CLINTON, Iowa– For nearly a year now, Kyle Goltz has had a replay running through his mind: A 3-pound smallmouth bouncing off the gunnel of his boat and falling back in the water on the final day of last years’ B.A.S.S. Nation Northern Regional on the Mississippi River out of La Crosse, a fish that would have given the then 21-year-old a chance at qualifying for his first Nation Championship.
While that fateful boat flip has haunted the Wisconsin boater, Goltz took a major step towards redemption on Day 1 of the 2022 TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Northern Regional on the Mississippi River’s Pools 13, 14 and 15 by catching 14 pounds, 3 pounds and landing in second overall.
More importantly, Goltz has more than a 2-pound lead in the Wisconsin state team standings. If he were to hold onto the lead in his state, the now 22-year-old would qualify for his first TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Championship, which will be held on Lake Pickwick in November.
“This is my fourth state team and I haven’t been to Nationals yet. The last day from last year plays over and over in my mind,” Goltz said. “I want to make one of these dang things. I want to go down to Pickwick and make something out of it.”
But in order to punch his ticket to the Championship, Goltz will have to continue to catch fish on a fishery that is in flux.
After high water conditions for an extended period of time, water levels on the Upper Mississippi have been dropping for two weeks and have continued to fall from when anglers arrived for practice on Sunday to Day 1 of the tournament.
Although he has plenty of experience on the upper pools of the Mississippi, particularly 4, 5 and 6, Goltz struggled in practice to find a pattern in the dirty water conditions on this lower section, but on Day 1 he caught two keepers early before finding a stretch loaded with largemouth. Current has played an important role with his bite.
“I lost a 4 and then landed a 4,” Goltz said. “That clued me in. So I started looking around and I caught a couple more small ones to cull up and it ended up being a good day. I caught a lot more fish today than I did in three days of practice. It’s a lot muddier here with a lot less grass. Just a lot different scenery down here (than what I’m used to).”
Day 1 leader Tanner Bock from nearby Davenport, Iowa is also looking for a little redemption from last year’s Regional at La Crosse. While he made the final day, Bock dropped from 16th to 22nd and did not qualify for a National Championship.
But with a 14-7 bag on Day 1 and a nearly 3-pound advantage over the next closest Iowa angler, he has put himself in position to move onto the next round. It wasn’t easy, however, as he only generated six keeper bites on the day.
Bock lives only 30 minutes from Clinton and while he doesn’t fish these particular pools often, he has more knowledge of the fishery than most.
“I try to get as far away from this place as I can and don’t really like fishing here too much,” Bock said. “It is tough right now and it generally fishes pretty tough. But here, you have a better chance at catching a 5-pounder than a lot of other places.”
Tough Conditions Make for a Grind
A combination of things have made for tough fishing in the inaugural trip to Clinton for B.A.S.S. tournament series with only 34 of the 90 boaters securing a limit and no bags over 15 pounds were measured.
As Bock explained, high water combined with a post spawn funk are important factors.
“There was a tournament won here two weeks ago off of bedding fish,” Bock said. “You get that post spawn funk and get those changing water levels where fish are moving everywhere, it is tough to find them grouped up.”
Ohio angler Eddie Levin caught 13-8 to land in third place on the boater side after Day 1. While he had a productive morning and left them biting in his primary area, he has noticed a distinct change in water level since practice began. Levin has found that the cleaner the water, the better off he is.
“It does clean up quickly, but it seems like a lot of fish are relating to the cleaner water you can find,” Levin said. “Once you find a group of them there are a bunch of them there so you can stick around and catch them. It started off high and muddy for us and they have been pulling a lot of current the last couple days.”
With the water dropping, it has changed the fish positioning every day.
“It has really changed where the fish are setting up on the structure,” Levin said. “Every day you have to adapt and figure out where they are sitting for that day. It is a learning thing and I love it.”
Largemouth Dominate Day 1
While several smallmouth were weighed in on Day 1, largemouth dominated the top of the leaderboard. Unlike the pools around La Crosse and further North, the smallmouth population is much smaller around Clinton, making them more difficult to pattern and less of a factor in a tournament scenario.
While Goltz hooked and lost a smallmouth he estimated to be over 2 pounds, he hasn’t attempted to target them any this week.
“I don’t think there is a good way to target them,” he said. “I didn’t see that you could catch smallmouth consistently three days in a row.”