Maze of a fishery

LA CROSSE, Wis. — You really should take a look at Google Maps to get a mental picture of the seemingly endless amount of water available to the Bassmaster Elite Series anglers competing in the Mississippi River Rumble.

Words hardly suffice.

"It's like a big delta," said Greg Hackney of Gonzales, La. "The lower end of these pools are big and flat, and have a lot of drains, a lot of grass and current flowing through everything.

"It is identical to Venice (La.). There's no tide, but it fishes the same."

Hackney, who is in fifth place with 15 pounds, 10 ounces after Day One, said the largemouth bass here even look like the ones around Venice, which is located at the mouth of the Mississippi River.

"They're built the same way," he said. "Physically, they look like the same fish. In the rest of the Mississippi, they're totally different. Here and in Venice they're short and stocky."

Kevin Short of Mayflower, Ark., has fished river systems across the U.S., especially the Arkansas River in his home state. Short's first Elite Series victory came on the Mississippi River at Fort Madison, Iowa, in 2009.

But the Mississippi there doesn't look like it does here.

"There's just so much water," said Short, who is tied for 63rd place with 12-6. "You can go miles and miles and miles off the main river.

"These upper two pools are only 16, 18 miles long. But I mean, my gosh, there are hundreds of miles of water to fish in each one of these pools. It's vast, no doubt."

There is, however, one common factor in all these waters in the upper Mississippi: most of the bass weigh 2 1/2 pounds. Almost exactly 2 1/2 pounds.

Some basic math proves the point. There's a five-bass daily limit in B.A.S.S. tournaments. Five times 2 1/2 pounds equals 12 1/2 pounds. There are 98 anglers in the field and almost one-third of them (32, to be exact) weighed a Day One total of 12-something — from Yusuke Miyazaki and Michael Simonton, who are tied for 78th place with 12-0, to J Todd Tucker, who is 48th with 12-14.

It has created one of those good news/bad news situations. In the case of Jeff Kriet and Paul Elias, the good news is they're only 4 pounds out of the Top 10; the bad news is they're tied for 86th place with 11-0. Todd Faircloth is eighth with 15-0.

"This place is full of fish, but they're all 2 1/2-pounders," said David Walker, who is in 88th place with 10-12. "It's hard to get ahead of anybody here."

That problem grows exponentially Friday for everyone operating from a deficit, whether they're trying to make the second-day cut or trying to catch leader Kyle Fox's total of 16-8.

Everyone knew this tournament was going to be decided by ounces; Gerald Swindle lamented the fact that he lost 4 ounces to a dead-fish penalty. Those 4 ounces would have moved him up nine places Thursday, from 34th place with 13-9 into a tie for 25th place.

Four ounces is going to be big in a tournament like this, and I know it," Swindle said. "It's going to be hard to make it up without catching a 4- or 5-pound fish. And I ain't done that since I've been up here."

No one else caught a 5-pounder Thursday either; Stephen Browning of Hot Springs, Ark., took the daily Carhartt Big Bass honors with a 4-13.

But there were plenty of northern pike caught that would have topped the 5-pound mark. Kelly Jordon of Mineola, Texas, ran into a school of them.

"Today they came out of the woodwork," said Jordon, who is in a three-way tie for 69th with 12-3. "I absolutely caught the snot out of them.

"A couple bit me while I was flipping mats. I lost a couple of very expensive tungsten weights."

But Jordon didn't lose as many as Swindle did.

"I'm swinging on a lot of pike," he said. "There's a lot of weights and baits flying in the air. I probably lost $7,000 worth of tungsten weights today. If I get a loan, I might be able to flip a little more again tomorrow."

For anglers like Jordon and Swindle and Hackney, who love to flip aquatic vegetation, this section of the Mississippi River is a bass fishing dream accompanied by a northern pike fishing nightmare.

Jordon agreed with Hackney, that this area does remind him of southern Louisiana.

"It's a lot like Venice," he said. "It's just the tidal influence that's not here. That's the only difference. It's just a maze, with a lot of grass everywhere."

Oh, yeah, there's one other difference.

"You're trading the redfish in Venice for the pike up here," Jordon said.

Also By This Author