Card Reflects On ‘Rollercoaster’ 2015 Bassmaster Elite Series Season

By on October 20, 2015
Bassmaster Elite Series pro Brandon Card (Courtesy Brandon Card)

Now that the 2015 Bassmaster Elite Series season is over, I have had time to reflect. If I had to describe the season in one word, it would be “rollercoaster.” I ended up making the 2016 Bassmaster Classic with a 38th place finish in the points standings. This was one of my primary goals going into the season. It was not without some challenges and plenty of highs and lows along the way. The following is a recap of each event, how I did, what baits I used and what I learned from each event.

Sabine River

17 lbs 12 oz.
39th Place

The Sabine River is a challenging place to fish because of its size and diversity. There are so many different things you can target and there are miles and miles of water to cover. I always feel most comfortable fishing backwaters when fishing a river, so that is what I targeted in this event.

It was held during the spawn and I was fishing for spawning bass that were around cypress trees in the oxbows off of the main river. The water was dirty and you could not see the bedding fish very well, so I was blind casting to areas I knew bass were spawning in.

I lost several fish at this event including some nice ones. The bass were spawning and they would grab my bait and swim off with it. I didn’t realize what I could have done differently until I watched videos of some of the top finishers in this tournament. They would wait a five or even ten seconds before setting the hook. I was just setting the hook too fast and, as a result, I lost several nice fish.

Key Baits and Tackle: The Berkley Chigger Craw was what I was using and I rigged it with a 3/8oz weight and fished it on 20lb test Berkley 100% Trilene Fluorocarbon. I used green pumpkin when the sun was out and black when it was cloudy.

Lake Guntersville

25 lbs 15 oz.
103rd Place

This event was horrible for me. I targeted pre-spawn bass with a swimbait just like Skeet Reese did to win the event, but I think the difference was my fish moved up to spawn and his continued to replenish in his areas.

I had a good practice and felt good about my chances, but it just did not go well. I had to salvage the tournament and ended up catching most of the fish I weighed in with a drop shot. While I didn’t do well, the bait and how I fished the drop shot would help me at a later event when things got tough.

Key Baits and Tackle: It is hard to call anything a “key bait” when you finish in the 100s, but I was using a 6” Basstrix swimbait and a Roboworm Straight Tail in the Morning Dawn color.

Sacramento River

15 lbs 4 oz.
105th Place

This was another event where I did poorly. I changed my strategy at the last minute and abandoned my plan from practice. Since it is a tidal fishery, the high and low tides are very important for where you should be fishing and what you need to be using. I missed it completely.

In practice I had a frog pattern with bass guarding fry during low tide and a pattern of flipping and pitching a Chigger Craw to reeds during the high tide. During the competition days, I took a gamble and changed how I spent my time. It didn’t go well because I spent too much time fishing through my areas at the wrong tides. The lesson I learned was to stick with what I find in practice and not change unless I know for certain that the change will pay off.

Key Baits and Tackle: The Berkley Chigger Craw was what I caught some of my fish on but another key bait was the Spro Bronzeye Frog in green pumpkin fished on 65lb test Spiderwire UltraCast braid. While I didn’t place high with the frog this time, it worked great at events later in the year.

Card catching bass with a frog on Lake Havasu. (Courtesy of Brandon Card)

Card catching bass with a frog on Lake Havasu. (Courtesy of Brandon Card)

Lake Havasu

34 lbs 13 oz.
51st Place

After the Sacramento River, I was just trying to survive the west coast trip and keep my Bassmaster Classic hopes alive. I decided to run up the river and fish shallow with a frog.

The first day went well and I had a good day, but the night before day 2 was cold and I knew it would affect the frog bite. The second day was tougher like I expected, but I tried to force the frog and I struggled. I caught some with the frog but had to use a drop shot to catch fish to fill out my limit. I was pitching it into the sparse reeds and it worked well and saved my event. I finished with a check and salvaged my trip out west.

I love frog fishing and usually live and die by it. I almost died with it at Havasu, but the drop shot saved me and helped me get some confidence going into the second half of the season.

Key Baits and Tackle: The Spro Bronzeye Frog in a green pumpkin color fished on 65lb test Spiderwire UltraCast braid and a 6” Roboworm Straight Tail in the Margarita Mutilator color on 8lb test Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon.

Kentucky Lake

86 lbs 13 oz.
8th Place

When the 2015 schedule was announced in 2014, I marked these dates down because I knew Kentucky Lake was going to be my best chance to win. I love fishing there and have had some success on the Tennessee River lakes in June. It went almost as well as planned and I was able to weigh over 80lbs of bass during the event. It was a real momentum changer for me and helped me for the rest of the year.

I had a few baits and techniques working at this one and caught fish with a hair jig, deep crankbait, and a drop shot worm. I knew the hair jig and big crank would do well here, but the drop shot is what really saved me.

When the schools got fired up on the ledges it was fairly easy to get them to bite, but when they stopped biting there were big lulls when they were not feeding. I knew the fish were still there, I could see them on my Lowrance units, but I had to switch to the drop shot to get them to bite. I actually caught my biggest bass of the event, a fish bigger than six pounds, with a drop shot and it really helped me do well at Kentucky Lake.

Key Baits and Tackle: Preacher Hair Jig in a 1/2oz size fished on 15lb test Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon. Also a Strike King 6XD in various colors fished on 10lb test. The drop shot bait was a 6” Roboworm in Morning Dawn fished on 8lb test 100% Fluorocarbon.

