Sunday, April 29, 2012

Bassmaster Central Open

Table Rock Lake, Branson, MO

The second stop of the 2012 Bassmaster Central Opens has come and passed and I'm definitely left with mixed emotions. First of all, this was my first time fishing on legendary Table Rock and let me tell you this lake is sent from the heavens. Easily one of the most beautiful bodies of water I've ever visited and I'm pretty seasoned in that department. Not only does the lake's scenic beauty hold up to it's reputation but the bass that inhibit the lake are plentiful and match it's reputation of a trophy producer.

I was really excited to get down there and start breaking down this long and windy waterway that has everything to offer. You can fish your strengths here no matter if you excel at fishing deep or shallow water, there's something for everyone.

Saturday morning I launched with my wife Bri and spent all our day fishing the Kings river arm. The morning started slow but I think that has a lot to do with me playing around with my new Power Pole Blades and trying to get tuned into them. We managed to catch a lot of fish but the overall size was concerning. I could catch spotted bass on nearly every cast along bluff bank with a personal hand-tied Outkast Finesse Jig and Bri was catching two at a time on my modified three hook Alabama Rig but again the size just wasn't there. The most exciting part of my day was testing out the new Biovex Popper prototype and whacking spots on nearly every cast. The action of this bait is sure to be a hit. When worked it actually gives a side to side "walking" action like that of a small spook but delivers the most enticing "pop" every time you twitch your rod. My favorite detail of this new bait is that when paused, the popper actually stands upright giving that extra flare, forcing a following bass to inhale it.

At the end of the day I wasn't to crazy about the Kings even though I knew it can produce winning sacks of fish at any given time. I also took into consideration that it was a long way from the take-off point so I rid off the Kings River that first day.

For the remainder of practice I stayed close to the dam and quickly started to put some things together. I had seen some small bass on beds the day before in the Kings so I just started picking some coves near the dam that had good looking spawning habitat and that also had the main river channel flow close to the mouth of the cove. I picked out small manageable coves and started at one point and just fished my way all the way in and back out until I came to the opposite side point. I caught and pulled on some quality bites and they were all relatively shallow. For the  most part I was flipping at shallow cover with a craw type plastic and various sized Lazer Tungsten Weights and my favorite all time hook, the Trokar 4/0 MagWorm hook. In between the cover I had success working the initial drop off from the bank throwing  a Biovex Mid Runner (Vermillion), a 1/2 oz. Biovex Stangun Spinnerbait (Chartreuse and White) and of course the good old Missouri standby, a Storm Wiggle Wart (Phantom Green Craw).

I continued to work this pattern for the rest of practice and was able to find numerous coves that all held quality fish. I added to the pattern and refined it as well and figured I could catch anywhere from 17 to 18 pounds for my best five a day. I was happy with that kind of weight but I also had some anxiety as I felt like my bite was dwindling fast. Most the fish were post spawn and on the move toward the main lake and were stopping in random bushes and laydowns along their way out of the creeks. The one thing I felt confident about was that the water had a lot of color due to an unusually long algae bloom that was present because of the early summer and the warmer temps. Table Rock is known for it's gin clear waters and the bass are accustomed to that. I felt like the color of the water may keep them shallow and in the cover.

I took the last day of practice and went all in on some deeper water. I knew there was good fish in those coves so I stayed in that general area. It didn't come easy for me either but I did manage to find two small rock piles literally in the middle of the lake that were about the size of my Ranger boat. They sat in 30 feet of water and the tops of the piles came up to about 25 feet. I made one cast with a hand tied Outkast 1/2 oz. Touchdown Jig and caught a 4 pound smallmouth.

Day one of the tournament started fast as I popped a keeper out of the first to bushes I came across. The key was definitely my Trokar hooks and the reason was because I still had to use lighter line as I got way more bites on 15 pound Seaguar Invizx than I could with 20 pound Seaguar so keeping them pegged throughout the brush was a must.

It wasn't long before I was running out of water as my worries were coming true, the bite was going away from me and I was also competing for space with other competitors. After failing to scrape up a limit and no where near the weight I was seeing in practice I ran out to my rock piles and it was straight pandemonium from there. I spent the final three hours out there and probably caught close to 25 bass both smallmouth and spotted bass. I culled like crazy but for ounces instead of pounds as I just never got that big bite like I did during practice and in the end I weighed in a 5 fish limit consisting of two largemouth, 2 smallmouth and a spotted bass going 11.13 pounds and was sitting in close contention to not only claiming a check the next day but not a far cry away from the top 10.

My plan the next day was to get to that deep spot right away and see if the bigger ones would bite and if nothing else get a quick limit and then run shallow for a mega bite or two. I knew my presentation was spot on as I had to clean crayfish parts out of my boat that night, I definitely was using the right bait.

Day two started out rough and tough right away. I made it to my deep holes but the stiff 30 mph winds made them almost impossible to fish. The main problem was that the rocks were so snag filled that I couldn't finesse the jig through them and entice bites like I could the day before. Instead I got hung on EVERY cast and with the spot being so small I would just shut down the school before they ever got going. The key with that spot was to finesse the jig until it hit a bigger boulder and then "pop" it free, that's when I'd get bit. Instead I wasted a better part of two hours and about a dozen jigs with nothing to show for it.

