Sunday, April 28, 2013

Bassmaster Central Open

Red River, Bossier City, LA

This past weekend was the first stop of the Bassmaster Central Opens, a derby I was looking very much forward to and one I'll soon not forget.

The site was none other than Louisiana's historic Red River, where moving around this sprawling and stump filled waterway can prove heartache to any weary angler. Half the battle to locating fish on the Red lies in getting to know your surroundings. It's nothing to find yourself working your way through stump fields, sand bars, levees and wing dams. All the while trying to avoid random rebar, fence posts, water moccasins and alligators in search of a 100 yard stretch holding bass that are busting at the chance to choke your Biovex Stangun Spinnerbait.

Finding your way around the Red is 75% of the battle. Mother Nature has an excellent way of protecting her trophies.

They grow em GIANT down in the bayou.

When practicing for the Red, the more time you can give yourself, the better off you'll be. Most of your practice day is spent reversing off sand bars, pushing off stumps and creating routes to and from the main river channel. Running wide open in search of new water is simply not an option and idle speed will be the only thing preventing you from a busted hull and a misplaced lower unit. With this said, I was bayou bound early and planned on a solid week of practice. There's a lot riding on the first tournament of the series. Sure, there's the obvious, a win equals big bucks and a invitation to the 2014 Bassmaster Classic. More importantly, the need for points means the difference between an Elite Series birth and another season at the Open level. My main goal was a realistic one for never having been to the Red River or Louisiana for that matter. I needed to cash a check and put myself into position to make a push.

The first day of practice started real well and I was off to a great start. In fact, it was refreshing to be back around some shallow dirty water. Since moving from Minnesota last October, I have been spending almost all my time out targeting suspending bass on the Tennessee River and Ozark Impoundments. Breaking down the Red River was right up my alley and the preferred presentations fit my strengths. The main river had a lot of color and defined it's name perfectly. With color that dirty and taken into consideration the time of year, I started by targeting the many backwater sloughs that make up pool 5 in search for some clearer water and vegetation.

The first day of practice was the start of a cold front following a 24 hour rain shower that dumped a good inch of water in the Shreveport/Bossier City area. Making some comparisons to Florida fishing, I was instantly attracted to the hyacinth mats on a deeper bank leading into a spawning pocket. The spawn was already well underway with more fish falling into the post spawn phase. Hyacinth mat root systems hold mud and this mud retains heat, perfect for attracting both post and prespawn bass on cold front days with stiff north winds. In fact, I was pulling on fish on my first couple flips. As practice moved forward and the warmer weather took hold, the bass started to roam from the mats and got out on the flats to feed. When this went down, I had no problem catching keepers on a Biovex Stangun Spinnerbait (Black) or a Outkast Swim Jig (Bruiser) by fan casting the high spots on flats and grinding the baits through the many stumps. I was able to find all kinds of water and had my best luck targeting dirty water that's not too dirty and definitely not to clear, if that makes any sense at all?

Hyacinth mats are notorious living quarters for all animal life and provides clearer water under it's dense mats.

After fishing clear water and seeing all the abandon beds and fry in the shallows, I knew we were on the tail end of things but knew there was still some love making going on. I left the flats in search for a happy medium between the back sloughs and the main river. I found a few smaller areas that were between two major sloughs but close enough to the main river to be off most anglers radars. I noticed quickly that things were a little further back in the spawning game as these areas still had bass moving up.

I'll mention now that I was cursed with a bad engine this entire tournament and had to game plan for the worst. This meant pool 4 was not included in my options and instead I focused all my energy on pool 5. My engine's main computer system was fried and was unfortunately not getting fixed for this event. Having a bad computer meant that there was no telling what issues I was going to encounter. I didn't get enough time to practice for pool 4 even if I had wanted to as I spent half my practice off the water and at dealerships trying to get fixed. Knowing long rough idles would work against me, I became ever more intrigued by my dirty water spawning area I had located.

