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.