COUNCE, TENN. — Tournament bass fishing is usually hard, but Drew Gregory has made it look easy this year. With a two-day total of 175.5 inches, the Ohio native won the 2022 Bassmaster Kayak Series tournament at Pickwick Lake on Sunday, earning his third trophy of the season and almost certainly earning Old Town Angler of the Year honors in the process. Gregory took the lead on Day 1 with 94.5 inches and never looked back, adding 81 inches on Day 2 to beat Guillermo Gonzalez by just over 8 inches.
“Last year, I didn’t win any national tournaments and the year before I only won one,” Gregory said. “It never crossed my mind this could happen. It is really only my third year focusing on tournament fishing, and I am starting to get history on places and get better and learn the little nuances and the things you don’t think about.”
It was only Gregory’s second time fishing Pickwick and the first time was last year, when the lake was flooded from heavy rains. This time, the lake was low and relatively clear. Even still, Gregory did what he does best, find a shallow, backwater area where he could find unpressured bass and easily navigate with his Crescent Shoalie paddle-style kayak.
In his backwater were pods of bass and schools of gizzard shad. Gregory’s bites came from several ambush points that were often in inches of water, from mats of fallen leaves on the surface to cypress trees and knees. Keeping his baits moving was a big key as most of his bass bite within the first couple of cranks.
“There’d be mats of leaves against branches on the back based on wind and current. They were hiding under that stuff,” he said. “That was one of the main keys. It was important to have your bait moving the second it hit the water. When they are that shallow, they are ready to pounce.”
While he knew there were plenty of bass back there for limits, he had no idea he would catch the size he did on Day 1. Topwaters, a Z-Man CrossEyeZ Power Finesse Jig paired with a Pro CrawZ trailer and a Z-Man Goat ToadZ all produced quality bass. A cold front moved through and brought winds and cooler temperatures, and the size vanished in Gregory’s area on Day 2 as well as the gizzard shad. But he achieved his goal of catching a solid limit by 10:30 a.m. and held on for the win.
“Day 1 was the key. I don’t know where these fish came from,” Gregory said. “I think they were chasing migratory shad up a creek and I was concentrating on a two or three-mile section. They were there and eating on Day 1 and I saw other ones in the water. Today the big ones didn’t exist. The biggest one I caught was 17 inches. But it was a solid bag after that Day 1 performance.”
Fishing a small area, Gregory switched his presentations a bit, adding a Z-Man Sling BladeZ spinnerbait, a Z-Man CrossEyeZ Power Finesse Jig paired with a Pro CrawZ, as well as a Project Z ChatterBait and a Berkley Choppo.
“I couldn’t lock one bait in my hand today,” he said. “I never found what they were on. Once I got my five, I was looking for what was going to catch a big one. Everything I would throw I would still catch the same type of 14-, 15- and 16-inch fish.”
Gonzales finished second with 167.25 two-day total of largemouth, following up his 86.5-inch Day 1 performance by catching 80.75 inches on the second day. He also landed the Big Bass of the tournament, a 22-incher he caught on Day 1. While he only has been to Pickwick one time, that first trip resulted in a win for Gonzales in last year's September Hobie event.
The Texan focused on shallow water and spent the first 90 minutes each day navigating a 5-mile run to his primary area. He targeted wood cover with a little grass mixed in. The water was relatively clear and that made the bite tougher as the tournament progressed. A Fluke, Yamamoto Senko and a frog were his best techniques.
“I caught them in practice power fishing,” he said. “But I had to really downsize and fish as quietly as I could. I noticed the fish seemed pretty spooky. That seemed to be a big key for me and being willing to break down certain little areas that had fish. It didn’t seem you could just go down the bank and catch them. When you caught one there was always another one nearby and you had to pick the area apart.”
On Championship Sunday, Gonzales filled his limit around 10 a.m. and used the rest of the day to make important upgrades.
Kristine Fischer finished third with a two-day total of 166.25 inches. The Nebraska angler has an extensive history of success kayak fishing at Pickwick, including a victory and second-place finish in national events. So, her third-place finish left her with mixed emotions.
“I come into events expecting to win them here,” she said. “For whatever reason, it seems like the lake is a little off right now. I couldn’t find anything that was really consistent.”
In her trips to Pickwick in the past, Fischer has visited one specific area to find quality bites. This time around, however, low water conditions messed with her best smallmouth areas and forced her to find new water. After a terrible practice, she rigged 14 rods and bounced from ramp to ramp to land 82.25 inches. On the final day, she settled into a creek where she caught her limit on Day 1 — and while it took longer than expected, she filled a limit by midmorning. In the afternoon, Fischer moved to a big mud flat, grabbed her spinnerbait rod and caught several quality fish, including one over 21 inches.
“I know sometime in the fall there will be bait on these mud flats,” she said. “They warm up faster and the big fish might move up on them. I took a super finessy spinnerbait and started combing that flat and caught a 21.75-incher, a 16 and then made another cull.”