When Jay Brainard figures his expenses for fishing the Bassmaster Central Open on Barnett Reservoir, boat gas won’t be a very big factor for the second place finisher.
“I bet I didn’t use a quarter of a tank of gas all week, and that includes practice,” Brainard said. “I moved less than I think I ever have in a tournament, by far.”
Actually, it’s possible he could have fished without a gas engine and still won the $19,963 runner-up check.
Here’s why: Blastoff each morning was from a pier behind the Pelican Cove Restaurant and the Main Harbor Store and Fuel Dock. When most of the other anglers roared their big boats north up the 33,000-acre lake to pound the pad stems for pre-spawn bass, Brainard just did a U-turn.
He stayed in the big cove that is Main Harbor, on the northwest end of the dam. It was there, and only there, that he found the kind of structure that he prefers to fish.
And he found fish, lots of them. Good quality, too. He was third on Day 1 with 22 pounds and 1 ounce, slipped a bit with just 11-1 on Day 2 but climbed to second and then finished with 21-6 on Saturday for a three-day total of 54-8.
Only one angler beat him and that was local angler Gene Bishop who rallied from a 76th-place start on Day 1 to lead the final two days and win with a total of 55-14.
While Bishop was among the other 196 anglers working the pad stems, Brainard was back “flipping and skipping” in Main Harbor.
“I’m a boat dock guy; that’s what I want to fish,” said Brainhard, a small thin guy with a gutsy mentality — he used to be a free-style bull fighter (no capes and no swords, just wits, speed and agility). “I heard and read all about Barnett Reservoir and how it was all pad stems and vegetation in the spring. I knew that the other fishermen were going to do that and I decided months ago that I wasn’t going to do it.
“I looked at the lake on this website and I saw this cove and I knew I was going to spend my whole tournament in there. I pretty much had it to myself all week. I don’t understand why more people don’t do that.”
Main Harbor is the primary place on Barnett for people to moor their houseboats, and one of the few where pontoon boats and big ski boats are in the over 750 boat slips on the long piers.
“These are bass that stay in that environment 12 months out of the year,” Brainard said. “They don’t leave. The water is clear. Every bass I caught came out of the water a dark black color. Did you see all the others from the pad stems? They were white from the stained water.
“These boat dock bass live here, eat here and spawn here. That’s why I caught fish from 1 foot all the way down to 12 feet. I caught them against the rocks at the bank and I caught them suspended under boats in 12.”
Brainard did get a little company at the end of each day, as boats raced back to the area for the check-in and weigh-in at nearby Madison Landing, but it is unlikely any matched his odd pattern.
“I used three baits, two of them mostly,” he said. “The key lure was a 3/8-ounce Strike King that I was skipping up under the docks. I made a change from a No. 4 original blade to a 4½ gold blade on Day 1 and that’s when they started crushing it. The key depth was slowing roll it down to 4 and 5 feet.”
The other two lures were a Baby Beaver on a Texas rig and a jerkbait.
“I love skipping and flipping docks,” Brainard said. “It’s what I do. There is so much life around the piers and boats. I saw huge schools of shad. I could see fish in the water. Birds were working and diving.
“It was just perfect.”