Saturday, October 15, 2011

On the water with RC Tackle

     After almost a complete season of tournament fishing, and running into each other on and off the river, Glen Walker from RC Tackle and I were finally able to get together for a day on the water. With the last club tournament of the season only a day away, Glen and I decided to try and find some of the aggressive fall bass bite on the upper Mississippi river. Originally we planned to fish the bottom of pool 9, but the forecasted wind would have made fishing that open water a challenge, so we decided to focus on pool 10. I meant up with Glenn at his place in Prairie Du Chien, which coincidentally was only a short distance from a conveniently located public boat ramp. We quickly loaded the boat with my gear, drove the short distance to the ramp, and dropped Glen's Ranger into the water. The breeze had already started blowing across the water, but the sun was helping to reduce the cool temperatures of this colorful fall morning.
     After a short run, Glen shut down the Mercury and dropped the Minnkota just below a shallow point on the intersection of two merging secondary channels. I started throwing a shallow running crankbait and Glenn tried to invoke some top water action. We fished the bottom of the point thoroughly with nothing to show for it, but as we turned up the west shoreline we started to get bit. The fish we were catching, as small as they were, seemed to be concentrated on the shallow flat shoreline just up from the point. Glen was consistantly getting the top water bite to pay off while my shallow crankbait was also producing fish, however, he was able to occasionally pull in a solid chunk largemouth while most of my fish were short and skinny. The boat traffic was once again intense, so we decided to head down stream and start hitting some areas before the shorelines got to dirty from the constant waves.
     After a brief boat ride, we started pitching tubes and jigs at 3'-5' shoreline littered with brush and thick timber. And after only a few casts, Glen set the hook on a nice largemouth who thumped his black and blue 4" tube. As Glenn was releasing his fish back into the water, I hooked up with another fish small fish sitting between two intersecting logs close to the shoreline. As we continued around the corner the shoreline cover started to dissipate and the water depth increased. A few casts into this sandy transition with a Rat-L-Trap and I had brought a nice 2lb largemouth into the boat. This fish simply laid on the bay and as I felt the rod get heavy, realized I had a more than a clump of ell grass. After releasing this fish, and covering the remainder of the bank, we decided to start working our way north. The next area was one of my favorite spots on this pool based solely on the fact that its always good for at least one keeper. As we approached the rocky bank, Glen continued to try the top water approach as I again started tossing the shallow crankbait. We almost immediately caught fish, but they were not the size we were looking for. Short and skinny largemouth were all we could manage out of this area, so my theory on always catching a keeper seemed to have some holes in it.
     After we fished a few spots with limited success and no solid keepers, collectively we decided to start fishing a stretch of shoreline we knew would be crowded with pan fisherman, but was always filled with shad this time of year. It was exactly as we anticipated, crowded, but we managed to slip into the fray and began fishing. We fished a combination of crankbaits, rattle traps, plastics and jigs as we combed the shoreline structure. Ironically, we found good fish on a do nothing stretch of bank opposite the visually attractive shoreline. In several casts Glen had boated three solid largemouth and I had added another using tubes and jigs in about 3'-4' of water. As we continued up the "do nothing" bank, the structure started to increase and our bite slowly stalled with the exception of a school of smaller largemouth feeding on a school of shad near a sandy point. As we discussed the game plan, Glenn suggested we try a few points up another secondary channel, so we strapped the gear down and headed out.  
     We fished our way through a few points on our way up river finally arriving at the spot Glenn had in  mind. The only issue when we arrived was the the condition it was in from an entire season of flooding. The water depth and drop offs were the same, but the shorelines and the primary cut Glenn was planning to fish had no vegetation, thus nothing to hold the fish to. Regardless, we threw lures at the swift current drop off with no luck until Glenn set the hook on a solid 5lb.....5lb......??.......walleye. If was 15-20 seconds of excitement with the expectation of a football shaped large or smallmouth bass. Regardless, a 5 lb walleye is a beautiful fish so we admired it, and released the fish back with no harm done. As we did so, we both commented on the increasing winds and decided to work our way back toward the boat ramp fishing as long as time would allow.
     The waves on the main channel were as expected, with white caps all around us. So, as we approached the cut leading into a secondary channel we'd fished earlier in the day, we decided to stop and fish the mouth. This time, our approach was different as Glenn worked the rocks slowly crawling a creature bait along the bottom and I threw the Rat-L-Trap. It wasn't more than a cast or two and Glen had reared back on another chunky largemouth just outside the mouth of the cut. Once we had sufficiently covered the mouth of the cut, Glenn guided the Ranger into the cut and down the shoreline. After about 50 yards without a bite, and with Glenn retying a rod, a school of shad began to get chased in the middle of the cut. I quickly tossed out the Rat-L-Trap and Glenn began splashing water with his top water lure. In a quiet swirl just off the front of the boat, Glenn's began his battle with our largest fish of the day, a 3.2lb largemouth. As the fish was caught, weighed, and released, I continued to fish but couldn't manage anything of that quality. The feeding frenzy on top subsided, so we continued down the cut another 40-50 yards and found ourselves on a bend with some ridiculously aggressive largemouth bass. These fish were not quality tournament winning bass, but they were so aggressive and fun to catch it was hard to stop fishing them. A conservative estimate would be 8-10 consecutive casts Glenn hooked into a fish feeding on his top water popper. At 1 o'clock in the afternoon, you wouldn't think of top water as the lure of choice, but how can you put it down and fish another lure when these fish were hitting the popper with absolute recklessness. Regardless of how fun this last spot was, reality had to set in as both Glenn and I had appointments to keep, so we needed to get back.
     Over the course of our day we had managed a large quantity of fish, and in between the small to average size fish, would have managed a good bag if this were the tournament day. The lures varied from top water and crankbaits, to tubes, jigs, and creature baits. As it was the previous day, it was hard to find good concentrations of large fish, making it a grind to put together 13-15lbs of bass. The day had passed by quickly as a fun day of fishing always does. Once again, I learned more about the river than I knew the previous day and had a solid anticipation of what to expect for the following days tournament. I appreciated the opportunity to fish with Glenn Walker after such a long season of trying to get on the water together. We approach the river in much the same way, so fishing with Glenn was a pleasure and I hope to get the opportunity again.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Fall fishing at its best.............

     It never gets old saying this, but a bad day of fishing still beats a good day at work. But when you get a good day of fishing, on your vacation day, it makes it that much more satisfying. Terry, a long time friend, and I spent Friday on pool 10 of the upper Mississippi river fishing the aggressive fall shad bite. For me, it was the beginning of a three day stretch of fishing culminating in the final club tournament of the year on Sunday. So Terry and I decided to leave work behind and spent the day pre-fishing pool 10 despite the forecasted 20-30 mph southwesterly winds. We wasted no time at the ramp putting on the boat lights, dropping the boat in the water, and heading out into the morning chill.
     As we settled into our first spot of the morning, we noticed we had an excessive amount of boat traffic all around us. Including one boat who decided that 20 yards away from our boat would be a nice place to drop anchor and start casting to the same piece of cover we were currently fishing. Now I've seen just about every version of inconsiderate stupidity this sport has to offer, but this person was pushing the envelope. Terry and I were hooking up with a fish on crankbaits every third or fourth cast, so it was obvious we knew where they were sitting and casting directly to the spot. This individual decided he could reach that spot with a little extra effort on the cast and started pulling fish as well. I could see after a while this as getting under Terry's skin, despite the fact we were also catching fish. No big fish, but decent. So collectively we decided to move on to our next spot and leave this area to our very special "Guest".
     The move turned out to be a good strategy for us as we dropped down near a secondary point and immediately began catching good fish. Terry hooked into a pair of solid 2lb largemouth on back to back casts and I began a stretch where I either got bit on every cast or managed a fish of a variety of sizes to the boat. This shallow point was a typical fall spot where the bass where holding in shallow water just off the main current flow. It was still early enough where I expected to get a top water bite, especially with how shallow the fish were holding, but couldn't manage a single taker on my pop-r. We continued to catch fish for about a half hour longer and slowly, but surely, the bite slowed and finally shut off. The boat traffic was continuing to pick up and the waves flowing over the shallow water was probably a factor in the equation. As we fished this spot, I was eyeing another spot just across the river and as soon as the poles and trolling motor were pulled up, we headed to it.
     This spot was considerably deeper but had a nice combination of wood and current. So as Terry threw a deeper crankbait, I started throwing a Rivers Edge Jig. After a few yards of bank, I had the jig swim off and set the hook on a chunky 2-1/2lb largemouth. This fish came out of about 6'-7 of water and away from the shoreline which was in direct contrast to how shallow the fish were on the first two spots of the morning. As I continued to get bit on the jig, Terry started to pull a few fish with his crankbait. As we turned the corner, we noticed another bass boat fishing the bank toward us so we saddled up and headed up river to another secondary cut with lots of timber and a few points. As we quickly figured out, the fish were almost everywhere they should be this time of year. Points, back water cuts, in a variety of depths in the water column. The real trick to figuring this puzzle out was finding the bigger bass in a sea of 1lb to 2lb fish. As Terry and I continued to catch fish in almost every spot we stopped, we began tossing different lure combinations trying to see if the profile of the bait or the action would trigger larger fish. But we couldn't manage any fish larger than 2-3/4lbs to 3lbs. And these size fish were inconsistent at best.
     Overall, it was a short, but productive day on the water. The bite remained the same as the day progressed and we caught fish on a variety of lures. The fall bite is in full swing and the information gathered today will aid in my decision making process over the next practice day and the following tournament day.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

