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Reel Chat with KEVIN HAWK

Recent Forrest Wood Cup champion discusses his winning Lanier techniques, tips for co-anglers and his plans for the future, among many other topics
Welcome to FLW Live Reel Chat. Today we’re joined by bass pro Kevin Hawk of Ramona, Calif.

Since 2007, Hawk has amassed seven top-10 finishes, a 2010 Forrest Wood Cup title and nearly $650,000 in career earnings. With his recent Cup win at Lake Lanier, Hawk joins a very select group of anglers who boast one of the most prestigious titles in the sport of professional bass fishing.

Today, Kevin Hawk is here to take questions from you, the fans. So, without further delay, let’s get started.

Q: Now that you are a couple of weeks removed from your historic win at the Forrest Wood Cup, how does it feel to have won one of the biggest bass fishing events in the country?
— Jon Pageler (Napa Valley, Calif.)
A: Every day I think about winning the Cup. I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet. I think, you know, every day I realize it just a little bit more. It will probably take a couple more months for me to really comprehend it all. I’m just not used to everything that comes after it. But it’s been fun.

Q: Kevin, at what moment of the Forrest Wood Cup did you realize, “Hey, I just might be able to actually win this thing?”
— Pat Zak (Oakland, Calif.)
A: You know, I really didn’t know that I had a shot until I was up onstage and Larry Nixon was starting to weigh in. The three guys that concerned me were Nixon, Cody Meyer and Brent Ehrler. And I was trying to read their body language to see if they were anxious to weigh in their fish or relaxed and not in a hurry to get up to the scales. I didn’t think I had won until Brent was done weighing in. It was very suspenseful for me up until the last guy had weighed in. I was just like, please, let me have a chance.

Q: What did it mean to you to have your family fly back to Georgia for the duration of the FLW Cup and be present for this moment?
— Elizabeth (Los Angeles, Calif.)
A: You know, it made it that much more special. To have my family there meant the world to me. My family has supported me over the years with regard to my fishing. And not having them there, it just wouldn’t have been the same.

Q: Congratulations on your great win, Kevin! My question is this: Are Lanier’s spotted bass sensitive to the sonar emitted by depth finders? In other words, did you turn off the sonar from your depth finder in order to catch them?
— Jim (Gainesville, Ga.)
A: No. I left all of my electronics on. I never turned them off at any time during the day. I never felt I was sacrificing bites by leaving my electronics on. Knowing where the fish were was more important than possibly spooking the fish.

Q: Since 2004, an angler with West Coast ties has won the Forrest Wood Cup every other year. Why do you think the Western guys have done so well lately?
— Titus Song (New York, N.Y.)
A: I think the venue plays a big part. It seems like a lot of the FLW championships visit deep, clear reservoirs. And it’s during the summer, and the drop-shot really plays a big role, and Western anglers are really comfortable drop-shotting.

Q: With two of the largest limits of the tournament (day one and day four), did you have a key bait that enabled you to consistently catch quality fish? If so, why?
— David (San Diego, Calif.)
A: Absolutely. The Swarming Hornet Fish Head Spin was the key bait to getting the bigger bites I needed to win the tournament. The Fish Head Spin produces a flash and vibration that was irresistible to the suspended spotted bass.

Q: Congrats on your win. Give us all the details on how to catch suspended fish on the drop-shot. Thanks.
— Ronnie (Lone Oak, Texas)
A: At Lanier, a lot of times I’d see the spotted bass suspended around the brush piles I was fishing. When I saw the fish on the graph, I’d throw my drop-shot down immediately and then watch the fish swim down on the graph and eat it. So you really have to pay attention to your graph because it really is a visual thing. It’s also important to use a big weight — a 3/8-ounce — so you can get your bait down quickly. I was actually getting a lot of bites on the bottom after the bait had already passed by the fish.

Q: All the reports talk about how you threw only two baits all tournament (Roboworm and Fish Head Spin). Can you provide specific details on your equipment setup for each?
— David (San Diego, Calif.)
A: I was throwing a 1/2-ounce “Albino” Sworming Hornet Fish Head Spin with a Zoom Fluke Junior on 10-pound Berkley 100% fluorocarbon line. The rod and reel I was using for that setup was a G-Loomis IMX 843 casting rod with an Abu Garcia Revo STX 6:4:1 gear ratio. For the Roboworm drop-shot setup, I was using a 6-inch Roboworm in the “Morning Dawn” color, 7-pound Sunline and Super FC Sniper fluorocarbon. I also used a 3/8-ounce drop-shot weight. The rod and reel for that setup was a Lucky Craft 701 MHXF drop-shot rod with a Shimano Symetre 3000 FJ spinning reel.

