PARK FALLS, WIS. – Derek Hudnall earned a top-5 finish at last week’s 2023 Gamakatsu Bassmaster Elite at Lake Seminole in Bainbridge, Georgia. Out of the ordinary? Not particularly; the Baton Rouge-based St. Croix pro has a history of doing well in southern events over his five-year career fishing the Bassmaster Elites. Hudnall used a SPRO McStick jerkbait in the American Shad color during a strong pre-spawn pattern that found Lake Seminole’s pushing shallow over the course of the four-day competition that saw relatively consistent weather. Odd? Not really; it’s no secret that jerkbaits can be strong producers when bass start to stage for spawning – and Hudnall wasn’t the only competitor fishing one.
What is unique is the location and manner in which he fished it.
“I found a backwater during practice where I caught two huge ones on a chatterbait,” Hudnall says. “One of them was an 8-pounder. I had confidence that I had found a pile of big ones.”
Hudnall fished his chatterbait throughout much of the first day of competition but found that something had changed. “I managed to scrap together a 15-0 limit on Thursday, but I lost confidence in the chatterbait. They just weren’t eating it, but I knew the big ones were still there. I ended up fishing a few other spots but came back to the backwater and saw a huge fish blow up there at the very end of the day. There were a ton of needlefish in there and I figured out that’s what the bass were feeding on.”
Hudnall entered day two of the event in 35th place – down a bit, but certainly not out. He decided to fish a jerkbait to mimic the abundant needlefish in the specific area he was fishing.
“I found this sandy bald spot which was totally surrounded by hydrilla,” he says. “It was 4-6 feet deep and had patches of emergent grass that was growing up about 2 feet off the bottom. My favorite jerkbait rod is a St. Croix Legend Xtreme 7’1” Medium, Fast but it was too stiff to keep my McStick from digging down into the grass. I had an idea that a softer rod would allow me to keep the bait in the top 2 feet of water and clear of the weeds, so I switched to a Legend Tournament Bass 7’ Medium Moderate and man, that rod was the ticket. There were so many needlefish those bass could hunt in that one open spot and the bass just kept coming for them. Nothing really changed weather-wise, so that spot held up for the next three days and I just kept catching them.”
Indeed, Hudnall did. He caught 18-9 on Friday to climb from 35th place to 18th after day two and caught 19-4 on Saturday to climb to 7th at the end of day three – punching his ticket to Championship Sunday, where he bagged another 19-12 on the same spot and the same pattern to finish the tournament in 5th place with a four-day total of 72-9.
“Every fish coming and going from that backwater would stop there to feed, and there was just so much bait there I couldn’t have fished that spot out in a week,” Hudnall says. “After a 57th-place finish at the 2023 Bassmaster Elite kickoff event at Lake Okeechobee, it was the perfect time to get a strong finish.”
At the end of two events in the young 2023 Bassmaster Elite season, Hudnall sits in 20th place in Angler of the Year (AOY) points. It’s an enviable position to be in so early in the season, and the next two Elite events – both in South Carolina – play to Hudnall’s strengths.
“I really hate the word ‘strengths’,” Hudnall says, “because it implies that your talents have limits. When I speak to young anglers, I prefer to talk about having confidence in the situation you’re in. I feel confident about Lake Murray and Santee Cooper in South Carolina,” Hudnall says. “Fish will probably largely be post-spawn, but there will be some spawning – probably some bed fishing and some fry guarding going on. Shallow fishing, but that’s where the similarities end. Murray has a huge population of blueback herring and little vegetation. Santee Cooper has cypress trees and a lot of vegetation, so the fishing will set up differently.”
Hudnall says his confidence at Santee Cooper and Lake Murray relates not only to the lakes themselves, but also to late-spawn-to-early-post-spawn period when they’ll take place. “More than any other time of year, I have confidence in this spring transition period and what’s going on,” he says. ‘Ultimately it’ll come down to finding the bait and the right cover. I’m not saying someone won’t have success deep with LiveScope, but I’m expecting to be fishing 10-15 feet or shallower. Who knows… I might throw a topwater four straight days, especially on Lake Murray where post-spawn fish are going to be getting fat on herring out over the main lake points. I think you’ll see quite a bit of that… feeding topwaters, flukes, jerkbaits and such to suspended fish keying on the herring schools.”
Hudnall reminds anglers that while the jerkbait is playing strong right now in the south, the bite is going to trickle north as water temperatures rise. “It’s great when water temperatures get around that 50-degree mark,” he says. “Keep a slower cadence and presentation at first, but make sure it’s still erratic. I think the magic water temperature is around 55 degrees when you can really start speeding it up.”
Hudnall says while he prefers the 7’1” MF Legend Xtreme for jerkbait fishing, there’s a number of St. Croix rods in different series and at different price points that are purpose-engineered for the technique. “They make a 6’8” medium power, extra-fast action jerkbait model in everything from Bass-X and Mojo Bass all the way up to Legend Tournament Bass, Legend-X and Legend Elite,” he says. “I just love my Legend Xtreme because it is so light and well balanced. Fishing a jerkbait is physically intense, so fishing a really light rod that doesn’t wear you out is a huge benefit.” Hudnall says he always fishes his jerkbaits on 10-to-15-pound Sunline fluorocarbon – 10-pound in clear, open water and heavier if there is vegetation at play.
Want more tips from Derek Hudnall? Come out and meet Derek and see his seminar, next Friday and Saturday, March 10 and 11, at Susquahanna Fishing Tackle, 392 Locust Grove Road, Columbia, Pennsylvania.
About St. Croix Rod
Headquartered in Park Falls, Wisconsin, St. Croix has been proudly producing the “Best Rods on Earth” for nearly 75 years. Combining state-of-the-art manufacturing processes with skilled craftsmanship, St. Croix is the only major producer to still build rods entirely from design through manufacturing. The company remains family-owned and operates duplicate manufacturing facilities in Park Falls and Fresnillo, Mexico. With popular trademarked series such as Legend®, Legend Xtreme®, Victory Avid®, Premier®, RIFT, Imperial®, Triumph® and Mojo, St. Croix is revered by all types of anglers from around the world.