Pierre Part’s Cliff Crochet relied on a spot he rarely fishes to work his way to the top of the leaderboard during the Bassmaster Central Open stop at the Atchafalaya Basin last week.
“It’s one of those areas you kind of save until it’s needed,” Crochet said. “You don’t fun fish it; you just kind of save it until you need it.”
And he needed it. The young pro has struggled on the Bassmaster Elite Series trail the past two seasons, and without a win he would be sitting out his second straight Bassmaster Classic.
Instead, he jumped from sixth place to first in the Basin tournament to clinch his third Classic berth in four years.
“To make the Classic any year makes the year, no matter what happened during the season,” Crochet said. “It’s a big confidence booster. You can’t buy confidence, and you can’t fake confidence.”
In addition to earning a slot in the 2017 Bassmaster championship event, the Basin win marks Crochet’s first Bassmaster victory.
He said his route to winning the Open started more with a fizzle than a bang.
He went right to his key location — a spot he declined to reveal other than to say it’s an old bayou that doesn’t get a lot of attention — and was greeted by three other competitors.
“I was No. 4 in there,” Crochet said. “That sort of threw me for a loop because there wasn’t supposed to be anybody in there.”
It didn’t get much better as he put his trolling motor down and started fishing.
“I had one fish by 9:30, and it was a 12-incher,” Crochet said.
So he left to check out a couple of other areas farther north. And didn’t get any takers.
So by lunchtime, he headed back south.
He quickly culled that small bass and put together 11 pounds, 14 ounces to finish the day out in 27th place.
But even better, he had watched his co-angler catch three fish for 9 pounds, identifying his area as a potential winner.
“I saw 15 pounds come out of there,” Crochet said.
The next day, he initially thought about waiting until noon to go to his No. 1 spot. Fortunately, he just decided to go and grind it out all day in the old bayou.
“I only caught one fish after noon,” he said. “It was a good one, but I caught all my other fish in the morning.”
He moved into sixth place on the strength of that second-day limit weighing 16-4.
It still looked like a big climb to the top, since Elite Series pro Fred Roumbanis had logged two solid days.
He headed to the old bayou on the final day, and finished the day with 18-04 — including a 5-pound, 12-ounce lunker — that pushed him to the win when Roumbanis stumbled badly.
Obviously, that bayou was a key to his win, but Crochet said it was his identification of the best portion of the canal that allowed him to catch the winning fish while several other competitors came and struck out.
“The deal was I was on the deeper section, and they never picked up on it,” he explained.
Now, when he says “deeper,” he’s not talking much depth at all.
“Every fish I caught was in 2 feet of water,” Crochet said.
He then figured out what it took to get key bites.
“When you look at it, it’s just one long mat, but when you broke it down there was real heavy hydrilla, there were some soft spots in the hydrilla, there were spots with floating,” Crochet said. “I was never able to pattern where they were. I was never able to say, ‘I’m going to fish points of hydrilla or I’m going to fish 5 feet in inside the mat.”
Instead, he had to really pick apart the vegetation.
“You just had to slow down and fish, fish, fish,” Crochet said. “My trolling motor was on 20 (percent), and I was still going too fast. I stopped my trolling motor, and I would drop my Power-Pole to make sure I didn’t move any more.”
He would then methodically punch a black/blue flake Luck E Strike Ring Master threaded onto a 6/0 Hack Attack hook under a 1 1/2-ounce tungsten weight through the mat, working from the edge to several feet into the body of the vegetation.
“I would work my way in, and then work my way out,” Crochet said. “I would then move forward a boat length, and then drop my Power-Pole again.
“I beat the hell out of them.”
He pitched the grass using 7-foot, 5-inch Falcon Cara Super Duty rods rigged with 65-pound Seaguar Flippin’ braid and 80-pound Seaguar Kanzen.
Crochet said how he used those tools was a major key to his victory.
“My hookset wasn’t real big,” he explained." It was still hard, but it was a short, compact swing.”
That came into play because of how shallow the fish were and how they were biting.
“None of them hit (the bait) on the fall — all of them hit it when it got to the bottom,” Crochet explained. “Once I engaged the reel and tightened up, they were there.
“So when my rod got to about 2 o’clock, I just automatically went straight up with the rod.”
While some think heavy cover requires boat-shaking hooksets, this pro said he wanted to keep his fish in the water while battling them to the boat.
“Once you jerk them out of the water, you lose a lot of fish,” Crocket said. “Keeping the fish in the water helps.”
Crochet will head to Houston next spring for the 2017 Bassmaster Classic set for March 24-26 at Lake Conroe.