NEIA Bass Anglers September CLUB tournament Pool 10

     As I drove to Guttenberg Sunday morning for our September club tournament I was feeling some regret knowing it was the last of my three straight days on the river. This time of year is some of the best fishing the upper Mississippi river has to offer, and I want to spend as much time on the water as possible. Eric and I would be fishing together for the third day in a row, and having found fish the two previous days, I was eager to see how the day would pan out. I knew from our launch ramp in Bussy Lake we'd have a cold run regardless of where we started. Late September mornings are known for brisk air, and this one was no exception. So we wasted little time launching Eric's Triton, staged near the ramp for a short period of time, and away we went.
     As we made our way through a few cuts and turned the corner to our first spot of the day, Eric barely let off the gas as we kept going right by the spot and the bass boat that was sitting on the weed line we had intended to fish. I knew where Eric had in mind next so after a slightly extended run, we dropped down and started our day. We began by flipping a wooded bank with slight current and subtle changes in depth. I expected our first keeper of the day would come at any time during this first stretch, but it never happened. Eric quickly redirected the boat to the other shoreline, and almost immediately caught his first keeper of the tournament. A long skinny largemouth that was the kind of fish you want to catch when having a golden ruler paper tournament. The fish went 2.2lbs on the board and was quickly released back into the water. As we continued up the bank, I set the hook twice on bites but didn't make any solid contact. We began fishing out of both sides of the boat as the cut narrowed and after a few casts with a crankbait to a baron stretch of shoreline, I hooked my first keeper of the tournament. This small keeper got the adrenaline going and put the cold weather in the back of my mind for the rest of the day.
     As we approached the top of the cut, we came upon a large brush pile with faster current bouncing off the outside. I dropped a jig along side the outside log, and after a bounce or two set the hook on a solid 2lb largemouth. Eric and I agreed the fish seemed to be more active earlier in the day than they had been the two previous mornings. So after we fished the cut out, we strapped everything down and made our way to the next spot. During our trip we were reminded by the bass boat traffic that there were a few other club tournaments going on this weekend so we knew we were in for some tough fishing pressure. Eric set the Triton down below the top of an island he'd found fish on previously, and we began tossing a combination of jigs, spinner baits, and crank baits. After about three cast with my jig, I hooked another solid keeper which was exciting to both of us because we hadn't even made it to the area we thought the fish would be concentrated in. However, after dozens of casts by both of us we moved to the other bank disappointed in the result. Both areas looked good so we wondered if the fish had moved up the bank further to ambush bait fish from more defined structure. We both caught dinks almost immediately, but no keepers blessed our efforts, so we packed up and headed to yet another spot similar to this one.
     This next area was one that could be fished in a variety of ways so we both started throwing different baits at different angles. It didn't take long for Eric to load up another keeper off the end of a brush pile using a crankbait. But as he was measuring the fish, we both heard the familiar sound of bait fish shipping across the surface trying to avoid disaster at the hands of a school of hungry bass. Eric quickly spun around and fired his lure at the target, and almost immediately upon impact was again hooked up with another nice keeper. I made a cast of my own, but had no takers on my first pass. My second pass through the area was greeted with a short but aggressive bass which I quickly discarded and returned to the water. As quickly as the school of bass appeared, they disappeared. But not before Eric hooked into a nice 3.2lb largemouth that we both thought was bigger when it first breached the surface. Regardless, a fish that size will help any tournament angler increase his or her total weight for the day. We spent another half hour catching dinks and fishing this area thoroughly and finally decided to head to our next spot.
     As we dropped down and began fishing the next spot, I was eager with anticipation because this area had all the component needed to hold good numbers of quality fish. However, looks can be deceiving, and on this day, at this time, we finished the area with only a few small fish and a head scratch or two. So, not wanting to waste valuable time, we moved on to our next location slightly down stream. The current was moving swiftly regardless of where we went, and the variety of vegetation floating in the water was making it increasingly harder to fish moving baits. But we continued to fight through it, and very quickly started catching fish, good fish, with regularity!!! Eric had made a cast to a discolored patch of water on a shallow flat and hooked into a 2.9lb laregmouth, followed shortly by another 2.2lb fish. It was an ambush spot a school of bass where using to dart out into the current and feed on whatever was passing by. It was an awesome hour of fishing as we culled fished repeatedly gaining a few ounces here and there until 2lb fish no longer helped either of us. It was a hard decision to leave such good fishing, but as Eric and I discussed, we both needed bigger fish and the real quality fish where not coming often enough.
     We headed down river and covered a few new spots with nothing that would help us, and as we did, were reminded that we had less than an hour of fishing left in our day. So as Eric turned the Triton around the bend on a familiar curve, I knew where we were going to finish our day. It didn't take long to start catching fish once again, but the first few were shorts and not very encouraging. Suddenly, as my crankbait rod loaded up, that all appeared to change as I was having trouble turning this particular fish toward to boat. Eric got the net and from under the boat the reason why became clear. A 1.9lb largemouth had eaten the back hooks on the crankbait, while a 2.8lb largemouth had eaten the front hooks. It had been a few years since I'd had a double, and never two fish of this size. As I spent entirely two much time and blood pressure trying to unhook these two fish from one crankbait, Eric was continually catching fish on this stretch of bank. Once I had managed to get the fish weighed and the mess straightened out, I returned to fishing and observed as Eric caught several fish within the last few minutes of our tournament day along a wooded stretch of bank. It was the kind of area and time of day in which you didn't want to leave the fish because they were eager to bite. But we reluctantly strapped everything down and raced back to the weigh in.
     It was a great fall day on the water to cap a fun three days of tournament fishing. Eric and I had used a variety of baits in a number of situations and caught a 24+lb bag of fish to end our weekend. Which happen to be good enough for a first place finish. It was one of those days where you hated to quit fishing because when you found the fish, they were starting to bunch up, feed on shad, and were eager to chase moving baits. You know its been a good tournament day when you catch a bass roughly two pounds, look it over, and decide it wont help your overall weight. That's why Eric and I both agreed if we had more day light, and a little less of a boat ride, we'd have headed back out to enjoy some of the great fall fishing on the Mississippi.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

