As the competitors in the B.A.S.S. Federation Nation Northern Divisional presented by Skeeter and Yamaha readied their tackle and prepared to launch for their first day of competition, there’s little agreement among them about what to expect when the tournament starts. Nearly everyone has his own idea of how — and where — to bag the winning weight.
J.J. Patton, a member of the Iowa State Team with 15 years of Mississippi River experience, thinks it’ll be a shallow pitching and flipping event with the winning weight pushing 40 pounds.
“The weather’s stable so that won’t be a factor. But the water’s falling every day and that will be a factor. I’m guessing the best bite will still be in the backwater ponds, cuts and oxbows but you’ll have to follow the fish out to stay on them. They won’t sit still.
“There will be guys who fish the current, though. They’ll catch a few but I don’t think it’ll be enough to win.”
Minnesota State Team member Nathan Steinbauer sees things differently. He thinks the winning weight — his guess is between 25 and 28 pounds — will be caught in the main river fishing current breaks.
“For me, it’s all about current. The dropping water has pushed my fish into the main river. I’m going to fish vegetation first, then wood and finally rock as a last resort. I expect they’ll be scattered. Regardless of what I find, however, I’ll stay out in the river where there’s a good current and fish the breaks by cranking a hardbait.
“I’ve been catching them that way in practice. I don’t see any reason to change now. And I think those areas will get better as the week goes along.”
Buckeye team qualifier and self-described Ohio River rat Bob Werner basically splits the difference between his fellow competitors, although he does agree with Patton that the winning weight will be close to 40 pounds.
“They started dropping the water a couple of days ago, and my backwater bite disappeared. I think they’re in the main river but I can’t get them to bite a hard bait. Flipping and pitching wood has been my best technique. Some of the trees I’ve found are holding five keepers. You can catch a limit in one spot.”
All those differences notwithstanding, they all agree that locking into Pool 19 is dangerous, far too dangerous to make a viable strategy or to be worth the risk on a short fishing day. (Iowa law requires a 1:00 p.m. weigh-in during the hottest months of the year.)
They all point out the long run required to get to the locks and to the fact that the lockmasters are serious when they say commercial traffic has priority. “It’s better to be safe and make sure I can weigh in my catch,” says Werner. “I don’t know what I’d do if I caught a big sack, got caught behind a barge and ended up with zeros.”
They all seem to agree that the river will fish small. “I hear a lot of guys talking about fishing the same areas. I think we’ll be fishing pretty close to one another,” says Patton, looking not too happy about it. “It’ll be an interesting week.”