Sunday, November 9, 2014

A Bass "Tournament of Champions"

   As some of you may know, I am working hard at getting "back" into bass fishing.  It's a passion I was raised on and it's been nearly 16 years since I have competed in the industry.  And while bass fishing from a kayak is different than running and gunning from a boat, it is still one of the most competitive fish to chase in my mind. 
A little history behind my decision making to leave fishing years ago was simple, when I proposed to my wife more than a decade ago, I made a commitment to her and our future family that I would sell the boat and give up fishing, as long as I could have my hunting weekends between October and February, year in and year out.  And with us both in agreement, my world of chasing fish diminished overnight.
Well, three years ago, my oldest daughter Charlee was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome, and no she doesn't blurt out curse words.  And with that diagnoses comes a lot of changes within not only Charlee, but our entire family, and the first thing I did, was stopped hunting.  When I chase whitetails, it is a full blown attack, I usually leave on Friday and return late on Sunday, so for 4 months of the year, I am basically gone every weekend.  It doesn't take a man to realize that when changes hit and affect your family, sometimes you have to give up the things you love, like hunting.  But in every scenario in life, when one door closes, another opens, and that's where fishing jumped right back into my life.  Fishing allows me to stay home most every night, and lets me leave early and get home early, it's a sport that I can play alone, I can play with the family, and I can introduce it to new comers, it truly is a gift that we can all enjoy, even if we don't catch anything.
So, over the last few years, I have made a solid effort to compete in the saltwater world of kayaking. I have won several tournaments, some big and some small, but what I'm proudest of has been my ability to consistently rank in the top of the field.  Winning is one thing, and man it's a good feeling to do it, but competing is what drives me, and to be able to look back at the end of the year and say that I finished most of my tournaments within the ranks of those sitting at the top of the pedestal, is very gratifying to me, I don't always have to win, but I always expect myself to be giving the top guys a run for their money, and I try my best to keep em looking over their shoulder.  I think that attitude only makes others excel their game and in turn, drives me to excel mine. I have always felt that in order to be the best, you have to compete with the best, and learn from the best.
So, when I saw an opportunity to compete in the Tournament of Champions on Lake Fork for largemouth bass, I couldn't resist the opportunity to put my name in the hat and step outside the realm of salty air.
The Tournament of Champions is a best of the best tournament, it's derived from the top 5 AOY finishers of their respected clubs.  This years tournament drew anglers from all over the country with representation showing up from 14 different states.  I knew going into this event that it was going to be a tough one, but I also knew that my homework and dedication would make me a player, at least in my own mind.
After over a month of studying maps, reading endless forums dating back almost 10 years and studying the patterns of fall bass, I felt very confident in my game plan.  And I was more than excited because I have wanted to fish Lake Fork for more than 20 years, it's a lake where dreams are made, in fact while I was there, a couple of boat guys actually landed 3 double digit bass in one day.  Keep in mind, being out of the bass world is not like riding a bike, it doesn't just come back to you, at least not to me it doesn't, but with every little bit of knowledge I gained, the library of memories began opening up.  I knew the patterns, or at least what they should be, I knew where the fish should be early, mid and late evenings, I knew the water temps, the ledges, some of the humps, and even a brush pile or two, and I knew all this before I even showed up to the lake, I felt like google for a moment, if you had a question, I was almost certain I had an answer if was around the west side of Lake Fork for this weekend.
When I showed up the first day I had about 2 hours to get on the water before the sun fell below the trees.  Well when I got in the water and actually laid eyes on the surroundings, there was nothing that could have prepared me.  Every direction you looked was fishy looking, lily pads, boat docks, stumps, standing timber in 20 feet of water, on the surface it looked like a meca of areas to fish and after about an hour of awe, I finally tuned in. I needed to wipe out everything in my mind that I could visually see, and go back to what I knew was under the water, I had to visualize the creeks, the crossings, the humps, the ledges, everything that I spent a month learning.  Once I got my mindset right it was on, I landed 5 fish within the next hour and the smallest one was around 3 lbs, it was something I was excited to do and something I also wasn't expecting.  At this point, I felt good about my odds, I mean in only an hour of thinking right, I landed my limit and was well into the upper 80", and while I felt it was going to take 100'' to win the event, I still had a full day to fish and figure it out.
As the next morning rolled around, I knew the fish should be schooling, but a high pressure system rolled in and I wasn't expecting anything promising for the day.  Well that all changed when I pulled an 8lbs plus bass over the side of the Outback.  At 23 and quarter inches she was a pig, and she actually looked like she was spawning as her fins was covered in blood and her eyes were glossed over, very similar to what they look like in March and April when they are sitting on the beds.  A little while later I was able pull in a 21 and half inch 6 and change pound bass.  Now, I knew what I was doing was different than what other anglers were doing.  I was confident that everyone was looking for schooling fish, and attempting to find the shad, and while chasing schooling fish is awesome and I love it, I felt like my odds were better to go find the lonely slobs that were laid up alone.  And throughout the day, my plan was working. I was confident I would pull a few 16-17'' fish tournament day and then two to three 21+'' fish that would put me over the top, but the fish gods had another plan for me.