NE Iowa Bass Anglers....Guttenberg Open Tournament

     The morning of the Northeast Iowa Bass Anglers Guttenberg Open didn't start off with a beautiful sunrise complimented with idling bass boats eager to blast off in search of large bags. Instead, as we all rigged our equipment and staged our boats, we were greeted with colder temperatures and rain. However, it didn't dampen the spirits of the 25+ teams signed up for the tournament. As some members of our club signed up late arrivals, others started directing traffic near the boat ramp, and I checked live wells and informed the teams of the staging area, limits, and check in time. Eric, a fellow club member, was my partner for the tournament and as the last of the boats put in, we joined the masses waiting in the marina for take off. Within minutes of putting Eric's Triton in the water, our number 14 was called and we were quickly heading down river to our first spot of the morning.
     After a short, but somewhat chilly ride, we entered a secondary channel only to find another bass boat sitting on the spot Eric had in mind to start on. So, with a slight change in plans, we headed to a wooded bank and began our tournament day. It was a quiet first 20-30 minutes as we tossed crankbaits and spinner baits at the cover, and followed up those baits with jigs and tubes. Eric managed our fist keeper of the day, a cookie cutter 14-1/2" largemouth, after about 10 casts at a terrific looking brush pile. Regardless of its length, it was a keeper and the skunk had left the boat. After a few more bites that didn't materialize into fish and 75 yards of bank behind us, Eric and I decided to move to another area close by with shallow wood and less current. It was only seconds after we dropped the boat down and removed our life jackets when a boat who had been fishing just upstream from our starting spot, blew by us and headed to the back of the cove. Normally this wouldn't bother me but he had made the pass a little closer than edicate dictates.
Regardless, Eric and I began fishing a fairly open looking bank on our way up to a narrow shoot buried in timber. But we began pick up fish every few casts and had a total of three keepers in the live well before long. We both had high hopes for some bigger fish as we inched closer to the timber in the back of the shoot.
     I wish I could say we finished our our bag in this area with 3lb largemouth, but as we all know, fishing doesn't go to plan very often. We did however, fill our our limit very quickly and caught a great number of fish from 8"s to 14"-15"s. Long and skinny seemed to be the type of fish in this area and they were hungry biting on tubes and other plastics as well as crankbaits, spinner baits, and rattle traps. Regardless of how good the bite was in this area, Eric and I both agreed we needed to find bigger fish in order to compete for a check in this tournament. So we packed up and headed to a few other spots close by. As we covered water, we couldn't seem to catch the fish we needed to increase our weights. The fish were were they were suppose to be, but the big ones seemed to be playing hard to get. We did manage to cull a fish or two on these short distance spots, but only gained an ounce or two per fish. As the morning quickly got away from us, we decided we needed to make a run in order to fish completely different water to try and find a few heftier bass that could put us back into contention.
     As we dropped down into some deeper water with heavier current, Eric immediately caught a smallmouth that was legal, but not enough weighed to help us. This was a positive start to this spot, but this late in the day, we were both sure this area had seen its fair share of pressure throughout the morning. After a 20 minute stretch without a bite, we decided to move across to the other side. As Eric lifted the trolling motor, a situation I had not had the pleasure of experiencing unfolded. One of Eric's rods had gotten lifted up with the trolling motor and fell over the side of the boat. As quickly as the rod fell into the water and started to sink, Eric reached overboard for the rod and tumbled out of the boat. The saving grace in this situation was the fact that he had not let go of the side of the Triton and as the current brought him toward the back of the boat, Eric tossed the rod back into the boat and I pulled him out of the water. This was one of those situations where you know something unthinkable could have happened, but at the same time, I couldn't help but get a slight grin on my face as my partner sat on the front deck of his boat totally soaked in 59 degree water from his neck down. The fact is he was safely back in the boat but was going to fish with a slight chill for the remainder of the tournament. Possibly holding that rod a little tighter than he had before. :-)
     Knowing Eric like i do, I knew the competitor in him would brush that insident off and get right back to finding fish. So, once he was dried off, we headed out to find a few last minute fish that could help our overall weight. We both agreed we should check a few spots we'd caught fish earlier in the day to see if the bigger fish had moved up. But as we fished some of these spots, we quickly figured out the same size fish were still there and eager to bite. Regardless of the location, the fish were certainly active, eating both plastics and hard body baits. With time running out we made our last stand on a shallow point that had all the characteristic of great fall fishing. But with a dink here and there, and time runnning out, we had to pack up and head to the check in.
     Being as competitive as we both are, it wasn't the bag we wanted to bring in, but it wasn't from a lack of effort. We had fished hard and made decisions that helped us find and catch fish, however, they just weren't the quality we needed. As our bag of 11+ lbs of fish quickly got left behind as the bigger bags came in, Eric and I both agreed we'd done all we could to compete. It just wans't in the cards for this particular day. I had a great time fishing with Eric as we have the same fishing styles and competitive nature. So, it wasn't the easiest pill to swallow as we watched the weigh in, but regardless of the out come, we both learned more about the river and the crazy fish we chase than we did before the day started.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Fall Iowa Bass Federation State Tournament Day 2

     Day two of the Iowa Fall BASS Federation State tournament had me pair up with Rob Smith, a previous regional qualifier who has been a long time Federation member and state tournament participant. We had meant the night before at the meeting and briefly discussed the next days strategy which once again, had me pleasantly surprised to be staying on pool 12. I met Rob and his Express pair with a 200 HP engine in the parking lot of the ramp, were we loaded up, prepped the boat, and launched. It was going to be another beautiful day with temperatures in the high mid to high 70's, and a light wind out of the northwest. My only concern was the fog. Most people who locked north on day one ran into a fog bank and it was set up to happen again on both pools. We had drawn seventh in the take off order and as quickly as the names were being called out of the bull horn, we were off and down the river.
     As we made our way down river and around a few turns, we suddenly ran into a patch of fog that stopped most of the field dead in its tracks. We set down almost instantly as did most boats, but we could still hear a few running through the fog trusting the GPS with their lives. As Rob idled a short distance in the fog, we made the decision to head toward a cut and start fishing versus taking our chances in the fog. Its wasn't more than a cast or two into the first log jam just off the main channel and my tube was inhaled in a swirl of water. I set the hook and swung a nice keeper into the boat for the first fish of the day. The current coming off the main channel, coupled with deeper water shortly off the shoreline, set up the scenario nicely. As Rob and I fished the first few lay downs we came across, the bites started piling up. But the keepers did not. We both caught a few shorts on the first bank before switching over to another, larger brush pile on the opposing shoreline. A few casts into the structure and my tube started running off toward deeper water. I set the hook on my second keeper of the day, a 2lb largemouth that had once again taken the black with red flake RC Tackle tube. Within moments of putting a cull tag on that fish Rob loaded up on his first keeper of the day, another good largemouth. Its was a good feeling having three keepers in the boat a half hour into the day after fishing for 5-6 hours the previous day without a bite. But that's fishing, and that's why we do it.
     After thoroughly fishing this tree, Rob and I made quick work of the bank below us and came to a fork in the current which lead down stream in the main cut, or into a shallow back water. We fished the point with only shorts to show for it and decided to head into the shallow back water fishing the immense amount of lay downs and shallow stumps lining the shoreline on both sides. Rob had made his first cast to a small patch of logs and had a nice keeper explode on his swim jig. With his second keeper in the live well, Rob moved us quickly down the entrance to the back water and into the shallow water lake. It was quiet and peaceful, but it was alive with bait fish and movement if you kept your eyes on the water. Its wasn't a cast or two along the first shoreline before Rob had his third keeper of the day. The whole shoreline was set up like the first 10-15 yards I was excited to see what this could produce. We continued to get bit over the next 50 yards flipping to every piece of cover, but could only manage shorts. Although Rob got relieved of his lure by a toothy critter during this stretch. As we came to a subtle point on the shoreline, Rob hooked his fourth keeper of the day next to a patch of tiny limbs from an small tree that previous flooding had left in the water. The fish in this area were coming anywhere from 4'-5' off the shoreline, to inches from the shoreline. But they were next to cover regardless of where they was in the water column. Shortly into our second pass I caught my third keeper of the day, which proved to be the last fish we'd take from this area. So with the fog lifted, we decided to head to Rob's original starting spot to see if we could finish out our limits.
     As we arrived to the secondary channel spot, Rob set the boat downstream and dropped the trolling motor down to start heading back up stream. Not because he wanted to fish it that way, but because there was already another tournament angler on the top section of this area. Regardless, a few casts into this area, Rob finished out his limit with a nice largemouth holding on a current break. With one limit secured, we continued fishing but could not manage another keeper out of this stretch. So Rob put the trolling motor on high and we headed to a small point with some isolated lay downs just off shore. After a few cast in front of the tree, my first cast behind the tree was greeted with a smack and I reeled in my fourth keeper of the day. Once the fish was securely in the live well, we spent another 10 minutes on this point and headed down stream a 100 yards to fish some channel structure. It wasn't long before Rob started catching keepers, but nothing that would help him. The current was stronger on this cover, but the bass were holding and feeding none the less. After a few more shorts and sheephead that I thought was my fifth keeper, we decided to head back up stream and hit a few more spots.
     After a short boat ride, we set the boat down in a narrow wooded cut with water between 2'-5'+. It was after lunch and it was getting down to crunch time so my nerves were getting to me. I told Rob it was easier for me to be sitting on three fish than four. Sometimes the fifth keeper seems to be the hardest fish to catch for me. We fished every piece of wooded structure on both sides of this cut and hadn't gotten a keeper until we had almost reached the top of the cut. I tossed the tube over the side of a log sitting in four feet of water and tic, the line bounced and I set the hook on my final keeper of the day. As I put the cull tag on the fish and placed him in the live well, I was filled with a great sense of relief that we both had our limits on a pool that wasn't notorious for giving them up that easily.
     We continued up the shoreline and made our way out of the cut where it meant the secondary channel. Rob made a cast in front of a lay down in heavy current and quickly set the hook on a keeper, that after a few minutes with a scale in his hand, turned out to gain him some valuable ounces. After dissecting this area, we made our last run up river closer to the weigh in and finished the day out fishing deeper water in heavier current. We had conversed with a few other anglers who had reported some tough fishing for the day. Which made us all that more excited about having two limits to weigh in. We decided to head in, get the boat loaded up, and start the weigh in process.
     Rob and I found a parking spot, a couple of weigh in bags, and loaded our fish up. As we walked to the weigh in there were mixed reviews by the other anglers on the days results. Some looks of disappointment, and some heads held high with double digit weigh in slips. Rob weighed in 10+lbs and I weighed in 11+lbs. Not bad for a 3 hour fog delay that prevented Rob from getting to his preferred starting spot until late morning. Overall, it was another great day on the water. Rob and I both caught a number of fish and in the end had respectable weights for pool 12 and the pressure its received over the last several days. I had been blessed both tournament days with anglers I would fish with any time they asked. The weather was beautiful both days, I learned a lot about pool 12 that I had not learned prefishing, and made some new friends along the way.

