Mississippi River Pools 4 & 5, Red Wing, MN
I’m a numbers guy. Plain and simple, I’m cut from the cloth that believes the numbers will never lie. So there should be no denying that when you give me odds to win 20K out of only a 30 boat field, I’m pulling out the big guns.
This was the case for the NABC World Championship held this past week on the Mississippi River. Good buddy Rich Lindgren
and I had been licking our chops for this tournament all season, in fact it’s the sole reason we signed up for this series. Not like we didn’t know the competition would be fierce but why else would a guy put himself through the rigors of tournament bass fishing if this kind of event didn’t get your blood pumping? Our stretch of river is just awesome. It’s a rat’s nest of a fishery where if you learn to navigate it’s treacherous waters you can be rewarded with a beautiful mixed sack of rogue smallies and donkey slough largemouth.
Life leading up to this tournament was nothing short of stressful and this tournament meant even more in that for the first time in the past 2 years, I got to fish free of any other distractions other than where to find fish. Something I took for granted a few years back and something that was taking it’s toll on me. My wife Bri and I had decided that we were to up and move south to the hills of Tennessee and both had to make the commitments that came with such goals. Days before practice for this derby and I was on the road moving my family to our new home nestled in the hills of southeastern Tennessee.
Now back in Minnesota, I was ready to do what I love to do. Practice started descent enough though my original feelings were that the lack of current was going to make for a tougher tournament than I was expecting. Rich and I practiced separately but both managed to slowly piece together the puzzle. My goal the entire time was to try to stay ahead of the fish. Recently I’ve noticed that when I don’t have a good tournament I was usually having a good practice, too good. So when things change a day or two before the tournament I was having trouble adapting and would find myself watching checks be awarded instead of taking mine to the bank.
I knew the seasonal transition of these fish and also took into consideration the weather forecast calling for high winds and a pretty substantial cold front of the year. Even though I wasn’t smoking the bass everyday I was still managing a few bigger bites and felt that with the cold front and stiff north winds, I was putting myself in position to have winning bass coming to me. Rich on the other hand had about the same practice but was finding fish that were a bit more stable in that these areas didn’t depend on current but they had bait and had fish. The potential for a big bite was definitely there but a limit of keepers was more realistic. The only negative about Rich’s areas was that wind could really shut them down. Combine these two practices and I was starting to think we were looking pretty good.
Day one of the championship started with strong winds and dropping temps in the low 30’s. Rich got us across the big lake with relative ease. Our first stop yielded two smallie keepers with Rich bagging the first keeper on a soft plastic and I did the other with a 1/4 oz. Outkast Swim Jig (Chartreuse and White). Basically this area was a very small underwater point where the bank transitions from large chunk rock to smaller round rock and mixed gravel. Smallmouth were using the shallow jetty to push up shad.
With much of the lake being a complete washout do to the high winds we hopped the pond and started running some high percentage main river spots and put together a small limit rather quickly before slumping out in the afternoon. With winds picking up even more we decided to get across the lake safe and try to pop a cull or two on some traditional urban river spots up in Red Wing. I did manage one small cull on a rip rap wall with a Biovex Stay 80 Jerkabit (chartreuse shad)
and missed another good one that I failed to get a good hook into on a Outkast Swim Jig.
In the end we managed a small limit of 10.34 pounds and was sitting 18th overall. Not the start we were looking for but was still semi optimistic that we could really get ’em on day 2 and would shoot up the leader board.
The next day was colder yet and the wind still strong, though not as bad as it was the day before and crossing the pond was no real big deal. The frigid morning started slow for us and it took a few hours to boat a keeper but just after Rich failed to hook up with a bruiser smallie, my Biovex Stay 80 jerkbait
got choked by a doozer of a smallie. My GLX got a solid workout as I finessed the big bronzeback into the net to what resulted in an easy 4 plus pound kicker. I leaned on the Stay 80 Jerkbait all through practice and the tournament. I was throwing the jerkbait on a G Loomis GLX Crankbait Rod (855 CBR)
with a Shimano Mentanium Mg DC7 reel on 12 lb. Seaguar Invizx Fluorocarbon. I’ve experimented a long time with different setups trying to find the best all around package for jerkbait fishing and there’s no question that I found the best.
Now with a little steam working in our favor we started making quick but well thought out decisions and slowly put together a descent limit. We were mostly catching main river smallies but Rich did manage a nice green one of a laydown.
With only a hour or so to go, we opted to hit a large sand drop that Rich had located in practice. Great call too as the smallmouth and largemouth as well as sand bass were using the drop to school on shad. Even the birds were working with the schooling predators to keep the shad at the surface. Rich was throwing a lipless crankbait and I was throwing my Biovex Stay 80 jerkbait
and we were whacking ’em on every cast. The bite was so good we were netting a fish with another one still in the net! Doubles were the regular. We did make a few small culls but it was just a matter of time before we laid back into another kicker. We both managed to break off on good fish earlier in the day so we were definitely casting for redemption. Unfortunately, time ran out and we had to finish the run back to weigh in.
We had a much better day but still fell shy and weighed in a 5 bass limit for 13.21 and a two day total of 23.55 pounds and finished in 15th place. I also had big fish of the tournament with a solid 4.4 pound brownie. We knew we were in the hunt and dropped bass really made it sting just an bit worse. It’s imperative that big ones make it to the livewell. We fished hard and scrappy, left it all out there and in the end just fell short. I’m happy cause I know we fished our hearts out and made good decisions, nine times out of ten we would be on the top. That’s fishing.
In the end I’d like to congratulate all teams that qualified for the shoot out and the ones that showed the rest of us how it’s done. The crew that puts on the NABC tournament trail are top notch and I highly recommend this trail as one of the premier events in the Midwest.
Open road ahead of me once again. Tennessee bound!