The conditions were horrible on the Mighty Mississippi — falling, muddy water and a venue that fished small. Still, the Elite Series anglers showed their stuff. They picked their way through woody, shallow water sloughs one pool north of the launch site with plastics and shallow running crankbaits to catch what they could on their way to winning performances.
Here's how they did it:
(1st Place — 43 pounds, 3 ounces)
As one of only two anglers to bag a limit all four days, Kevin Short's win is a study in mental preparation, discipline and physical performance."I told Kerry (Short's wife) before the tournament started that anyone who caught three a day would do well, and that four limits would probably win it. Fishing was really tough."But Rick Clunn once told me that tough tournaments are the easiest to win because half the field has already accepted defeat before they make their first cast. I've never forgotten that. So I put my head down, concentrated on my job and fished for a limit every day with a positive attitude."My primary area was between 3 1/2 and 4 feet deep. It was maybe 200 yards long, 25 yards wide and covered with every type of wood imaginable — laydowns, tree tops, logs and stumps."Short selected a small, shallow-running crankbait — an EWC E1 crankbait in Chartreuse Classic — as his weapon of choice. But that's only a part of the story. The rest of it involves his line."At first I was having trouble keeping my bait off the bottom. That's a problem in backwater areas of the Mississippi because the bottom is lined with leaves and muck. It's a mess. When your bait gets down in that stuff it fouls and the bass ignore it.Knowing that I needed the bait to run shallower I switched from 15-pound-test Vicious Fluorocarbon to 17-pound-test and also spooled a reel with 17-pound-test Vicious Ultimate, their copolymer line. The copolymer did the trick. I was able to keep my bait up, off the bottom and bouncing off the wood where it would catch bass."The first-time Bassmaster Elite Series winner from Mayflower, Ark., was also able to find the pattern within the pattern.On Friday he weighed a limit by running his lure alongside bare logs — scraping the wood all the way — that stretched out into the water. But on Sunday, with the water dropping, he found his bass had moved. They were still on the wood, but had repositioned themselves anywhere they could find two logs that crossed under the water."Competing at this level isn't just about finding bass, it's about finding the biggest bass. It's very important to stay focused and find the pattern within the pattern, or the spot on the spot. It's not enough to know they're on the wood; you've got to know where on the wood. I was able to do that this week, and it paid off."
Short tossed his crankbait with a 7-foot St. Croix Premiere Glass Crankbait Rod (medium action). He cranked it back to the boat with an Ardent XS1000.6 reel (6.3:1 gear ratio).
(2nd Place — 42 pounds, 9 ounces)
Kelly Jordon climbed the ladder on Sunday. He started the morning in eighth place — 6 pounds, 1 ounce behind leader Billy McCaghren — and ended the afternoon in second place, finishing a mere 10 ounces off Short's weight.
"I found a drainage pipe in 6-10 feet of water with a heavy stream of water moving through it in a backwater slough. The first three days the water was very muddy and the current was very strong. Both those factors helped position the fish and allowed me to make efficient use of my time.
"I fished those three days with a Lake Fork Tackle Craw Tube, rigged with a 5/0 Owner Wide Gap hook and a 3/16-ounce Lake Fork Tackle Mega-Weight (tungsten).
"But on Sunday the water stopped flowing out of the pipe and everything around it started to clear. I fished most of the day frustrated until late in the afternoon when I switched to a Lucky Craft Flat CB MR crankbait with chartreuse sides and a blue back."That was the ticket. I started catching fish almost immediately. But I started too late to get the weight I needed. If I'd done that earlier in the day, the result might have been different. In fact, I think it would have."
The Mineola, Texas, pro fished his Craw Tube with a 7-foot Fenwick Techna AV rod (medium-heavy action) and an Abu Garcia Revo STX reel (6.4:1 gear ratio) spooled with 50-pound-test Spiderwire.He threw his crankbait with a 7-foot Fenwick Techna AV rod (medium action) and an Abu Garcia Revo STX reel (6.4:1 gear ratio) spooled with 12-pound-test Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon line.
(3rd Place — 42 pounds, 8 ounces)
Billy McCaghren fished the same area, with the same bait, all four days. Had the water not dropped and cleared slightly, he might very well have bagged enough weight to knock Kevin Short off the pedestal.
"I found a backwater area — a dead end cut off a main canal — that was very shallow, no more than 1 1/2 feet deep in most spots. It was full of wood and shad, with dingy water that kept trying to clear off and on during the week.
"I was able to fish it hard the first three days by carefully managing my bass. As soon as I got my limit, I'd stop fishing. I wanted it to rest and replenish itself for the next day. That worked perfectly until I arrived there Sunday with the water dropping and clearing at the same time. It was tough. I ended up with two keepers after limiting Thursday, Friday and Saturday. That hurt."McCaghren's best bite came with a black with red flake Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver rigged with a 4/0 Gamakatsu EWG Worm Hook and a 3/8-ounce Tru-Tungsten Worm Weight. He flipped laydowns in less than a foot of water. And all his bass came from about the middle of the wood back to the shoreline.
"If there's any lesson from my tournament, it's that river bass are shallow, and shallow means inches of water, not feet. You can't fish too shallow in a river system, it just isn't possible."McCaghren, who calls Mayflower, Ark., home along with Kevin Short, flipped his Sweet Beaver with a 7-foot, 3-inch Powell rod (No. 734, heavy action), Revo STX reel (6.4:1 gear ratio) and 20-pound-test Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon line.