Fall Iowa Federation State Tournament Day 1

     This years fall BASS Federation State Tournament was held out of Dubuque, Iowa where the boat traffic is heavy and the fishing can be tough. Once again, I was blessed to be partnered with two great boaters for Saturday and Sunday and the weather couldn't have been better with the exception of a few patches of fog each morning. As the tournament approached, I had all but convinced myself whom ever I drew for a partner would either lock up into pool 11 or lock down into pool 13. Pool 12 was not yielding a lot of weight in recent practice sessions so I guessed most fisherman who prefished pool 12 were experiencing the same results. I was pleasantly surprised when my partner for the day, Jerry Mundt from the Northeast Iowa Bass Anglers (My club) said we were staying in the pool. As Jerry and I launched the boat in the caous of everyone using the same launch ramp, I was excited to get the day started and catch some fish.
     After our brisk morning boat ride, we set down and Jerry began laying out the situation. Basically a secondary cut with a weedy shoreline varying from zero water to 3' to 6'. The weeds where just thick enough to make a buzz bait and a pop-r impossible to fish, but almost immediately Jerry had a blow up near the boat swimming a jig just below the surface. He and his prefishing partner had found fish on this stretch during the week and they were good fish, so we knew there couldn't be any mistakes once we got the fish to bite. We continued to throw a variety of baits along this bank and it became apparent the fish were not holding to the weed line in any great quantities. After about an hour of flipping the weed line Jerry smacked his first keeper of the day, a solid 2lb largemouth. As the cull tag went on the fish, I notice a few hundred yards above us on the opposite bank we had another boat fish the weed line. Honestly, Jerry expected this place to be crowded, but gratefully, it wasn't. We continued up the initial bank and as it came to a point, we continued across the open water to the bank on the upper side. This had a similar set of structure with a sharp weed line and access to deeper water. Shortly into this stretch Jerry had his second keeper of the day, again off soft plastic, and again, a solid 2lb largemouth. To this point, I had yet to have a bite. It appeared we would have to grind the day out pitching and flipping to weed lines and the occasional small brush pile or fallen log.
     We decided to start slightly further down from out starting point and work our way back up the bank hopping to grind out a few more fish. This produced one more keeper for Jerry and sent us to the adjoining bank with hopes of finding fish on some untouched water. After about 50 yards up this new bank Jerry hooked into a solid 2-1/2lb largemouth on the outside of the weed line in about 5' of water. It was clear that the few fish we did have were sitting in water deeper than three feet. So we decided to keep searching for weed lines that had that kind of depth. As we skipped over to the the point we had already fished that morning, and approached a single patch of three little pads against the weed line Jerry noticed a swirl underneath one of the pads. He quickly tossed his soft plastic on top of the lilly pad and let it drop over the side into the water. The line quickly swam off and Jerry set the hook as I dropped my rod and got the net. The 4-1/2lb largemouth came into the net easily and we both stood there in awe over the size of this bass. That was a nice way to book end a limit for the first day of the state tournament.
     As the sun got higher and the time shorter, Jerry and I decided to head up river a little and fish a stretch of bank that had weeds and some good size stumps bordering 8' of water. Initially we didn''t get bit, but as we started our second pass down the bank, I set the hook on a chunky 3lb largemouth that bit my tube as it fell down next to the stump. Finally, I had the monkey off my back and a reason to get a weigh in bag once we returned to the boat ramp. However, a few stumps later I had the exact same response when my tube hit the log and disappeared along side of it. Another solid 2-3/4lb largemouth. This got my adrenaline going after almost six hours with only a few bites. We fished this spot for the next hour, but couldn't recreate the quick action of the first two fish. And as the time grew later, Jerry and I decided to head back closer to the ramp and fish a few spots along the way.
     As we stopped and made a few cast along the way, we passed a number of fellow tournament anglers fishing every point, log jam, and rock bank up and down pool 12. This late in the day, everyone was scrambling to improve their day one sack before weigh in. Jerry and I ended our day on a stretch of main channel bank that produced a few small fish and a lot of boat traffic waves that made the experience rocky to say the least. As Jerry dropped me off at the ramp to get his vehicle I noticed a great number of fisherman were already weighed in and either rigging their boats or standing around the leader board. We made quick work of loading the boat, got our weigh in bags, loaded the fish and stood in the line to see what we had. After the dust had settled, it turned out Jerry's 13+lbs of fish was leading day one of the fall Iowa State tournament. My meager 5.98lbs in two fish was not what I was looking to bring in, but I was grateful to have the fish I did. Between Jerry and I, we collectively had 12-15 bites all day. Jerry made the most of his bites and it paid off. It was a fun day on the water fishing with a fellow club member who I was genuinely happy to see have the day one lead.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Dubuque Club Tournament

