Saturday, April 17, 2010

BASSMASTER Weekend Series

Grand Lake, Martin's Landing, OK

I was pretty confident when I arrived at registration. I had my boat all ready to rock and relined all my rods and really felt I had a solid game plan for the tournament. I took a small setback when I drew boat 85 out of 92. This is a factor that can potentially hamper ones odds, especially in a tournament where bed fishing was going to play such a factor because it can be a first come, first serve deal. I started to change my tone when I instead decided to redirect my focus and use the fact that I didn't have to be back until 3:45 and the bigger fish where showing up later in the afternoon.

We awoke to cloudy skies and more rain in the forecast. It had rained all through the night but nothing to heavy. I wasn't really sure how this would effect the bite as I'm really not that experienced as a bed fisherman. I decided I would start just a few miles from the take off and try to capitalize on a quick bite and it really only took about a half hour and I caught a decent 16" largemouth and got the quick skunk out of the boat. I fished for about another hour and did manage to break off on a good bite but after not putting any more keepers in the box, I decided to make the run down lake.

The fishing still remained relatively tough as these fish really weren't interested in a meal. Instead they had mother nature on their minds and were not going to bite a bait unless they felt they had to. I knew eventually the bite would pick up, I stayed the course and by noon I managed 4 keepers, only 1 short of my limit. I had switched to a texas rigged Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver with a small pegged 1/8 oz. Tru Tungsten Worm Weight. These bass weren't much to brag about, but I knew I needed to fill my limit and I'd be putting myself in the thick of it.

With only a couple hours left in the tournament, I decided it was time to start heading back, I had a few more spots I thought I could catch my limit fish and maybe even pop a kicker. As I was idling out of the cove, I noticed a real nice laydown on some rock that I hadn't even checked in practice. It just looked like it had to have a bedded bass on it. As I approached it slowly, I couldn't see the bed and instead started pitching the laydown and as I got to the other side I noticed a pretty nice bass spook from a bed and head to deeper water. What to do here was a real gamble. I had spooked a female bass off a bed and have no real true sight fishing success to my credit and could be wasting valuable time putting in the effort. Though if I stayed and I did it right, it could be a HUGE momentum swing and really give me a chance to make a couple key culls and put me high in the money.

You can't succeed without taking a chance, so I decided I'd let the spot rest for a couple minutes and instead used the time to retie my bait, no need for any added drama if you know what I mean. I slowly creeped my trolling motor to about 20 feet from the bed. I crouched down and waited another minute or two and finally the bass came back to the bed. I didn't want to spook the fish by letting the bait smack the surface of water, so instead I pitched the bait a good 5 feet over the bed, onto the bank itself. I carefully pulled the Beaver onto the bed and the bass at first swam away. I repeated the process and the bass started showing that it was getting annoyed with the bait and started to focus her attention. I couldn't really see my bait to well so after a couple more pitch's, I ripped off the Beaver and instead threaded on a white tube. On my first pitch, the bass instantly showed extreme displeasure, she started fanning her fins and was nose to nose with the bait. I could really tell I was getting close with this fish and knew I had to stay calm and persistent. On the next pitch, she got nose to nose with the tube again and then turned to her side and I tapped her with the tube. Instantly she turned and just barely smacked the bait with her mouth. I was really working this bass's nerves and knew I was getting close, kinda like when I try to purposely annoy my wife Bri. I reeled in, pitched the tube again and for a split second my white tube disappeared, I set the hook and I saw her mouth open at the surface and a second later I boated my fifth keeper, going 2.8 pounds. I cannot express how cool of an experience that was, I listened to myself, trusted myself and was rewarded with a limit. That was the first time I had ever truly sight fished a largemouth successfully and I thought I wasn't any good at it, when in fact, I just wasn't that experienced at it. Minnesota protects the spawn, so I can't practice it year after year, though that was by far one of the most addictive catches I've ever had. I've caught thousands of bass in the 2 pound range, but that sole fish is easily in my top three catches ever. I was shaking for a good half hour after that, it was awesome!!!

**Above Picture: Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver, 4/0 MiHatchii and a pegged 1/8 oz. Tru Tungsten Weight.

