With the late spring, the first Great Lakes Division BFL event out of La Crosse kind of snuck up on me quickly. Due to some obligations on the home front, I really had a pretty limited practice. I really got about 2 days in total spread over 3 days. I really with I had more because although I fish and like the Mississippi River quite a bit, most of my time has been spent July thru October, not April & May.
The Saturday of the weekend before I had about 4 hours in the morning to fish, so I checked some areas that I scouted via maps on the top of pool 7. I fished what I thought to be pretty good looking water for fish that were going to be spawning soon as water temps were already 53F and climbing. A buddy of mine and I only manged short bass, a pike and one keeper smallmouth. It was warm all week, so I knew water temps would have to be hovering above that magical 60 degree mark that kicks things into gear in the spring.
I was not able to get down to the river on Thursday until about 4pm, and the water I fished the week before was just intriguing enough to make me want to check it. I intended to just check it quick and then head down to the Black River to look for fish around the tournament take-off area, but I ended up getting just enough bites from 15-16″ chunky largemouth to make we want to try to find a little more up there and I ended up being there until about dark. I caught those largemouth on a custom painted 1.5 squarebill & flipping a beaver bait in the first area, but only shorts after that. So after what amounted to be about 1 day of practice, I had one area a pool up and a long run with a few decent fish, so better then nothing but not ideal.
Friday, the day before the event, I had decided to trailer down to Stoddard and look at areas I was familiar with from past events in the summer. My practice started slow in the morning in a steady drizzly rain, picking up short largemouth and pike on a swim jig paired with Evolve Dark Swimmer. Expanding my search, I spotted some deeper water on my map chips that intrigued me, again I caught a big pike, but shortly afterwards, I caught a 3lb+ largemouth on a beaver, I kept fishing more of this area, got a dog fish, few more shorts and another 2lb largie. Keeping on the move, trying to find something close I finally ran into a flurry of fish on my swim jig, short largemouth, keeper largies and pike all mixed in, but it was obvious this area had a lot of fish in it. After closer inspection, I noticed some clear spots that looked like beds and on closer inspection, there were some nice smallmouth on these bare spots, now I was starting to feel a little better about things. From there I back tracked and found a closing dam, I quickly started getting bit and caught several smallmouth to go with my bedding fish and largemouth. I tried a few more things down in the Stoddard area, but found nothing else and had committed to trailering my rig back to Clinton Street at noon to look for backup stuff for the rest of the day. I basically eliminated water up there, on stuff I wouldn’t be fishing if I ended back up near ramp at the end of the day.
I ended up boat 57 out of 139, which was first boat in the 3rd flight. My plan was to start on my closing dam, put a limit in the boat, let the sun get up a little and then go after those bedding fish and then go fishing from there. Well even with the 3rd flight boat draw, I was first boat into my area. It only took about 5 casts to put a nice 2lb smallmouth in the boat, but that was it, so I worked across to the other end of the dam and it was on, I had my limit in about 10 casts and culled several times before 7am. I stayed there until around 9am upgrading a few times, also thinking my co-angler would get a fish or two.
So I went to my bank where I had some smallies on bed, the first pair of fish I stopped on were pretty skittish, so I moved on to the next fish which was bigger, it only took 5 or 6 pitches with a white Damiki Hydra on a Jika Rig to hook her and put her in the boat, this was a 3.5lb class smallmouth. I kept fishing around thinking I would catch them blindly or I would be able to see them better soon, but the water had gotten a little dirtier, some of the beds became abandoned and I only got 1 2lb largemouth just fishing and I caught another smallmouth off a bed, but it was a little too small to help, so back to the closing dam where I culled about 3 more times with smallies and my co-angler got 2 fish. At about noon, I decided to go to the area where I had caught that bigger largemouth to try for an upgrade know my smallest fish was around 2-06 and the rest were around 3lbs or more. I could probably get a ounces here or there by sticking it out on the closing dam, but I wanted to go a little bigger.
In the other area, I spent about 5 minutes to catch a largemouth off a bed, that I misjudged, cause it was a little too small to help. There were a few nice 3-4lb cruisers that were just too spooky, finally I got to where I had caught the big largemouth in practice, I pitched in there blindly and it bit on the first cast, but didn’t take the bait all the way. On further inspection, she was on a bed, I pretty much spent the rest of the day working on that fish, leaving for a bit and coming back, but couldn’t get here to go, even to the very last minute she sat there, agitated, mad but wouldn’t eat the bait. I tried about 6 different tricks in my bed fishing arsenal, but it just didn’t happen, we raced back to the ramp and made it with 2 minutes to spare.
A couple of my smallmouth ate my bait funny and got tongue hooked, and one ended up dieing on me. So my total ended up being 6th out of 139, with 14-02 after a dead fish penalty, 14-06 would have tied me for 5th, oh well that is fishing.
All my fish came on soft plastics in the event, most of closing dam fish came on the plastics in the picture below (Lake Fork Baby Creature & Ring Fry, Evolve Kompak Craw) on a mojo rig and the bed fish came on the Hydra & Black Blue Big Bite 4″ Tube. I also credit my Dobyns DX743C paired with 12lb Sunline Shooter Fluorocarbon, I think that setup was a big difference why I was able to feel and catch 30 plus fish off a closing dam where my co-angler struggled to get two keepers, even after I shared my baits and positioned him for casting angles.
Looking back, I think I spent too much time in the area with the bedding smallies, it was good that I went there and got my biggest fish, but I should of read the water and left earlier to spend more time on the closing dam or to look in other areas for upgrades, but overall very pleased with my finish for a May tourney on the river, although, with a few tweaks, I think I could have competed for the win.