LA CROSSE, Wis. — “Big” will be a relative term, but the season-ending Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at Mississippi River promises plenty of angling intrigue, as 90 pro anglers square off against one of the nation’s most storied waterways.
Competition days will be Aug. 26-29 with daily takeoffs from Veterans Freedom Park at 7 a.m. CT and weigh-ins each day at Copeland Park at 3 p.m. Anglers will take off in Pool 7, with tournament boundaries also extending downriver through Pools 8 and 9.
Wisconsin native Bob Downey said he expects most of the bass to be in summer patterns, but he’s not discounting the potential for early seasonal shifting. As he explained, there’s just enough potential weather volatility to keep anglers on their toes, but his game plan will lean more toward stability.
“It’s late summer, on the brink of early fall,” Downey said. “We could get a weird cold front, but it should be steady temperatures.”
A week prior to the event, all three pools held stable water levels. Water temperatures were in the mid- to upper 70s and the warm-weather forecast shows possible showers the first and final days of tournament competition.
Nothing dramatic in the overall picture, but Downey’s biggest concern is man-made. This is a popular section of the river, he said, and it’s late in the season.
“It could be tougher than some people might expect because those pools have been getting a lot of pressure,” he said. “The water has been pretty low the past few years, and when it’s low, it can fish small.”
On the upside, the population justifies the popularity. Downey said there are plenty of fish to catch in Pools 7-9; it’s just a matter of finding the right ones.
“Catching high 2-pound to 3-pound fish will be the key to success,” he said. “I think 3-pounders are what you shoot for on the river. If you weigh in 15 pounds a day, you’re going to make the Top 10 and be really close to winning it.
“It’s a change of mindset from some places that we go. It’s a great fishery, it has a lot of good numbers, but 3-pounders are gold. High 3s and 4-pounders are your kicker fish.”
While tournament waters hold largemouth and smallmouth bass, Downey said largemouth will dominate. Anglers will no doubt catch smallmouth, but seasonality will limit the species’ competitive impact.
“That smallmouth deal generally plays more in the spring and fall,” Downey said. “We’re getting close to that fall period, but we’re not quite there yet. It could happen and it wouldn’t surprise me if someone made a Top 10 or came close to winning with smallmouth.
“They just don’t weigh much in the summer. After the spawn, they get really skinny, but later in the year, they put on the feed bag. If they’re really grouped up, I could see that playing.”
Anglers will find a diverse mix of shallow wood, rock and vegetation (submerged and emergent) welcoming a variety of presentations. Downey said the standard technique lineup will include flipping shallow wood and grass, frogging — especially the light, leafy duckweed — and swim jigs.
“We might start seeing fish pushing bait onto shallow sand edges or in the grass,” Downey said. “The fish get grouped up more later in the year, but we may start to see more of them grouping up (during the tournament).
“Also, you might see some guys dragging football jigs and Carolina rigs, especially in the Black River (Mississippi River tributary). This area fishes more like a lake; there’s less current and there’s offshore structure. If the smallmouth are set up right, the wing dams could come into play.”
Noting that the entirety of tournament waters could be in play, Downey said consistent and replicable patterns are likely to develop. However, he does not expect any one area to deliver four days of productivity.
“I think you could land on one type of deal and do well enough to win, but I think you’re going to need multiple areas,” Downey said. “You might have one core area and then a few other areas to complement it.
“I think you could win on any of the pools. Some weeks, one fires better than another.”
That being said, locking from pool to pool presents a time management consideration that must be factored into a day’s game plan. Downey said it’s common for locals to fish multiple pools in a day, in order to capitalize on particular scenarios. However, tournament competitors may approach this with varying value judgments.
“Being the last event of the year, some guys are going to take more risks and some aren’t, based on where they are in the standings,” Downey said. “If a guy is way down in the points and they’re fighting to win to get into the Bassmaster Classic, they might take more risks and run all the way down to the bottom end of Pool 9.
“But if a guys on the Classic bubble, or if he’s in the Classic, you might see them take fewer risks. This makes it an interesting place to hold the last tournament.”
However the numbers shake out, there will be more at stake than the coveted blue trophy and the $100,000 first-place prize. The winner earns an automatic berth into the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic. This event also concludes the Progressive Insurance Bassmaster Angler of the Year race, as well as the Falcon Rods Bassmaster Rookie of the Year race. Brandon Palaniuk of Rathdrum, Idaho, and Jay Przekurat of Stevens Point, Wis., currently lead these contests, respectively.
Full coverage from all four days at the Mississippi River will be available on Bassmaster.com and the FOX Sports digital platforms. FS1 will also broadcast live with the tournament leaders on Saturday and Sunday beginning at 7 a.m. CT.
Explore La Crosse is hosting the tournament.