It is a pattern nearly as old as Barnett Reservoir, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, swimming a lizard through shallow vegetation to catch pre-spawn bass.
Gene Bishop of Ridgeland showed why it’s the No. 1 technique on the lake in March, riding it to victory in the three-day Bassmaster Central Open this week to win a first place package worth $48,000 and a berth in the 2016 Bassmaster Classic.
“Swimming a lizard — that shouldn’t surprise anybody who fishes The Rez,” Bishop said to a cheering crowd at Saturday’s final weigh-in at Bass Pro Shops in Pearl. “I think everybody does it.”
Yet, Bishop almost didn’t.
In Thursday’s opening round, Bishop threw Carolina-rigged plastics and other lures around various cover, like stumps, logs and natural drops. It didn’t even produce a five-fish limit, and his four fish posted a paltry 8 pounds, 15 ounces. He was nowhere to be found on the first page of the leaderboard.
“Friday, I tied on the lizard and told my co-angler we were going to stick with it all day,” Bishop said. “That turned everything around for me. Every bass I weighed the final two days came on a lizard.”
Boy, did he ever weigh-in some brutes. His Friday catch of 26-2 was the biggest of the week and pushed him to first place. His Saturday catch of 21 pounds clinched it.
“It’s simple,” Bishop said. “I Texas-rigged an 8-inch Zoom Magnum Lizard in a June Bug color, used a 3/16ths weight because it was windy, and I just kept throwing it and reeling it slowly through the pad stems or around reeds and brush.
“It’s nothing fancy. You just cover water, a lot of water, and you reel it slow until you feel them load up on it. They weren’t so shallow that I could see their (bass’) wakes coming to it. I’d just feel a little thump, reel up and when I felt weight, I’d set the hook.”
The only difference Friday and Saturday is where he swam his lizards.
“All of it was within a few hundred yards, back in there on the Rankin County side of the main lake behind Pine Island and behind No. 10 (referring to a sign long ago gone),” Bishop said. “There must have been 25 boats in there Friday and I think five of the others in the final 12 today were in that at least part of the day.
“The big thing for me was that on Friday, I found them outside on the edges of the pad stems in 3 and 4 feet of water. I was catching sows, and all those other boats were up closer to the bank in a foot or 2. Today (Saturday), I went back to the same 300-yard stretch of 3 and 4 feet of water and they just weren’t there.”
Bishop decided halfway through the day to move up. The water had warmed into the mid 60s on the banks and the big females moved up into the shallows.
“I moved up, but not only that, I moved around the point to an area just south of where I’d been fishing and where I hadn’t seen any boats today,” he said. “As soon as I got in there, I caught a 5 (pounder) and then a 4 and then another 4. It never slowed down.
“I think the key is that nobody had hit that water at all Saturday and more females had moved up in there overnight. That’s what it was. I got into a place that had been pounded pretty good for two days before the big fish moved into it. They couldn’t leave the lizard alone. I bet I caught 20 or 25 fish in that area today.”
Bishop started naming off the guys who had taught him the art of the swimming lizard, but quit by saying, “there’s just so many guys going through my head who have helped me over the years, with everything from where and when to how.”