Sunday, July 14, 2019

First Tournament on the Mississippi River for 2019


This weekend was the annual Cedar Valley Bassmaster Kenny Thompson Memorial tournament out of Prairie Du Chein, Wisconsin.  This event is open to any member of the Cedar Valley Bassmaster club past or present.  This club is where I got started fishing bass tournaments.  Kenny was the fearless leader of the club back then and was for many, many years.  This event brings together anglers who have had the pleasure of fishing with Kenny in past years and always brings back good memories of times fishing with him.  What an honor to have this event for Kenny each year and I hope Eric Johnston keeps this going.
This year I partnered up with Randy Toale to compete in the event.  A total of 23 teams participated, all looking for those 5 big bass to weigh in.  Randy and I both decided to take Friday and look around the river to see what we could find.  We focused our efforts completely in Pool 9 as the pool was in better shape than Pool 10.  The water level was 12.3ft on Friday and scheduled to drop a few inches come Saturday.  The weather was HOT...and HOT on both days which had us going to the boat cooler often to stay hydrated.  The plan on Friday was to cover as much water as possible in the lower half of Pool 9, about 15 miles of river.  Obviously we hit some areas that I have done well in the past with similar water levels and some new water that I have not fished before as well.  To our surprise and delight almost every area that we tried on Friday, we caught keeper bass (14 inches).  A wide variety of baits were working too, the Mississippi River was in great shape and the bass were hungry.  We were able to come up with a solid plan that would put us in 5 different areas on Pool 9 for the tournament day.  It was a long day on the water but the bass were cooperative and we were having a great time.
We knew the water was supposed to drop over night, and sure enough it did.  We didn't think it would affect the areas we were in, the bass should still be biting.  Plan A was to hit a shallow area full of green weeds that had some current and plenty of bait.  The bass were loving the Optimum Baits Furbit Frogs on Friday and I couldn't wait to get back at them.  However, Plan A was not anything like it was supposed to be.  It did yield 3 keepers, but they were under two pounds.  We gave up on that and went to our second spot.  We caught several bass here on Friday, the size was not the greatest but we decided we couldn't drive past it without giving it a try.  We tried crankbaits, swimjigs, tubes and big craws, small fish and not very many.  The wind change definitely moved these fish around and the keepers were gone.  Off to Plan B, hit as many areas with current as possible to find feeding fish.  The water temperature was hanging around eighty degrees and the bass were on the chew.  Current points on the main channel and off-sloughs were holding fish on Friday and this was Plan B.  Plan B saved our day as the bass were still using these areas to ambush food.  Crawfish seemed like the choice of food as many fish had them sticking out of their throats when we caught them.  The fast baits like the crankbait and swimjig did not pan out on this day like they were on Friday.  We had to make adjustments in our presentations to get the keepers to bite on tournament day.  Hot Rod Baits Tubes and BigCraws along with a Wig's Jig brought in all the keepers that we weighed in.  The QuantumPT flippin rods with all the all new Accurst S3 PT high speed reel were the perfect combination to get those bass to bite and get them in the boat. Using a high speed reel when the current is rolling is a must to keep up with the fleeing bass.  We knew we had between 12.5 and 13 pounds, and it "put us in the game".  The weight was good, and would get us towards the top but I didn't think we would finish as high as did.  As more and more teams weighed in we realized we were much closer to the top than we first thought.  As friends and old friends talked with us we came to the conclusion that fishing was much more difficult today than it was on Friday, it wasn't just us, it was the bass.  Their mood changed over night and the fishing was different.  We made the right decisions and the adjustments throughout the tournament day.  It was a pleasure to fish with Randy as moved through the tough day.  We just kept fishing and let the bass tell us what they wanted.  When in doubt, always listen to the bass!  We ended up going through about 15 keepers to weigh our best 5 bass.  Our limit weighed 12.97# which was good enough for 3rd place and a nice check.
The Mississippi River is an amazing place, and this weekend helped me to remember that once again.
The combos and baits that we used to get in the top 3

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Indee Bass Club July Wapsi Tournament

