Mississippi River pools 3 – 5, Hager City, WI
Today was the first stop of the 2009 Bassmaster Weekend Series MN/WI Division. After finishing second last year in the Angler of the Year points, I was more than eager to get this year under way. Although honestly, I didn’t know what to expect this year. I always hold myself to high standards but have to admit I was pretty nervous on how I would perform now that all the tournaments are being held on various pools of the Mississippi, as opposed to different lakes in northern Minnesota. Since my desire is to compete in more upper echelon national level tournaments, which are mostly held on some sort of river system throughout the south, I figured this would be great preparation on understanding current and other various variables that rivers provide.
I was able to get out the weekend prior and do some much needed practice. The tournament was held on a considerably large portion of the Mississippi so I had a lot of water to cover. First day I headed to the St. Croix and the upper portion of pool 3. I fished some new water and also fished a few areas that I had done real well on a couple years back in a club tourney. With the water temp in the low 60’s, I figured the smallmouth in this stretch would be preparing to spawn. It didn’t take long to locate fish but size was an immediate concern. Most bass where under the mandatory 14″ minimum and if they where larger it wasn’t by much. I was locating fish by throwing a Biovex Intro 50 Minnow Jerkbait (Ayu) and a Super K Swim Jig (White Flash), and followed them up with various soft plastics. I did notice some nests and figured that by tourney day the big girls could possibly move up and join the little bucks that I had catching.
The next day I headed to the southern part of pool 4 and also checked out some areas of pool 5 that have been good for me in the past. I got a special treat in that my wife Bri joined me to help insure I had a good practice day. Hmmm, I wonder if the 80 degrees and sun had anything to do with it? Fishing for us was fair but the fish where scattered. Putting together a solid pattern down there was a real challenge. I caught a good largemouth early on a flat with a 6″ Basstrix Paddle Tail Tube swimbait and also a good smallie on a rip rap bank on a Super K Swim Jig (Tequila Blue). I also managed a few more small keepers on a Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver, but although I did manage a limit, I never managed a good pattern. The fish where random with no two bites coming on the same lures or same locations. Since the run alone from take off would be no less than 25 miles with the possibility of over 60, it just wasn’t worth the loss of fishing time without a more confident pattern.
Since I felt I had something going on pool 3 and the St. Croix I decided to recheck those areas. I got out early Friday morning and was able to catch a limit within the first hour. The big ones where starting to do just what was expected and where moving up on to the shallow ledges, preparing to spawn. I was also able to duplicate the pattern in other areas giving me more potential of finding the fish needed to bring a winning sack to the scales.
Since I was committed to my pattern, I used Saturday, the last day of practice on figuring out my route and finding some good areas around the lock and dam. Since we where launching in pool 4, I had no choice but to lock through to pool 3. Lock and dams can be a disaster when fishing a tournament if you don’t manage your time well. Barge traffic always takes rank and can at times take up to 2 hours for a single barge to get through the lock, so it is critical that I gave myself ample time to lock and not risk be disqualified because I couldn’t get back to weigh in on time. Weigh in was at 2, so I wanted to be back to the lock by at least 11:30, which meant that I would need to have some good fishing areas on both the north and south side of the lock, but not much more than a mile away.
I caught some good post spawn smallies along some rip rap on a Amp Lures Midshooter (Ayu), and also had a couple good ones following my swim jig along a wingdam. I checked some backwater and pulled on a few pretty good largemouths as well. All in all, I was confident in my pattern, although I knew there where other possible patterns out there, all of which could potentially win this tournament.
On tournament day, I drew boat 9 and had an early 5 am take off. I headed north and when I came to the lock, I noticed it was holding a barge. For 45 minutes, I fished some rip rap and random lay downs and just as the lock doors where opening for us to enter I caught a nice 17″ smallmouth.
After a long run, I finally arrived at my first area that had a few nice beds that I had marked the other day. I had a couple good bites but missed them all together. I guess I had what is called a case of the jitters. I decided to go check some other stuff and give that area a chance to calm down. When I returned the wind had picked up and I wasn’t able to see the beds but still knew where they where, which actually proved to be helpful in that I stayed back and made longer casts to the area. On the first cast I hooked up with a nice 3 pound smallie. Then on the next cast I duplicated it by boating another solid 3 pounder. I had really sized down my presentation and went to a 6’8″ medium heavy G Loomis GLX Spinning Rod and 8 pound Gamma Edge Fluorocarbon. I set the drag low on my Shimano Sustain 2500 to insure that the fish wasn’t going to be able to get awayf.
After a good start, I decided to check out some random marinas but only managed to catch a few small ones, nothing worth keeping. With three solid fish in the livewell, I started making my way back down river stopping at a few other areas that had the same type of structure. At 2 of the 3 stops I managed to catch two more good smallies, one was my biggest 3.7 pounds, which I might say put up one very nerve racking fight until finally giving in. I am very fortunate to have been using 16 pound Gamma Edge Fluorocarbon, because without it there’s a good chance that fish would have broke me off.
I made it back to weigh in and was one of the first to take to the scales. My five smallmouth went 15.25 pounds and I was able to take over the lead. I anxiously waited while all 80 some pros weighed and in the end no one was able to take it it away from me. I can’t even begin to explain how much this win means to me. I was able to overcome some unfamiliar water against some of the best fisherman in both Minnesota and Wisconsin. My beautiful wife Bri was there along with her whole family and even our two dogs and with all that I was fortunate enough to be the recipient of the first place 5,000 dollar check! There’s truely not a better feeling in the world!
With the second place finish on Okoboji earlier in the month I’ve managed to gain some good momentum and hope to continue right along for the upcoming Silverado Tournament on Green Lake, in Spicer, MN. I have a couple days to relax and enjoy this win but then it’s time to get back to it. Look for a full report soon. Happy Fishing!!