     With the mornings having a slight chill in the air, my enthusiasm for fishing has been growing daily. The hint of fall coupled with good reports of bait fish balling up in the backwaters gives me a sense of urgency to take advantage of every fishing opportunity from now until cold weather sets in. And our next club tournament in Dubuque, Iowa was the start of a long stretch of early fall and fall fishing that was filled with promise. My partner for this tournament was Jerry Mundt, a veteran of the Northeast Iowa Bass Anglers and experienced tournament angler. I met Jerry at the ramp along with our other club members, and exchanged hello's and good lucks as we launched the boats. Jerry owns a yellow Skeeter coupled with a smooth running Yahama engine that would barely have time to consume any fuel as we traveled only a quarter mile to our first fishing spot of the morning.
     As we launched the boat, I was informed by Jerry we would probably not be alone in our first spot of the day and he was right. We were the number three boat into this shallow back water bay and as we idled into our starting position, I noticed the water was alive with bait fish. The water had a grey stained look to it coupled with the fact we were going to be fishing in a 2' or less of water instantly limited my options regarding presentations. I took roughly 7-8 casts with my pop-r and dropped that rod for a Stanely Vibra-shaft spinner bait, and after the same amount of casts put that rod down as well. As we got closer to the bank I began tossing a black with red flake RC Tackle tube and withing a few casts hooked into a 2.06lb largemouth that quickly came to the boat. It was a good start to the day, however, my day was about to get exponentially better a few yards down the shoreline. As I flipped, Jerry was throwing a spinner bait to shoreline cover with no takers. The stained water made the need for vibration and a darker and larger profile a necessity. The darker profile of the black tube made an inviting target for my next fish, a 5.0lb largemouth that did its very best to try and toss the hook as I fought it back to the boat. After Jerry netted the fish we both took a second to admire the size of the fish, then quickly put the fish on the board, wrote down the weight, and released it back into the water. My only real regret was my hurry to get this beautiful fish back into the water as I neglected to take a photograph. Regardless, a 5lb fish is almost as good as it gets on the upper Mississippi river so with 7.6 lbs in two fish, we continued down the shoreline.
     Jerry managed a keeper a few yards further down the shoreline and as we continued to get bit, the fish seemed to be only taking part of the plastics instead of swallowing the entire bait. Our suspected culprits were smaller fish just eating the tails of the baits and running off. However, we were watching other members of our club boating and weighing fish so we new there was a substantial amount of fish congregated on this small stretch of shoreline. As we fished our way out of the bay, we decided to fish the rock shoreline leading out of the bay into the main channel. Jerry had fished it the day before based on the theory the fish may be pulling out of the shallow bay with the water dropping, but they had no luck. But the time of day was different so we gave it a shot, and shortly before the first bridge piling, Jerry's spinnerbait was crushed by the biggest sheephead I have ever seen out of the water. This fish would barely fit into the net and was easily over 15lbs probably approaching 20lbs. Not what we were looking for but an interesting twist on the morning's fishing.
     We continued down the main channel fishing the stronger current with tubes, jigs, crankbaits, and spinner baits. I managed a solid 2lb fish on this stretch and Jerry caught his second keeper of the day a little further down. With no consistency in bites, we decided to try a few other main channel points and shorelines before the boat traffic made them impossible to fish. As we started to move around though, we noticed the boat traffic had already picked up making almost every bank we pulled up to a serious challenge to fish. We manage another keeper off a single point under another bridge piling, but decided the best course of action was to head down river and try and get out of the boat traffic and find quieter water. This would prove harder than expected as we encountered pleasure boaters where ever we went. We stopped at the mouth of a small river that dumps into the Mississippi river about 3-4 miles south of our starting point. This spot had all the elements including a rocky shoreline, variations of depth, slightly cleaner water, and current from multiple directions. Regardless of how good it appeared, Jerry managed two dinks and I couldn't pull a fish from anywhere inside or outside this area. It was one of the most frustrating spots we fished all day.
     After about 2 hours of stopping at spots in the middle of the pool with no luck, we decided to work our way back up river. One of the spots we stopped at was the mouth of a small marina with excellent depth and a steep bank with a combination of rocks and wood. But like our previous spots in the middle of this pool, we left empty handed. Jerry and I decided to return to our first spot of the day and make our last stand trying to fill our limit. As we arrived we recognized the two boats who also started in this spot almost 7 hours earlier. They had never left this bank and at the weigh in we would find out why. Regardless, Jerry and I put our heads down and fished hard for the next hour and half. Shortly into that time frame Jerry stuck a solid 2lb largemouth off a tiny lay down near the shoreline, so I thought our chances to upgrade our weight a little might be pretty good. I stuck with my black with red flake tube and Jerry threw a red baby-1, then a spinner bait, and finally back to plastic. We both got bit consistently but the bites were just as we left them, short and quick with rarely a hook up. As time began to run out on us, more of our club members began filing into the cove that was beginning to get crowded. With two to three boats throwing lures at this bank all day, you'd think the fish would have seen every lure multiple times and shut down. But as I looked up and down the bank I could still see that people where catching fish. However the size wasn't there and Jerry and I ended our day with roughly 18lbs between us.
     We finished in 4th place with close to 25lbs winning the tournament. As Jerry and I discussed the days events, we agreed that leaving the cove around mid morning in search of bigger fish was still the right idea, so collectively, we had no regrets on the days decisions. The water levels in the Dubuque pool were as low as they have been all year, so navigating certain areas on the Mississippi river were rough to say the least. There were specific areas of back water that were completely cut off from boats because this years consistent high waters had silted the entrances in. We adapted to what the river conditions gave us and despite some early highs and lows, has a good day of fishing on pool 12.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

COTR Tournament Day Part 2

     As the morning sun quickly climbed into the sky, we continued to catch fish, but no more size than what we'd been averaging. With our fifth keeper came a subtle relief that we'd caught our limit, but that was early in the morning and we'd been searching for bigger fish for almost two hours managing to only upgrade an ounce or two at a time. It was getting to the point in which we needed to leave this spot in search of bigger fish, so we decided to pack up and head up river a little to some fresh water. The spot we had in mind was a slight cut back off the main channel with an underwater rock jetty that came out from the shoreline dropping off gradually into 8' of water. We'd caught fish in this spot earlier in the week, and in years past i've stumbled onto a mixed bag of largemouth and smallmouth bass in this spot, so anything could happen. Rick positioned the boat just off the 8' depth range and I began casting a crankbait and Rick started slow rolling a spinner bait down the rock ledge. Quickly disappointed that no agressively feeding fish jumped on our presenations, we both switched to a plastic with Rick throwing a baby brush hog and I stuck with the 4" Watermelon with red flake beaver. Now, what makes this spot so good is also what makes this spot a pain in the butt to fish plastics, or a jig. There are varying sizes of rocks on this ledge and it it didnt take long for both of us to become snagged. Rick manuvered the boat and eventually we both retrieved our lures and kept fishing. Rick managed a few shorts and I managed a short and one more keeper roughly the same size as our previous keepers. Throughly covering this area and the back of the boat docks adjacent to the point, we decided to head to our larger weed fish we knew were possibly still in that area. With another short boat ride, we entered what would be our last stop of the tournament.
     Having had the results we did the day before in this area, I couldn't help but get a little excited as we rolled quietly up on the moss covered tree line. We both knew we would need a good hook set, and a quick fight back to the boat if we engaged any of the qaulity fish we knew were here. We began casting at the flooded tree line and brush piles sorounded by a thin layer of moss, but our lures didnt recieve any attention. As we began casting in and around the 15 yard stretch where we'd hooked a couple huge fish the day before, my excitement grew in anticipation of what could, maybe, happen! But the frogs passed over the weed mat time and time again from almost every angle we could cast to only to return to us for another ride. The designated "hot spot" came and went and we quickly found ourselves turning around for another pass. Again, everything was as quiet as the first time we'd passed through, so we decided to fish up to another large brushpile covered in the same vegetation. As we blanketed the northside and made our way around to the south side, Rick and I began talking while I cleaned the moss off my Spro Frog, and Rick's Live Action floating frog was sitting in the water next to the boat. In a split second of water splashing and Rick raising his fishing pole, there was a keeper largemouth in the bottom of the boat. This fish was either sitting under the mat at that exact spot, or had followed the Live Action Frog back to the boat and when Rick stopped the lure, decided it was a good time for lunch. Regardless, it was not something your going to experinece everyday, and it gave us something to chat about for a bit.
     It was getting late in the day and we decided to blanket every inch of the area in search of fish deciding to keep the lures in the water versus burning time running to our other fish. Rick took a few minutes to check on the fish, and untangle the cull tags while I took the trolling motor and contiued to fish. We knew we'd better leave a solid half hour before our weigh in time in case we ran into a rough main channel, engine trouble, ect.
We were just approaching our target area one more time and suddenly my frog was attacked just on the weed edge. I set the hook and thought I had the fish we were looking for as I told Rick to "get the net this is a big fish". As Rick netted the fish, I was slightly embarrased by what I saw. The fish was only a 13/3/4" largemouth and needless to say, I took a little ribbing from my partner. As the "monster fish" jabs started flying Rick reminded me that it was 1:43 and we needed to finish up and start idling out of the back water. Just then our largest fish of the day enhaled the frog and was quickly loaded into the boat. Rick tossed our smallest fish over board replacing it with the 2-3/4lb fish and we both went back to casting as fast as we could remembering it was just about this time the day before when the bigger fish began to bite in the flooding trees. However, we couldn't get a flurry of large fish going and time simply ran out on our tournament day.
     The ride back for me was more satifying than I expected considering the weight we thought we had. We'd fished hard, didn't make any mistakes, had no fish come off, and most importantly, had a really good time on the water. The marina was packed upon our arrival and the crowd at the weigh in was a pleasant suprise. We idled in, looked for a place to pull the boat into, and after Rick grabbed a weigh in bag, took our fish to the scales. 11.33lbs was the result of our tournament day, with our largest fish weighing in at 2.75lbs. Respectable, yes, what we wanted, no. Rick is as competitive as I am and our goal was to cash a check at this years Country on the River Tournament. The last checks were handed out to weights in the low 13lbs, so we knew we were one large fish away from our goal. But we fish these tournaments for alot of reasons including competition, comrodery, and the love of the sport. This years COTR tournament satisfied all of those for me................. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