Twenty-One students took to the Wapsi at the July Indee Bass Club Tournament

I have been looking forward to this event ever since the school year ended.  As the coach of the Indee HS Bass Club  I knew that this date on the calendar could be the perfect storm of hungry smallies and largemouth taking to their usual summer haunts.  It should have been perfect...but it wasn't.  Fishing was not easy on the Wapsi River and I knew in the back of my mind that it was going to be a grind for the kids.  Of course, the kids didn't mind as it was all smiles as they loaded into 12 different boats captained by adults from the Independence area.  Of the twelve boats, seven of them were able to bring bass to the weigh-in.  On a tough, slightly dirty Wapsi, that was pretty darn good for these kids!  Students ranging from 7th graders to students that just graduated from Independence High School were in attendance.  It seemed fitting as the boats were loaded back onto the trailers that the only two seniors fishing on this night were the only team claiming to have a limit to weigh in.  Karter Wendling and Connor Joblinske did bring 5 bass to the weigh in and walked away as champions in their last ever Indee Bass Club tournament.  Their limit weighed 8.54# and they also had the big bass weighing in at 2.42#.  CalebW came in at second place with three keepers that weighed 5.22#.  JustinS and HunterP came in third with 2 keepers weighing 3.05#.
Plaques were given to the top two teams and the big bass winner KarterW.  Along with those the winning team received Scheels tackle packs, and Karter also claimed the Hank's Bait and Tackle Big Bass Prize bag filled with all kinds of fishing tackle and gear.  The club also uses sponsorship money to purchase gear for kids at random drawings.  Nine lucky kids were drawn for new rods and reels, tackle, Rod Gloves and other fishing gear.  All in all over $500 worth of fishing gear was given away this night at the event. 
It is an honor to facilitate this club and get things organized for the kids, and kudos to all the captains that have volunteered in the past!  The sponsors located at the bottom of the page are the reason why the kids get treated to new gear and giveaways.  The club has come a long way in the first three years of existence, I hope the fishing community and the community of Independence can keep it rolling for the youth of our town.
Seniors WIN at their last HS Bass Tournament

Complete results and more pics can found on the Indee High School Bass Club Website and their Facebook Page.

2019 Club Sponsors

Monday, July 1, 2019

Hot Rod Baits Bass Series at Brushy Creek Lake

Saturday was the second stop for the series, the first was at Lake Sugema.  I had a 10th place finish at Sugema and was looking forward to this event since the ride home from Sugema.  Brushy Creek is a lake that I have fished dozens of times in all months of the year.  On the calendar, this lake should have been smashing with post-spawn bass.  In easy terms, the bass should have been on a good bite...should have been.  It is quite clear that Mother Nature has either lost her calendar, or simply does not care anymore for this state.  It has been quite a spring here in Iowa, and only the last couple days have actually felt like summer.  This has no doubt played a part in the weird and tough bite at this lake.  With tournaments at this lake each and every weekend as well as every Wednesday night it gets plenty of pressure, but has always been able to rebound and keep producing big healthy bags of largemouth bass.  This was taking place at Brushy earlier in the year, but the past 3 weekends the weights have tanked severely, and the numbers of keepers have tanked as well.
I was able to take a look around on the lake on Wednesday.  It was a solo trip and I tried to cover as much water as possible, looking at all the old stomping grounds.  I hadn't seen the lake for about three years, the only real change I saw was the water clarity was extremely clearer than I remembered.  A good thing for the lake no doubt.  Deep, shallow, mid-range, fast baits, slow baits, and the kitchen sink was was tried during this experimentation day.  A few fish were caught including two decent keepers...not what I was expecting but not really shocked either by the stories and reports I had heard from other anglers.  Onto the tournament we go.  Brian Bowles joined me for this event early on Friday to take one last look around the lake and try to form a game plan that would put us toward the top.  We did a lot of looking and some fishing on this day.  By the time we left the lake we knew it was going to be an old fashion grind the next day.  The kind of events that really drive some anglers crazy.  We knew it was going to be like this and we were mentally prepared to go the entire day with a few bites.
Tournament day came and the "Reel-Feel" was predicted to be over 100 degrees, perfect, just one more obstacle to overcome on an already tough day of fishing.  That is why boats have coolers and that's why you wear the proper clothing on these hot, sunny days.  I was glad I packed my Cliff Keen Athletic Fishing Gear, it made the hot temperatures much easier to deal with.  Our plan for the day was simple; frogs and punching Hot Rod Baits Big Craws in the best looking grass we could find.  We knew we could catch some fish using these techniques as long as we stuck to the plan.  We hit our first area and connected with a keeper in the first ten minutes.  The Optimum Baits Furbit Frog in the Bluegill color brought 2 of our 5 keepers in the boat.  After the bass would strike at the frog, the punching rod came out and cleaned them up.  They couldn't resist a sunfish Big Craw dropped down in front of them.  It is a great 1-2 combo that has worked many times and prevailed today as well.  Both key baits were rigged on QuantumPT Rod and Reels.  The new Quantum EnergyPT reel with the flippin switch paired with a heavy QuantumPT rod  was great for the punching rod, and the high speed QuantumPT Smoke Speed Freak reel paired with a MedHvy QuantumPT rod was the trick for the frog.
Our plan was a good one, but we came up one bass short today of our 6 fish limit.  You simply can't do that against this type of competition.  We had a plan, and it was a plan that would have had us in the top 5, but it wasn't meant to be today.  We only had 7 bites on this day, and we boated 6 of them.  That is a great ratio when fishing the techniques we did.  No regrets, and we both felt as though if we had to do it all over again today, we wouldn't change a thing.  We weighed in 9.77# with the winners having 12.24#.  Close, but on a day when only 4 teams weighed a 6 bass limit, we came up in 7th place.  On to the next adventure chasing that next fish.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