Day one of the derby, I ran to my area and quickly got to work throwing an Outkast Swim Jig and flipping a Lake Fork Tackle Craw Tube to shallow cover. I also targeted spawners along a rock levee stretch that dead ended in the back of the pocket. My problem was the dirty water wouldn't allow me to see the bass I was targeting so I failed to hook up on a good 50% of my bites and I know for fact I messed up on a few of the better females that were in those areas. Since I didn't have a engine that allowed me to run, I was forced to sit on these fish and grind them out which proved effective and I weighed in a above average limit going 10.3 pounds and put myself in perfect position to make a run on day two.

There are many man made levees throughout the entire Red River system and the key ones hold large schools of bass.

After I weighed in, I was instantly slammed with a serious case of anxiety as I wasn't able to put my boat on the trailer as my engine was in SAFE mode. As I was stalled out and working on getting to my trailer which now was holding up the entire show, I looked around the slough that harbors Red River South Marina and noticed there really wasn't many places for these bass to go as there was a good 3/4 mile channel to get back out to the main river. I knew this area had some fish in it and was about to receive a thousand or so more. That night, I figured I would attempt to run to my same area and stay in there all day. As long as my engine could get me there, I'd stay in there until the last hour and then get back and fish for some release fish. This way if I broke down I'd have plenty of time to call Tow BoatUS and get back to weigh and if I made it back to the check-in slough, I could use the trolling motor worst case.

I was in an earlier flight and was able to make it to my primary area with no problems, well except for the fisherman that beat me to the area. This area was a one boat spot and I couldn't sit and watch the writing on the wall. The day before I did well out of this area but unfortunately I had left a few better bites in there. The bass were spawning in here and though the water was far to dirty to visually sight fish them, I had saved their exact location on my bow mounted Lowrance Gen 2 Touch 12 and new I'd have them dead to rights if I could just get in there and execute. Being that I got beat in there, I decided to hit a similar area on the back side of the levee that I had made a cull or two in the day before. Being that hooking up with these weary bass was such a challenge day one, I went to a three lure rotation and made some necessary changes to better execute. I stayed the course with my Outkast Swim Jig, I was throwing the 1/4 oz. Bruiser color with a black and blue grub trailer. I threw this all week on a G Loomis MBR 844 GLX with a Shimano Chronarch 50E and 15lb. Seaguar Invizx Fluorocarbon. I also kept the same flipping tube which was a Lake Fork Tube Craw (black neon) with a rattle insert. The difference was that I went from a 4/0 Trokar Magworm to a 5/0 Trokar Flippin' Hook and also switched from fluorocarbon to 60lb. Seaguar Kanzen Braid to help ensure stronger hook sets with no stretch for these finicky bass. I was pitching this setup to spawning rocks, laydowns and stumps with the new G Loomis GLX 855 JWR and a Shimano Core Mg7. Lastly, because of the shad spawn and heavy pressure, I tied on a Biovex Shallow Runner (Ayu) which I replaced it's smaller hooks for larger size 6 Trokar EWG Treble. I threw this along the levees and whenever I could see bass chasing shad. I used the new G Loomis GLX 847 CBR, which is honestly one of the best cranking rods ever thrown and also went with the Shimano Chronarch 50E, spooled with 10 lb. Seaguar Invizx Fluorocarbon.

A chunk prespawn largemouth that choked a Outkast Tackle Swim Jig.

After making the move to a less pressured area I instantly went to work and was able to round out a small limit in no time at all. I still missed a few but all in all my hook up ratio was far better and that smaller profile Biovex crankbait was key in getting strikes without pulling up the mud bottom like more traditional square bill crankbaits. Despite the early limit, things slowed drastically and the bites were few and far between. My thought was that the day prior I most likely stubbed my toe on the females and ended up weighing more males and overnight some of those females moved on.