As tournament day rolled around, something in my mind kept telling me to not get frustrated, keep a clear head, you can win this thing, and you can win this thing in the last hour of the event if needed, after all, this is a lake where dreams are made. 
I hit the water about 515 am for a 45 minute pedal, with lines in the water at 6, I made it to my area just in time.  I went into a secluded pond that was holding fish a day earlier and began working my frog off the banks and through the timber.  After 20 minutes of nothing, I switched over to a clear Spook Jr with a feathered rear treble and on the third cast the water erupted and I landed a perfect 15 3/4" largemouth.  All I could think was, IT'S ON, but after 20 more minutes and not another strike, I moved to the spinner, and nothing, then to a rogue and nothing, then to a jig, a worm, a drop shot, and still nothing.
As the sun was getting higher and time was ticking away, I decided to make the move to the ledge and work a ridge from 15 to 26 feet, again, another area holding fish the day before, but nothing.  I threw every color and deep diving crank I had within reach, I Carolina rigged, I jigged and pigged, I even went small with some tiny live target cranks that you can only throw on a spinning set up, but nothing. 
At this point I knew exactly what was going on.  The high pressure and the two back to back cold fronts had brought the shad up from the deep and they were likely congregated somewhere, I just had to find em.  I immediately began pedaling to a hump I was told about by a local and I was tying on spoons and a little George while I was frantically moving as fast as the Hobie would go.
Then it happened, right before I reached the hump, I crossed over a school a shad, it was a small school, but big enough to hold a few fish below it.  It didn't take long to figure this one out, cast after cast, I began landing white bass after white bass until finally I knew I had to move to a bigger school. 
As I reached the hump, there wasn't bait anywhere in site, but with every cast of the Fire Tiger Fat Free Fingerling, I brought in a largemouth, but just not of any size.  I sat around that hump until I landed almost a dozen fish that were below the threshold of 14'' before I moved on.
I then went to road beds, sunken bridges, more ledges and a few points, with nothing to show, no bait, and no strikes.  It was getting cut throat time, and all I kept thinking was, You're still in this, you can win this thing in the last 20 minutes. 
And that's when it happened, I came across a school of shad so large and so dense, at times my depth finder began reading the fish depth as if I was sitting in 4 feet of water, knowing good and well I was sitting in 18-25 feet of water.  In the middle of this school you could see a hollow ball, with 6-10 good sized bass in the middle of the frenzy.  Bait was popping on all sides of me, the bass weren't chasing them to the top, but they definitely had them on the run.  I sat with this school and another one for the rest of the event, which was less than hour left, and I couldn't get em to bite anything I had.  I even laid an 8" flutter spoon on top of em and there were no takers.  The one thing I didn't attempt was an Alabama Rig, and I don't know why, maybe it was because they just beat my Tigers the night before, or maybe because my mind was just unclear and not thinking as it should have been. And with frustration building, and time disappearing, I had to make the decision to tuck tail and head to the weigh in.
As I reached the weigh in, I was still taken back as to why I couldn't perform when a gift was placed right under my nose, and then I ran into a buddy that was fishing the tournament, and did well might I add, he then mentioned he caught most of his fish, on schooled shad, on a frickin Alabama Rig, and as the words came out of his mouth, I deflated even more.  I couldn't believe that the rig I love so much in the fall, and in July in the river, I never tried, it never even entered my mind, heck I even caught one on a spinner bait that someone lost years back(maybe it was a sign, but I was sign blind apparently)
A Rig I snagged on a spinner bait
. Losing for lack of performance is ok, I am good with that, but losing because of a fuzzy mind or stupidity, just drives me insane.  Now, changing over to the A rig might have won me the tournament, but it might not have, I will never know, but not giving it a chance hurts more than the unknown.
I ended up finishing 29th in the event, but am confident I finished first in humility and learning experiences, and being able to take home some top notch education with a side of humility sandwich is sometimes better than a win.  At least that's what I am going to keep telling myself anyway.
This event was a top notch event, with some top notch guys.  Beau Reed of Capitol City Kayak Fishing worked his tail off to make this event happen, and had some great sponsors that you can see in the pictures.  The tournament purse paid out $11,800 in CASH, and several thousands of dollars in sponsor donated hardware from Smith Optics, Phenix Rods, Boca Bearings, Super Nova Lights, Grand Bass lures, and others.   Special Congrats to the Winner Mr. Michael James Cates with 92.75'', YOU are the Kayak Bass Fishing World Champion 2014.
Whether your club is a saltwater focused club like Bayou Coast in La, or a freshwater club, I would suggest getting involved in this event and making sure your club gets signed up as a qualifier for next years 2015 event.  Based on the people I met, the caliber of anglers, along with the money paid out, and the location of the lake, this tournament has a huge future, and I will be there next year.