COTR Tournament Day Part 1

     There was a slight chance of rain in the forecast for the morning of Country on the River, but when I first stepped outside, it was clear by the spattering of stars in the sky, we wouldn't have to worry about a rainy take off. As we got ready, chocked down some coffee, and loaded a few odds and end in the vehicle, my adrenaline started kicking in. The feeling is comparable to when I'd head to the pitchers mound in a college baseball game. A mixture of emotions from nervousness, to excitement, to a little fearful of how the day would unfold. But confident that we'd put enough time and effort in to expect a few pieces of the puzzle to come together. The evening before we had decided to use a little off the path boat ramp to avoid the congestion associate with big tournaments and the Washington Street boat ramp. Apparently, many others had this same idea as we were greeted with several boats lining up to use this ramp. After some maneuvering, and a polite ride out to the boat by an old friend, we were headed to the take off area.
     One of my favorite sites in all the world, is a conglomeration of bass boats all floating carefully around each other in anticipation of take off. Weaving our way through the crowd we communicated with other boats trying to align ourselves with other boats in roughly the same take off order as us. The previous year we had drawn 99 out of 108 boats, so when we drew 26th this year, Rick and I were a little more excited about getting to our morning spot first. As the boats began to idle off to the side and quickly get up on plane, we lined ourselves up with the take off point, slammed the doors on the live wells, and off we went. Instead of following the main channel like almost every boat before us, Rick wisely decided to cut up through Rosea and take advantage of some calmer water even if it was only for a mile or so. As we meant up with the pack again, it seemed like the timing between boats was just enough to let us comfortably change sides of the river and we continued to speed up river to our first spot of the day.
     My eyes were trying hard to spot any other boats in the cut as we approached from the south side, but as we got within 200 yards, I could see we'd been beaten to our spot. Not only beaten to our spot, but there wasn't a ripple in the water and they were already fishing quietly in the north end of the cove. As Rick set the Champion down, we tried not to let this effect us because we new there was a chance we'd have to share this water and make the best of it. The other boat was sitting right on the point where Rick had caught 2-1/2lb-3lb fish earlier in the week, but he had also caught fish on the west side with pads, weeds, and flooded
timber behind, so that's where we decided to start fishing. I started throwing a Spro Frog to the pockets behind the grass, and Rick started throwing a Stanley Double Willow blade spinner bait along the weed edge. It wasn't long before we heard the familiar splash of a fish on behind us as our competition started boating fish. Not exactly what you want to see, but it was only minutes into the tournament day, so we knew our time would come. As we got closer to the flooded timber line behind the weeds, I grabbed the flipping rod and began chucking a 4" Watermelon with red flake beaver. The very first cast I felt a tic and set the hook, but missed. I quickly adjusted the lure on the hook and tossed right back to the stump where the bite came from. Again, the lure got hit on the fall and I set the hook and this time, connected. The fish almost immediately buried itself in a patch of lilly pads and became hooked up. This was concerning for two reasons. First off, I wasn't sure of the size of the fish and didn't want to release the tension I had on the line because I could still feel the fish struggling. Secondly, I didn't really want to make Rick ram the Champion that close to the flooded timber on the outside chance the fish was not a keeper and we'd spook the other fish. But Rick quietly positioned the boat so I could reach into the water and pull the fish free of the weed stem it was hooked on. Immediately upon retrieving the fish I was disappointed in the size, but after Rick said, "You better measure him just in case", I was pleasantly surprised to see 14-1/4" on the board. It wasn't a monster, and wasn't the tournament fish we were seeking, but we both agreed it was a start. Shortly after the first fish debacle, Rick caught another keeper on a swim bait he'd managed to surgically place between the low hanging tree limb and the flooded trees. Two keepers in about 20 minutes was an OK start, but 50-60 yards behind us our competition was already hanging fish on the digital scale and culling fish. So we just kept the lures in the water and continued to fish.
     As we began creeping closer and closer to the spot where the flooded timber and pads transitioned to cattails and moss, Rick popped his live action frog into an open water spot and watched as it was quickly inhaled by a solid 2lb largemouth. Our third keeper of the morning was proof the fish we were on were aggressively feeding on whatever crossed their paths, and it was simply a matter of getting a lure presented to them. As I looked over my shoulder I could only see our competition from the waste up. Their boat had completely disappeared into the cattails and they were flipping frogs to patches between the cattails no bigger than a kitchen sink. And getting bit almost immediately upon slash down. Rick positioned the boat at the mouth of a narrow shoot that went back to a completely covered shallow lake in the very back of the cove. The thin mat of weed cover made this shoot excellent frog fishing and we managed our fourth small keeper from the edge of the weed line. As we continued to fish, it became apparent we were going to have to share this water with more than one boat as two more boats were pulling into the cove to pursue the panfish bite that was obviously taking place.
     With some gentle maneuvering, we managed to fish our way back through the narrow canal to the back of the cove with a few blow ups, and only a few northern pike to show for it. So, we decided to head back out to the main weed line and continue our efforts there. Our competition had crossed over to the side of the cover where we had started, but immersed themselves a little north, and further into the vegetation than I would have ever thought to go. But they continued to set the hook repeatedly. As a matter of fact, at one point a sharp crack rang through the air as we looked up to see a broken pole, a dropped reel, and a man hand lining a fish he'd hooked on a frog. As he managed the fish into the boat and held it up, Rick, myself, and two other boats started a round of applause for the effort. It was a nice break from the action as everyone in the cove got quiet chatty with each other after that.................................

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Day Five of COTR

     After a map session the night before, and comparing what we'd found for fish the night before, Rick and I dropped his Champion in at the Washington Street ramp in Prairie Du Chien, and headed out to spot check some of our more productive spots. The day before a tournament is an interesting time because you can use this opportunity on the water for a variety of purposes. Some tournament anglers will take the hooks off their crank baits, bury the hook inside a tube, or creature bait, and put a piece of plastic over a spinner bait hook just to prevent accidentally hooking the fish they are checking. Some anglers will use the day before to search almost exclusively new water insisting on leaving the fish they have already found untouched. Others will employ a combination of these theories. We were not going to one extreme or the other, but we had every intention of making sure we didn't hook many fish in any of the existing spots we had fish on, but were also going to use every minute of time we had to keep searching for more quality fish. With 106 boats in the tournament, 212 fisherman would have a line in the water on Saturday and we needed every spot we could find.
     We decided to check an area first thing in the morning that we'd both failed to check during the week, but given the current conditions, we felt somewhere in this backwater lake should hold fish. As we idled through some shallow water, we decided to give a little area a few casts to start the morning. Lilly pads, current, and a shallow flat spilling into deeper water. Sounds productive I know, however, not a single blow up on a buzz bait, pop-r, spinner bait, or swim jig. So we quickly made our way to this intended area. As we arrived, I was pleased to see we were the first ones in the area, but after about an hour I realized why we were alone. Not a single bite except a pesky hammer handled Northern Pike that tackled Rick's spinner bait along some wooded cover. Disappointed, and wanting to use our time the best we could, we decided to check a few spots up river. Arriving just down stream from our next targeted spot, we almost immediately started getting bit on a main channel transition spot going from rip rap to wood. The bites were consistent, and we figured out why quickly. The small largemouth were hitting the beavers and brushhogs as they were falling down on the initial presentation behind the larger trees providing the current breaks. Not able to get a solid fish out of this stretch, we decided to move up to the spot around the bend where Rick had managed some solid 2-1/2lb to 3lb fish earlier in the week. As we arrived, Rick explained the topography of this shallow bay with flooded pads, cattails, and timber. All the pieces seemed to fit together with one unexpected surprise. A Ranger boat appeared from the flooded timber, passed by us without a word, and headed out of the bay. We both hoped they hadn't found a pile of willing fish and left disgusted and cursing the time they spent in the area. But the sad reality was they probably caught some fish and were headed out not wanting to burn too may of them in case they had to come back to them later in the tournament day. Rick and I began fishing swim baits, swim jigs and spinner baits on the outside edges of the structure, with Rick catching a few shorts on the swim bait. It wasn't long into fishing this area when we heard the familiar noise of bait fish being fed on in the flooded timber. This sight, coupled with another bass boat entering the cove and starting to fish around use, we decided they were still here and we'd leave the spot alone.
     As the day wore on, we checked a few other spots with relatively little success with the exception of Rick catching a solid 2-1/2lb fish on a Live Action Frog, and a solid 2lb fish on a secondary channel point that yielded several bites that I couldn't manage to hook up. Early afternoon, we decided to make a long stretch of backwater with wood and weed cover our last stop of the day. Once we got past the initial entrance without a single bite, we made our way along the flooded timber and began throwing frogs as it became increasingly covered with weeds. Our first pass took us all the way back to the end of the cut without a blow up, but on our return pass, we had a surprise waiting for us back in the flooded timber. As Rick pulled his frog through the weed bed just on the edge of what would be the original bank in normal pool, his frog was absolutely crushed by a what I initially thought was a very big Nothern Pike. As the battle ensued, I said to Rick, "that is either a Nothern or a really big bass", and as I finished the statement, we both realized it was an enormous largemouth that had been hiding in the tree line. Moments later, the fish spit the frog and Rick and I were left speechless. The only thing I could think to do in that silence was to continue throwing the frog into the tree line. And on the first cast, just yards away from where Rick's frog got crushed, my Spro frog was engulfed by another enormous fish. This fight lasted 5-7 seconds and again, the bait came loose. We quickly realized this specific section of the tree line was holding good fish and ended the day knowing we had late day fish to go to on tournament day.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Day four of COTR

