FORT MADISON, Iowa — The Genuity River Rumble on the Mississippi River has provided changing conditions for the Elite anglers vying for the crown in Fort Madison this week, and the 12 remaining competitors have been the best at adjusting over the course of the tournament.
For anglers locking once or twice on the final day, shorter fishing time might mean changing baits, while anglers staying close to home in Pool 19 might abandon primary areas altogether and decide to start fresh. Steve Kennedy expected to be the only angler fishing Pool 17 on the final day, which will give him plenty of water to run, but limited fishing time will likely have him changing lures, not spots.
"You don't have enough time to do anything differently," Kennedy said. "You get about four hours of fishing time and these spots don't produce really well to begin with, so you just need to stick around and fish the conditions. It's a river, so they change every day."
From changing weather conditions, dropping water levels and fluctuating water clarity, the Elite anglers have seen their share of curveballs from the mighty Mississippi. Weather forecasts for Sunday called for partly cloudy skies with thundershowers entering the area in the late afternoon.
"I caught some on a buzzbait yesterday, but if the skies clear, I'll probably be flipping," Kennedy said. "They are all right on the big wood. The water is so muddy that if you find 2 to 3 feet of water and a log, that's where they are going to be. The only problem is that they don't seem to be replenishing — I don't know if that's 'cause the water is dropping."
Falling water seemed to be the cause of a few major stumbles over the first three days of competition, but Scott Campbell, currently in third place with 33 pounds, 4 ounces, saw how it was actually helping the bite.
"The water dropping is probably a good thing, but for everyone, not just me," Campbell said. "There's a bunch of spawning beds 8 inches deep. As the water drops, all those bass are leaving those nests and coming down to where we are fishing."
Mike McClelland found that the falling water was starting to clear up after the rains of the past week had muddied the river and made many areas unfishable. Better water clarity helped McClelland find the spot in Pool 18 that squeaked him into the cut by an ounce with 26 pounds, 14 ounces and improving conditions might open up the area to a power attack.
"When I found the water it was clear and I was able to catch a few fish on a SPRO frog," McClelland said. "Yesterday, it cleared up a little, but this boat traffic going around and around keeps it muddied up. When it gets like that, I have been able to catch a few fish on a War Eagle finesse spinnerbait and flipping baits in the dirtier water."
Adjustments such as bait selection did help anglers this week to some degree, but more often than not, it was a matter of timing to get the key bites. Many anglers spoke of fishing an area two, three and even four and more times before eventually catching a bass off of the shallow cover that dominates the Mississippi River.
"Timing can be critical to catching fish," McClelland said. "You can go down a bank and swear there isn't any fish there and then 15 minutes later, go back and catch them. One thing I noticed all week was that when the bullfrogs started talking, the fish started biting."
One angler not on a bullfrog pattern decided to scrap his area in Pool 18 that produced much of his 31-pound, 9-ounce catch of the first three days. Alton Jones had been sharing an area with Kelly Jordon, also in the top-12 cut, but the last two days produced fewer and fewer keeper bites.
"I've already decided I'm going to change," Jones said. "I don't think I can move up if I stay in my same area. I definitely think I have no chance of winning if I stay. I've got a spot down here [in Pool 19] that I've only been able to fish 15 minutes a day. It is a whole new area, and it means practice day No. 4, but I want to at least give myself a chance."