Monday, March 7, 2011

Marshall Fishing Club Tournament 1, 2011

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Well, the first tournament for the Marshall Fishing Club rolled around….finally. This is a club for NASA civil servants and contractors. It couldn’t get here soon enough! Being a buddy tournament, I called my best friend Josh…whom fishes with me on weekly basis. We have fished many a tournament together and usually do fairly well. He naturally agreed to fish with long as the boat would actually run (more on this later). I spent all Friday night poured over a topography map looking for the key areas. I felt like, with the rain and the cold front the Thursday night before, that the staged fish would be pushed back deep, out of the mouths of the creeks they had pulled up on. I looked for short sloughs on the river channel…preferably with rip-rap or retaining walls and sharp contour lines. We found a couple of areas we felt would work and marked them down.
 I also spent the evening modifying some crank baits. With all the pressure that the lake had, I felt like bait that could be ripped through grass, but didn’t offer the constant noise of all the other rattle baits would be best. If I could drop it through the grass, on top of their heads, without them being put off by the same-old-same-old racket, maybe I could coax fish that wouldn’t otherwise bite. I took some Academy Sports lipless cranks, drilled them, removed the rattles, and epoxied them back up.
With the air in the mid 30s, we slipped the boat into the water and fired the engine up. As many with older boats can attest, sometimes it feels like the battle is half won when the motor fires up. In my case, it was probably truer than most.
 Now...a little back story. A few weeks back at the NATA Open, we had a solid game plan…backed by a 20+ sack, anchored by a 7lb 2oz monster that I caught the day before during a prefish trip with my friend and coworker, John.
The game plan involved a lot of running and gunning….hitting rock ledges and retaining walls for staged fish. Saturday rolled around, and we put the boat in the water amid the hundred or so boats. However, the motor would turn over and over but wouldn’t fire. In fact, the spark plugs weren’t firing at all. We tried to get it to fire all morning to no avail. I even received help from some nice gentlemen who ended up being Marshall club members. (I can’t tell you what that means to have strangers offer help). So, sun burned, tired, and bummed, we loaded the boat up at 11am and called it.
So, you can understand the feeling of elation when the motor kicked over this past Saturday. We ran to the first spot we had marked. It was a narrow slough with one hard clay bottom point and one rip-rap point. We worked the clay bottom point first. Although we marked bait balls, we didn’t get any hits. Thinking maybe the fish were still staged in the mouth of the pocket, we fished a little deeper. We both were throwing a mixture of crank baits. I switched between a blue back citrus shad and my silent lipless crank, while Josh threw various cranks and a ¾ oz War Eagle spinner bait in blue herring. About 50 yards into the slough, I drug the crank bait through the clay bottom and it was inhaled. As I swept it, I knew it was a big fish. “Get the net!” The fish bulldogged me, and I knew it was either a big small mouth or something……else. When it rolled to the surface, I was quite surprised to see a monster cat. Between it’s barbs and my hooks, it took me a solid 10 minutes to free it…all having to listen to “croak croak.”

We swapped banks, moving towards the rip-rap. We were almost to the mouth of the slough when Josh swapped to a clown colored jerk bait on a sissy stick. First cast, it was destroyed. The fish pulled drag. Josh finessed the fish on 6 pound test. When the fish first rolled to the surface, I threw the net down in disgust. The fish was so big and white, I thought it was a trash fish. It wasn’t until Josh screamed some profanities at me that I realized that it was a big bass. I dipped it, even with the curses raining down on me.  We knew it was at least 5 pounds, so we threw it into the front live well…”solitary confinement”, I call it, as the front live well is only big enough for one fish.
That fish started a feeding frenzy at the mouth of the slough. On my next cast, I yo-yo’d the lipless crank off some grass where it was smashed. Josh dipped the fish and I spent another 5 minutes freeing the fish, as it had completely annihilated the bait. It had swallowed one hook entirely and had the other deep in it’s mouth. During my time struggling with the net, Josh boated at least two others. My next cast yielded another. Then another. I caught fish on 3 consecutive casts as did he. The fish slowed down, but we managed a total of 15 in a 30 minute spread.
Just like that, they quit biting. I looked at the clock. 7am. That’s a long time to keep a sack alive. Regardless, we pushed on. We ran down river to the next slough. We tried the same methods, but to no avail. We ran to north Sauty where we watched the future winner of the Everstart tournament sit on a rock in 14 feet of water, needling a swimbait. Again, no takers. We decided to run up river as we had planned.
As we idled out of Sauty, eating a sandwhich, a boat came speeding by us. No joke, folks. 6 feet. They were doing at least 50 and drenched us in spray. Although there were dozens of retorts I had in the back of my mind, none of them would come out. All I could do was yell.. "Hey!" Being in a slower boat, there wasn’t much I could do. So I swapped fuel tanks (since I get crappy mileage) and with the boat trimmed out, we ran from North Sauty to B.B. Comer. About a mile from Comer bridge, the motor started to buck and the speed dropped from 55 to 35. It was then that I started the old noodle thinking….Did I put oil in BOTH tanks? Did I put it in only one? But even at idle, it sounded like it was just missing a cylinder. I pulled the cowl off and sure enough, one of the wires had worked loose. Whew. Disaster averted, we pressed on.
We fished around the bridge with no takers. The highlight of the afternoon took place at the bridge. I was cranking my way around a point next to the bridge, right in front of some bank fishermen. I was cleaning the grass off the crank by slapping it against the water. I picked up the crank and noticed the line was a little worn. Oh well. I was too lazy to retie it. Next cast, I caught more grass. I slapped it against the water, back and forth. Back and forth. Back and….The lure was off to the moon. The bank fishermen laughed at me. A 3 pack a day laugh you couldn’t miss from across the lake…as I watched the lure skyrocket. I pretended it didn’t happen and retied. They laughed for 10 minutes at my expense.
Time was getting late on us and we had about a 3 mile haul. Time to get going. I hopped back in the driver seat and turned the motor over. It would turn and turn…but it didn’t sound just right. Having had this happen a dozen times, I didn’t flinch at all. I sat there for a second, listening. I heard a hum from the back of the boat. Sure enough, the trim switch had gotten jammed in the down position, running the battery low. It wasn’t dead, but it was dead such that the over ride on the motor wouldn’t kick on. At less than a certain amount of amps, the motor won’t run. Terrific. Not that big of a deal, really. But it’s always something.

We knew the day had been rough for a lot of people, and we felt pretty good about our sack. I guess we might have even been a LITTLE cocky. So you can imagine the surprise when a fellow club team posted a weight less than a half pound off of us and a big fish within a few ounces. Either way, the day was event filled for us. We posted a sack of right at 16.25 and a big fish of 5.25. There were over 100 pounds caught by our club…even on a rough day. It was a blast, as usual, and I look forward to getting striped by these guys at the next event.