**Above Picture: 1/2 oz. Tru Tungsten Jig and a 5/16 oz. Picasso Shakedown Jig with a 5" Amp Lures Mimi.

After making the run back closer to the weigh in, I was able to make two small culls on a riprap bank by slowly working my shakey head. With only 20 minutes to go, I ran back to the spot where I had caught that 5 pound toad the first night. I pitched a Tru Tungsten Jig (Fall Craw), meanwhile I was envisioning my line cutting to the side and setting the hook on a 5 pounder just like my first night of practice. I knew a kicker like that would catapult me into the money. Just then my line starts running under the boat, I set the hook only to boat another 2 pounder, not exactly what I was envisioning, but hey it was still a cull.

We weighed them in and I ended up with a respectable 12.27 lbs, good enough for 37th place out of 92. I sign up for tournaments to win paychecks, yet my main goal is to always be in the thick of it. This event tested me and really forced me to fish outside of my comfort zone and I know I left Oklahoma a far better, more confident angler. That can prove to be more rewarding than a check. Then add in the time spent with my Dad and the look on his face when I weighed in, it was a great trip!

Now back in Minnesota, I'll be headed down to one of my favorite fisheries, the Mississippi River, to start practicing for the St. Jude. This tournament means a lot, it's for a great cause and the best of the best will be there. I'd really like a strong showing at this one. Wish me luck!!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Bassmaster Weekend Series Practice, Grand Lake, OK

You have no idea how excited I was to get out of Minnesota and head down to one of my favorite bodies of water, Grand Lake, in Northeastern Oklahoma. Joining me for this trip was my Dad Kenny, who made the even longer trip out from the mountains in Colorado. Being that my Dad just opened his new bar "The Vintage Moose" in the small tourist town of Idaho Springs, he was in dire need of a get away.

Researching for this trip I had mixed emotions. I was really hoping for cooler water temps and staging fish, mainly because this is what I had so much success targeting on Grand in years past. Though I had never been to Grand this late in the year, I was still thinking that I had a good chance. When I started to see reports that the main lake's water temp was already heaving into the high 60's and the backs of the coves hitting the low 70's, I knew the odds of catching them the way I was hoping was diminishing fast. Then when I saw the extended forecast called for sun and temps in the mid 80's all week, I started scraping my game plan and leaning toward a spawn bite.

When I arrived on Tuesday evening, I decided to hit the water and run all the way to the back of a major creek arm that offered a giant shallow flat in search of bedding fish. There's not many shallow flats in Grand Lake, mostly everything falls from zero to 8 ft. to 20 ft. and then off to 60 plus. It's a deep reservoir with no vegetation, which is one of the many reasons I like the lakes in this area. Being that I have much experience in our weed choked lakes up north, Grand offers something totally different and since I'm always trying to up my game to be a better tournament angler, it's essential that I learn how to fish these types of waters.

When I arrived in the back of the creek, I noticed the water was much more dirty than it was mid way when I launched. I started by working a jig and a texas rigged beaver along a riprap bank that had a nice laydown every 15 feet or so, not a bite. I starting fan casting a Super K Swim Jig and a Biovex Stangun Spinnerbait across the flat,again nothing. It was starting to get close to dark and I decided it was time to head back to load up and check into our resort. When I pulled up to the ramp I noticed a nice deep water staging area, very similar to what I've done so well on in years past. I made no more than 5 casts with a 1/2 oz. Tru Tungsten Jig (Fall Craw) with a 2.75" YUM Chunk (Green Pumpkin), when suddenly I noticed my line start cutting back toward the boat, I set the hook and up came my first bass, weighing 5.2 pounds! Man was I stoked, this had me thinking that I could run my old water that I've gotten so much confidence on in the past and whack myself a 20 pound limit.

The next morning we launched way down by the dam as I wanted to spend all day checking these proven staging areas and pull on fish so that I could start heading back north looking for new water and to leave these fish alone days before the actual tournament. My first couple spots produced not even a bite and when I was just about to get discouraged I caught another bass on the Tru Tungsten Jig going all of 4 pounds! I remembering saying to my Dad that this is fine, if I can just get 5 to 10 bites all day, they'll be the right ones. Anyone who knows me knows that my confidence level is through the roof when I have a jig tied on, I have zero problem taking my time and milking these areas, cause when I get bit, it's a good one.

