Sunday, May 31, 2009

BASSMASTER Weekend Series Tournament

Mississippi River pools 3 - 5, Hager City, WI

Today was the first stop of the 2009 Bassmaster Weekend Series MN/WI Division. After finishing second last year in the Angler of the Year points, I was more than eager to get this year under way. Although honestly, I didn't know what to expect this year. I always hold myself to high standards but have to admit I was pretty nervous on how I would perform now that all the tournaments are being held on various pools of the Mississippi, as opposed to different lakes in northern Minnesota. Since my desire is to compete in more upper echelon national level tournaments, which are mostly held on some sort of river system throughout the south, I figured this would be great preparation on understanding current and other various variables that rivers provide.

I was able to get out the weekend prior and do some much needed practice. The tournament was held on a considerably large portion of the Mississippi so I had a lot of water to cover. First day I headed to the St. Croix and the upper portion of pool 3. I fished some new water and also fished a few areas that I had done real well on a couple years back in a club tourney. With the water temp in the low 60's, I figured the smallmouth in this stretch would be preparing to spawn. It didn't take long to locate fish but size was an immediate concern. Most bass where under the mandatory 14" minimum and if they where larger it wasn't by much. I was locating fish by throwing a Biovex Intro 50 Minnow Jerkbait (Ayu) and a Super K Swim Jig (White Flash), and followed them up with various soft plastics. I did notice some nests and figured that by tourney day the big girls could possibly move up and join the little bucks that I had catching.

The next day I headed to the southern part of pool 4 and also checked out some areas of pool 5 that have been good for me in the past. I got a special treat in that my wife Bri joined me to help insure I had a good practice day. Hmmm, I wonder if the 80 degrees and sun had anything to do with it? Fishing for us was fair but the fish where scattered. Putting together a solid pattern down there was a real challenge. I caught a good largemouth early on a flat with a 6" Basstrix Paddle Tail Tube swimbait and also a good smallie on a rip rap bank on a Super K Swim Jig (Tequila Blue). I also managed a few more small keepers on a Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver, but although I did manage a limit, I never managed a good pattern. The fish where random with no two bites coming on the same lures or same locations. Since the run alone from take off would be no less than 25 miles with the possibility of over 60, it just wasn't worth the loss of fishing time without a more confident pattern.

Since I felt I had something going on pool 3 and the St. Croix I decided to recheck those areas. I got out early Friday morning and was able to catch a limit within the first hour. The big ones where starting to do just what was expected and where moving up on to the shallow ledges, preparing to spawn. I was also able to duplicate the pattern in other areas giving me more potential of finding the fish needed to bring a winning sack to the scales.

Since I was committed to my pattern, I used Saturday, the last day of practice on figuring out my route and finding some good areas around the lock and dam. Since we where launching in pool 4, I had no choice but to lock through to pool 3. Lock and dams can be a disaster when fishing a tournament if you don't manage your time well. Barge traffic always takes rank and can at times take up to 2 hours for a single barge to get through the lock, so it is critical that I gave myself ample time to lock and not risk be disqualified because I couldn't get back to weigh in on time. Weigh in was at 2, so I wanted to be back to the lock by at least 11:30, which meant that I would need to have some good fishing areas on both the north and south side of the lock, but not much more than a mile away.

I caught some good post spawn smallies along some rip rap on a Amp Lures Midshooter (Ayu), and also had a couple good ones following my swim jig along a wingdam. I checked some backwater and pulled on a few pretty good largemouths as well. All in all, I was confident in my pattern, although I knew there where other possible patterns out there, all of which could potentially win this tournament.

On tournament day, I drew boat 9 and had an early 5 am take off. I headed north and when I came to the lock, I noticed it was holding a barge. For 45 minutes, I fished some rip rap and random lay downs and just as the lock doors where opening for us to enter I caught a nice 17" smallmouth.

After a long run, I finally arrived at my first area that had a few nice beds that I had marked the other day. I had a couple good bites but missed them all together. I guess I had what is called a case of the jitters. I decided to go check some other stuff and give that area a chance to calm down. When I returned the wind had picked up and I wasn't able to see the beds but still knew where they where, which actually proved to be helpful in that I stayed back and made longer casts to the area. On the first cast I hooked up with a nice 3 pound smallie. Then on the next cast I duplicated it by boating another solid 3 pounder. I had really sized down my presentation and went to a 6'8" medium heavy G Loomis GLX Spinning Rod and 8 pound Gamma Edge Fluorocarbon. I set the drag low on my Shimano Sustain 2500 to insure that the fish wasn't going to be able to get awayf.

