I could have gone right or left out of the no wake zone last Sunday at the takeoff of the Superbass tournament I was fishing. Good decision making both before and during tournaments can make or break the final results of your productivity. I had found good numbers of quality fish in both directions. It was 40 miles one way whichever direction I went so the committment was final once I had decided. The two locations were quite different so consideration of all factors involved were crucial. Due to the distance to each and the amount of open water I had to navigate, wind was a big factor. I believed I could get a heavy bag in either location but if the wind got up late in the day it would make getting back to the weigh in rough. Fishing pressure was another big consideration. I knew of several other large tournaments in the area of one of my locations. There were other factors involved but I made my final decision based primarily on those two influences…and I went left towards the muddier water.
During the 40 mile run south through more fog than I cared to see…or not see, I noticed large amounts of debris floating on what appeared to be heavy current in the main channel. The water looked heavily stained but I could not tell the extent of the color traveling so fast in fog and rain sprinkles, my concentration was on avoiding debris, barges, buoys, and other boats. Little did I know at the time…barges and other boats would not be a problem. After about a 50 minute ride I arrived at the mouth of the creek I was heading to the back of.
I had located large numbers of good quality bass in the flooded bushes and even more stacked up on a grass bed in about 8 feet of water. I was very confident in filling the livewell with a grand stringer. As I made the U turn out of the main river channel to head up the narrow half mile stretch of creek which opened into a large expansive area of backwater I could tell things were different. The narrow channel was much wider with the swelling high water and the strong current carried tons of mud with it throughout the creek. I continued to the back hoping it wasn’t as bad as it looked. As I arrived at my first stretch of flooded bushes my heart sank. I had heard it raining in my hotel room the night before. I had checked the internet last night and saw the lake was scheduled for a gradual draw down of the unusually high water there, but not enough to affect the fishing. What I did not know was that just upstream from my honey hole nearly 4 inches of rain had fallen in the past 12 hours.
This had resulted in very muddy conditions, a drop in water temperatures of 7 degrees, and a raise in water level of approximately 3 feet…a huge change of conditions in such a short amount of time. I believed the fish were still in the area and I would just need to relocate them and entice them to bite. As I made my way around the small pocket of flooded bushes and now flooded timber and shoreline that reached so far back I could not throw or pitch to all of it…I did notice something. Each time I activated my Motorguide trolling motor it pushed away the muddy surface water to reveal clearer and very fishable water underneath. Although the high water and strong current carried large amounts of mud with it, it had not mixed with the entire water column yet. This revelation made me think my black and blue Zoom lizard which had produced so well for me throughout practice might still work some magic.
The bushes I had been flipping and pitching to in practice in 3 or 4 foot of water now sat in 6 to 8 foot of water. Only 10 minutes into my day and I felt a tug on the line as I dropped the lizard down into the guts of a big buckbrush bush. I reared back on the heavy action 7 foot Carrot Stick, turning the big head of the 6 1/2 pound bucketmouth and horsing her up and out of the bush. After a short but exciting tussel boatside she was in the boat and in the livewell. My hopes and confidence soared…the fish were still here.
To make a long story short, my partner and I would fish the next 3 1/2 hours catching only 2 short fish. We would also get several short strikes, where the fish seemed to be just grabbing the very back portion of the bait instead of knocking the stuffing out of it like they had in practice. Some of these short strikes had come on a floating trick worm fished around the flooded bushes where we could actually see the fish come up and “gum” the bait and quickly spit it out. These were quality fish but we just could not hook up with them or entice them to take any follow up baits.
The grassbed that had been so good to me in practice had 10 feet of fast moving very muddy water running over it, the current so strong I could not hold my boat there to fish it. As the day progressed the mud eventually mixed throughout the water column as well. With the one big fish in the livewell we decided to head back north to a small spot we had located in practice. My only concern was we had not really thought we would need this spot on tournament day so we had stuck a large number of fish there. It was also close to the ramp and would receive heavy pressure all day most likely. I knew with the big kicker fish already in the livewell…if we could squeak out any kind of limit we still had a shot at winning this thing.
As predicted, the wind had picked up considerably over the course of the day and the ride north was slower and very rough. At one point we noticed some flooded grass in the back of a pocket and took the opportunity to check it out and to get out of the rough water for a few minutes. I pulled a couple of short fish out of the grass on a chatterbait and we continued north. Arriving at the location near the ramp with 2 1/2 hours of fishing time remaining, we fished our hearts out but only managed one more 3 pound keeper we were lucky to get after my partner, Danny White of Opdyke Illinois, hung him in a treetop on a grape ribbontail Zoom worm.
The big fish would net us the Big Bass check for the day and the 10 pounds total would leave us setting in 12th place overall.
Now lets talk about hindsight and decisions made or not made. Knowing what I know now here are a few things I would have done different. First of all I would have turned right out of the takeoff. A minor change in conditions is normal on the tournament trail and adjustment to those changes is an intricate part of the game. Had I gone to the right I would still have had to deal with the high water but not the mud. I also had located some fish on deeper drops and ledges in that area and believe those fish would not have been quite as affected by the change in conditions. I also believe the shallow fish I had located in that area may have been slightly more catchable in the clearer water. Having turned left though, there are a couple things I would have done different there too. I would have downsized the bait I was pitching and flipping to try and counter the short soft bite we were getting. I also would have headed back north sooner to search for better quality water, like the flooded grass we found on the way back to the ramp area. Although anything we fished would have been new water, I believe covering alot of quality new water would have been a more productive strategy. Lastly, I would not have stuck so many fish in practice in our area near the ramp…managed those fish better…and possibly returned to them much earlier in the day and picked the area apart like a surgeon.
The bite was slower everywhere due to the big change in overall conditions so working hard at it and never giving up was a must no matter what decision might have been made different. All in all in was a good day, a great learning experience, and as always a blessing just to be doing what I love and I thank the good Lord for that.
My next article I will be talking about some specific baits and techniques for fishing them. I would like to go ahead and give an honorable mention right now to Zoom lizards, as well as UltimateBass.com for the opprotunity to put my experiences on paper. I also encourage you to visit my website at www.probassangler-jemey.com to read more articles, get news on upcoming seminars and tournaments, and to contact me with any questions or comments you have…maybe we’ll schedule a fishing trip together. Good fishin’ to all and God Bless.