The Iowa Post-Spawn

What a spring is has been...cold, colder, rain, more rain, a little warmth, cold, more rain pretty much sums up the month of May.  May has always been my favorite month to fish for bass, but this May had to be one of the worst ever for that.  Rivers were out of control, many lakes are clouded, or dirty, however there is always fish to be caught.  This past weekend took me to a smaller Iowa lake  that covers about 150 acres.  It is known for some HUGE bass and I haven't bass fished it for over a decade.  With the Mississippi River still really high and the local Wapsi not cleaning up as fast as I thought, it was time to give the lake another try to see if we could catch one of those famous BIG BASS.  David Gissel and I scoured the shallows looking for what we thought might be the tail end of the spawn.  We saw dozens upon dozens of bluegills and crappies cruising the shallows and just a few largemouth bass.  The bass wanted nothing to do with our offerings and only chased them for awhile before turning back and returning to where they were first located.  This was a neat ritual to see in the clean water at first, but became very annoying as we couldn't catch those fish...they were not feeding and they made it quite obvious.  This led us to believe that the bass were in the post-spawn mood/habitats.  We decided to head to deeper water near some brush.  Immediately we picked up a couple nice keeper bass.  Texas Rigged tubes, and stick baits were casted out and brought back slowly for these bites.  However, it seemed as though only a couple fish lived there.  We decided to try some deeper shorelines and keep our baits in the deeper water.  We picked up a few more bass doing this.  Fast retrieved baits never caught a fish today, which was a surprise to the both of us.  Another rig that worked well was a Hot Rod Baits Big Craw rigged on swing-head jig.  I was able to work this bait ever-so slowly through and around the deeper brushpiles scattered on the lake bottom, it even produced our biggest fish of the day.  This rig has become more and more of a go-to rig for me in the last few years for covering water at a slow pace while maintaining bottom contact.  You can fish it faster than a jig or Carolina Rig and it seems to get more bites too.  I throw this 1/2ounce rig on a 7'2" G-Force Quantum R
The Biggest of the day
od with a QuantumPT Vapor Reel
in the 6.3:1 speed ratio.  I experimented with several rods and reel ratios and this one covers all the important aspects for me.  I can cast it long distances with the Med/Hvy rod and Vapor reel, and the extra fast action tip of the rod gives me the sensitivity to feel the bottom content and the strength to set the hook.  It is a fantastic combo for this set up.