After a few quick day dreams of me bringing a giant 20+ pound sack to the scales a few hours went by and I was quickly brought back down to reality, after my first two fish being good ones, I went the next 7 hours without a bite and I was fishing all my best water. As night starting to close in, I decided to work my way out of the cove I was in. I tied on a Megabass Ito Vision 110 Jerkbait (Wakasagi), since the water was much cleaner down by the dam, I figured it would be a good choice. I did manage to catch fish, but no real keepers, maybe one or two of them would of bumped the 14" mark but they weren't the fish I was looking for. I finally loaded my boat and on the way back to the cabin knew it was time for a new game plan.

The next morning I was on the water while it was still dark and had all the motivation in the world to crack Grand Lake. I picked one of the major creek arms and decided I would fish my backside off until I found a solid pattern, then go from there. I started by fishing that spot where I popped that 5 pounder, nothing. I moved to the back of a creek that still had some deep water in it, I pitched jigs, tossed jerkbaits, spinnerbaits, swim jigs, crankbaits, nothing. I powered up my Humminbird and starting scanning nice ledges and secondary points, I threw a prototype Biovex Deep Crankbait, a Picasso Football Jig and a Carolina Rig, nothing. Though on another note, I did find some awesome ledges that will be popping once the summer bite comes around.

Now starting to feel like an out of place yankee, I ran back to the resort that we where staying in to grab my paper map and make a quick sandwich. I pulled my boat into the resort marina and as I ran up the plank that connects the slips with the land I noticed I spooked a nice largemouth. She was literally on the bank, on it, like in six inches of water. This was the shot of adrenaline that I needed! I knew the bass had to be bedding but wasn't finding the beds, now it was obvious that I was searching all the wrong areas. I'm accustomed to searching the backs of shallow weedy flats up here in Minnesota, but they just weren't back there, instead they where on the rocky banks that lined the coves.

This quickly gave me mixed emotions, I felt awesome that I had found the fish but was really discouraged in catching them. Being from Minnesota, I don't have a lot of experience with bedding largemouths, Minnesota protects the spawn. The little experience I do have is nothing to be confident about. In fact, I had never successfully caught a largemouth off a bed by visually sight fishing it. I just have always written it off as a weak point in my repertoire. I always seemed to spook the fish or just never had the patience to actually annoy the fish into biting. Being that I want to be the best of the best though, I was up for the challenge. There's no better time than now to become a better angler.

I pulled out the fairy wand (spinning rod) and tied up a shakey head using a straight tail 5" Amp Lures Mimi Worm (Green Pumpkin) with a Picasso Shakedown Jig. I starting slowly creeping up down the banks, casting the worm literally on the bank and pulling off the rocks and before I knew it I had managed to catch a few limits, nothing giant but plenty of 14" to 16" fish.

The next morning and final day of practice, I headed down toward the dam again and picked two of my best coves and started searching, as the afternoon wore on I starting coming across more and more beds. Knowing that I didn't want to stick these fish the day before the tournament, I instead kept my rods in the rod locker and just cruised the banks with my trolling motor on 100. Whenever I saw a bass on a bed, I would just save a waypoint and move on. My plan was to fish these areas and try to pick these bass off by long casting my shakey worm without actually seeing the fish, this way I'd avoid spooking them.

That night I had confidence that I could catch 10 to 12 pounds, but knew I was going to need to pop a couple big ones to end up in the high teens and since I hadn't caught a good one since the first day of practice, I was a bit concerned. I knew that most the fish I had been seeing on the beds where the males and was yet to see a pair, all I could do was hope that tomorrow the big girls would move up and put me in contention for a win. I was happy though with my practice and knew that no matter what, I had learned a ton and would leave this place a better overall fisherman. All I can do now is stick with my game plan and hope my areas could hold up against a 92 boat field of locals. Bring it on boys!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Shaking Off the Cobwebs!

First off, I'd like to thank the good Lord for the early spring season as winter is long gone! The best part is, this weeks most recent warm spell pushed 70 degree weather into the Twin Cities and opened all the major lakes, freeing them from their depressing layers of ice. This is exactly the fix this bassaholic was jonesing for.