Q: How were you working your Fish Head Spin to catch your fish?
— Bo (Knoxville, Tenn.)
A: I would make a long cast over the top of the submerged brush pile and let the bait sink five to seven seconds, depending on how deep I wanted the bait to get. And then I would pick up the slack with the bait with my rod in one motion and start reeling slowly — keeping the slow retrieve constant all the way back to the boat. And when the bass would hit it, the rod would load up.

Q: Are your plans still to move to Guntersville, Ala., and how do you approach a lake like Guntersville with the grass different from a lake like Lanier? Thanks, and the best of luck to you in the future.
— Mike (Warrior, Ala.)
A: Yes, my plans are still to move to Lake Guntersville. And I’m very excited because I don’t have a lot of experience fishing grass. I’m hoping to spend a lot of time on the water and make fishing grass one of my strengths in the future.

Q: How heavy is the Cup? Looks like it was a struggle to get it over your head.
— Pete (Decatur, Ala.)
A: You better be going to the gym to lift that thing; it’s heavy. When I first picked it up, I realized I couldn’t even put both hands on the base as it was too heavy to hold up that way. It probably weighed close to 50 pounds. It’s a solid piece and a pretty big one at that.

Q: Did you fish any other finesse techniques such as a jig or shaky head while fishing the deep brush piles? Also, why was the pale “Morning Dawn” Roboworm such a popular worm this year?
— Skye (Lynchburg, Va.)
A: I didn’t catch any fish on a jig or shaky head the entire tournament. All of my fish came exclusively on the Fish Head Spin and the “Morning Dawn” Roboworm. The “Morning Dawn” is a semi-translucent color, and that worm seems to excel in any clear-water siutation. Anytime you have 4- to 6-foot visibility, I wouldn’t hesistate to throw it.

Q: Kevin, on another forum, I read that you promised to eat a box of “Zingers” if you won the Forrest Wood Cup. After doing some quick math, I discovered that there is 5,640 calories in a box of zingers, along with 192 grams of fat, 4,440 mg of sodium and 972 grams of carbohydrates. I was just wondering how your body would react to this kind of intake?
— Peter (Grand Rapids, Mich.)
A: Thanks, “Peter,” for the great question. I did indeed make a bet that if I won the Cup, I’d have to eat a box of Zingers. I made that bet because I didn’t think I’d win the Cup. Since I won $600,000, I’m going to try and buy my way out of that bet because I’m sick just thinking about it.

Q: Kevin, it’s not every day when somebody wins $600,000. So, what are you going to do with all the money?
— Thomas Suk (Minneapolis, Minn.)
A: For the immediate future, nothing. It’s just sitting in the bank right now. I don’t want to make any impulse buys at the moment, so I’m not going to be spending any money for at least a few months until I have some time to think about it. I can tell you, however, my first big purchase will be a new Ranger Z-521.

Q: Hey, Kevin, I was wondering if you were using any other technique or bait that was different from the rest of the field during the FLW Cup. If so, what was it?
— Ron (Chicago, Ill.)
A: I felt the Fish Head Spin was key because I didn’t feel like a lot of other guys in the tournament were throwing that bait. Even though a lot of the areas I was fishing were getting a lot of pressure, the pressure was due to shaky heads and drop-shots. So I knew I could get some key bigger bites with the Fish Head Spin because it was being underutilized by many of my competitors.

Q: What depth finders and settings were you using while you fished the brush piles?
— Skye (Lynchburg, Va.)
A: I had Lowrance electronics, and I was running an LCX 38CHD at my console. I also used an LMS 332C on the bow. I had my setting on auto-depth range with upper and lower limits set from 0 to 40 feet. And my sensitivity was set at 87 percent.

Q: Did you miss any fish that you thought could have cost you the Cup?
— Skye (Lynchburg, Va.)
A: Fortunately, I fished a very clean tournament, and I didn’t miss any fish I thought would have hurt me in the end.

Q: What is the best time of year to fish Lake Lanier?
— Michael (Duluth, Ga.)
A: For me, the most fun time of year is the postspawn from May to June because the fish get on the topwater bite then. And there is no more fun way to catch fish on Lanier than on a topwater bite. You can throw a big Lucky Craft Sammy or a saltwater Chug Bug.

