Maiden voyage at Douglas

One of my goals this year was to fish often before every Bassmaster Northern Open tournament to hone my skills and give myself a fighting chance. That didn’t happen.

Before driving south from Ohio to compete in the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open at Douglas Lake, I had been on the water a total of 6 hours in 2014. What prevented me from fishing was the used $4,500 bass boat I bought over the winter.

It’s a 1990 Champion 184 with a 1999 Mercury XR6 150 hp outboard. The old boat needed a total overhaul to be tournament ready. My plan was to refurbish the boat in April and spend as much time as possible fishing in May prior to the Douglas Open.

I grossly underestimated how long the overhaul would take. I was still working on the boat every spare minute until I headed for Douglas.

I wet sanded and buffed the hull to bring back the shine, installed new carpeting, new Humminbird graphs, converted from a 24 volt Minn Kota electric motor to a 36 volt Minn Kota Fortrex, added a TH jack plate and a stainless Steel Mercury Tempest Plus prop.

There was also the inset for the electric motor’s foot control pedal, the water pressure gauge, the fuel water separator, new fuel lines, engine maintenance, new wiring and on and on. There is still much to do and I haven’t even started on the trailer.

So many things needed to be done with the overhaul that I convinced Dave Precht, editor of BASS Times to run a series of articles on, “How to Keep Your Bass Boat Alive.” Each article will have photos that show how I’ve done one phase of the overhaul, such as installing new carpeting.

Also, a companion video will be posted on The first installment, slated for July, will be on how to buy a used bass boat. After that I dig in and get my hands dirty.

The boat performed well at Douglas, although I discovered a few more things that need work. It certainly did the job for Daniel Beebe of Niota, Tennessee, the co-angler I drew for the first day of the Douglas event.

Beebe had been refining his swimbait presentation for several weeks prior to Douglas. And, he had done well with it while practicing with a friend who was fishing Douglas on the pro side. I had never caught a bass on a swimbait before coming to Douglas.

That day Beebe culled through 10 bass to bag a three-fish limit that weighed well over 9 pounds. I caught one good fish on a jig and a keeper on a dropshot.

I tried to mimic Beebe’s swimbait presentation, and he was kind enough to give me one of the 5-inch Basstrix swimbaits he was using to crush the bass. The day ended before I caught on.

Beebe threw nothing but the swimbait that day and the next day and the next. He won the co-angler division with a total weight of 30 pounds, 7 ounces. I enjoyed fishing with Beebe, despite the shellacking he gave me, and he opened my eyes to the world of deep swimbait fishing.

The next day I drew Elvin Helton of Maynardville, Tennessee. Helton is an experienced tournament fisherman who knows Douglas Lake well. We made one pass on my best spot without getting a sniff. I was throwing a Basstrix swimbait, my jaw set for revenge.

Our next stop was at a deep drop that Helton said was one of the best holes on the lake. It was the first spot I marked while researching Douglas at home. I was unable to fish it during practice because there were always three or four other Open anglers on it.

They must not have caught much, because there wasn’t a boat in sight. The ledge dropped from 25 to 35 feet. The Humminbird on my consol lit up with a host of colorful arches off the deep side of the drop.

When Helton saw the arches he nearly came out of his skin with excitement.

“That’s the most bass I’ve seen anywhere this year,” he said.

Helton promptly caught a 4-pound largemouth on an oversized Strike King 10XD crankbait. Soon after that I hooked and landed a 5-pounder on the swimbait. Success at last.

 I continued to sling the swimbait. Helton relied mainly on the crankbait, but he also showed the bass a jigging spoon and a Carolina rig.
After an hour passed without a bite, we tried strolling, which yielded another good bass for Helton. We fished 2 more hours without a sniff. It was decision time. Do we stay or leave?

We decided to try a few more of Helton’s spots and come back. We returned a few hours later. I had a second swimbait bass in my livewell that weighed over 3 pounds.

However, another tournament boat was sitting precisely on the spot where we had caught our bass earlier. Nothing in the rules would have prevented us from crowding in, but we decided to go elsewhere.

We fished several elsewheres before the day ended. I put one more keeper in the well that went for the swimbait. I finished well out of the money, but I gained confidence in swimbait fishing. I also learned a great deal about how bass at Douglas Lake relate to deep structure.

A highlight of the tournament for me was that my wife, Debbi, came with me and that my daughter, Valerie, drove over from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to visit us. We went fishing for a few hours the next day. In 90 minutes I caught four bass on a swimbait, including one that was well over 5 pounds.

I sure hope we come back to Douglas next year.