WARSAW, Mo. — When Casey Scanlon spotted a brush pile on the color fish-finder on his bass boat, he made sure that his crankbait reached ramming speed.
He cranked hard until he felt the wobbling bait crash into the brush. It got hung up for a second, but Scanlon was able to pop it loose. When the lure darted free, Scanlon immediately felt the tug of a big Truman Lake bass.
"That will get a lot of reaction strikes," Scanlon said he lifted the 3-pound bass into the boat. "You bang that crankbait into the brush and let it deflect off, and that erratic motion will trigger strikes.
"I remember one time, I threw a jig into a brush pile 12 times and never got a strike. I went to a crankbait and got a keeper bass on my first cast."
Ah, the tricks of the trade.
For pro fishermen such as Scanlon, who lives in Lenexa, they can be the difference between cashing a check and going home with nothing but stories about the big ones that got away.
After starting fishing in tournaments when he was 15, Scanlon, now 27, knows all about the challenges of trying to beat not only the bass, but other top fishermen as well.
In his rookie year of competing in bass fishing's big leagues, Scanlon has been on a wild rollercoaster ride.
He reached the top when he won a Bassmaster Central Open tournament at Table Rock Lake in late April and earned an automatic berth in the Bassmaster Classic, every tournament fisherman's dream.
He also experienced the thrill of bringing a 9-pound, 11-ounce bass to the scales during an Elite tournament on the St. John's River and cashed a check in that tournament.
But he also has been forced to deal with the reality that he is going against the world's top bass fishermen. Doing well isn't good enough. You have to excel to make waves at this level.
"It was an eye opener at Bull Shoals," he said. "I was catching 30 keepers a day in practice and I really thought I was on something.
"But once the tournament started, I found out that everyone was doing that. You not only had to catch a lot, you had to have some big ones thrown in."
Today, Scanlon sits in 78th place in the points standings of the 99 fishermen in the Elite Series. But he isn't discouraged. He will tell you that he has taken a crash course in tournament bass fishing this year — and he's learning quickly.
"People don't realize it, but sometimes there's a real fine line between doing well in one of these tournaments and not even finishing in the money," he said. "One or two little mistakes and it will cost you.
"But I feel like I've learned a ton. I'm paying attention to what others are doing, and I'm learning."
Never was that more evident than in the Central Open at Table Rock. Scanlon was coming off a disappointing Elite tournament at nearby Bull Shoals Lake, but he paid attention to what winner Brandon Palaniuk was doing. Scanlon applied that strategy to Table Rock and ended up winning the tournament.
"I used deep-diving crankbaits and started fishing points around spawning pockets," Scanlon said. "I knew most of the fish were done spawning and that this was the first place they would pull out to.
"I had some phenomenal practice days. It slowed down by the tournament, but I was still able to catch two 5-pounders each day and that really helped."
On a recent day, Scanlon was on Truman Lake, perfecting his methods.
Fishing in the Long Shoal area, he set out for points with dropoffs, places where has found success at this time of the year before. He began making long casts with Strike King 5XD crankbaits, getting them to dig into the rocky bottom and deflect off whatever cover he could find. And it wasn't long before he found success. He caught and released three keepers and many smaller fish on a day when other fishermen were complaining about how tough the fishing was.
No, it wasn't a great day. But as the pros often do, Scanlon found a way to catch a few keepers.
He gave up a lawn care business so that he could pursue his dream of becoming a bass pro. The game isn't always as glamorous as it seems. There are huge expenses, long hours of travel and the times when self-doubt creeps in after poor tournaments.
But for now, Scanlon is enjoying life.
"It's kind of surreal," he said. "I'm living my dream.
"Even when I was a kid, I'd be reading Bassmaster magazine or watching it on television and I dreamed of being one of those guys.
"Now, I'm here and I want to make the most of it."