Card looking for some more big bass in the final hour of the tournament. (Credit: Coleen Fabrizi)

Card looking for some more big bass in the final hour of the tournament. (Credit: Coleen Fabrizi)

St. Lawrence River

72 lbs 6 oz.
4th Place

Going against the grain was the key for me in this event. I had a mediocre practice with smallmouth and the largemouth really saved me. I was targeting them in a backwater with a frog and the fishing was amazing that week.

You can read more about my strategy and how I approached this event in my recap here.

Key Baits and Tackle: The Spro Bronzeye frog in black. I also used a beaver-style plastic for punching heavy cover with a 1.5oz tungsten weight attached to 65lb test Spiderwire UltraCast braid.

Chesapeake Bay

33 lbs even
18th Place

This event was a tough one and I knew going into it that every fish would count. I had a very bad practice and hardly caught during pre-fish. I decided to put my head down and fish slow with something I have a lot of confidence in, a shakey head.

This style of fishing is very slow and not the most fun way to fish, but it catches fish when the fishing is tough. I would cast to any cover I could find and fished it as slow as possible. I was also able to expand my area some on the last day and used a dark-colored, beaver-style plastic fished near docks.

I ended up with a good finish after having a horrible practice and that reassured me that I made the right decision staying close to the launch ramp and maximizing my time instead of running all over the place.

You can read more about my Chesapeake Bay tournament in one of my past articles.

Key Baits and Tackle: A 1/8oz Shakey Head with a junebug Zoom Trick Worm. I fished it on 8lb test Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon even though the water was off-colored. I really believe that the lighter line helped me get more bites. The beaver-style bait was fished on 20lb Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon.

Lake St. Clair

28 lbs 10 oz.
72nd Place

Lake St. Clair ended up being a tough event for me. I knew it would be a whack-fest because we could go to Erie, Huron, or stay in St.Clair. All three fisheries are some of the country’s top smallmouth waters. I spread myself too thin here in practice and ended up scrambling during the tournament.

I covered tons of water during the tournament with a swimbait and crankbait and then once I caught one I slowed down and fished the area more thoroughly with a drop shot.

One of my key baits was a 3.8” Keitech swimbait, but at first I lost several fish on it. I was fishing it on 10lb test fluorocarbon on baitcast gear and I wasn’t getting a good hookset because it had so much stretch. When I switched to braid with a fluorocarbon leader on a spinning rod, I started landing more of them. It was a tough event for me, but I was able to get some points and stay in contention for qualifying for the Classic.

Key Baits and Tackle: Keitech 3.8” swimbait in Sexy Shad and Tennessee Shad with 15lb Spiderwire braid and 8lb test Berkley Trilene 100% fluorocarbon. The crankbait was a Damiki DC-300 in the Real Shad color. I fished it on 10lb test fluorocarbon. The drop shot bait I used was the Strike King Dream Shot in green pumpkin fished with a 3/8oz weight and size 1 hook. I downsized to 6lb test fluorocarbon instead of the 8lb I normally use because I felt I was getting more bites with the lighter line.

Brandon Card holds up two bass caught during a Bassmaster Elite Series event on Sturgeon Bay. (Credit: James Overstreet)

Brandon Card holds up two bass caught during a Bassmaster Elite Series event on Sturgeon Bay. (Credit: James Overstreet)

Toyota Angler of the Year Championship
Sturgeon Bay

29 lbs 5 oz.
37th Place

This event really surprised me with how tough the fishing was. Sturgeon Bay is known for great fishing and giant smallmouth, but many of us really struggled in practice. Several guys I talked to didn’t even catch a keeper during practice. I had a poor practice, but wasn’t as bad for me as many others. The first completion day was really bad as I failed to catch a keeper.

I was 33rd in points going into this event and was within range of the Classic, but after not catching a keeper on the first day, I fell all the way down to 50th in the points. It was very stressful and I still do not know what happened that first day. I caught countless short fish and one keeper that was foul hooked. I had to release that one and came in empty handed.

I think my problem was I was fishing too fast the first day and I started to slow down on the second day and did much better. I really have to thank my buddy Chad Pipkens who was also fishing the event. He was already going to make the Classic and had no chance to move way up in the standings, so he helped clue me in on what I needed to do. I owe him big time as I was able to catch enough each of the final two days with a jerkbait and dropshot to make the Classic!

Key Baits and Tackle: The Megabass Vision 110 was the jerkbait I was using and the best colors were Pro Blue and Elegy Bone. I downsized to 8lb test Berkley Trilene 100% fluorocarbon to get the bait to dive a little deeper and it helped. I also used a Strike King Dream Shot in the KVD Magic color to catch fish that were not going for the jerkbait.

Bringing It All Together

This year I learned several things about how I should approach tournaments. My successes and failures this year and really over all of the four years I have been on the Elite Series have shown me that I have my best events when I concentrate on the areas that I find in practice and fish slow and meticulous. We all can’t be KVD (Kevin VanDam) and cover water all over the place. It works for him and some guys are completely opposite and fish very slow and do really well. I have realized that I am somewhere in the middle and that is what works for me. Any angler needs to realize their strengths and do what works best for them. The good news about this whole season is that even with some bad tournaments, I was able to ride the rollercoaster all the way to qualifying for the 2016 Bassmaster Classic on Grand Lake!

Top image: Bassmaster Elite Series pro Brandon Card (Courtesy of Brandon Card)

About Brandon Card

Brandon Card is a Bassmaster Elite Series Angler, fishing guide and adventure sports enthusiast. He won the 2012 Bassmaster Rookie of the Year, qualified for the 2016 and 2013 Bassmaster Classic, and has six top 10s in Elite Series competition.

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