I decided to finally leave this area and make the run back. Upon my arrival, I saw that the 1/2 mile stretch of bank had about 15 boats lined up on it all with the same idea. I picked an open 50 yard stretch and claimed it as my own. The bank was lined with a few laydowns and on my first flip to one I managed a small cull. As I continued back and forth along my stretch I couldn't help but notice the hard mud line that was present due to the rising water and boat traffic. Knowing I needed to make a change and having only about 20 minutes left in my day, I tied on a 3/8 oz. Chatterbait (Black and Blue) and threaded on a Lake Fork Tackle Craw (Black and Blue). I made three casts into a tumbleweed of a laydown and as my bait was coming along side the brush it got heavy. I leaned back and before I knew it a 7 pound largemouth rolled, opened her mouth and threw my bait in a split second! I honestly fell to my knees in disbelief. I'm not going to make excuses, I should have boated that fish. Closing on these opportunities are what separates the men from the boys and in this case, costed me a 12th to 16th place finish and a easy three grand. Instead, I was forced to weigh in my disappointing 5 bass limit weighing 6 pounds 11 ounces and finished 80th out of 186 boats. I know in my heart, that lost 7 pounder paired with the poor execution of the bedders will haunt me further as the year wears on and will most certainly be the difference of qualifying for the Elites and trying my luck again next season. All I can do is take pride in putting myself in position, learning from my mistakes and making sure next time the bites get put in the boat. It's just that simple.

Bass aren't the only ones gorging themselves on crawdads in the greater Louisiana area.  

Louisiana is a great place and the Red River is one of my new favorite fisheries. It got the best of me this time but next time she's mine for the taking! Up next, I head south to Alabama for some spotted bass fishing and the last stop of the Bassmaster Southern Opens on Lake Logan Martin before soon starting my track north in preparation for the upcoming Bassmaster Northern Opens. I'll take any good vibes you want to send my way.

Stay tuned, I also have some very exciting news that I'll be announcing soon!

Tight lines.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

American Legacy Fishing Company

I've been a diehard G Loomis and Shimano supporter since I was a little kid. I remember going to the different consumer expo shows with my Uncle and eyeballing them when I wasn't even old enough to understand the value of a dollar. Don't get me wrong, these rods and reels come at a staggering sticker price especially if you're looking high-end, but hear me, you're going to get what you pay for.

G Loomis and Shimano has been around long before I was setting hooks and have always had the reputation as the best. You don't create your own reputation, you earn it. There's a lot of different rod and reel companies popping up damn near daily and all claim to be the best but really don't deserve to be in the same sentence. G Loomis and Shimano continually develop the mold to which the competition is trying to duplicate.

Once you purchase a G Loomis rod you are welcomed into the family as G Loomis offers a lifetime warranty on their products. When you spend as much time in the boat as I do, things are going to happen. I put my equipment under a lot of abuse but I have the self satisfaction of knowing that when my rod snaps in half setting the hook on a 9 pounder that's buried under a hyacinth mat, that I can have a new one in my hands as soon as the next day.

When I say I'm brand loyal that doesn't just mean the rod and reel but also the place I go to to get my hands on these very setups. American Legacy Fishing Company is the number one G Loomis and Shimano superstore and are a full service vendor for all the best fishing related brands. They have every rod imaginable, if it says G Loomis, they got it. Their staff is top notch and offer not only industry knowledge but are all fisherman themselves and offer their customers real advice where the other big box stores simply can't compete. 

You can also take advantage of their trade-in program and trade in that older model Shimano for the newest and greatest or find that hard to acquire item that has been discontinued like the Shimano Chronarch 100D7, Core MgFv or better yet, the old school Loomis rods with the Wiebe reels seats! You never really know what you can find at American Legacy! Check them out today and also be sure to join their club for email updates on everything G Loomis and Shimano!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Bassmaster Southern Open

Douglas Lake, Dandridge, TN

Douglas Takes Douglas! This headline has been going through my head since I first registered for this event. Strictly for name sake reasons as I didn't know the first thing about this puddle except that Jeremy Starks and the rest of the top 10 in last years Bassmaster Elite Series event, put long-lining aka strolling on the map by using deep diving plugs, light line and their trolling motor to sack up giant stringers of Douglas Lake bass.