Until Next Time,

Stay Safe & Catch1

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Childhood Waters...Bassin on the Tchefuncte River

As Auburn pulled out a win by the skin of their teeth. and the bulldogs intercepted the razorbacks with 10 seconds left in the game to continue their national ranking of #1, I was pretty excited when my head hit the pillow.  I had no plans for the next day, and I knew I was going to gain an hour of sleep according to the clock man.  But somehow, some way, I woke up at 5 a.m., which was actually 4am, and after failing in my attempts to go back to sleep I decided to get up and do something.
When I walked outside, everything was covered in frost, it's the first I have seen this year and the temp was 39 degrees.  I was excited to say the least, so I wondered into the garage and began riggings some poles.  I figured I had to run by my dads today, so why not stop and fish a little before I got there.  With that in mind, I loaded up my gear, slid the Outback in the back of the truck, kissed my wife goodbye and headed out.
It was the longest drive ever, a solid 8-9 minutes away before I reached my destination, pretty neat to be able to fish so close to the house.  When I reached my launch location on the upper end of the Little Tchefuncte river, I couldn't help but think about all the time I had spent in the area growing up.  My parents still live on the river, where I was raised, and this is what I would consider my "true" stomping grounds. 
With the air in the 30's and the water temp at 63 degrees, there was an awesome foggy smoke rising from the water.  The sun was shining through the cypress trees and creating rays of light as it penetrated the fog.  There was no wind and no clouds, not really what I would call the perfect bass fishing atmosphere, but at this point, it was more about getting back to basics and living in my younger years.
As I crossed the water, I was glued to my Lowrance. As a kid, I didn't have any technology on my flat boat and I had to figure everything out by losing lures on sunken tree tops and blow downs.  I immediately crossed over what looked like a tree that came out of the Swiss Family Robinson book.  There was no way I was going to leave the water, until I pulled at least one bass from that tree top, but right now I wanted to work some cypress knees and flats that I knew were lying along the edge of a 16-25' channel in places.
Believe it or not, my third cast with my favorite Jig & Craw, by Bad Boy Jigs, yielded me a beautiful Tchefuncte bass. Now, I have fished the Tchefuncte river more times than I have put fuel in a car, and I guarantee you, it's no easy place to fish, and it sure isn't a place where you catch anything on your third cast, but today was a special day.
From there I moved down river to a canal known as Horseshoe Bayou.  Eventually I found a pattern where the bass were holding tight to structure, and only in water around 4-5' deep.  If you didn't slide your jig down the edge of the tree or stump, they weren't going for it.  I had one instance where my placement was off, on one cypress tree particularly.  I sat my lure 2 feet to the left, then 2 feet right, then two feet short, and when I finally stood up and flipped it into the trees bark and let is slowly slide along the tree as it fell, a bass destroyed it.  This pattern stayed around for a while until the sun finally broke the trees.
At this point I moved on to the spinner bait, and the only strikes I had was when I slow rolled the lure around a tree and made the blades thump the trees bark as it rolled around it, and as soon as it cleared the tree, I would make one 2 foot fast pull, and then let the spinner drop, and three fish almost back to back to back, hammered it this way.
I have now been on the water less than two hours and I wanted to make it back home for noon, and I still had to pass by my dads house, so with that in mind, I grabbed my Live Target crank bait and began my short journey back to the truck.  On the way back, I paralleled the ledges along the deep drops.  Each ledge had 5-15 feet of flat along it that stretched from the drop off back to the bank.  As I ran the crank bank down the flat and off the ledge, the bass were destroying it as soon as the lure broke free from digging up mud on the flat and dove quickly down to the abyss.  The fish were suspended 4-5 feet deep off the ledge in 15-25 feet of water.
After a few bass on the Live Target, I had to make a move back to my Swiss Family Robinson tree.  As I got there I made a drift over it again, and prepared my strategy, I grab the jig & craw, and dropped it right in the tree top.  Pulled it over two limbs, and on the third drop a nice little Kentucky bass was hooked up.  After the release, I moved to the other side of the tree that was sitting in 12 feet of water, and did the same thing, except this time, as I pulled the jig over one limb, another Kentucky hammered it.  At this point I felt like I was sitting on a school of fish, but unfortunately I had to go.
I ended the morning with less than 3 hours on the water and 9 bass landed.  To say the least, it was a very successful unplanned day, and I can promise you that I will be spending more time in the coming months working the creeks and channels of the Tchefuncte and getting back to the basics of fishing. 
I have spent thousands of miles on the road this year chasing fish of many different species, but nothing brings you back like playing in your back yard.  Todays trip was almost spiritual, as the sun rose, the fog lifted, and the moss began to blow in the wind, the fish were finicky in their ways, but when you served it up like they wanted, they attacked it with fury.  Every fish this morning reminded me of a childhood trip, I could remember trees and points where I had landed fish before, cypress knees that we used to have trot lines tied too, the trees where the snakes used to fall from, and the overhangs you avoided because there was always a giant wasp nest there waiting on you. 
If you haven't been on the Tchefuncte river lately, you may want to visit it, it's one of the only places around here, that I know of, where everything is still the same as it was almost 40 years ago.

Until next time,

Stay Safe & Catch1