In five years as an assistant coach to George Welsh at the University of Virginia, he concentrated on the Potomac River and Lake Anna. "I'd have three rods laid out on the deck, and all of them would have jigs tied on," he said.
When he moved on to coach running backs for John Bunting at the University of North Carolina, he remembers, "I didn't own five crankbaits." Having to keep up with the crankbait wizards he regularly fished against on Jordan, Falls of Neuse, Shearon Harris lakes - all great crankbait fisheries all within 30 minutes of Chapel Hill - he learned that part of the game.
So when Powell found himself on Tommy Bowden's staff at Clemson in 2007, Lake Hartwell was the closest body of water. He backed his Skeeter down the ramp into the Seneca River and found himself lost.
"That first year here was extremely hard; it was so different," said Powell, a Lockhart, S.C. native who stayed on as part of Dabo Sweeney's staff when Bowden stepped down last fall. "I came down here with all those crankbait rods and Carolina rigs, and they told me I had to throw a topwater bait at 2 o'clock in the afternoon? That went against everything I'd ever done.
"And fishing a drop-shot rig around the bridges? If you told me I'd be catching fish in 100 feet of water, I'd have said you you were crazy. We didn't even have 100 feet of water in Jordan Lake. I thought the old boys were trying to trick me. As it turned out, it's the real deal."
But if he's anything, Powell is a quick learner, and he's solved the equation for catching Lake Hartwell's summertime largemouths and spots.
It goes something like this: Top + Drop = Bass.
That's topwater and drop-shot, and it's a killer combination on Hartwell, a 50,000-acre reservoir at the head of the Savannah River system. When the Tigers aren't on the field somewhere and Powell isn't in the film room or behind his desk, he's on the front deck of his bass boat, foot on the trolling motor, with a half-dozen rods on deck dressed with big topwater plugs and drop-shot rigs.
"What I found out when I started fishing here was, the shad and herring population is huge, and they just roam around the lake during the summer," he said. "There are bass that just follow the shad all over, and you've got a population of bass that just stays on the big humps off the river channel and roams those humps.
"And there are humps all over the lake - from the dam at (Lake) Keowee all the way to the dam at the other end of the lake. They're in the Tugaloo and Seneca (rivers), and in Six-and-Twenty and Three-and-Twenty (creeks).
"If you don't know anything about this lake, you can pull up to a channel marker and go toward the nearest piece of land and throw, and you've got a chance to catch fish. Any kind of structure within 100 yards of a channel marker, especially humps, will hold fish."
And the bite can last all day, from a week or two before Memorial Day through the fall. "They'll stay on that pattern once they come off the beds. You do start to get a good herring spawn, and they'll eat them for a while, but when that bite starts to slow down, they back out to those humps," he said.
"Right after they move to that summer pattern, the bigger the bait you can throw, the better. A Cordell Pencil Popper is my No. 1 bait from mid-May through June. Then that bite tails off, and I'll go to an XCalibur Jimmy, and then to a Houdini Shad rigged on a Spot-Remover (jighead). You can't catch 'em as well on a prop bait or a smaller topwater bait, and they don't respond well to crankbaits.
"You can catch 'em on a Carolina rig, but it takes so much longer. A Pencil Popper is so big, if they start feeding and you can hear 'em splash, you can about reach 'em with a Pencil Popper.
"And it doesn't matter if the sun's out or it's cloudy. The one thing you need is a little chop on the water. Slack water makes it tough. But if it's right, they'll bite all day. You need two rods: one with a Pencil Popper and one with a Houdini Shad."
Powell said he typically plans to fish a series of humps in an area before he makes a big move. He figures that if he doesn't get a bite after he makes a dozen casts, it's time to move to another hump. After an hour or so, he may go back to humps that were unproductive earlier and catch fish.
"Those bass orient to the humps, and when the schools of shad and herring come by, they start feeding," he said. "And they replenish. There are four humps in particular where I caught fish all of last summer. Those are some aggressive bass when they're on those humps. They will eat that Pencil Popper, as big as it is, and you'll catch better quality fish on the humps; you don't catch those 12-inch fish as often."
Typically, Powell said, he'll catch mostly largemouths on the humps, but he does have a hump or two that will produce spotted bass. He said they're more likely to be on long, rocky points. "I've caught some 5-pound spots on this lake," he said.
Powell is looking for humps that come up out of deep water and top out anywhere from five to 20 feet deep. The best ones, he said, are the ones that are deeper on top, because they're not as easily located by a lot of fishermen. He's almost happy that a lot of the humps that are normally close to the surface when Hartwell is at normal pool - places that are marked with shoal buoys - are high and dry with the lake in a long period of drawdown. That takes those easy-to-find places out of play.
"Most of the humps are close to the river channels, so when the lake started to go down, the bass just backed off until they got to a suitable depth," he said.
The second part of the Top + Drop equation is a drop-shot rig, something Powell wasn't familiar with until he moved to Clemson. Now, whenever he and partner Brad Gambrell of Seneca approach a bridge, the boat comes off plane and the drop-shot rods come out - even if there's as much as 100 feet of water under the bridge.
"We don't go under a bridge and not make a few drops," Powell said. "It's quick fishing; you go up and drop your bait down a couple of times, then go to the next bridge.
"I think they get on bridges because there's always bait around. You've got a lot of bluegills and shad around the bridges, and they don't get worn out by fishermen. You get some crappie fishermen and maybe some live-bait striper fishermen around bridges, but not bass fishermen.
"You always have a channel, so you always have bait, and where there is a bridge, there's usually a little current because the bridge is a bottleneck.
"If you find a bridge close to a spawning cove, you'll catch a lot of fish there late in the spring. And in the spring, it seems like there are more spots around the bridges. In the summer, it's 50-50. You do catch some small fish, but every once in a while, you catch a 6-pounder."