Q: Congrats, Kevin, on a big win. What was the biggest challenge going from co-angler to boater?
— Dan Shuga (Botkins, Ohio)
A: The biggest challenge is this: As a boater you’re making all of the decisions as to where to fish; a co-angler is basically along for the ride and goes wherever his or her boater decides they’re going to fish that day.

Q: Why are you moving to Lake Guntersville? That lake is great, but the pressure it gets is absolutely insane.
— Toby (Tupelo, Miss.)
A: I know what you’re talking about because I’ve seen that firsthand. I’ve fished two tournaments there and the pressure was intense, but it’s not anything I haven’t seen before fishing in southern California. So I don’t think it would be that much of a shock.

Pro Kevin Hawk of Ramona, Calif., shows off his first-place trophy after winning the 2010 Forrest Wood Cup title on Lake Lanier.

Q: Kevin, I know there was some early talk about you retiring if you didn’t do well enough at the 2010 Cup. So, did you have a certain place in mind that you had to finish above in order to keep your fishing career going?
— Jim Interlandi (Chicago, Ill.)
A: I didn’t have a specific place set in order to keep going. It was just going to be a judgment call. Obviously winning the Cup, I don’t have any concerns about that anymore.

Q: Hawk, I heard you mention that you fished a lot of brush piles during the FLW Cup. Did you find these piles using a side-scan unit?
Greg (Liberty, South Carolina)
A: My boat was not equipped with a side-scan feature, so it took me longer to find the brush piles as I had to drive right over the top to see them on my graph. I would have loved to have had the side-scan feature as it would have made finding those brush piles a whole lot easier. My new Ranger boat will definitely be equipped with a Lowrance Structure Scan.

Q: I fish Lanier, but do not have expensive electronics or top-of-the-line spinning equipment. How should I fish Lanier now and in the next couple of months?
— Otis (Milton, Ga.)
A: You don’t need expensive electronics or top-of-the-liine equipment to locate fish. You can just use the electronics you have now to find brush piles. I’d start looking on main-lake points and offshore humps. Once you have the brush piles marked on your electronics, drop your drop-shot down straight onto the brush. And that will be your most efficient way to catch fish now and into the next month. You also need to get a Fish Head Spin, which you can throw on a spinning rod. Throw that on the top and sides of brush piles.

Q: Why did you choose the “Morning Dawn” color as your primary color during the Forrest Wood Cup?
— Greg Glouse (Easley, S.C.)
A: I have a lot of confidence in the “Morning Dawn” color. I caught a lot of fish on it in California over the years. When I got to Lanier and saw the water clarity, I immediately tied on the “Morning Dawn” color. For me, I just have a ton of confidence in that color. There aren’t a lot of companies that make that color, but it’s not a widespread color by any means.

Q: What is your largest tournament bass? What is your largest non-tourney bass?
— Darin (Thompsonville, Ill.)
A: My largest tournament bass is approximately 9 pounds, which was caught on the Cal Delta. My largest non-tourney bass is 12 pounds, 2 ounces, caught at Lake Wohlford in southern California.

Q: Congrats, Kevin. My question is this: Were your predominant pattern and lure selections something you determined in practice, or did you they develop after the tournament began?
— James (Tifton, Ga.)
A: It actually developed prior to the off-limits to the Forrest Wood Cup. I solidified them in the official practice before the tournament. So going into the tournament, I knew exactly what two baits I’d be throwing.

Q: Would you describe what these brush piles look like? Is it green and leafy, or is it just branches? We’re not allowed to sink brush up here in Yankee country.
— Tim Brandton (Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.)
A: There are so many brush piles on Lanier that some don’t even have their leaves on them anymore. It seemed like the more productive ones in the tournament were the newer ones — brush piles that weren’t completely bare.

Q: Obviously timing has worked out well for you to capture this year’s FLW Cup title. With the news of Walmart coming back on board to support FLW, how does this change the sponsorship aspect for you and other anglers trying to make this a career?
— Cliff Harski (Del Mar, Calif.)
A: It gives the anglers a tremendous opportunity now with Walmart being back as the title sponsor for the 2011 FLW Tour. Professional bass fishing now has an extremely bright future, which will benefit the fans and tournament anglers.

Q: Hi, Kevin. Congrats on the win. I am really trying to learn Lanier and put my kids on the spots. Do you ever cast the drop-shot and work it back to the boat, passing brush and ledges on the way? Thanks for your time.
— Jason (Dacula, Ga.)
A: I do cast and work a shaky head back to the boat, but I don’t do that with a drop-shot. I use the drop-shot as a target-specific bait, and 99 percent of the time I’m dropping it straight below the boat in and around the brush.

