Winning on the river

River rats put knowledge to test on first trip to Fort Madison

FORT MADISON, Iowa — Many of the competitors fishing the Genuity River Rumble on the Mississippi River out of Fort Madison, Iowa, had never been on the fishable pools before, but some Elite anglers relied on their knowledge and experience on river systems closer to home to help them find success.

Bill Lowen, from North Bend, Ohio, parlayed his experience on the highly pressured waters of the Ohio River into a successful first day of competition after bringing in 10 pounds, 2 ounces to the scales.

"The biggest thing that is helping me is fishing in a crowd," Lowen said. "I can block that out and keep fishing. You are always fishing behind somebody or in front of somebody at home."

The bad news for Lowen was that several other competitors also caught them well out of the same spot, which means the backwater area they are all fishing might not hold up for more than one or two more days.

"I think we can get one more day out of it and then it will be done," Lowen said. "I don't think it's a winning spot unless some of those guys back out of it. If someone had it to themselves, I think it could be won there, but that's how it is."

Most productive backwaters on the river were covered up with boats on Day One. The fact that the fish haven't been using the main river at all was the biggest adjustment that Arkansas River rat and Elite Series rookie Billy McCaghren had to make coming to Iowa.

McCaghren, a resident of Mayflower, Ark., has been enjoying a respectable first-year on tour, making the cut in three of the first six tournaments. His 13-pound, 1-ounce bag on Day One placed him in a tie for fourth.

"I live on the Arkansas River, which helped me know what to look for," McCaghren said. "Back home when they are done spawning, they get to the current. Here, the bigger fish seem to stay in the backwater area. The fish here are used to the mud and I feel comfortable around it, but I'd rather not fish water this dirty."

Greg Hackney, an old Arkansas and Red River runner, seemed to have an explanation for the fish still being in the backwaters: they are still spawning.

"Some of these fish are still bedding," Hackney said. "They are still hanging around after this last moon. Unfortunately, some of the areas I was fishing got even muddier today. I guess it rained more than I thought it did last night."

Hackney's experience on rivers had him feeling confident that he could make the right adjustments come tournament time, but that wasn't the case after the first day when he brought in a disappointing 1 pound, 10 ounces to the scales.

"I caught 20 fish today, but they were all little," Hackney said. "It's just like every river I've ever been on — it's very spot specific. Slack water in the backwaters is what's producing but I just never found the right spot, and because of the muddy water, so much of it has become unfishable."

Another river angler who was unable to adjust to the changing conditions on Day One was Scott Rook of Little Rock, Ark. Being chased by disappointment all season, Rook continued to struggle, boating only one keeper that weighed 2 pounds, 1 ounce.

"This is a totally different river from the Arkansas," Rook said. "We've got a lot of man-made cover like jetties, while down here there are flat, shallow banks and a lot of mud."

The rains drained off in a few of his spots and made them nearly unfishable. Adjustments made after that didn't pan out for the seasoned veteran, who currently occupies the 85th place in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings.

"I had a little deal cranking rock at the South end of the pool, but the wind cranked up and muddied the whole area," Rook said. "Creeks I was fishing were pouring mud with debris getting washed up on the bank. It had just been that kind of year for me."

As to what the future holds for the group of river rats looking to continue their strong performance or rebound after a stumble on Day One, Hackney best summed it up: "The good thing about these tournaments is that the door is still open for someone to pull in a decent bag on Day Two and be right back in the hunt."