Sunday, June 10, 2012

Where for art thou...........

     As with every tournament, a good prefishing strategy can help you eliminate water, and make your tournament day efficient and effective at filling the live well with quality fish. But when your prefishing strategy only eliminates water, and leaves both you and your partner scratching your heads the morning of the tournament, your bound to feel less than confident when the day starts. That's how Rick and I felt the morning of our most recent upper Mississippi river bass team tournament. I had spent Thursday prefishing with two barely legal keepers to show for 8+ hours of fishing. Rick spent an equal amount of time on the water Friday and had similar results, and collectively, we spent the second half of the final practice day on the water without a keeper in the boat. As Rick and I spent the eve of the tournament discussing all the variables we'd fished through the last few days, we couldn't pin point the reasons why we'd struggled to put together a pattern over the last three days. Decreasing water levels, various stages of spawning bass, and other species, water clarity, vegetation growth, and weather conditions all played a factor in the puzzle we couldn't put together.
     Regardless of our struggles, we would have to fish hard and put together a limit for this tournament to even have a chance to compete for a check. And ironically enough, Rick and I drew boat number one, which is a stark contrast to our normal boat draw of last or very close to it. So, as the time drew near we decided to start where we'd caught the most fish, regardless of size, and hope the bigger ones would have the feed bag on first thing this morning. Rick dropped the Champion down in a shallow back water lake with emerging lilly pads and an extending weedline coming off the shore. The Motorguide went down and we got right to business throwing a buzz bait and a Stanley Ribbit frog. It was a beautiful morning with no clouds and very little wind, so our top water lures seemed to have the ability to call fish from all over the backwater. But as we made our way down the bank, the top water bite wasn't producing a single blow up. As Rick continued to throw the buzz bait, I switched to a Rivers Edge White and Chartrusse swim jig that Rick makes himself, and spent the next hour casting out both sides of the boat trying to locate active fish. It was a painful first hour or so as neither one of us had a bite over the course of 300-400 yards of shoreline. 
     We decided to narrow the focus and switch to a wooded bank not more than a half mile from our current position. This was a narrow cut leading to deadwater, which, given the recently dropping water, should be a highway for bass receeding back to deeper water and current. A few casts into the shoreline timber and Rick set the hook on our first keeper of the day. A solid 2lb largemouth planted along side a laydown that took his small soft plastic beaver. It gave us hope we'd found some fish, and possibly a pattern. I picked up a 3" black with red flake RC Tackle tube and began flipping to every piece of cover I could find. And after a while, a few bites began to come, but they were only dinks finding my tube. However, after another 20-25 yards down the bank, Rick set the hook on another keeper using the same presentation. And shortly after Rick had the fish in the live well and had made a few more cast, I boated another keeper, although barely legal, and we collectively decided to back down this bank and try and get a few more keepers. The theory was sound, but the fish did not cooperate as we killed another hour trying to duplicate our first pass. So, we decided to head down river and hopefully improve our luck. 
     As we began fishing another area, we immediately noticed the water color, which was brown and stained, and instantly felt like this was an issue. We'd make it a few dozen yards down the shoreline before Rick decided that he'd break up the bordum with a 10+lb flathead catfish near a log jam that took his soft plastic beaver. After netting and releasing the catfish, we started up the big motor and quickly drove to another spot further back into the cut in search of cleaner water. We where not alone as other bass boats where also searching for cleaner water and consistent fish. The water was almost instantly cleaner and shallower with emerging vegetation everywhere. Rick began throwing a swimbait, and I picked up the swimjig quickly followed by the spinning rod and a sinko. It only took Rick a few casts to catch our fourth keeper of the day that quickly went into the live well with little pomp and circumstance. My only contribution during this stretch was a solid bass that bit my swimjig and decided I needed it back before he made it into the boat. It's hard to see a quality fish like that come off anytime, let alone the afternoon of a tournament. But I've learned over the years that will happen and not to get to caught up in losing a fish. 
     After thoroughly covering this area, we decided to head back up river closer to the weigh in and fish the remainder of the day. However, it wouldn't result in a keeper and we would end our day without a limit to weigh in. It wouldn't be from a lack of having lines in the water as we fished hard from the first to the last cast. And as we idled into the boat ramp for the weigh in, I was curious as to how the other competitors fared in these conditions. 
     Rick and I loaded the boat, bagged the fish and weighed them in. As we turned in our weight, and began talking to the other fisherman, it was as we expected, a tough bite for a lot of the field. Limits where caught but consistently big limits where not, so the overall winning weigh was off by roughly two pounds from the year before. Rapidly dropping, and dirty water, coupled with post spawn timing made for a tough tournament. Our hats were tipped to those who found and caught quality fish on this particular day. 

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