The northern swing of the Elite Series is under way, and I’ve been happy to be able to temporarily escape the sweltering Arizona heat for a bit. Over the past month, I fished the Mississippi River Rumble in Wisconsin and pre-fished our next venue, the St. Lawrence River in New York.
The Elites visited the Mississippi in 2012 and it was one of the highlights of the tour with lots of great fishing catching. As I drove the 26 hours to the river, I couldn’t help but think about how important this event was going to be for my season. Do well, and jump back into the mix of things… Do poorly, and be looking up from the bottom of the well.
Practice was slow going. The river is loaded with miles of different types of grass with current flowing through most areas. I had heard the key was going to be finding the right grass with the right current. We were dealing with post spawn fish, so finding this combination near a spawning area was critical. Through practice, I used a frog and a Pepper Swim Jig to locate areas with fish before dissecting them with a Berkley Havoc Pit Boss on the flipping stick. I was able to find a few groups of fish within large grass fields that I hoped would hold them through the tournament.
Day one was well scripted. As a late boat out, I was fortunate to make it to my best area before any other anglers. The first two hours were lights out, with a fish being caught almost every flip on the pit boss. I culled up to about 13 pounds before the area started to dry out and it was time to look for a kicker. Through the afternoon, I was unable to find a kicker and sat in 30th place after weigh in.
We were greeting with HEAVY thunderstorms and brutal winds on day two. So bad that we were delayed two hours at take-off. After reaching my main area, it was obvious that the foul weather was not on my side. The heavy winds had blown away the majority of my grass beds, and I was left with nothing but scraps. After fishing my best stretch for 20 minutes there was no doubt that the fish were gone. We picked up and ran a mile or so to an area that was also exposed, but held on to a little more grass through the storm. At this point, we had another major wind and lighting storm rolling in. With 30-50 mph winds constantly blowing into the bay, the only way to fish was to put the Power Poles down, and flip down wind into the grass clumps that were left. Just as the wind became too much, a three pounder is in the boat. My next flip, in comes another three pounder. I jump back to the deck of the boat and watched the grass mats get ripped off the bottom and blow away in the wind and waves. I was sitting on a flat in 2-3 feet of water, with nearly three foot waves rolling it. Things were going to get sketchy, so I ran the Z9 about 10 miles upriver through five foot rollers and into a more protected area. Thankfully, some of the swim jig fish were willing to eat and I culled up to a 12 pound 8 ounce limit to inch up to 24th after day two and into the top 50 cut.
The morning of day three, we were met by more thunderstorms but managed to take off on time. I decided to start on the area where I had caught the back to back three pounders on day two. With another big thunderhead approaching and heavy rain falling, I didn’t feel like I had long before I might have to take cover from the storm. The first flip of the day produced a three pounder followed by another three pounder on the next flip. As I threw the second fish in the live well, a huge crack of lightning struck nearby, and it was time to get to the bank and out of the open bay I was fishing. I look back and wonder what I might have caught had I kept fishing through the storm, but at the end of the day it is certainly not worth my life or my Marshal’s life. After riding out the storm we were back to the same grass patch, but the fish had other plans and were not biting. With two solid fish, I ran back to the swim jig water and caught three more between 2 ½ and 2 ¾ pounds to fill out the limit. With a solid bag, I spend the rest of the day back in Stoddard looking for a kicker that never came. The day three bag came in at 13 pounds 11 ounces for a finish of 18th place.
The Mississippi is a great fishery, and our event drew some awesome crowds. The support from the fans in Lacrosse, Wisconsin was incredible. I do want to recognize my Rigid Industries teammate Brandon Palaniuk for nearly blowing the event away, had it not been for an unfortunate mistake causing his day two catch to be taken back. He handled the situation so well, and he has many more big wins in his future.
After the tournament wrapped up, I headed straight to New York to pre fish the St. Lawrence River and see my good friend Mark Pacella. We had a fun three days of catching up and scouting the river. I am looking forward to the river tournament, as it harbors an incredible amount of big smallmouth. While it does hold the big ones, it will take a good game plan and solid execution to weigh in good limits during the tournament.
Next week is the country’s biggest fishing show “I-Cast”. It will be a great opportunity to spend some time with my sponsors and show off some of their products to media and dealers around the country. In my next blog, I will talk about some of the cool products that make their mark at the show.