Frustrated I ran shallow and did manage to catch two relatively quickly on a 1/2 oz. Biovex Stangun Spinnerbait. With only an hour or so to go and crushing thoughts of not weighing a limit I ran back to my deep haunts and this time took a different approach. I tied on a 3/4 oz. Outkast Touchdown Jig and really relied on my Lowrance electronics and Hydrowave to assist me in scratching out a limit. Basically I idled into the wind to the rocks and then jumped up on my trolling motor and set it at 100 to be able to handle the wind, I waited until I saw a fish on my sonar and then would pitch the heavier jig down to them and then drift backward bringing the jig past their face. This way I could be more efficient and would snag less knowing I'm working a smaller and obviously more productive area. A dropshot would have been more productive but I couldn't buy a bite on one as they clearly were on a crayfish bite. The key was my Hydrowave as it actually brought the fish up just a bit so I could easily separate them from the bottom on my sonar, honestly there is so many tricks a guy can use with a Hydrowave but I'll leave all that to my next article.

I was able to bang out a small limit in the last hour and weighed in a disappointing 9.03 pounds for an ultimate finish of 81st place out of 168. I was disappointed as I once again proved I belong on this stage but same as the last event on Lewisville, I was so close on day 1 and just didn't get it done on day 2. When you're that close your priorities quickly change and ultimately not meeting those left me disappointed. I can say that I fished as hard as I have ever fished before and saw another part of my game get even better, great signs for things to come. I had a game plan, a good one at that and just didn't get the big bite like I had in practice. That's just tournament bass fishing. Good news was two semi solid finishes moved me up in the points but the goal of qualifying for the Bassmaster Elites is almost long gone for 2012. Now I focus on continuing to work and hone my skills for an awesome 2013 campaign on the Bassmaster Opens. I still have a shot at qualifying for the Bassmaster Classic at Fort Gibson, OK in September so you can bet your ass I'll be leaving it all on the water there. Grand lake in February would mean the world to me but I got my hands full that's for sure. Bring it on! I'm a competition junkie all the way.

For now, I have a HUGE tournament schedule shaping up here in the north country. Up next is the North American Bass event held on the Winnebago Chain in east Wisconsin. Should set up for a whack fest! I'm also filling fast for guide trips so get in touch with me right away if you'd like to take advantage. I'm always looking for a good time on the water so I'll be sure to work you in! See you on the water!!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bassmaster Central Open Preview

Table Rock Lake, Branson, MO

I'm getting very close to heading south to partake in the second stop on the Bassmaster Central Open Tour and will be putting in work on legendary Table Rock Lake. Every serious bass angler has dreams and aspirations of fishing this well known body of water, so with that a lot of my fellow competitors already have years of knowledge of what it will take to excel to a top finish. I on the other hand do not, in fact the only experience I have on this beast of a lake was a few weeks back when I made the hike down for a long weekend to get a bit more familiar. All this means is it's time to put on my work hat, pull my boot straps tight and put my chin down in search of winning fish. As Jason Aldean says, "that's my kinda party!" I like the unexpected, in fact I prefer it as I seem to find a way to rise to the occasion when I have no preconceived notions on what I need to do. I rely on instincts and my bass fishing prowess are what have excelled me in this sport in my mere 5 years of competition.

I try not to do to much homework either as it has shot me in the foot more than it's ever helped me out. I gather some info, mostly public stuff like general water information. I know that the lake runs gin clear for the most part and that spring rains can and will effect that. I know it's a deep fishery with world class largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass all throughout it. Table Rock sits nestled into the Ozark Mountains and vegetation is null throughout the entire fishery. There's three main rivers that make up the waterway in the Kings, James and White Rivers and figuring out where these watersheds come from will give me a good idea of what to expect and how the fish will relate in these sections of the lake.

Table Rock has a reputation of being a do it all type of fishery, meaning a guy can catch 'em anyway he desires. I may have to get up close and personal and swim Outkast Swim Jigs through the brush and around the docks or throw the Biovex Wake Bait enticing big bites from schooling fish. If push comes to shove, I may need to bust out the G Loomis NRX Spinning Rods spooled with 6 lb. Seaguar Tatsu Fluorocarbon and use my Lowrance electronics to dropshot toads out of the many planted bushes that have been placed all over the depths of the lake. No matter what it takes I pride myself on being a versatile angler and am not afraid to learn on the fly.

This is the mid way point of the Central Opens and a strong finish here could really catapult me to the top of the Angler of the Year points and give me a direct shot at qualifying for the Bassmaster Elite Series, a tough task to say the least but one I've literally been dreaming of everyday since I was a little kid. I plan to take advantage of every opportunity I can create.