     My intent on the morning of day four was to fish a few main channel points to see if the size of the fish were bigger than the 1-1/2lb to 2lb fish I'd found over the last 36 hours. My partner for the tournament had spent the first hour of his pre-fishing week on Wednesday drilling 2-1/2lb to 3lb fish so I felt obligated to change things up a bit. As I dropped the boat down on a main channel point, I new instantly that the trolling motor was going to drain quickly if I fished this much current all day. I picked up one of my crankbait rods and started throwing a KVD 1.5 shad colored crankbait above the point and pulling it through the break. The second cast produced a 10" bass, followed by another 10" bass, followed by another 10" bass. In 20+ casts I'd caught a dozen clones of the first tiny largemouth. I could see the small minnows in the current break and assumed these where what the bass where feeding on and was convinced there were larger fish in the vicinity. I switched to an RC Tackle Brown and Tan camo pattern 4" Beaver and continued to catch only small fish. But by now, I had a bass boat drop down behind me about 100 yards and start fishing his way up to me. As he politely held his distance, I continued to catch fish but couldn't get anything above a 12" fish. I worked my way up above the point and the bite quickly dropped off. It was apparent the fish were below the point, but I had no interest in dropping back down and continuing to catch fish that wouldn't help our team come Saturday. So, I packed up and headed to a few more main channel spots with limited success, and decided to try and find some secondary current.
     Winding my way through a secondary cut, I noticed a small dead end cut that was chocked up with slop but had cattails at the very end. As I began to fish the wood on my way into the cut, a few fish began busting the surface trying to feed on a group of shad. I threw a white and blue tinsel double willow blade Stanely spinner bait at the disturbance, but couldn't get bit as I pulled it through the ball of shad. The second cast made it clear the Northern Pike were making a meal out of the school of shad. I tossed back the fish and continued to cast out the cove without a bass. The cove left me a little confused because there was 4'-5' of water, large lilly pads, wood, and bait fish. But, that's why we pre-fish, to eliminate water as well as find good water.
     Up stream and around the next bend was a giant log jam that I'd fished in previous seasons. It had current and depth but this time with the high water, the trees directly behind the log jam were flooded with 3'-4' of slightly moving water. Coupled with a weed bed just down from the log jam, this situation looked promising so I began fishing down stream from the log jams current break and made my way up slowly. Two larger trees that were usually out of the water made another secondary current break and as my spinner bait made it's way by the first tree, Wham!, a solid 2lb largemouth came springing out of the water just after I set the hook. The fight lasted seconds and I began repeatedly throwing the Stanley spinner bait by all the standing timber I could reach. After having another hook up but having the fish come unbuttoned, I switched to flipping a beaver at the cover. After about a dozen casts, I had the line swim off toward the main current and I set the hook, turned the fish initially, but had the hook come out. I decided this was a spot I would check the following day so I packed up and headed up river to cover more water.
     The rest of my day was very uneventful, and honestly, quiet boring. As the week went on, I was experiencing more and more bites, but the size of the fish I was catching was not improving. This was a concern as there was only one more day of pre-fishing before tournament day and I had not found quality fish on a consistent basis, and my partner had a few spots with only one yielding tournament quality fish.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Day three of COTR

     Having found cleaner water, bait fish, and bass the evening before, I decided to investigate this area some more and take a different approach to see if there were larger fish to be had. I drove straight back to the spot I left the evening before with the intent of throwing a buzz bait to try and call up some of the bigger boys. It only took a few cast before a fish took a good swipe at the buzz bait but missed. I quickly dropped the buzz bait rod, picked up the Berkly Pop-R and casted back to the scene of the crime. One twitch and the popper was inhaled. A good 2lb fish to start the day, and it also reminded me the popper was roughly the same size as the bait fish I'd seen the evening before. This scenario repeated its self several times over the next hour. Some fish I caught out right on the buzz bait, but most were caught with the Pop-R after they'd missed the buzz bait.
     As the morning bite came to an end I started to investigate the entire area so just in case the water levels dropped more than anticipated, I would have a general idea of where these fish might pull out to. This lake however looks the same regardless of where you go, but the deciding factor was bait fish. Where I found bait fish and clean water, I found bass. Not in great numbers, and no hogs, but solid fish. It was hard to leave the area, but I knew I better start fishing all the areas I checked on the map for that day or it wouldn't get done. On my way down to my starting spot, I passed by the entrance to another small inlet that I felt better get checked. It had lots of wood and current running across the front and as it turned out, had a nice 3lb largemouth waiting for me when I dropped a Watermelon with Red Flake tube next to a fallen log. This would turn out to be the biggest fish in this area by far, as I only caught two more fish and both wouldn't have added up to 14"s. My next spot was a weed line with good water and current, but when I pulled up, the winds from the over night hours had pushed a thin mat of weeds over the top of the weed line. So once again, I grabbed the frog rod and within a dozen casts, I had five blow ups and two 2+lb fish. I realized as I left this spot there where a few other locations that mirrored this spot so I spent the next two hours checking those spots with a little less success.
     As the day was coming to a close, I decided to fish a rock shoreline I couldn't earlier in the day because it was simply too windy. I was throwing a Rivers Edge Brown and Tan Camo pattern Beaver and caught a few fish right away. Only a few yards away from the end of the rock shoreline, I casted the beaver out and watched the line quickly swim away toward deeper water. I set the hook and the pole doubled over with a 4+lb largemouth in about 6 feet of water. I quickly got down and lifted the fish into the boat. All I could think about was how nice five of these size fish would be on Saturday. I realize this was an odd place for a fish like this to be, and the likely hood that he'd still be there come Saturday, and bite again was slim, but any time you get a 4lb largemouth into the boat, it's a good day. It was a great close to day three.    

Day Two of COTR

     Having day one of pre-fishing out of the way, my hopes were high for my second day on the water. After once again getting wet to launch the boat at 5:30 am, I decided to start my morning on a weed line that had a secondary channel on one side, and 3'-5' of water on the other. The point was made up of arrow head and lilly pads, the water was calm and peaceful, and I was ready to change my luck. I grabbed the buzz bait rod and made several cast to across and through the vegetation but it wasn't until I threw across the top of the point that the buzz bait was slammed. A solid 3-1/2lb largemouth had just started my day off right!!. I quickly released the fish and spent the next half hour combing the weed point with multiple baits hoping this was not an isolated fish. But as hard as I tried, no other fish came off this point. In fact, no other fish bit my lure for the next six hours. That's right, I said six hours. I fished wood, weeds, current, depth, shallows, sand points, you name it, I fished it. I even spent an hour throwing everything I could think of at the Metro Dome of beaver huts. This eight wonder of the world had 3' of water on either side and 5' right in front of the entrance with so much cover for bass I couldn't help but attached a photo. Disappointed, and once again hot and hungry, I left this part of the pool in search of lunch and an attitude adjustment.
     With two Mc Doubles down and a diet coke chaser, I pulled into another ramp ready for my afternoon/evening session. I wasn't sure what the solution was, but I was sure going to try and fish my was through it. I made the trek down to a small lake with current feeding the top end and good weed growth and sections of depth. As soon as I began casting to a weed line, I could hear action all around me. This was something I hadn't seen any of for the past day and a half, and it was quiet a thrill to see fish exploding on schools of bait fish. The water clarity was multiple times cleaner than any water I'd been fishing so far and there were schools of bait fish everywhere. I sat back not really sure how to approach the situation. There were pad fields all around me, but  not quiet enough spacing for me to get a spinner bait or chatter bait through, so I picked up the Spro Frog and started launching. The second cast produced an open water blow up which made me realize they were not holding tight any over head weed cover. I casted back to the same area and this time he made it count. A solid 2lb fish crushed the Spro Frog. This would be the start of 40-50 blow ups over the next two hours. Most of the bass where in the 12'-14' range, with a few pushing 2-1/4lbs, but this action is hard to beat. These bass were clumped together in a 50 yard area on a 3' flat with cleaner, deeper water near by. I realize these size fish won't help come tournament day, but regardless, it was an outstanding end to day two and it gave me some ammunition for day three.  

