When it’s not your day

Mike Cork

April bass fishing in North West Louisiana can be very tough. Most of the spawn is over, and this year I believe it’s all over. However, if you’re fishing the right body of water, your chances for a stringer of a life time are still very strong. I fished the AFT last weekend on Caddo Lake in North West Louisiana. Pre-fishing for this event was tough; I just couldn’t put much together. There is a slot limit on the lake and everything between 14-18 inches must be released. We’re allowed to keep five bass but only four over the slot. Tournament rules allow anything between 12-14 inches to be weighable. In the two days I pre-fished for this tournament, I could only manage slot fish. Caddo Lake is known for monster double digit bass up to 16 pounds. In the first week of March, this year, there were twenty bass over 10 pounds registered in the Bass Life Program around the lake. Point is a tournament on this lake! You can’t pass it up!

The morning of the tournament I really debated about how good my bed felt at 3 AM for many reasons. To start, pre-fishing didn’t go well, then a front had moved through the day before, and it was only 45 degrees outside with a strong north wind already. My bed was about to win until the images of twenty pound stringers started popping into my head. It’s Caddo, and you never know! Besides how can I get better and learn to adapt to situations if I don’t get on the water and learn.

During my practice days, I had found an area that was about 60 feet wide and about 120 feet long. In this area, I had 4 bites and caught two other fish. One of the strikes I had, on a frog, was so impressive that I knew it was a very large bass. A true toilet bowl flush, I didn’t set the hook and the frog floated to the surface. I said to myself, “I know where you are now buddy, see you Saturday.”

Saturday morning, the wind is getting pretty strong. This sole spot I have is about 25 minutes from the tournament launch ramp and over some pretty open water that will be a rough ride. However, listening to “Dock Talk” that morning everyone was poor mouthing and it gave me some hope that if I could catch this one fish I’d have a great head start!

My number is called, and I hammer down. Head out across the lake taking a short cut I know about to get further ahead of the pack. As I’m getting about half way there, I start noticing boat after boat already fishing? There was a tournament that launched on the other side of the lake, and they obviously had a head start. I started to wonder if my move to out run the field was a wise one just for a single fish; thinking someone is likely sitting on the sole location I was headed for. As I get closer, the coast looks clear, and I’m pretty amped about catching this fish or a couple like it. The location is a little bay tucked up in a wall of cypress trees, its shallow and has some hydrilla growing in it already, making it perfect for the frog bite.

Remember this place is only about 60 feet wide and about 120 feet long. As I rounded the corner I see something in the small bay. I had to take a second look because it looked like a pontoon boat. I rubbed the water out of my eyes from the long run and peered through the trees and sure enough a pontoon boat. A camper had found a way to get his pontoon boat into this area, and set a tent on the front deck where he spent the night in the small bay. These are the kind of things I chalk up to “Cork Luck”. Of a lake large enough that it takes 30 minutes to drive from one side to the other, a boater decides to camp in the one small area that I wanted to fish that morning. It’s a free country and he had ever right to be there, but man really. Not My Day!

So, to the best of my ability, I quietly worked around the pontoon boat. However, it was a fruitless venture. On to my second spot.

As I figured with as many boats as I seen on the water while headed to my first spot, everything else I had was ‘ABC’ water. For those of you that haven’t had kids yet, A.B.C. water is “Already Been Chewed” we tell our kids that when they want to eat a piece of gum they’ve found on the underside of a table.

I don’t let ABC water get to me very much. If the angler that just worked the area is throwing the same bait as I am, he can’t catch them all, nor do they work the bait the same way I do. In these situations, I like to give them some room and press on with my pattern.

It’s 10 A.M., and I haven’t boated a keeper yet. Several 17 and a half inch fish but no keepers. Well, it’s Caddo, famed for big bass. If I’m going to pull this tournament out I need to quit force feeding the bass what I want to catch them on, and figure out what they want to eat. I have several flats that always hold fish that have scattered cypress trees across them. Not the best place to find a fast pattern because fish are scattered all throughout the flat and it takes time to connect with them.

I moved to my first choice, tied on my trusty Caddo Lake jig and went to work pitching trees. After about 5 pitches, I load up on a serious bass. If you’ve caught a bass over 7-8 pounds, you know that feeling. When you load up and are in a stale mate against the bass, and she starts thrashing her head. It’s a moment where she realizes she can’t pull any more, so the next option is to flare her gills and shake as hard as she can and see what happens. It’s a tell tale sign of a large bass. It’s also at this point, battles with large fish are won or lost. Guess what, I lost and she blew the jig. Not My Day!

