Prairie Du Chien – 2 days of my life I will never forget.
As this tournament approached, it was obvious that we would be dealing with super high water. Very Rare for mid June. With this super high water my team knew that backwaters would def. come into play. Generally this time of year on the river, any type of hard bottom area including wing dams will have fish set up on them as their summer home.
We were able to fish Pool 9, 10 and 11 so I decided to start in 9 in the flooded backwater area. Practice started off great we caught a number of decent fish upto 3 lbs , exploring areas that I should’ve had a canoe or duck boat in. One thing started to become glaringly obvious right away, Like most river scenarios 90% of the fish occupy 10% of the water. When we found the right amount of current relief, the fish were always present.
As the week progressed we continued to scour the entire river system, Pitching jigs, casting crank baits, and pulling live bait upstream in key areas. The turning point for me that week actually happened at dinner one night in an old Bar. I was asked by the bartender if I was in town for the tournament, he asked me how practice was going, I told him pretty slow. I had caught one good 24 incher on a small wing dam and not much for size otherwise. He told me if I wanted big fish, I needed to get some Willow Cats. An hour later, the fine gentleman gave me the jist of how he liked to present willow cats on Wing Dams.
The next day I cut practice short, to drive to LaCrosse to get some Willow Cats. I decided I would return to the area where I had the 24 incher, and low and behold , my second cast with “Willy” I landed a 27 incher. My head started spinning, this changed everything! with 2 days left before the tourney I knew our team needed a lot more of these magic little morsels. We headed back to LaCrosse and bought the bait store out of Willow Cats, totaling around 400$ worth of them.
I was able to find a couple other decent spots, and left the big fish spot alone for 2 days leading upto the tourney.
I was excited, but not overly confident. I knew the potential of the spot I wanted to fish, but also knew I might be competing with other boats, and that river fish tend to move. Bill Shimota had an earlier boat draw then I did, so he got to the spot first. As my Co angler and I spot locked out a bit from the current seam where Bill was, I knew that he was going to be catching instantly if the fish were still there. Within the first 12 minutes, we watched Bill Land a 5lber and a couple 4 lbers. After Landing those fish, Bill Said “I can’t do this to you anymore” and moved up for me to slide into the special zone.
My first few fish were 19 to 20 inches long, and I quickly decided to throw them back. This was due to the fact that it was a No-Cull tourney, and my partner just confirmed that the 4 plus pounders were still here. I knew if I gave it enough time , I would have some of those big bites.
The next few hours was really a blur, I know we landed a 26 plus incher, and some other great 23 inch fish. we definitely lost a couple big ones also. After finally putting my last fish in the box, I had a excited feeling, knowing that our plan came together almost perfectly.
When the final bag had been weighed, I was sitting in 2nd place basically 2 ozs. behind my friend Mark Courts. My friend who 2 years prior , we shared Angler and Co-Angler of the year honors together. It was a great story line for the Media, and they mentioned how I shared the stage with him 2 years before, and now we will be having a straight up show down on Day 2.
I slept amazingly well that night , mostly because of how exhausted I was from 90 plus degree days all week in pre fish. My Plan was very simple, Pray that I got my spot, and camp there until I had a massive bag.
I was one of the first boats out and was happy to see that nobody had taken the sweet spot. As we settled in on spot lock, I briefed my Co-Angler on the proper cast angles , and what to expect when the waves moved through.
It didn’t take long to put our first fish in the box, a nice fat 22 incher. Almost simultaneously we landed another nice 23 incher. The day was starting off perfectly. Adding to the excitement was the presence of Mike Law , the Camera guy. I can remember at one point he was flying a drone directly above us, when my Co- Angler caught a 23 incher. Talk about cool footage.
This day was a little blurry also, except for a few key big bites I remember vividly. One of those big bites, I didn’t feel the initially tick, but instead I felt weight. As I pulled gently up on my rod, I confirmed it was a big fish, by an annoyed head shake. I gave the fish a little more time to position the willow cat in her mouth , and then set the hook. This one was big a 5 to 7 lb. fish. I played the fish in the current , and right about when we were getting close to net range, she let go. As I inspected the Willow Cat I noticed that the fish had completely folded the bait over the hook. No Problem, onto the next bite.
Another one of the bigger bites occurred a little further downstream than the normal cast I was making. when I went to get tight on the fish , again I was impressed with what felt like a 5 plus lber. After 30 seconds of heart stopping battle, my line started feeling weird and tight. I quickly came off spot lock and headed towards the fish, because I knew that she had now wrapped me around a tree. After 10 mins of trying to figure out how to get her un-tangled I finally realized that the fish was gone and it was time to get back into the sweet spot.
Sometime around 130 PM we decided to put our 5th fish in the box. I knew I had a similar weight of 20 pounds just like day one. At 245Pm I decide we were going to make the short run in, to play it safe. I had my Co-Angler put the rods away, as I made the official “Last Cast”
What happened next I will never , ever forget .I made a long cast over top of the wing dam for the first tie all day. As my willow cat made the steady swing towards the back of the boat I felt a small tick. I told my Co that I had just been bit. As I set the hook, and reeled down to come tight on the fish I couldn’t believe what I was feeling. My entire Angling career was replaying through my head in fast forward as I thought of all the blessings that God has given me. I said to myself..”of course your hooked up to a 5 plus pounder on the last cast” .
The boat was deathly silent, The only thing I wanted to say to my Co-Angler was “Can you believe this is happening?” , but I couldn’t get the words out. As the Line Angle approached the boat in a steady ominous fashion, straight down slicing through the current. My Partner crouched at the back of the boat eager to get a shot with the net. As the line became straight down at the side of the boat, I steadily started pulling up on the fish. A split second before we could see the fish it gave one head shake and it was off.
I couldn’t believe it, either could he. I picked up the trolling motor and made a quick run in, playing back in my head what just happened . I came to the conclusion that this was some sort of a lesson from God to keep trying and it wasn’t quite my time. Or, I was going to win with the weight I had.
As I put my boat on the trailer , I was so delusional I scraped the dock with the side of my boat. A first for me!!!
As I waited to weigh in second last, I had more time to reflect on all the amazing things in my life. I was calm realizing I couldn’t do anything to change the outcome now.
I weighed in another 20.5lbs. and took the lead, with only one person left to weigh in. Mark Courts needed a similar bag to day one to win. he weighed 21.5 lbs. and claimed the victory.
Mission Accomplished :
My goal was to cash my first check on the NWT, and this was the 2nd biggest check available. It was so heart warming having all my peers, idols, and fellow competitors come up and congratulate me. It was an amazing feeling.