The 2nd tournament of the 2016 season was another lesson learned for me.
The fish were set up in a standard post spawn feeding frenzy, the only problem was finding quality fish in an ocean of white bass , catfish , drum, and puny Walleyes .
My pre fish started off pretty good, and by day 2 our entire team was on a rock solid pattern.
I was pulling spinners around in the basin, which seemed like a lottery , untill I started really dialing in on what to look for on my Lowrance electronics.
The piece of the puzzle that ended up being the most important was to get away from the Big schools of fish, and actually look for an area with limited fish, and more importantly small stuff, which ended up being juvenile white bass, a favorite food of big walleyes.
The last 3 days before the tournament I had amazing bags of fish , averaging 22 to 25 lbs a day for my 5 biggest .
I had narrowed my search down to 3 primary areas , one of which I called fantasy land , because there was huge marks in the area , and everytime I did a pass in practice I would get one or even two, 5 plus pounders .
Going into the first day , I would have to say it was the most confident I’ve ever been going into any fishing tournament. I knew where I was going , I had a few backup plans , and I knew exactly what I was going to be using .
Day one , brought a huge storm the night before and morning of the scheduled start time . I had heard many rumors about how inconsistent the fish in the mud were on Winnebago, but I was all in, and had to go see for myself .
As the morning dragged on , without a single quality bite, I started thinking about plan B. I had spent roughly 2 hours trying to make the fish I was marking bite , and finally a board went back , it was a good keeper about 22 inches. And ultimately that fish cost me the next 1.5 hours of my life ! The time had vanished into thin air , like anytime your not catching fish in a tournament. I pulled stakes and headed inshore bucking a wind that was gusting to 30. When the day was done , I had 4 fish , with a boring weight .
That night I had a long talk with my teammate Korey Sprengel , about what I did differently in practice versus the tournament.
I came to the conclusion that I needed to take a pre fish attitude to the tournament day. Drive around untill I saw what I liked , make a pass , and if they weren’t biting , keep moving untill I found an active school.
I started day 2 out in fantasy land, although this time , I only fished it for 90 mins , without a good keeper . , I headed inshore again looking for a school of fish to troll. I marked a few nice fish , set up for a short pass , and got a 21 incher . Second short pass, yielded nothing , so onto the next school.
I found another nice pod of fish and set up on them , yahtzee 23 incher . 30 mins later , another 21 incher . For the next 2 hours I kept short passing the small pod of fish I had all to myself, while amazing torrential rain filled my boat and activated the auto bilge pump .
We got our 4th fish , another nice 20 plus incher . And then it happened. My board got stopped in its tracks , I reeled down fast, grabbed the rod out of the holder, and my heart started pumping . This was a big one. A 5 to 7 lber that represented my number one goal in fishing (cashing my first check on the NWT). I got the fish coming towards the boat , and told my Co Angler, “this is the one we’ve been looking for ” . The battle turned into a nice steady pull, of a big walleye , I’m not sure I even took a breath for the 2 min battle, I knew exactly what this fish represented . As the board got closer to the boat , the fish all of a sudden started headshaking vigoursly , I bowed the rod towards the fish to absorb her all of a sudden crabby behavior , but it did not work, and she got away . My shoulders probably slumped down to my ankles , just as I felt a little tap tap on the rod , I reeled down fast and proceeded to land a 1lb sheepshead. ? ? ? The only thing I could think of , was that little twirp swam up on that walleye and was trying to join the crawler out of her mouth , thus the sudden headshaking. Later on in line for the weigh in , so asked Gary Parsons if he ever had sheepshead follow walleyes up, and he said “oh yeah all the time “.
So long story short, I only weighed 4 fish again and was completely deflated finishing in 50th place with a total of 22.86 lbs. Knowing that one fish would’ve cashed me my first check .
Overall , I did make a great mental step in tournament fishing, and that was to embrace the process that was successful in pre fish, confidently fishing new areas with the same solid presentation.