The following recaps some of the highlights and lowlights from my fishing in 2014’s second half. If you missed the previous installment where I spoke of the first half of the year, click here.
So let’s get to Part 2.
Pickwick Lake, Alabama, June 5-8 Fishing League Worldwide (FLW) Tour
Fishing Tennessee River reservoirs in June equals ledge fishing for schooled up bass. The week before I was at Kentucky Lake (discussed in the previous article) and the ledges produced extremely well. Pickwick is the next reservoir upstream on the Tennessee River and fishes much the same. And there really were no surprises as far as fishing methods and locations. Practice involved lengthy periods of sonar searching. Many schools were shared by competitors. And I caught most of my bass on an All-Terrain Football Jig and cashed a good check. The most memorable fish of the week would have to be the one in the holding tank at the weigh-in on Day 1. I weighed my bass, stepped off the stage, and there behind stage was a holding tanking with an absurdly enormous largemouth in it. “Holy smokes!” I declared. I turned to a kid volunteer helping with the weigh-in and asked him what it weighed. “Almost 11 pounds,” the boy reported. I asked the boy, “who caught it?” The boy replied, “I don’t know…some Canadian.” I threw my head back and grinned and chuckled because “some Canadian” was friend and fellow pro Jeff Gustafson. Jeff, if you ever read this, you have to do more to impress that boy because he didn’t know your name even after weighing that huge bass and taking the Day 1 lead!
I finished 38th in a field of 164 and caught 10 bass with a weight of 33 pounds, and won $10,000.
Kentucky Lake, Kentucky/Tennessee June 26-29 FLW Tour
This made for the third tournament in a row fishing ledges, and a second visit to Kentucky Lake in 2014. Do you know what was kind of nice about this fact? It saved me from having to spend a lot of time re-rigging gear. Because when we bounce from lake-to-lake, often times the fishing varies so much, I cut everything off my rods from one lake and tie up something completely different for the next one (except my All-Terrain Football Jigs – always have a rod rigged with one). This re-rigging takes a lot of time when you are addressing more than 10 fishing rods. Plus, I also have to figure out what to swap out from my boat to put in storage and vice-versa. Anyways, these June tournaments are grueling because I spend all my daylight during practice days out on the lake. That makes for sleep deprivation and sunburn! One night I even extended my time by staying out a couple hours into pure darkness. That was pretty cool actually, but I was worried (and freaked) that I might crash into a channel marker on my return to the boat ramp. My finish in this tournament was my best of 2014, finishing third, among 160 anglers (good for $25,000). But as I sit and write this, I shake my head knowing that one more good decision or bit of luck, and I would have been champion! I did post my career best for a four-day total of 86 pounds, 13 ounces! Half of the bass fell for a football jig and the others a swimbait. On the last day, I’ll never forget how clumsy I was trying to net one of my big ones. The waves were bobbing me and the bass up and down while at the same time I kept drifting farther from the floppin’ fish. FLW aired this moment on their show for all to see my futility in one-handed netting! What a relief to finally see it in the boat! I learned something though. With the bass I netted for the remainder of the day, I tried to steer them towards the leeward side of the boat. That way, the boat would drift towards the bass instead of away from it…way easier!
Rainy Lake, Ontario, Canada Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship, July 24-26.
The smallmouth bass in this lake have treated me well over the years in this two-person team competition. Unfortunately this week wasn’t one of those times! The most memorable bass were the ones that got away. Booooo! We did finish in the last money spot thankfully. That third day was extremely slow fishing for my team partner and me; with us posting our lowest daily total of the three day event. Two big ones got away that day, both on jig. One simply became unhooked while the other chased the jig to the boat while I cranked it up for another cast. The other standout memory from the tournament was the high-water levels. It hadn’t been that high but a couple of times ever. On a lighter note, I enjoyed winding down each night watching a Canadian reality show called “Fools Gold” based in the area. I even met Grizz, one of the cast members, at the tournament’s music concert. Ya know, this still is my favorite tournament to fish every year! Being closer to home is appealing along with the awesome fishing, but mainly because this is my one chance to visit with many friends/competitors from this region.
We finished in 20th place in a field of 40 and had a three-day total of 47.31 pounds.
Lake Mead, Nevada Western Outdoor News Bass U.S. Open Sept. 8-10.