Monday, August 1, 2011

Day one of COTR................

     It was anything but an outstanding start to my week on the river preparing for the Country on the River Tournament out of Prairie Du Chien, Wisconsin. Even the best laid plans always seemed to have a little twist in them, and this day was no exception. I planned to start my day using a small ramp down the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi river, and when I pulled into the parking lot I saw lots of water between the dock and dry land. So, I launched the boat managing to stay dry, (from the knees up), parked the vehicle, and headed out to my intended area. After a short boat ride, I dropped the trolling motor and began casting to a weed point dropping gradually from 1' to 6'-7'. With no luck and a lot of weeds chocking up the spinner bait, I switched to a swim jig with the same result. As a creeped up on the point I picked up the tube and made several casts before claiming two 5 lb northern pike on back to back casts. Disheartened, I began heading down river to the next few spots.
     The water clarity was a mix bag of semi clear water, clouds of dirty water, and flat out stained brown water that you'd loss visibility of the swim jig just below the surface. I decided to try and find some cleaner water and headed back up river a few miles to a couple back water lakes that might be what I was looking for. This was not the case. The water was just high enough on pool 10 to be going over most of the islands and I was saddled with the same mix of dirty water I'd been fishing all morning. With nothing to show for my morning efforts, and the sun and humidity beating down on me, I decided to head back toward the ramp and check out one weed chocked inlet I saw leaving the ramp earlier. I pulled the frog rod out and began chucking and winding. A few blows up almost immediately and my adrenalin began pumping. The next cast was swallowed by a large dogfish, which of course managed to inhaled the frog forcing me to perform surgery in the boat, and creating the usual mess they manage when caught. A few cast later, my Spro frog was swiped at by a good size bass that i saw come out of the water, but no hook up.  Seconds later however, a very large northern manage to eat what the bass failed to eat. A few casts later, and I was done with my morning session. Covered in sweat, and sunscreen, I packed up the boat and headed out for lunch and some cool air before the afternoon/evening session.
     I decided to fish a little closure to Prairie based on the possibility of rain, so I launched in town and headed to a couple of current spots close together that always seem to hold fish. When i arrived I noticed cleaner water and some sparsely flooded bright green vegetation just north of the pocket I intended to fish. After several casts with a black with red flake 4" tube, and only a dink to show for it, I made my way around the point and starting pulling the Spro frog through the pads and weeds which had surprisingly clean water around them. A few casts in and only a few yards from the boat, my bait was slammed by a 12" largemouth I quickly swung into the boat. Proof of life!!!!! I released the fish and continued to work the weed section getting a few more blow ups, and one hook up that came unbuttoned after only a few seconds of action. Needless to say I focused the rest of my evenings efforts trying to find water that duplicated this scenario. With a blow up hear and there, and no hook ups, I decided to fish a few more rock ledges on my way back to the ramp. My first cast was greeted with the familiar tic of the line and I reared back and drew air. This happened to me a few more time before finally managing to get the little #@%&*#*% to eat the bait enough so I could set the hook on him. Having had enough for the day, and at least finishing the day with a bass, I called an end to day one.
     Tomorrow is calling for rain, and if the fishing doesn't pick up, it could be fairly miserable out on the water. But hey, its better than being at work.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

let it begin......

     In order to locate good concentrations of fish for the upcoming Country on the River Tournament out of Prairie Du Chien, Wisconsin, my friend and fishing partner Rick and I planned to spend the better part of six days pre-fishing. And yesterday was the beginning of our optimistic journey toward cashing a check at this summers most popular, and valuable tournament on the upper Mississippi river. With the recent rains in the area, the river levels were predicted to be rising slowly, which didn't concern us as much as the anticipated water clarity we might be experiencing. Chocolate milk is what I expected to see when we arrived at the boat ramp, however, we were pleasantly surprised to see cleaner water and hoped it would be consistent as we set out on our first of several pre-fishing days.
     As we pulled out of the marina and headed to our first spot, my excitement was increasing by the moment because we were headed to a spot that Rick has previously slaughtered fish two weeks prior. As we pulled up on the spot, Rick quickly noticed the increased water level, and the increased current over this spot. This spot had all the components including current, rocks, wood, and weeds. As we began fishing this area from the main current side, we realised boat control was going to be an issue, and if we intended on fishing for the entire morning, fighting this current with the trolling motor on high wasn't going to be an option. So we let the current float the boat down stream from the spot and made our way around the back side of the current break. There we were greeted with our first largemouth of the day from just off the weedy shoreline on a single bladed spinner bait. A solid keeper, but long and skinny. We continued to fish this spot for another 20-30 minutes managing only one other fish off the same spinner bait. Even though the second fish was a solid smallmouth, we made a few more casts, found a few more rocks to snag our lures on, and decided to move to another spot within sight of our current position.
     The next few spots produced nothing but a dink, however, our movement did expose us to the reality of just how many bass boats were out pre-fishing for the weekend BFL tournament out of Prairie Du Chien, Wisconsin the very next day. After realizing we'd spent a few hours with little to show for it, we decided to head back to our starting spot and see if the fish were more active than they were at first light. We placed the boat in about the same spot behind the current and up against the shoreline and began fan casting the point like we had previously done. Within a few casts, Rick hooked into a solid largemouth with less than five feet of line out. This fish short lined a River's Edge swim jig within feet of the boat and surprised us both. Shortly after that, I hooked up with a good smallmouth that made one solid effort to spring out of the water and throw my spinner bait, and he succeeded. I'm not sure which situation is worse. Never seeing a fish that you've hooked into that doubles over your rod, or getting the pleasure of seeing a nice fish leap out of the water as he spits your lure. Both are equally painful. Regardless, Rick and I fished the spot a little longer and decided to head to a few weed choked spots in search of faster action.
     As we pulled into the entrance of a shallow water lake, we began counting the bass boats in the top end. With this disheartening news, we decided to give the bottom end a little effort because the entrance had a nice weed point, slightly flooded with a current break going from inches of water to 5'-6'. Even though the conditions seemed right, and we'd thrown a variety of baits, the fish weren't there, or didn't have an interest in what we where throwing. At that point, we moved to the shoreline where the boat docks ended and the weed line begins with no more success. So, we decided to head into a weed chocked back water down stream to finish our day fishing frogs in hopes this is where the fish would be as the sun creeped higher in the sky.
     Our final spot had all the components for tossing the vulnerable frogs across a loose mad of weeds and having them exploded on by hungry largemouth. But as we wound our way through the mats of grass, the only real action was occasionally pulling up the trolling motor and removing the salad that had accumulated in the prop. We did manage to have one largemouth under two pounds slam into a green/white Spro Frog a short distance from the boat, but that would be our final fish of the day. As we idled our way back to the boat ramp, it was funny, and quite obvious to use we were being out fished by a Pelican that was eating more fish in 10 yards than we'd seen all day.
     The ride home was spent discussing the potential for increased water levels over the next week, where our efforts should be focused, how the fish might react to the changing water levels, and what we'd learned from the days fishing. It wasn't a day filled with observations that would direct our efforts over the next few weeks, however, it did help us eliminate some stretches of water, and with alot of water to cover in the next week, every little bit helps.