No more time to talk shop, it's time to put up or shut up! I also have to go get my new Power Pole Blades installed so I really do have to go! LOVING LIFE!!!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Full Throttle Team Event

Mississippi River Pools 3, 4 and 5, Red Wing, MN

I'm happy to say that my tournament season is fully underway! This past weekend I got the opportunity to fish the Full Throttle Team Tourney with a good friend and one of Minnesota's best bass anglers, Andy Young. The event was held on one of my favorite bodies of water in the Mississippi River.

As much as I'd like to get into the details of what patterns worked and which ones didn't but I can't as Andy has another upcoming tournament there in the next couple weeks.

Practice went very well and we knew if we had a run and gun approach we should easily be able to catch 15 pounds and though we caught some nice ones during practice, we knew that we would need to capitalize on a few big bites. We figured it'd take 18 to 20 pounds to have a chance of winning and thought if we ran all our spots we may just find ourselves with that kind of weight.

Game day turned up exactly what we thought and though we put together 15 pounds we never did get that big bite needed to push us to the top. We weighed in 5 for 15.28 lbs only good enough for an 8th place finish. The winners put together an impressive 5 largemouths for 19.1 pounds. Even though it didn't turn out the way we had hoped we still had a great day on the water and after some good river fishing I'm more than ready to hit the road and try to put together something great on Table Rock!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Getting the Kinks Out

Back in action! Loving every second of it too. Believe it or not, there's a lot that goes with trying to make a career out of bass fishing. It's not all setting hooks and sunny 80 degree weather with flip flops. There's a business side. My view on this is that business is just as important off the water as it is on the water and they're both extremely important!

Lately my on-water time has been few and far between and even when I do find myself on the water there wasn't much in the way of actual casting. Our lakes up here in Minnesota actually opened a few weeks ago and with the river not flooding at all, the fishing has been wide open. Instead, when the temps reached a record breaking 80 degrees in mid March, I was working a Cabela's event for my sponsors all weekend. Last week the Northwest Sport Show took all my time as the Navionics booth was hopping. Don't get me wrong either, I don't mind the business side of our sport, in fact it's what allows me to be on the water every other day. I'm fortunate to have so much support from the leaders in the bass fishing industry but there's still no denying, I work to fish!

Now with the show season coming to a halt, I've been running the river working out the kinks of a long winter. My next Bassmaster Central Open is coming up at the end of April on Missouri's legendary Table Rock Lake. My goal is to be in straight beast mode by the time that event rolls around. To prepare I decided to team up with good buddy Andy Young and sign up for a Full Throttle event held on the Mississippi River Pools 3-5. The river is the only thing similar to southern reservoir fishing that we have here in Minnesota and really they're not that close but there is shad and current. There's also everyday changes that you need to be quick on your feet and be able to fish the moment. Our lakes are different, they're by far more "spot" orientated than "pattern" orientated.

Nothing is more evident of this than the fishing we've encountered the past two days. We decided to stay close to home and fish pool 2 of the Mississippi River. We'll practice pools 3-5 enough over the next week but it's nice to be able to hit the pool just north of the action to figure out what the bite is and also be able to tool 'em up a bit without sacrificing tournament bites.

Thursday was a decent day. The smallmouth weren't wanting to join in the party at all. They'd bite but for the life of me I couldn't get them to commit but we found the largemouth a lot more willing. Odd as we had bright bluebird skies and hardly no wind, you'd think it be a smallie kind of a day? The largemouth we caught came on an array of baits but Andy whacked the two biggest on my homemade 3/8 oz. pitchin' jig (black and blue). We also caught a bunch on a jerkbait which probably got the most bites as well as an Outkast Pro Swim Jig, though the size was much smaller.

Friday was all around different. I finally caught a couple main river smallies on a Biovex Mid Runner (Blueback Chartreuse). That gave me the idea to fish more main river and secondary shoots instead of running all the way to the backs of the little feeder creeks. Usually the bite would be strong in the bays and lagoons but being that the river is extremely low and for the most part clean with little current these fish aren't needing to go as far back and with the low overnight temps, the main river is staying the same water temp where the backs are getting very cold overnight and taking most the day to warm up.

Friday I got most of my bites fishing bluff rock and where ever there was a laydown or a rock outcropping off the bluff was lights out. I caught a lot on a Biovex Mid Runner, an Outkast Swim Jig and that same 3/8 oz. pitching jig. I also got an opportunity to try out the Reaction Innovations Kinky Beaver and was impressed with the results.

The bass were double dipping on both crayfish and shad and gorging themselves in preparation for the spawn. The big girls were extra fat! Once I found that pattern I was very efficient as I could use my Lowrance HDS 8 Gen 2 along with my new 2012 Navionics Platinum North Chip and actually use the maps 3D capability to see where the bluffs where and then idle the bluff looking for the ideal laydowns or outcroppings. The "juice" was where the outcropping was still underwater and not visible to the eye, my StructureScan could pick it up every time.

The best was saved for last when my wife Bri showed up to hit the water and take some photo's with our new camera when I popped a 4 pounder on the Biovex Mid Runner and a 5.6 on the jig! Man it feels good to be back in action!! Best part, I don't ever have to winterize my boat again! Game on!

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