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.