I loved this trip despite 100-plus degree days. The bass were little and the fishing was very average, but all the other things made this such a fun trip! First of all, I basked in the remoteness and spectacular scenery of what Lake Mead offers. A flatlander like me just can’t get enough! Even driving there and back from Minnesota had its rewards. The Rocky Mountains are precious. I’m so glad I stopped at a variety of scenic overviews in Utah…Wow! The three-day tournament did provide some excitement as well. Last minute quality upgrades on Days 2 and 3 made for dramatic conclusions and helped me steal away one of the last paying spots in the event. I caught my bass using a variety of techniques. Flippin’ matted grass with a creature bait produced a couple of my bigger largemouths, while topwaters and drop-shots caught a mix of smaller smallmouths and largemouths from deeper submerged grass and rock. I hope to compete in this tournament again!
I finished 31st in a field of 166, catching 15 fish weighing a little over 21 pounds.
Mississippi River, LaCrosse Wisconsin FLW Ray O Vac Series Sept. 18-20
What stands out in my mind from this tournament is how poorly I did. I never really got onto a solid program that produced numbers of bass. Instead, I ground away and got burned by too few bites and bass becoming unhooked. On the first day, I had a really big bass smash a swimming frog near the boat. I hooked it up only for a few seconds before it shook the hook through a series of violent head shakes. I could have finished in the top-20 on Day 1 had I landed it. Then on Day 2, things fell apart. The strong winds whipped my prime areas in Lake Onalaska. I just couldn’t get things going. I lost a big bass that hesitantly grabbed an All-Terrain Swim Jig. By the time it was over on Day 2, I had just three bass. Ouch! The one thing I never could figure out was why the bass hit my swimming frog and swim jig so weirdly, oftentimes just nipping behind it. The Mississippi, which I dearly enjoy fishing, left me thoroughly frustrated. At least I only had a four-hour drive home, quite a bit different than the normal tour stops.
I finished 89th in a field of 125, and caught seven fish weighing 15 pounds, 3 ounces.
Rainy Lake, Ontario, September
Fishing for fun, I finally made a fall trip up to Rainy this year. I had a couple of goals in mind to try and better my skills. First, I wanted to do some more work with my sonar and gain more experience using it. Prior to the trip, my buddy Joe who went along, had told me that I wasn’t going to be able to mark the bass with sonar because they hold too tight to the bottom amongst the rocks. And as it turned out, he was right. I would idle across structure and see nothing but rocks. But then we could fish the area and catch plenty of smallmouths. So they were there, but just couldn’t be detected with the graph. Makes me wonder if the graph’s settings needed adjustment to pick up the bass. I had used the settings that worked so well earlier in the year at Kentucky and Pickwick lakes. If I graphed smooth bottoms, I could mark fish. However, I think these were walleye or whitefish, but not fully conclusive on that. Another goal I had in mind was to try and locate some smelt. Years ago, smelt could be found everywhere. But a die-off about seven years ago changed all that and ultimately has changed the fishing. I did find some bait schools on the graph, but was not sure they were smelt. The surest way to know is by catching some smelt-eating bass. They gorge so much on smelt that they will puke them up as they are reeled to the boat. This never happened, so I don’t think I found any. We did catch a bunch of bass over the 2-1/2 days of fishing and it was super easy. We had success with three things, football jigs, blade baits and flukes. To catch bass, all that we did was jump from hump to hump and use the baits mentioned. Some spots produced just a few bass, while others 20-plus! And, of course, we caught a good share of pike and walleyes, too!
Fishing around Carver, Minnesota September
Fishing for fun, I love fall fishing in Minnesota so I hit the lakes around home. One unusual experience stands out. I visited a little lake that I hadn’t fished in two years. In the past, I always would catch some nice bass and the occasional tiger muskie. Well on this particular afternoon, I zeroed! The conditions were too perfect; I had suspicions along with my disappointment. So I did a little investigating and discovered the lake experienced a winterkill. For those unfamiliar with the term, it means that the fish died beneath the ice the previous winter when oxygen levels became too low. It really was a waste of a prime afternoon of fall fishing! But fortunately I do have a highlight to offset this. On a different day and different lake by my house, I did catch the biggest largemouth (a fat 21-incher) I’ve caught from Minnesota in a number of years! That day was awesome. I estimated the best five to total around 23 pounds! These bass were up shallow and were caught using an All-Terrain Swim Jig. I fished the jig pretty slowly, with most strikes coming with the jig sitting on the lake bottom.
It sure was fun writing and reminiscing about the past year of fishing. I love fishing! It’s an awesome gateway to experience life and human emotion. I’ll enjoy the winter, but I can’t wait to launch the boat next year!
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