It was a day of decisions and surprises for us today.  We had the spawn on our minds and picking fish off beds, but they simply were not there.  This was a classic day of letting the fish tell you where they are and what they want to eat.  We made the right decisions to make it a good day of fishing, even though neither of us caught that lake monster we were hoping for.
Close-up of the SWING-HEAD Jig

Monday, May 20, 2019

Hot Rod Baits Bass Series Stop #1

The Optimum Baits Opti Shad
brings in a BIG ONE
This year Brian Bowles and I will be participating in this series once again.  It is a three event series, all-in format against 16 other teams.  At each of the three events teams earn points for their finishes to compete for the Team of the Year honors.  With only three events, there is no room for a major slip-up.  The first event of the year seems to always be the most difficult for us in the past few years.  With a full day of practice on Saturday, good May weather and a plan of attack we were pretty sure this wouldn't be the case this year.  Well, that didn't last long, I got a call Friday from my partner saying he had injured his ribs and was hurting pretty bad.  He was going to call me Saturday morning with an update.  I knew this wasn't good news...but went on to practice bright and early on Lake Sugema as I had planned anyway.  A few hours into the day I contacted Brian, and he was hurting pretty bad, trying to loosen things up.  He didn't have a definitive answer, and we left it as I needed to know his plans by noon.  The call...which I almost expected came in, Brian was out for the Sunday tournament.  I immediately started to think about who could come and fish with me for Sunday.  It is a 3-hour trip from Independence, and I really didn't want to trouble someone that much with such short notice.  So I started to think of other friends...Randy.  Randy Ellison has fished the series in the past and I knew he lived within an hour of the lake.  I made the call...and he was able to come and fish Sunday.  Talk about a roller coaster of a practice day...and that doesn't even cover the fishing! 

I made the most of the practice day in between the storms that came and went throughout most of the day.  I only set the hook 2 times that day, one was the fish you see above, a 21+ incher and then a 12-inch bass.  I knew I couldn't set the hook too many times, especially being a man down.  I felt at the end of the day I did eliminate quite a bit of water, and had two different baits that the bass were liking.  One of those baits was the Optimum Baits Opti Shad.  This 6 inch swimbait with a paddle tail fished on an irregular retrieve was getting quite a few bites, as did the Hot Rod Baits Tube rigged Texas-style.  It is always nice to end the day knowing a few bites that the bass were biting on. 

A little about the rigging of these two very different baits; first the Texas-rig.  I like a 3/0 EWG hook for pitching tubes, and a 1/4oz sinker was necessary on this day due to the swirling winds.  The Opti Shad was rigged with no weight and a 5/0 EWG hook.  These baits are very dense, making them easy to throw long distances even without any additional weight.  I do this to provide more natural movement from the bait itself.  It flutters, kicks, wobbles, darts in a variety of patterns that drive fish crazy.  I always throw this bait on a seven foot QuantumPT rod with a SmokePT baitcasting reel.  Between the QuantumPT combo and the high quality Optimum Bait swimbait it makes a dynamic pair...a pair that big fish like!  With these two baits and the trusty Black and Blue Wig's Jig I felt ready for Sunday.

Sundays weather was very much like Saturday, storms in and out, wind direction changes and rain on and off.  Not the best time to hit a lake post-spawn but that is what tournaments are for, testing yourself under Mother Nature's schedule, not your own schedule.  Randy and I started off on the on main lake and hit some keepers right away, the Opti Shad, tube and chatterbait all put keepers in the livewell.  We ended up culling a fish or two by around 10am.  We had our biggest fish in the livewell, a 4.00# caught on the Opti Shad along with two other nicer keepers, but still had 3 fish around that  two pound mark...not what we were hoping for.  We made the move to the west part of the lake and continued to fish main lake and some points.  The old channel breaks were hit and ended up on the west side of the silt dam.  We covered a lot of water, the Minn Kota got quite a workout on this day.  At the end of the day we both knew that we didn't have what it was going to take to win on this "big fish" lake, but we gave it our all and didn't hold anything back. 

The scale tipped us in at 14.46# for our limit of 6 bass.  We did have the 2nd biggest fish of the event with the 4.00# bass.  That weight placed us in 10th, definitely not where we wanted to end up, but almost every team was able to bring in a limit on this day.  It was great fishing with Randy, it had been a couple years since we shared a boat.  I hope it isn't that long in between trips this time.  It is quite obvious he loves the sport and this chance meeting saved my weekend for sure, so thanks to friends and the sport of bass fishing...I love it for so many reasons!