After a good start, I decided to check out some random marinas but only managed to catch a few small ones, nothing worth keeping. With three solid fish in the livewell, I started making my way back down river stopping at a few other areas that had the same type of structure. At 2 of the 3 stops I managed to catch two more good smallies, one was my biggest 3.7 pounds, which I might say put up one very nerve racking fight until finally giving in. I am very fortunate to have been using 16 pound Gamma Edge Fluorocarbon, because without it there's a good chance that fish would have broke me off.

I made it back to weigh in and was one of the first to take to the scales. My five smallmouth went 15.25 pounds and I was able to take over the lead. I anxiously waited while all 80 some pros weighed and in the end no one was able to take it it away from me. I can't even begin to explain how much this win means to me. I was able to overcome some unfamiliar water against some of the best fisherman in both Minnesota and Wisconsin. My beautiful wife Bri was there along with her whole family and even our two dogs and with all that I was fortunate enough to be the recipient of the first place 5,000 dollar check! There's truely not a better feeling in the world!

With the second place finish on Okoboji earlier in the month I've managed to gain some good momentum and hope to continue right along for the upcoming Silverado Tournament on Green Lake, in Spicer, MN. I have a couple days to relax and enjoy this win but then it's time to get back to it. Look for a full report soon. Happy Fishing!!

Click here to view the full tournament results.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Gopher B.A.S.S. Federation Club Tournament

Mississippi River Pool 2, St. Paul Park, MN

Today was the first tournament of the year with the Gopher Bassmasters. In practice I was finding largemouths in much of the river's backwater areas. Catching wasn't much of a problem, with most largemouths coming on anything from jigs and tubes to spinnerbaits and swim jigs. Smallies where also abundant and I was very pleased to find a few areas that where consistently holding good ones in the 4 pound range. Most of these quality smallmouth came off rock that had just the right amount of current sweeping past it and wasn't to far off the main river channel. I felt pretty confident heading in and knew I had that right areas to produce a winning bag.

There was one interesting twist in that this pool of the Mississippi is strictly catch and release. Which meant that this would be a paper tournament and whoever you got paired with would verify the fish's length. Since the other angler is technically fishing against you as well, you know it makes for an honest competition. Then back at the "weigh in", the tournament director uses a conversion formula to get the fish's weight, which then gets added for your 5 fish total. For this tournament I drew first year member Paul Coffey.

My first stop of the tournament was to a shoreline that had a lot of laydowns and was holding both largemouth and smallmouth. After making a few flips with a 3/8 oz. Tru Tungsten Jig with no results I picked up a 1/4 oz. Super K Swim Jig (Tequila Blue) and quickly stuck my first bass, a 14.5" smallie. Continuing to work down the shoreline, I came across a nice laydown and pitched my jig and instantly noticed a nice bass roll on it. After a poor hookset, I carefully managed to get the nice 4 pound largemouth to the boat but as I was reaching for her she came unbuttoned. That stung a bit but I convinced myself it was still very early and new I would have more opportunities at a few more that size.

After a few more casts I started seeing more and more tournament anglers working into that area and since Paul and I only had one bass a piece after a good hour I decided to split and run to another area that held some real nice smallmouth.

I pulled in and quickly starting casting a tube up to a nice rock wall. After a few casts I hooked up with another 4 pound fish except this one a bull smallie. As I was getting the fish close to the boat I saw her come up dance around and spit my hook. Without even a moment to think about what just happened I quickly grabbed my Super K Swim Jig and fired it back to wall before that bass could get back to the school and snitch on me. As soon as I starting winding in the jig my rod loaded up and again I was hooked up with another 4 pound smallie. I get this one to the boat quickly and just as the fish was all but in the net I saw my jig pop free of it's mouth and the smallie dive back out of sight. Ouch. That stung. I really don't loose fish that often, in all of last year I can remember loosing fish like that maybe only twice. Never two in one tournament.

After talking a second to regroup and let the area die down for a minute, I made a few adjustments to my tackle and far more importantly my attitude and went back with the thought now of just putting together a limit.

I caught four bass in the next hour, 3 smallmouths and 1 largemouth, with one smallie measuring 19" and change. Paul also managed to boat some key keepers but really couldn't seem to get that big bite to really bring together a solid limit.

As the sun got higher the smallmouth bite slowed and instead fish like sauger, crappie and drum moved in. With only an hour or so left in the day I figured the largemouth bite would be heating up so we ran back to the original area that we started. I quickly managed to boat a nice 16.5" largemouth on a Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver and culling nicely by getting rid of a small 14.5" bass that was really hurting my overall bag. On my very next cast i noticed my line cutting to one side and instantly set the hook into another good one but before I could manage that thought my lined snapped! When it rains it pours.

