Lake Winnebago Chain, Osh Kosh, WI
I might as well get this write up over with as it’s not going to get any easier for me with the passing of the days. Last Saturday my buddy Rich Lindgren and I competed in the first stop of the NABC Team Circuit on east Wisconsin’s, Lake Winnebago. Though Rich and I have been friends for years, this would be the first time we didn’t compete against each other and instead climbed in the same boat and attempted to make something happen. I was pretty excited to team with Rich as I first learned a lot of my bass fishing skill from him years back when I joined his BASS federation club, Gopher Bassmasters.
We’ve both come a long way since those club days and I’d be lying if I said that we didn’t set very high expectations for ourselves heading into this event. Even though I had never been to this chain of lakes, I was confident because the largemouth bite should fall right into our wheelhouse and Rich has fished a couple pretty big events here over the years. Never this time of year but later and that should help us as we knew where they were going when they were through spawning.
We didn’t get much practice time and in hindsight probably tackled practice all wrong from the get go. Basically we drove out together the previous week and got in about a full day on Saturday with the exception of the early morning bite as we were still in route from Minne. Side note, I don’t mind driving long distances at all, in fact I like to. I’ll drive to the any lake in the country, fish for a day or two and drive back, sounds like fun, but there’s something gigantically mind numbing about driving five hours and still being in Wisconsin. I’m just saying.
The next day we awoke to thunderstorms and three inches of rain, we’re die hards so there was no stopping us from going out but practicing was tough. You really can’t see much and if you don’t get bit, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not there. So instead we spent most our time cruising around and finding more productive areas that were working the day before.
We were also able to get out for one final practice day the Friday before the derby. We checked what we had found the weekend before which for the most part still held up but it was becoming more and more obvious that this was all pretty community. Not always a bad thing but still worrisome none the less. Basically we were targeting spawning largemouth as well as some pre and post cruisers.
With only an hour or so to go, we happened to find an area that looked like what heaven would look like to a fisherman. We found a clear water, off the map area, loaded with fish from pike, slab crappies, bluegills, more gar than I’ve seen in my whole life and probably around fifty bass anywhere from 2 pounds to 5 pounds. It was crazy! This is exactly what a tournament guy dreams of, stay on the water till the last possible second and then find the holy water just before the event.
Now with mixed emotions running through our head as well as drawing boat number 23, we had some talking to do. The gambling side to us thought maybe it be best if we ran the community stuff early in the morning and caught our 14-16 plus pounds and then sneak over to the juice and really put together a kings sack. What if we don’t get prime area in the community with the weak take off number? What if someone else found the juice and will make fresh squeezed lemonade before we ever get there? What if we have a tough day and driving home hate ourselves for not taking advantage of what we found?
You can see where our heads were at and decided we shouldn’t take any chances, skip the community and go all out in this area we had found and hopefully have it all to ourselves. When we arrived tourney morning it appeared we were the first in until we spotted some perch jerkers anchored down on one of the better areas. We politely squeezed past them and the noticed there was another tournament boat up the cut, not sure if they creeped in another way or just had an early take off number but none the less, they were ahead of us and we were fishing their seconds. Then wouldn’t you know it, out comes KVD wannabe himself blazing through the cut trolling motor on 100 talking about “they were here yesterday” and damn near bumped my boat to get out. What was gin clear water was now turning to chocolate milk fast and this area just couldn’t hold up to this kind of pressure, too shallow and too skinny. There was also a lot of people on their docks enjoying the beautiful Saturday morning catching some gills. Just too much pressure, no excuses, we should have considered that from the get go but didn’t and now was too late to go back. I did manage one nice keeper out of there but with three hours burned we left that area with just the one. We ran to the community and quickly got the feeling we were not only fishing seconds but more like thirds, fourths and fifths. Still head down and determined we worked at taking what we could get and Rich managed to bag three keepers with time dwindling down. Our hail mary pass came late in the game when we only had 4 in the box and an hour to go, we ran back to our starting spot and I managed to take one buck off a bed to fill our limit.
At weigh-in we put together 5 for a very disappointing 11.88 pounds only good enough for a 32nd place finish. The most important thing though is we definitely learned something from this event and know what we have to do better ourselves at the next one. It’s important in a team tournament to find as much water in practice as possible and fish each others strengths to maximize results. We’re not too beat up about our decision to skip community even though that’s were a lot of the big bags came from. Tournament bass fishing is about rolling the dice and hats off to those that made the right decision.