the majority of his fish. He used a Dobyn’s Champion 702, and an Ardent C-Force 3000 size spinning rod and reel combination.
One of the main keys was the Ardent Gliss Braid that he was using – 18-pound test – in Hi-Viz yellow. This was important to detecting some of the bites because those smallmouth tended to grab the bait as it was falling and would run out from the rocks. When this happened, it was important to set the hook early, and by using the Hi-Vis Yellow Gliss braid, he was able to watch his line for any movement for those bites he couldn’t immediately feel.
Shaky Head Setup
Relying on the same rod, reel, and line setup, Grae also threw a shaky head when the bass wouldn’t eat a ned rig. For this, he used a Cornerstone Baits Finny Worm which he trimmed down to 4-inches to help ensure a better hookset from the finicky smallmouth. Having a shorter bait helped reduce the short strikes, and made sure that when he set the hook, he had a better chance of putting these fish in the boat. He rigged his shaky head setup on a ⅛-ounce Shaky Head and cast it into the rock cracks where he knew the big smallmouth were spawning.
Becker Takes Home 9th
Becker, similarly to Grae Buck, relied predominantly on smallmouth for his tournament success. After a decent practice targeting pre-spawn smallmouth, Becker quickly realized late on Day 1 and Day 2 that this pattern was fading and that fish were moving up shallower to start spawning.
While Grae focused almost entirely on spawning fish, Becker was able to put a few pretty solid smallmouth into the boat quickly on his pre-spawn pattern.
Becker’s pattern was to fish smallmouth staging areas just outside of the chunk rocks on Cherokee’s shoreline. Knowing that they’d use the larger boulders or chunky bed rock to spawn, Becker fished just off of the breakline with a jerkbait and was able to get a few fish to commit.
Once this bite faded, Becker knew to push to the bank and start casting a ned rig and shaky head into the rock cracks to catch the spawning smallmouth which carried him through the rest of the tournament, including an almost 18-pound bag of smallmouth on Day 3 of the event.
There were 2 main baits that Matt used to trick over 100 bass throughout the event – both light line, finesse presentations – a 3/16oz Ned Rig and a 3/16oz or 1/4oz Shakey Head Worm.
Shaky Head Setup
Becker’s shaky head setup was composed of a Googan Baits Slim Shake Worm in Green Pumpkin color, paired with a Perfection Lures in 3/16-ounce, but would mix in a ¼-ounce when it was windier to help keep the bait on the bottom.
The rod he relied on was a 7’2” Medium Heavy – Favorite Rush Series rod. This played a key role in getting a good hookset into the bass on the shaky head, because it had a slightly faster tip, allowing for a more solid hookset.
Ned Rig Setup
A Bass Cave Tackle Dead Head was the jighead that Matt relied on for his ned rigging throughout the week. Same as the shaky head setup, he used a 3/16-ounce weight so that the bait would maintain bottom contact and stay in front of the spawning smallmouth. With this, he used a Z-Man Finesse TRD in Green Pumpkin color, although the color wasn’t critical as the fish were spawning and likely would have eaten a variety of bait colors.
Becker used a 7’4” Medium Heavy – Favorite Jack Hammer rod for the ned rig. The important feature to note on this is the slower action, meaning that the rod bends further down the blank, helping keep the big smallmouth on the line when fishing a light wire ned rig hook, rather than flexing the hook out.