Cliff Crochet is a noted shallow-water specialist who loves to fish green vegetation during warm, springlike conditions.
He found the exact opposite of that during Thursday’s opening round of the Bassmaster Elite at Cherokee Lake, but the Louisiana angler who goes by the nickname “Cajun Baby” put on quite a show anyway.
With early-morning temperatures in the low 20s and a peppering of snow blowing sideways across the lake at takeoff, Crochet took the lead with five bass that weighed 19 pounds, 7 ounces. Elite Series rookie Jesse Wiggins of Cullman, Ala., weighed in 19-1 and trails the leader by only 6 ounces.
“I caught them all on a frog,” Crochet joked, referencing his favorite technique to use when the weather is much warmer.
Then he backtracked without revealing much information.
“No, I didn’t get them on a frog,” he said, laughing. “My deal today was pretty traditional for this time of year.
“My plan was to try to catch largemouth — and if I happened to catch a smallmouth, that was OK. I caught some smallmouth in practice, but I had all largemouth today.”
With three days remaining in the tournament, Crochet was well aware of the changes that are supposed to be coming in the weather. The cold front seems to be over, and temperatures are expected to rise the next three days with rain in the forecast for Saturday and Sunday.
Crochet, who started last year’s Elite Series season opener on the St. Johns River with a big first-day catch before fading, said he believes his pattern is one that will hold up. But he has to avoid the issues that hurt him in the same situation last year.
“I was just being hardheaded last year,” Crochet said. “I didn’t change when I knew I needed to change. But I’ve learned a lot since then.”
Crochet said many of his lessons were learned late last season when he salvaged a berth in the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods by winning the final Central Open of the year on the Atchafalaya Basin in October.
“The big thing I learned from winning that tournament was that you can’t force it,” Crochet said. “You can’t force things to happen the way you want them to. I’ve learned to do it more slow and steady. You can run down and catch one fish and then run somewhere else to get another one.
“You have to let things happen the way they’re happening.”
A win in his last tournament and claiming the opening-round lead in the first tournament of the2017 season makes Crochet one of the hottest anglers on the professional circuit.