This go round, I guess you could say things are different because most of the structures that Starks and the Cali's own Mr. Aaron Martens were targeting were high and dry. Ole' Douglas's water level changes pretty dramatically in the course of a season. I've never seen anything too much like it since I was fishing in Southern California. Here's a photo of a spot that was pounded in last years Elite Series event, hard to imagine they were using deep diving plugs to dredge these rocks and now seagulls are using it to rest after gorging on the shad kill.

Douglas Lake
Photo courtesy of Bill Kohls

That brings me to my second observation within minutes of launching. Douglas Lake was enduring a giant shad kill, worse than I've ever seen before. This isn't a bad thing as Mother Nature has her ways of recycling her bounties but when it comes to fishing, it's like a mayfly hatch on steroids and anyone from Minnesota feels a brothers pain.

The weekend before our Open, Douglas Lake hosted the first PAA event of the year and though I tend to ignore other events it was hard, as every angler that found success in that event was throwing an umbrella rig exclusively. That's a hard stat to ignore and only pushed me harder to find something against the grain as I knew these bass had seen plenty of rigs and they were about to see a whole lot more.

I threw the kitchen sink at these bass and when finally disgusted, I picked up the old Hog Farmer 3 Wire Rig and started putting bass in the boat. Not bad ones either, the Rig definitely coughs up giants. I'm not sure exactly where I lie as a tournament angler on my thoughts of the umbrella rig being used in tournament competition as generally I'm a one lure, one line, one rod and reel type of a believer. More on this later...

Every single day of practice I was catching quality, not a lot but the overall quality was there. I was concerned about my ability to catch a limit. I was targeting main-lake points and secondary points in the mouths of creek channels. Whenever I'd get bit, I'd mark it and move on and hope that I'd have enough water to run it all come tourney time. My thought was that this could produce a limit both days and a winning limit at that. I seriously never caught anything except giants while I was there. I never caught a single small bass so I knew I was doing the right thing and around the right fish but with the shad kill making easy meals for weary bass and the abundance of pressure I still had reasons to be concerned. Still though, the size bass I was around was enough to keep my interest and keep me searching for solutions to these potential problems.

Hog Farmer Rig with 3 Biovex Kolt Ridgetail Swimbaits
Photo courtesy of Bill Kohls.

The other issue I was having, as well as everyone else in the field, was the ever-changing weather conditions. Seriously, we're talking rain, sun, snow, heat, clouds, fog and wind. You name it and we endured it. It was hard trying to put two things together that matched and when trying to find a pattern, this makes life difficult. Finally, with only hours left of official practice, I was forced to make the dreaded decision of commiting myself to the Rig or continue to treat game day as if it was a practice. I've never commit an entire tournament day to throwing the Rig and most certainly have been beat because of it. You're looking for 4 to 7 bites a day in some cases but the bites are giant if your fishing the right areas. Even though bites were few and far between for me, the ones I was getting in practice were all 4 to 7 pounds so it was a gamble worth taking. If I could just manage 3 or 4 bites I should have anywhere between 17 to 22 pounds and if I weigh a limit, I should have 23 to 30. Sounds all G right? Well, on the flip side, I was still only managing a few bites a day and if I don't happen to hit the timing right, I could just as easy zero.

I have been beat all winter by the umbrella rig, largely due to my stubborn and timid refusal to commit to it. This time I decided I had to find the kahunas some where to suck it up and chuck the chandelier   all day without any remorse. Being that I finished so poorly in Florida due to faulty engine issues, I figured this would be the best event to throw caution to the wind. I wasn't on anything else but sometimes that's when a guy just needs to drop the trolling motor and throw a shakey head all day and grind out the bites. Heck, often enough this proves a safe play and can result in a check, if not a top 10. Still, I had enough big bites in practice that my decision was already made.

