PADUCAH, Ky. In winning the CITGO BASS Federation Southern Divisional, Alabama's Jaime Long found the Tennessee River fishes the same in Kentucky as it does where the waterway winds through his home state.
That harmonious connection rewarded Long, a 36-year-old Church of Christ preacher from Bear Creek, Ala., with a tournament-winning catch weighing 33 pounds, 9 ounces, surpassing by less than a pound the 32-11 runner-up performance of Russell Hosick.
More importantly, Long secured his state team title and joins six peers from the Southern division to vie next spring for bass fishing's amateur world title at the 2005 CITGO BASS Federation Championship.
Long, who belongs to the Winfield Bass Club, calls Pickwick Lake his home fishery. That connection to the Tennessee River impoundment laid the foundation for his upstream victory where the waterway flowing through four states makes its final run before joining the Ohio River.
The road to victory began while Long was scouting the Tennessee below the Kentucky Lake Dam tailrace where he happened upon a school of white bass surface feeding on baitfish. Instinctively, he stopped to make a cast and his crankbait returned to the boat with a freshwater mussel impaled on its treble hook. The tiny shellfish was a sign of good things to come.
The feeding area, as Long discovered, held a rocky flat extending into the river where the bottom contour tapered from 3 feet to a depth of 38 feet. In between the contrasting deep and shallow water was a shelf situated at 14 feet deep. Beyond its obvious features, the textbook spot offered a windfall instantly recognized by the skilled Tennessee River angler.
"Anytime you find a mussel bed on Pickwick, then you'll catch the smallmouth," he surmised. "And this place was no different from back home."
Indeed it was. Long caught a limit within 10 minutes to validate the theory. When the competition began the next morning, he returned to catch another limit by 8 a.m. The 14-13 catch put him in third place overall, some 2 pounds behind teammate and overall leader John Welborn.
Long relied on three Carolina rigged soft plastic baits to land his 13 keepers - 11 of them smallmouth. The trio of green pumpkin color baits included a Zoom Baby Brush Hog; a generic brand tube bait measuring 3 inches; and a Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits Senko. Carolina rig components included a 3/4-ounce sinker and a 4/0 hook. Shimano Castaic reels, 10-pound P-Line and 7-foot All-Star rods completed the tackle package.
He found the early bite best when feeding smallmouth trapped baitfish on top of the flat. The fish moved into deeper water with the rising sun. Long adjusted to the drifting fish by making casts directly on the flat in the morning; a parallel presentation for greater coverage produced as the day progressed.
The flat produced another quick limit on the second day, sending Long into the lead with a total of 27-13, just 12 ounces ahead of Kentuckian Kaoru O' Bryan. With the water level falling significantly on the final day, Long succeeded in catching just 3 keepers. But the other leaders faltered as well and Long had the upper hand.
"The fish kept moving out and they got harder to pinpoint and catch," he said. "But overall, it was a great little spot. My best guess is that it produced about 50 pounds of fish for me and my partners."
And more importantly, his first trip to the Federation Championship.