Henry Played "Defense" Until Final Day

 

Courtesy Bassfan

Jonathan Henry spends more than 200 days a year on Lake Guntersville, but mixes in only a handful of tournaments on the famed Alabama fishery. If he were a regular on the derby scene, there's no way he could conceal all the intricacies he picks up during his guide trips.

He freely admits that his intimate knowledge of the lake was the primary factor in his victory last week at the Guntersville Southeast Rayovac. He employed an evasive strategy that kept him away from his best stuff (for the most part) until the final day, when the field had been cut to only 10 competitors and he could exploit it without exposing it.

"Guntersville is a defensive lake, not an offensive one," he said. "You always have to be watching out for the eyeballs that are on you. That's why I don't fish many tournaments – I don't want to show everybody how I catch them and what I know."

He weighed the lone 30-pound sack of the event on the final day, rising up from 9th place to claim the most significant victory of his career. His 77-08 total for 3 days left him about a pound ahead of FLW Tour stalwart Mark Rose.

Here's how he did it.

Practice

The 31-year-old Henry, who fishes the FLW Tour as a co-angler, did most of his serious practicing for the Rayovac a week or more ahead of the tournament. He used his guide trips for that purpose.

"I wanted to hit a lot of that stuff when I knew there wouldn't be any other tournament competitors around," he said. "My main objective was to find out where the big fish were, and it was fine if my clients caught them or whatever."

The lake, which hosted this year's Bassmaster Classic, is absolutely littered with "community holes" that receive heavy fishing pressure. However, simply knowing the quality fish are in those places doesn't mean they can be easily caught.

Some of those hot spots were brimming with 5-pounders the week prior to the event, and he had little trouble enticing those fish to bite a crankbait or a swimbait. He'd avoided scheduling guide trips the week of the tournament, so he dodged those places entirely when the full field showed up to begin preparations.

He spent Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday plying deeper areas, figuring that anglers working offshore were his primary threat.

"I was happy that (the bite) got a little tougher right before the tournament," he said. "That meant that guys couldn't just pull up anywhere and catch 25 pounds."

Competition

> Day 1: 5, 22-01
> Day 2: 5, 24-09
> Day 3: 5, 30-14
> Total = 15, 77-08

Henry entered the event determined to pound out enough weight from secondary stuff to keep himself in contention for the first 2 days before dropping the hammer on the well-known stuff on the final day.

"I might've been able to crush them there on the first day, but I'd have never gotten back to it after that," he said.

He had only three fish for about 6 pounds midway through day 1 and felt a bit of panic coming on. Fortunately, he was able to pull a couple of big ones from beds to salvage the day.

"I'd thought we were on the tail end of the spawn the week before the tournament, but now I think the biggest wave came up that week. The main thing about sight-fishing at Guntersville, though, is it can't last – you can't see enough 5- and 6-pounders to get it done, and those are the fish you've got to have.

"An old-timer once told me that a lot of the larger fish spawn on river or creek ledges. They're 4 feet deep and way off the bank and nobody ever sees them."

He started day 2 in 21st place and caught a stringer that was 2 1/2 pounds better than the one he'd brought in the previous day. That allowed him to slide into the second-to-last cut spot (9th) for the final day.

"I did weigh a couple of fish that day from the same place that I eventually won on, but I only stayed for 45 minutes. I didn't want anybody who might make the cut to see me fishing there."

That concern was nonexistent on day 3, and he used a swimbait to compile 30 pounds in about an hour and a half. From his vast experience on the lake, he knew precisely how to catch those big, bridge-dwelling fish on the lower end of the lake once the exposure worries were in the past.

"Those fish get fished for 7 days a week – they're really smart and they know what's up. I'd spent enough time there to know exactly where they sit, and I knew I couldn't just go out there and throw around like an idiot and expect to catch them.

"You have to put the bait right where they want it without scaring them or getting hung up. I made one or two casts that weren't in the right spot to make sure they weren't out swimming around, and then on the third cast I threw to the right spot and caught a 7-pounder. I told my co-angler right then that it could be a really special day."

He culled a 4-pounder in favor of a 5 at 7:57 a.m., which put him slightly over the 30-pound mark. He made two more upgrades during the remainder of the day, one for 3 ounces and the other for 5.

His co-angler was convinced he'd won, but Henry wasn't so sure.

"I knew it would at least be really close. My concern was that somebody might've caught 28 pounds or something somewhere else."

Winning Gear Notes

> Swimbait gear: 7' heavy-action rod, Daiwa Tatula casting reel (6.3:1 ratio), 20-pound Gamma fluorocarbon line, 1/2- or 3/4-ounce swimbait head, Scottsboro Tackle Fringe Swimbait (shad No. 1).

> Cranking gear: 7'5" medium-heavy Crankbait rod, Casting reel (5.4:1 ratio), 15-pound Gamma fluorocarbon, Bomber BD7 Fat Free Shad (citrus shad).

> He got his two bed-fish on day 1 to bite a creature bait.

The Bottom Line

Main factor in his success – "The intricate knowledge I have of how to operate on the community holes. I had no company until after 9 o'clock on the first day, and by then I already had 30 pounds. If I'd blasted them there on either of the first 2 days, somebody would've been there, even if it was just a local."

Performance edge – "That swimbait is really durable compared to most paddle-tails and it kicks really well. After that, it was just a matter of putting it out there at a perfect angle and swimming it at the perfect depth."

Notable

> Henry has spent a great deal of time around two-tour standout Jason Christie over the last couple of years, traveling and practicing with him at FLW Tour events and doing some driving for him for Elite Series tournaments. "I owe a lot of this victory to him," Henry said. "When you've been around guys like him and Edwin Evers and Robbie Dodson – guys who've made a lot of Top 10s and know how to win – it rubs off on you."

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