Sometimes these fish move through the flats in small schools, four or five at a time, sometimes they are loaners. The only way to know is to make a few pitches in the area and see what happens. Two pitches later I hook up again. Another quality fish, I have seen her twice, and she’s about 4 pounds on a good day. She makes a couple runs, and I finally have her coming at the boat. I go to grab the net, and it won’t move, it’s stuck. Not My Day!

Fortunately I was able to play her out, and she turned out to be quite easy to lip, and she was a keeper almost 4 pounds. I put my power poles down, because the wind is blowing 15 mph across this area. I go back and inspect the net and see if there is some magical force that has it pinned under the passengers console, but it’s just sitting there? Earlier I had cut off some braided line from my frog rod and bundled it up and threw it in the bottom of the boat. Upon further inspection, this braided line had wrapped around the passenger’s seat handle and the handle of the net and locked it in place. Lesson learned, clean up after yourself before running to the next location. Not My Day Self Induced!

Oh remember I said I put the power poles down, so I could inspect the problem. Well, I go to retract the poles and one is stuck in the years of muck at the bottom of this swamp of a lake. It had pushed through the muck and had a suction built up and couldn’t retract. This is not a problem in the sense that you are stuck. Power Pole has a built in release system, so when this happens you just have to drive off, and the outboard at idle will easily pull past the suction. The problem lies in that I just caught a solid keeper and missed another very good fish. Firing up the big motor is not going to be good for this little spot. None the less, my right pole was stuck and not budging. So I fished the area before starting the outboard motor and pulling the pole out of the muck. Not My Day!

Over the next hour and a half, I caught more 17 inch bass than one man should have to endure in a tournament where a three pounder is not a keeper. On a perfectly looking tree, with a perfectly quiet pitch, and a break in the breeze that allowed me to watch my line, I see it only fell about a foot in six feet of water. Without even checking, I swung for the fences. Either I was just sitting on a root ball and was going to hit myself between the eyes with a jig, or I was going to cross the eyes of a bass. At this point, I didn’t care as I figured anything over 18 inches had already “Left the Building”. My Dobyns 744 loaded up perfectly, and a boil come of the side of the tree that would make a 10 year old boy pee his pants. The fight was on! After a very exciting jump, a couple runs for open water and a wrap around some lily pad stems; I was able to get the net under a 5.45.

Using the same theory as before, once you find one good fish there are usually several, I worked the area pretty hard. It wasn’t long before I had another strike just like this previous one, however, the outcome wasn’t so good. I pitched up to the side of a cypress tree; the bait falls only about a foot, and I swing for the fences. This time, a fish swims off the side of the tree at a perfect ninety degree angle from me. Try as I might, I was unable to get caught up with her and she blew the jig. I have no idea how big or small she was, but I’d guess about the same as the one I just landed. So, just as I thought things might turn around, it’s still, Not My Day!

I ended up closing out the day with just the two bass over the slot limit. 2 fish for 9.5 pounds isn’t bad, meaning if you’re only going to have two make them good ones. I know in my heart I could have nearly doubled that, if I had discovered the pattern sooner and capitalized on the bites I did get. Being only 50% on the big bites is not going to win any tournament. I did manage to finish in 5th overall, which really surprised me. First place only had 12 pounds, so either one of those two bigger fish I missed, would have put this one away. If I catch both its lights out. Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda, never put a check in my pocket, and it didn’t this time either.

All in all it was a good day and I learned or reinforced several things. Never quit, if you keep trying and don’t get stuck on a pattern, you can find some bites. Be prepared, when the big bites are few and far between you have to be ready. Don’t get into a casting slump where you are aimlessly drifting and not staying focused. Clean up before you move. I normally do this, simply because I don’t want trash or baits flying around or out of the boat while traveling. I was frustrated and hurrying, and it almost cost me a bass. Finally, there is nothing better than seat time. If you want to improve, get on the water under all conditions, keep thinking, and figure them out. Bass don’t feed all day every day but will feed some time every day. There is a pattern to be found, keep digging until you find it.

Get the Net it’s a Hawg
Mike Cork
Ultimate Bass
Legend Boats
Mercury Marine
Dobyn’s Rods
Power Pole
Elite Tungsten

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