By Tyler Brinks - During Bass Pro Tour Phoenix Boats Stage Five Presented by Mercury on Smith Lake in Cullman, Alabama, the shad spawn was the point of focus for most of the anglers in the field. This phenomenon of targeting bass actively feeding on shad during their spawning ritual is a common occurrence when the conditions (and the right structure) allow.
Stage Five winner Dean Rojas exploited the shad spawn throughout the event, and it was his main program during the Championship Round, where he totaled 30 bass for 47-0.
“I chased the shad spawn during the mornings every day, but the final day was overcast, and that prolonged it,” he said. “I was fortunate to have those conditions and to have found the right area.”
The Winning Area
Rojas did not fish his winning area until the final day, but had been keeping an eye on the area during the event. What he found was two points, one being a main-lake point and the other a secondary point.
He found the area during the morning’s ride-around period, and knew right away that he had a good spot.
“It was a place I wanted to fish all week, and during the ride around, I saw fish activity on the bank,” Rojas said. “It was two points, but it had a lot of ditches running down from those points.”
The other key, according to Rojas, was the presence of “hay grass” in the area.
“Most of the other banks are clay, and there were not many places with grass,” he said. “That grass is a great place for shad to spawn on,” he added.
Dean Rojas rang up SCORETRACKER® during the shad spawn. Photo by Josh Gassmann
By John Johnson BassFan Senior Editor - Dean Rojas' program at the Smith Lake MLF Bass Pro Tour didn't differ a lot from that of most of the other anglers who reached the Championship Round – or, for that matter, a lot of the competitors who didn't. He capitalized on the shad spawn with moving baits in shallow water for the first couple hours each day, then moved out to deeper points, shoals and bars and employed finesse tactics pick off post-spawn spotted bass that were transitioning to their warm-weather mode.
The primary reason he won (and broke an 8-year victory drought) was he was in the right place at the right time to start the final day. He caught more than 75 percent of his weight in the Championship Round in the first of the three 2 1/2-hour periods, establishing what proved to be an insurmountable lead.
He'd checked the place where he loaded up that morning during the 30-minute ride-around that precedes each day's competition. Never before had it been so rife with activity.
"As soon as I pulled up, (the bass) were busting shad," he said. "I knew at that point I needed to start there.
"I was just sitting there (waiting for the lines-in call) and licking my chops. I knew if they started biting, it could get real good, real fast."
He caught 23 fish for 36-05 in the opening period, most of them on a square-bill crankbait and some on a swim jig, then added seven more over the final two stanzas to finish with 47-00. If he'd stopped fishing at the day's first lines-out signal at 9 a.m., he'd have still beaten everyone except runner-up Brent Chapman, who flipped up several quality largemouths from bushes in the final period to at least partially close the considerable weight gap.
"It went on for the whole first period and it was almost every cast – I'd get a bite, hook it, land it, cast again and get another bite. A couple times I had a lull for five or 10 minutes, but then there they'd go again.
"We had unique conditions: overcast, dreary, balmy and a little windy, and we hadn't see that all week. That kept it going on for the whole period. On the days before that, once the sun came up, that bite would die."
He started out throwing a swimbait, but it became detached from the hook on the first fish he caught even though he'd applied an adhesive. Because of that, he switched to the square-bill.
"I needed something I could catch them on really fast without having to worry about re-tying or fixing the bait. That's where the square-bill and the swim jig came in – I could catch one, weigh it, pick the rod back up and throw right back out there."