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.................................