I was able to get out to Bryant Lake Wednesday morning for a few hour run around. Bass fishing season is closed here in Minnesota until May, with the exception of the Mississippi River and some other less known bodies of water. With fishing being a none issue on this day, I took every opportunity to make sure my boat was up to par and the rest of the time I spent learning my new Humminbird 998. At first, I got all worked up, but like anything new it just takes time. I had to remind myself of the day I couldn't fish a jig, I never fished them much and had no confidence, though with a little time and determination I started building that confidence and now you can't peel a jig rod out of my hand. In fact, I'm more confident with a jig than I am with any other lure ever made. The Humminbird is to be no different, I'm determined and though getting off the water that day I was still a bit discouraged, I know it'll take time and what's better than spending my spare time learning how to better find fish? Bring it on!

Friday and Saturday where even better in that I got to hit one of my favorite bodies of water with two of my real good buddies, Chris Campbell and Eric Aske. These two have been buddies of mine for a long time and I really enjoy being able to get out and stick toads with these two any chance I get, it really reminds me why I love bass fishing. With my hectic tournament schedule, I don't get the chance to get out on the water enough with these two fools, so I really cherish every time I get the opportunity. Don't let me fool you though, there's nothing charismatic about these guys, they can fish with the best of them but they're absolute clowns, we have a riot in the boat! My stomach still hurts from all the laughing!

The water was surprisingly warm when we arrived and I spent the morning again screwing with my Humminbird. I can now say, it's awesome and I can't wait to get out on the lakes and really start putting in the work. I was able to really pick apart the water and find things that would have taken so long with standard sonar. It shows weeds, rocks, bridge pilings and wing dams perfectly, this should be one of my best tools for years to come.

Once I had both Chris and Eric sold on the benefits of side imaging, it was time to go hog hunting. The bite started a bit slow, but like any other prespawn spring pattern we had to search out the warmest possible water and as soon as we found it, we got bit. Most the bass where on the small side but again, when it comes to spring fishing, all the bass move shallow, it's really the only time of year that you can catch a half pound bass and then haul off and boat a five pound giant. Which is exactly what happened, as we worked toward the back of a flat we came to a very small, shallow cove. I fired my spinner to the back and instantly hooked up with a peanut, probably the smallest bass I've ever caught, seriously the thing was meant for an aquarium. As I was trying to get the little guy off my hook, Chris fired into the exact same spot and all hell broke loose. In the end Chris landed what ended up being his biggest bass ever, 7.4 pounds. Congrats Buddy!

Saturday was a bit different in that the weather changed and made the shallows cool rather dramatically. Again the fishing started slow but as the afternoon wore on the shallows again started to produce. The fish overall where much smaller, where Friday we where catching 3 pounders with relative ease, Saturday was producing their babies. Eric had an idea to try a smaller flat that he'd done well in the past. The fishing wasn't much better and as we where talking about leaving his crankbait rod loaded up on another toad. After a good fight he landed a absolute whopper going 6.3 pounds! Man the fishing is good right now!

This brings me to another topic. I spent Easter morning with my wife Bri dropping off my guide brochures to all the major hotels around the metro, before enjoying the rest of the afternoon with our families. I've already been booking trips and am expecting even more now. If you have any desire to hit the water please contact me as soon as possible and reserve your dates. Maybe we can get you the bass of your life!

After an awesome weekend it's back to work. I need to start preparing for my upcoming tournament on Oklahoma's Grand Lake. I've been anxiously awaiting this event because the bass grow big and the timing should be perfect for busting a nice bag. I do have some experience on Grand though I've always been there in late March and early April, this tournament isn't until the 17th of April which is giving me mixed feelings. I'm not exactly sure what the fishing will bring, in the past I've done well by fishing staging areas and catching big females that are on the verge of moving up to spawn. I'm hoping that these areas will still produce, though I'm expecting some spawning activities to be in the mix as well. Hopefully if this is the case, the post spawn fish will also pull back to these areas and I'll be able to capitalize on them as well. If this doesn't hold up I'm all in on throwing reaction baits looking for pods of good fish. I want to be sure to not just show up and fish memories and instead focus on the moment and use my past knowledge of the lake to assist me in finding where they are. Either way, I'm confident and that's all I can hope for before a big tournament. I'm quickly learning that there's not another more critical tool in a bass fisherman's arsenal than confidence. It's a mental game, your lost without it!

I'm planning on heading out to some lakes here in the metro this week, since the bass season is closed up here, I'm going to devote the entire time at working with my Humminbird. Might as well find a few money making spots since I can't fish and instead pay my dues. See you on the water!

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