Tournament rigging was a breeze, I had two rods. The first was my main bread and butter, the exact outfit I was throwing in practice and getting my big bites. I was using a G Loomis GLX 894C FPR with a Shimano Chronarch 200E7 and 60lb. Seaguar Kanzen Braid. My rig was a custom Hog Farmer Bait Company 3 wire rig with 3 dummy baits and I used 1/8 oz. jigheads on the business end. My other setup was a G Loomis GL2 BBR 964C Salmon Bounceback Rod with the new Shimano Calcutta CT 200D spooled with 80lb. Seaguar Kanzen Braid. This rig I went for a deeper bite with the Hog Farmer 3 Wire 6 Blade Rig with 3 Biovex Kolt Ridgetail Swimbaits.

The first rig I would use to fish points, secondary points and key staging areas to peg off bass that moved up and got active. The second rig, I used in the same areas but off the points and off to the sides of the points. I was always hoping to get lucky on one of the many bass that were suspending and holding off these key areas and that were extremely lethargic due to the abundance of food from the shad kill.

Me pointing out suspended bass hanging with shad schools on my Lowrance HDS-9 Touch.
Photo courtesy of Bill Kohls

Day one was some of the most miserable fishing I've had to date. Remember, I from Minnesota and have endured straight pain for a chance at a couple bites. This was right up there, in fact I'm pretty sure my day 1 non boater would have been totally content had I just put it on the trailer. No disrespect either, it was that nasty and don't blame him.

It was very clear right away that this was going to be a grind as I ran point to point and never managed a bite. Although both our mentalities completely swayed when I was working through a staging area and hooked into a giant, the fish was an easy 7.5 but was spitting shad up like a teenager spews after getting drunk for the first time. Still, I was ecstatic, this was the earliest bite I had got all week and still had 6 hours left to upgrade.

I threw the rig all day and never got another bite. I weighed in one bass for 6.10 lbs. and was sitting 80th after day one out of 180 anglers. I had all sorts of thoughts running threw my head but decided to stay the course. I was catching quality, but not quantity. It would have been dumb abandoning these big fish since I was dropping the ball on really keying in on what would put together a limit, I retied my two rigs and began where I left off day one.

Take Off
Photo Courtesy of James Overstreet and

My second day started as slow as could be imagined. You really start to feel the aches and pains of throwing a Rig all week when you're not getting bites. I assure you this, when you do get a bite on that damn thing, you don't feel any pain, they straight crush it! It's as addictive as it gets.

Finally, at about 11:30 I got the bite I was needing to breathe a little life back into me. I had moved across a steep main-lake point throwing the lighter rig without a bite. I decided to work my way back across it but this time target any suspended bass as my Lowrance was lighting up like the Griswold's Christmas tree.

I made three cast toward the side of the point and on my third, I popped a good one that weighed at least 4. That gave me the boost I was looking for but the next 4 hours only brought a whole lot of chucking and winding and zero hook setting. I weighed in 1 bass going 4.4 pounds for a two day total of 10.14 pounds and finished a very disappointing 99th place.

When it comes to fishing umbrella rigs, the common phrase is don't throw it and get beat by it. I definitely hold that true but also feel like it can be damned if you do and damned if you don't kind of pattern. Don't get me wrong, I'm not one that thinks the Rig is a fool proof method of fishing and that it's all a luck game. Heck, there's plenty of anglers that are straight dialed on the technique and excel in the winter. However, because of the Rig, we'll also probably never hear an angler win a big derby with 11 pounds because he got down and grinded out a small limit with a shakey head or a small 80 size jerkbait. With the Rig in play, those days are now over. I tend to fall in line with the ones that believe in  one line, one bait for tournament play. That's just my thought.

If you can't beat 'em - join 'em! Until you experience a 7 pounder commit suicide on your rig, you'll never know the joy. I can only imagine what a 10 pounder will feel like? I vow to make that a reality next winter, until then I'm thinking I can finally get back to using my flipping sticks for what they were made for, summer is right around the corner, time to go flip, flip!

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