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The Iowa High School State Team Bass Championship

One simple thought...turned into quite an event.  That thought was, "What if any student in the state would be able to sign up to fish a bass tournament to represent their school?  How many would attend?"  That thought cam to fruition when the Hot Rod Baits Bass Series created the first annual Team Bass Championship that took place Saturday at Pleasant Creek Lake near Palo, IA.  I have enjoyed seeing the Indee Bass Club take off, but I knew there was much more interest around the state to fish bass tournaments, but schools didn't have a bass club.  This event would allow any student in the state to join the event and fish a tournament with a huge prize pot.  SCHEELS in Cedar Falls stepped up as the Title Sponsor for this event, allowing us to create beautiful trophies for the kids to enjoy for years down the road.  Quantum Rods and Reels made the large prize purse a reality, Cliff Keen Athletic Wear provided high quality dri-fit shirts for purchase, Hot Rod Baits, Wig's Jigs, and The Rod Glove all gave items for the students as well.  Without the generosity of these companies, this event would have not been possible.  Also a big shout-out to tournament directors Todd Reed and Keith Donnelly, tournament staff Rick Wendling, Dave Dost and Darrin Isaacson for making things run smoothly.
Over $1,500 in merchandise given away, including AWESOME trophies from CJ's Trophies in Oelwein, IA

Pleasant Creek Lake was chosen for the event.  This lake recently had a make-over and according to DNR fish surveys has plenty of bass to go around.  The lake is beautiful, clear water, rocky shorelines, brushpiles, rockpiles and plenty of shallow weeds.  This is certainly going to be a good lake for years to come.

So how many students did show up for this event...56 students from ten different school districts signed up for the event.  Independence, Alburnett, Starmont, North Linn, MLF/MarMac, West Des Moines Valley, West Delaware, Washington, Sumner/Fredricksburg, and Center Point-Urbana all were excited to get things going.  Four students make up a team along with two captains manning the
two boat teams.  Each team could work together to find the bass, catch them and bring them to the live weigh-in.  The weather was not a typical May Saturday, temperatures were in the fifties, and drizzle fell throughout much of the tournament.  Spring here in Iowa this year has been like no other.  The environment dictates every move of fish and on this day the bass were not very cooperative.  Only three teams were able to bring in a bass over the 12-inch length limit.  Those three teams and many random drawing teams took home over $1,500 worth of prizes and trophies.  Dispite the bad weather and the poor fishing, kids were leaving with smiles on their faces.  I hope to see many of them back for the 2020 event.



Here are the results:

1st Place and Big Bass: Washington High School- 3.14#
Caleb/Brock/Evan/Brady
2nd Place: MFL/MarMac- 2.92#
Maccoy/Braden/Brittney/Logan

3rd Place: Center Point-Urbana
Dylan/Dakota/Jacob/Bryston

1st Place: QuantumPT Accurist Combos

Big Bass Winner also received numerous items from The Rod Glove, Hot Rod Baits and Wig's Jigs.

2nd Place: Quantum Throttle Combos

3rd Place: Quantum Drive and Pulse Reels

The Next Generation

Add caption
I once again had the opportunity to speak at Fish Iowa this year in the Independence community.  Each year 5th graders at the local schools learn about fishing, the environment and how they can preserve it and protect it for years to come.  The kids get treated to an all-day field trip to the outdoors to see various programs from the Iowa DNR.  It is an awesome program and am proud to be a part of it.  I was asked once again to be the "fishing instructor".  I help the kids learn more about rods, reels, types of casting and the many different lures you can use.  It was great to field the many questions kids had about fishing and the local Wapsi River.  Throughout the day about 120 kids made their way to my station to pick up a few facts about fishing and how it can be much more than just a worm and bobber.  The more kids are involved in outdoor activities the better, and I hope I shared my passion with a few up and coming bass anglers on this day! 

Tools of the trade: Old and New school
Quantum, IMA Crankbaits,
and Hot Rod Baits