Back at weigh in I totalled 13.89 lbs and finished in 6th place. A respectable finish but I couldn't help feeling pretty disappointed in the outcome. If I could have boated three of those four fish, I would have had the winning bag. In the end, "what ifs" don't cut it and the best learn to overcome it. Hopefully I got it all out of my system for the year. Paul finished in a very respectable 8th place, even better considering it was his first tournament with the club. Paul also managed to throw a couple nice bass, one being a toad largemouth that surely would have moved him up a few spots in the final standings.

Up next is the first stop of the Bassmaster Weekend Series held on Mississippi River Pools 3 thru 5. I plan to get out there a few times in the next week to get in some good practice and hopefully piece together a winning pattern. After that I head straight out to Green lake in Spicer, MN for the first stop of the Silverado Pro Tour. I can't hardly wait!!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Okoboji Open

Lake Okoboji, Spirit Lake, IA

Finally the first tournament of the 2009 season! The forecast called for higher temps in the mid 60's along with plenty of sun. Ryan and I got on the water early on Saturday and started in some of the areas that we had caught fish the weekend before. We had decided that we where going to target pre spawn largemouth and had a few areas we thought would produce some solid keepers. We also made the commitment to not burn any fish by actually hooking them. Sometimes this is easier said than done. Although it may have proved very successful. I made three casts and got three real quality bites and where able to shake all of them off without actually hooking any of them.

After a quick start, we staring moving around and dissecting similar areas, again finding a lot of nice bites. For the most part we where targeting transitioning largemouths that where moving back toward the shallow flats to spawn. The odd part was that we where getting bit all morning but couldn't buy a bite after 10:30. I'm not exaggerating either, literally that was it, just like an on/off switch. So around 2:00 in the afternoon we decided it was best to get off the water and get an early start on preparing our tackle and making a game plan for the next day. We decided that we where going to live or die in our few areas we had that we knew held quality keepers. This time of year big bass are all bunched up and if a guy can figure out a way to get them to bite, a big stringer can rack up relatively quickly.

At take off we headed straight for our most productive area and quickly discovered that we weren't the only one's who where going to be starting there. In fact we actually ended up sharing the area with 4 or 5 other boats, which just made us work even harder and since the bite seemed to fade in the early afternoon, we found it even more crucial to put together a quick limit.

It just goes to show that a good game plan can really go along way, because I manged to catch a 3 1/2 pounder within the first half hour of fishing and it got even better when I stuck a jig into the mouth of a quality 4 1/2 pound largemouth just 20 minutes later.

After making the first set of rounds we decided to go back through the area and work it a little more slow and thorough. That again played into our hands when I added a nice 2 1/2 pounder on a swim jig. Shortly after, Ryan gets in the action and boats a solid 3 pounder on a hand tied Ryan Brant custom tungsten jig.

It was about 10:30 and the fishing was really starting to get tough. We where one shy of a limit and bites where getting few and far between. When we did manage to get a bite they where all to short to keep and I was starting to get a bit nervous. I knew that the bite was only going to get tougher as the skies got higher and really knew we had to get that crucial limit fish into the livewell. Feeling the pressure, Ryan and I decided it was time to make a move. We headed for another area that proved pretty productive in practice. We came to a nice dropoff that fell from two feet to eight and formed a perfect drop just before a subtle shallow flat. I pitched my jig to the drop and instantly set on a nice largemouth, she rolled once for me and then come off. Before I could get overly disappointed I pitched right back to the drop and set again this time on a short fish. Now pretty determined I made another pitch to the same location and managed to catch a squeaker of a 15" largemouth, just long enough though to round out a nice limit. Then wouldn't you guess? We where never able to catch another keeper big enough to cull for the next four hours. Ryan did have a couple real good bites but neither managed to make it in the boat.

We weighed in at 15.38 pounds and held the lead until the last boat in the tourney knocked us off with a winning weight of over 19 pounds. A tough pill to swallow but second place finish is a very strong showing for our first time fishing there. We also managed to cash a nice paycheck to hopefully jump start an awesome season.

With the first tourney of the year in the books, my anticipation level for the rest of the season is through the roof! Like I said before it has been way to long of a winter and I don't want to have to tough through many more of them. Bri and I are really looking forward to moving to the Nashville, TN area sometime in the very near future and our starting to make plans to get our house ready to be put on the market. Hopefully if all goes well and things manage to fall into place we will be making the move in the next year or two. Until then though I have a lot I'm looking to accomplish here, starting with strong showings in both the Silverado Tour and Bassmaster Weekend Series. Practice starts now for the Weekend Series held just across the border in Wisconsin on Pool 4 of the Mississippi River. Traditionally I haven't done all that well fishing this stretch of river in the Spring but I'm hoping to change all that and I think some extra practice days will be very beneficial for me to find some quality areas that hold good fish.

I'd also like to congratulate Dave Ham and John Fairbanks on their impressive win this year at the Okoboji Open. I really thought we had won this one until you guys strolled up and smacked us all! Nice limit guys!

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