Jason Christie’s experience told him that the FLW Tour event on Grand Lake O’ The Cherokees June 7-10 would be won fishing deep, but as practice days dwindled toward tournament time, he started second guessing.
Christie cut his tournament teeth on Grand Lake. In addition to winning a bunch of smaller and midlevel tournaments on the lake years ago, he finished seventh at the 2013 Bassmaster Classic on Grand. He was looking forward to getting another shot at the lake in a major tournament and put extra pressure on himself to make the right decisions.
Late on the last practice day he checked out a hunch by flipping a shallow island in the Elk River arm of the lake. He caught a couple in the four-pound range, and the area became his focus for the next four days of competition.
“I have a lot of confidence in that area and decided that that was where I was going to start the tournament,” Christie said. “I didn’t have any idea that the winning stringer would come from there.”
His move from deep crankin’ to shallow flippin’ proved to be the right decision. It was his third win in a major bass tournament this year.
Heavy rains brought the water level up into shoreline willow trees on the island Christie mined for the winning fish. Current from the incoming feeder creek, wind and pleasure boat traffic kept the area attractive to fish. During the tournament the water level remained stable or only slightly dropping, which according to many of the contenders added up to a “perfect storm” for flipping shallow brush.
“Grand is notorious for fish coming to the banks. They’re going to do that when the water comes up – it doesn’t matter if it’s December or July,” said Jimmy Houston, who finished a season-best fourth place.
Christie’s flippin’ weapon of choice was a YUM Wooly Bug, a beaver-style bait with a wide tail and a pair of small crawfish claws. He rigged it with a ½-ounce weight and dipped about a ½-inch of the tail in chartreuse dye. He used two color patterns, a green pumpkin/purple flake and a black/blue shadow, and inserted a rattle crossways in the upper third of the bait where it wouldn’t interfere with the hookset.
“Early in the morning when the light was still low I started with the black/blue shadow, but most of what I weighed in I caught later in the day on the green pumpkin,” he said.
Christie said he got two types of bites while flippin’ the Wooly Bug, either the fish was on it immediately when the bait hit the water, or he had to “call them in” by shaking the lure as it hung over a submerged limb. He compared this second type of strike to punching mats, and said he discovered this flippin’ technique at that very island more than 10 years ago.
“The willows have green canopies around them,” he said. “I’d flip it in there and let it go to the bottom, then I’d raise my bait up to the first limb that the bait came in contact with and shake it two or three seconds.”
The bottom content is mud, and Christie believes that the fish don’t relate much to it, preferring to remain suspended and relating to the cover. Shaking the bait allowed him to attract those fish that didn’t see the bait hit the water.
Christie did pick up a few fish early in the tournament on a black Booyah Poppin’ Pad Crasher hollow-body frog. His decision to pick up the frogging rod was determined by the cover.
“Some of those willows are real bushy and thick, and you can’t get a frog in there,” he said. “But there would be a few way back there where I couldn’t flip, but I could skip that frog back in there. I caught a couple key fish the first two days on that bait.
“The cool thing about this tournament is that I got to fish the way I grew up fishing, 2-feet deep and a flippin’ stick. Coming into it I thought my chances to win would come from fishing deep. I was wrong about that.”
Rounding out Christie’s flippin’ gear is a 7-foot-3-inch Falcon Cara Flippin’ Stick and a 7.1 Lew’s Baitcaster and 25-pound fluorocarbon line.
“And a big Indian reeling it in,” Christie said. “A big, tired Indian. This is as tired as I’ve ever been after a tournament.”