Last week I covered the first half of the season and the lessons I learned from those events. During the last few events of the year, some of those lessons paid off.
The fifth event of the season was in La Crosse, Wis., on the Mississippi River. I knew nothing about it prior to the start of practice. My biggest concern was how big it was, especially with three different pools to fish. Just one pool was big enough for everyone to fish. I decided to focus on that pool, the one we launched out of. I figured out the frog, swim jig and punching bites during the first two days of practice. These were solid patterns, but I just didn’t think they were good enough to win. I was only catching 12 to 14 pounds a day, and I knew that was good enough for a check, but that was about it.
If you read last week’s blog, you’ll know that I learned a few lessons that definitely played into my decision to look for something different on the final day of practice. I spent some time using my graphs in areas I thought other anglers might have overlooked — deep stuff. I was starting to see fish in the deeper water, 12 to 14 feet, and they were pretty easy to catch. I found one spot where I felt I could catch about 14 pounds, which gave me the confidence to keep looking. It didn’t take much longer to find the spot I eventually spent most of the tournament on, and it was incredible.
I was catching them on a drop shot with 8-pound test, a Rebarb hook and a 3/16-ounce tungsten drop shot weight. For a bait, I was using a 6-inch fat Roboworm and mixing it up with a flutter spoon and swimbait. Everything went great for three days, and I had a good shot to win. On Day Four, the mayfly hatch went into full swing and definitely changed the game. The fish spread out and suspended because they were eating both the mayflies and the mayfly larva. The big fish got really hard to catch even though there were still a bunch of them there.
I really did everything right to have a good chance to win this event. Sometimes you just can’t beat Mother Nature. The one thing I can say I learned was to have something in the boat to match a mayfly when you fish the Mississippi River in the early summer!
When I arrived in Green Bay, I was very tired. I had a four- or five-hour drive late on Sunday night following the Mississippi River event, and by the time I got everything set up it was after midnight. That’s why on the first day of practice I slept in a little bit. By the time I woke up to get on the water, the wind was blowing 25 mph right down the bay and that had the waves anywhere from 4 to 7 feet. As I headed to the launch ramp I saw five or six boats coming back. So I called Kelly Jordon, and he said, “You can't really fish the south side.”
With the south side of the lake pretty unfishable, I called Todd Faircloth. Todd, who won on the Mississippi River, was getting a late start as well, and we met up and headed to the north side of the lake. The late start was a blessing in disguise. By the time I got the boat on the water it was 10 a.m. and the waves were starting to subside. I motored around and graphed for a while in the 20- to 30-foot range. As the day went on, I started looking shallower and found some smallmouth.
By Day Two, I really started figuring things out. I had over 200 bites in practice, and I actually caught 100 fish from 1 1/4 to 2 1/2 pounds. A lot of them were actually bed fish. Smallmouth on beds are pretty good about biting again after getting caught, which is why I went ahead and caught them. I put them back quickly and nicely and asked them to bite again in a few days. I found some schools that weren't spawning as well. Most fish were in a transition phase between spawn and postspawn. The fish were grouping up in six- to seven-fish schools with some going 2 1/2 pounds or more. I realized they were moving out of the spawning areas, which lead me to focus on secondary points on the way out. On the last day of practice, I caught a 6-pound smallmouth!
I caught some good fish in the event and had a shot to win. I ended up weighing over 20 pounds during two days of the event. Overall I had a good time, caught some decent weights but didn’t have enough to win. It's hard to win any event and definitely tough to beat 100 of the best anglers.
The final event of the season was Oneida Lake. It fished really well for me, and I found some good schools of fish. I found some shallow fish during practice, but I focused my attention on the deeper schools that I had found. Deeper fish are generally more dependable this time of year. I caught them pretty decent the first two days. The wind picked up on the third day, and I had to change up. I ended up not catching a limit, but it was tougher. A lot of the best schools had people established on them. It's hard to move around on the third day of a tournament. By then, most of the areas already have anglers on them. It stinks to not weigh a limit on the final day of the season, but I was able to move up to the Top 10 in the AOY points race, and that feels pretty good after the bad start to my season.
Next week I'll tell you all about All-Star Week and what happened in Illinois. Thank you all so much for the votes that allowed me to compete. I hope my performance validated your support and confidence. It was a great event.