By Rex Chambers
FOR THE TIMES
The 2012 Top Rod Solo Trail season came to end this past weekend at Smith Lake with the tour's championship event. Cool mornings turned into warm, breezy afternoons with temperatures reaching the mid-70s on both days.
Schooling fish were the talk of the tournament, both the ones that were caught and the ones that got away.
Many anglers reported seeing big spotted bass feeding heavily on shad and blueback herring on top. Some fishermen managed to get bites on their artificial lures, but many were left frustrated with what they had seen and were unable to connect with.
Smith Lake bass are notorious for being finicky, especially when feasting on small shad, but when an angler has the right bait, the rewards can be fun and profitable, like they were for Lee Black. The Danville native solved the puzzle over the weekend and added the Top Rod Championship trophy to his Angler of the Year runner-up season with 28.22 pounds of spotted bass during the two-day event.
Black received a sizable check of $1,647 for his winning efforts. He brought 15.16 pounds to the scales on Day 1 and followed that up with 12.72 pounds on Sunday.
Black caught his haul on a variety of baits, catching schoolers on a Zara Spook and a fluke when they were feeding on top. He also used a crankbait and a shaky head with a watermelon seed finesse worm in depths of 10-20 feet to catch fish that weren't schooling.
Jesse Wiggins, of Addison, finished second with 25.22 pounds of bass — 11.50 to open the tournament and a Day 2-best 13.72 to close it. He earned $915.
Wiggins hooked his fish on a pearl swimbait on Saturday but changed up his approach for the finale, catching his biggest bass on an Alabama Rig with pearl-colored Zoom Swimming Flukes.
Cullman angler Rex Chambers' consistency led him to third with 24.88 pounds — 12.16 on Saturday and 12.72 on Sunday. He had a five-pound spot on Day 1 and netted two four-pounders on Day 2.
Chambers used a Zara Spook and a Bull Shad swimbait and said he caught a few schooling fish. He also casted into deep brushpiles when bass weren't breaking the surface.
Angler of the Year Brent Crow wound up fourth in the championship with a total of 21.86 pounds. The Hartselle man had only four keepers on Saturday for 9.76 pounds but rebounded with 12.10 pounds on Sunday to take home $366. Crow caught his bag the first day with a Lucky Craft Gunfish and pearl Zoom Fluke but had much better success the last day with a Bull Shad swimbait.
The last check went to Addison's Jordan Wiggins in fifth with 19.92 pounds. He received $183 after catching 8.14 pounds and 11.78 pounds, respectively.
Wiggins reported seeing plenty of big fish on Day 1 but couldn't make them bite his offerings. His luck took took a turn in the right direction on Day 2 with a swimbait.
The rest of the top 10 is as follows: John Oliver, of Florence, sixth, 16.80 pounds; Larry Pierce, of Florence, seventh, 16.62; Donny Miller, of Florence, eighth, 13.28; Brad Voegele, of Addison, ninth, 11.94; and Shawn Striker, of Cullman, 10th, 7.96.
The Angler of the Year payback totaled $3,060, $1,530 of which went to Crow for his first-place finish. Black picked up $918 as runner-up, while Holly Pond's Jacob Gibbs walked away with $612 in third.
% Rex Chambers, who contributed this report, was a participant in the tournament.