Q: I read that you fished almost 50 spots a day. Were there any specific brush piles that you knew were going to produce? How many really good piles did you have?
— Mike G. (Roswell, Ga.)
A: I’d say out of those 50, I considered 10 to be really good — meaning I felt confident I could catch a quality fish that I could weigh in each day off of those 10 piles.

Q: Tell us more about your relationship with Brent Ehrler. Is he kind of like your mentor?
— Nick W. (Modesto, Calif.)
A: Definitely Brent is a mentor to me. He’s also a good friend. What I like about Brent is that he’s a positive person, down to earth and someone that I can trust. It’s rare to find a friend like Brent who possesses those kind of qualities.

Q: Great job, Kevin! So, you coming home or what? I hope to see you step up to the Tour; any chance you will? You have been a quiet but ever-present stick out here. Good luck in whatever you chose.
— Rodney (Valencia, Calif.)
A: My plans at this point are to stay back East and move to Lake Guntersville. I also plan on fishing the 2011 FLW Tour as a boater (pro).

Q: I hear that you travel and pre-fish with Brent Ehrler on the FLW Tour. How did it feel for it to come down to you and Brent onstage to determine the winner?
— Brent Rust (La Jolla, Calif.)
A: I was more nervous than anything because Brent is one of the best tournament fishermen in the country. Knowing he was the last person to weigh in had me concerned. Regardless of the outcome, there was no one I would have rather had up there with me in the end.

Q: How does an angler get started in the world of bass fishing? I know if you plan on fishing big tournaments, you need the best equipment. How does one afford a nice bass boat while having a job that allows you to be out of work weeks at a time preparing for a tournament? This has been on my mind for a while now.
— Greg (Liberty, S.C.)
A: I would strongly recommend starting out as a co-angler (amateur). That way you don’t have to have a boat to start out with right away. While top-of-the-line equipment is nice, it’s not necessary to start fishing tournaments. As far as the time off from work is concerned, it helps to have an understanding boss. If not, you just have to use your vacation time wisely. It’s like anything else: You don’t get better unless you practice. And spending time on the water is key.

Q: Many people don’t realize that you were an avid body-builder in your earlier days, so fitness is not new to you. Can you describe the differences from general fitness and being fit as an angler?
— Boo (Arcadia, Calif.)
A: It’s important as an angler to have overall good conditioning because standing on a boat for 12 hours a day requires a lot of stamina. I’ve also incorporated a lot of stretching routines to help combat tightening muscles you get from casting and reeling all day. And it’s also important to not neglect the nutrition aspect as well. It’s important to eat small meals while you’re out on the water to keep your energy up and your mind focused.

Q: Hi, Kevin. Did you focus your attention in the tourney toward main-lake brush or creek brush? I noticed many days you were not far from the bank. What areas in the lake were better?
— Bill (Oakwood, Ga.)
A: I targeted both main-lake and creek brush piles. The key was the better brush piles were positioned near a drop-off close to very deep water. The majority of the fish that I caught in the tournament came around Big Creek, Shoal Creek and the perimeter of Lake Lanier Islands.

Q: People who watched you fish that week at the Cup talk about how you are a machine on the water or almost like a robot in action. Describe what they are talking about?
— C-Born (Oceanside, Calif.)
A: I was just extremely focused; therefore, I didn’t have a lot of wasted movements out there. I wanted to be sure that everything I was doing was done for a reason.

Q: Kevin, any advice on fishing the co-angler side? What do you do when the tourney falls on a time where bass are bedding?
— Greg (Lexington, S.C.)
A: Definitely. You want to go into the tournament with a positive frame of mind. I treated heading into a tournament as a co-angler as a learning experience. There is always something you can pull from the tournament and learn from each boater you’re paired with. I attribute my success to fishing the co-angler side of the FLW Tour the past two seasons. I’ve learned more in the past two seasons fishing as a co-angler than all of my previous years fishing on my own. During sight-fishing tournaments, in a lot of cases where your boater might be working the front of the boat, you can often find bedding bass within casting distance from the back, or you can blind-cast to cruising fish if there are some in the area as well. One of my favorite baits to throw when I’m in that position is a Yamamoto Senko or a drop-shot.

Unfortunately, that’s all the time we have to chat with Kevin today. Thanks once again to all the fans who tuned in and participated in today’s Reel Chat. And a special thanks to Kevin Hawk, the recent Forrest Wood Cup winner on Lake Lanier, for giving us his time and insights into bass fishing. Check back shortly for a complete transcript of today’s FLW Live Reel Chat.