The right combination

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Dalton Tumblin

We’ve heard the term “junk fishing” a lot this week — and for good reason. Fall tournaments rarely see anglers fare well with a single bait and a single spot. The fish are on the move, they’re not often bunched up and their feeding preferences are all over the map.

That said, anglers can narrow the search by closely monitoring conditions and environmental elements to — hopefully — assemble some degree of consistency. Day-2 leader John Soukup has done this better than anyone so far, as his two day total of 34 pounds, 11 ounces shows.

He’s fishing a variety of habitat features, including bluffs, flat banks and docks. He’s keeping his Garmin LiveScope on all day and he’s noted that watching the bait activity — flickering at the surface or suspending deep — has offered reliable clues.

“You can’t repeat (the optimal scenario) just anywhere,” Soukup said. “I think there are some certain locations; between water color, bait and depth, those are the keys. Current is also very important; if the current will hit a spot right, the fish will absolutely get on those spots.”

Soukup noted that he’s seeing plenty of fish on LiveScope, but not all are ready to play. As he explained, it’s that right combination of factors that flips the light switch.

“You see fish everywhere, but a thousand of them don’t want to bite and then that one wants to,” Soukup said. “You just have to keep moving. Instead of trying to make one bite, you have to go find one that’s ready to bite.”

Sometimes it’s a definable calculation, other times it’s a gut feeling. A longer, more in-depth analysis might discernible details, but in the heat of the moment, when the clock is ticking, anglers like Soukup have fared well by fishing something simply because it looked right.

Call it instinct, or fishing off your gut; the mind often calculates faster than we can consciously explain. Soukup found just such a scenario in the final hour of Day 2.

“I ignored it for about an hour and when I decided to change, first cast it was boom, boom, boom,” Soukup said. “I did that on Day 1 too; I made a couple of decisions that (allowed me to catch several fish) in an hour and a half.

“If you get tuned in for a second, you can do really well. But if you get in that rut where you’re doing the same thing over and over, you’re doing something wrong.”

In second place, Louisiana’s Nick LeBrun trails Soukup by 1-12, so he’s well within striking distance. LeBrun dialed in a particular pattern involving a specific reaction bait presentation that has proven replicable when he encounters the right scenario. That challenge, he said, is staying sharp during the lulls.

“The two biggest bites I had (on Day 2), I was on point, holding my breath, anticipating the bite,” LeBrun said. “It’s always good to get that bite, but it’s so tough out here, you fish hundreds of casts like that and you’re on the edge of your seat the whole time.

“When you’re only getting a handful of bites a day, it wears you out mentally.”