Monday, March 21, 2011

MFC Tourney #2

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Tournament time for the MFC!  it was time to fish Wheeler....a lake I haven't ever fished.....

I admit that I was nervous and anxious to get back on the water with these guys after winning the first tournament. What few tournaments I fished in the club last year, I was OWNED. The club isn't what you would expect. it isn't a bunch of nerdy NASA guys who are happy for a few fish at weigh in (insert TONS of irony here). Turns out, most serious fishermen fish as many tournaments as they can. I guess I am not the exception as I once thought. Qualifying for the MFC isn't an exception, so there are a LOT of great fishermen in this club. Since this was a draw tournament, I entered as a boater and drew Deon Smith. Deon is a well experienced fishermen who usually fishes with his son Tim. Last year, they were the ones putting stripes on every one's back. In fact, Tim and Deon finished #1 and #3 respectively last year in the standings. So, although I had NEVER fished that end of the lake before, I felt like between his experience and my luck, we could do well.

The weather had been beautiful the last few days and the water temps were soaring into the high 50s low 60s. With the perigee moon on Friday night, 80 degrees expected all day Saturday, it was sure thing that the fish would be pushed shallow and onto their beds. I had four rods on the front deck that morning: 1/2 ounce  lipless crank for fishing shallow grass, Yum money minnow for enticing reaction bites of fish on beds, Strike King series 4 in citrus shad for fish suspending in the murky water, and a War Eagle 1/2 ounce spinnerbait in blue herring. I had made some phone calls and also did some research. Spring Creek looked to be a good bet. It offered a deep creek channel adjacent to a nice flat. Fish SHOULD be up shallow, and others would be suspended in that creek channel waiting for their turn.

Upon reaching the ramp, I immediately noticed how low the water was. That was REALLY surprising, as we had had SO much rain the previous week. I knew they had been running the flood gates, but they normally wouldn't run it LOWER than the previous pool...would they? Turns out, since Wheeler is so deep and Guntersville is so shallow, they put preference on Guntersville's level more so than Wheeler. It was a little dingy, as expected, but I felt that was a good thing....especially with the cloud cover, though that was unexpected.

So, we motored out to the buoys to have blastoff. After the last boat, I floored it. Deon, being experienced on these waters, immediately yelled at me that there was a sandbar hump. just as I looked at the flasher, I saw the depth run from 30 feet to 2 feet. I jerked it towards the channel, which happens to be in the wake of the previous boat. It isn't the best option, but it was certainly better than running onto a sandbar and losing a motor. Before I could move anywhere else, the boat planed out, hitting about 40mph, just as the boat in front of us cut power! I cut power as well, which happens to be the method of steering in a boat. I don't know HOW close we were to the other boat, but I was fairly puckered up. I don't know if the other boat even noticed. If it had been me, I would have asked to be taken right back to the pier. Good ole Deon just laughed and said: "Well, I'm awake now!" I kicked her back into gear and we set a new speed record for the old girl. 55 blazing miles per hour! GPS confirmed! /sarcasm

We started on the main river point. The depth finder showed fish everywhere. Bait fish were busting everywhere. I started seeing dead and dying baitfish floating. About that time I noticed two boats close to use catching alot of fish. But they were catfish. I realized what was going on. The cold front of the morning had caused the fish to feed last night under the full moon. Now the drum and catfish were feeding on the carrion. To punctuate this, I quickly caught a 10 pound drum. Yuck.

The main point didn't yield any fish, but I didn't expect it to because of the unfriendly terrain to spawning. We moved to the little island I had cased the night before. Deon quickly picked up a small fish. Into the live well it went.

But that was the extent of the action. From 7:30 until 2:00, I cast and cast and cast. Deon threw finesse baits while I tried to at least find a kicker fish. Deon and I at least had good conversation and it was a welcome relief from the frustration. We ran to every type of terrain imaginable. I suggested that we consider calling it, but we persuaded me with a story about winning a tournament on one fish. I just couldn't see how we couldn't even snag a random fish over 7 hours! I started to reflect on how smug I had been in the last few weeks about my abilities. Maybe I wasn't as good as I thought I was. Maybe I really didn't have a clue. The only thing that kept me covering water was Deon talking me up. Ok, that isn't entirely true....the caveman in my head (my wife says that's all that's in there) kept me from giving up. I was going to catch a fish and it didn't matter how big it was. But reality began to set in as we headed back towards the launch.

When we arrived, we were in a line of boats waiting from launch space. There was a boat in front and a boat behind, both fishing while waiting. I noticed a little draw in the bank, possibly from an old creek. If there was a fish in First Creek, it was here. I also noticed that the boat in front of me had turned to face me and we were in a race to get there first. 5 minutes until weigh in.

I threw the old series 4 strike king, dragging it across a shell bed, which the bait catches and releases....feeling just like a fish sometimes. So much so that I didn't noticed I had a fish on until it jumped. If swung it over. If nothing else, I hadn't been swamped. Never mind that it took me 8 hours. Never mind that it cost me a day of my time, and hour of driving and all the gas money. I dumped the fish in the livewell. It might be embarrassing, but I was weighing these two short fish, no matter what.

We got the boat put on the trailor and pulled into a spot. I walked over to the scales to see a weigh in of 3 fish. I heard the commotion and the laughs. Mark Sloan, a pretty good fisherman, was weighing in 3 fish. What I didn't pick up on was that they weren't laughing at Mark for catching 3 fish. They were laughing that out of the 5 boats that had pulled out, he was the only one that weighed in fish. A whopping 7.96 pounds including a respectably 3.4 big fish. That meant there were only 3 boats left, including us!

I almost jumped for joy. I had never been so happy to weigh in two fish. We weighed in at 2.53 pounds for second place. The next boat, Deon's son Tim and his partner Ross weighed in 3 fish for 3.56. Well, the joy seemed short lived. With one boat to go, almost anything would knock us out of the money. Literally anything. A single good fish. But the last boat pulled in and loaded up. The members walked towards us, dejected, with no fish. Going once, Twice, Sold. We collected checks!

It was quite a dose of reality for me. 7 boats. 14 fisherman. A total of 10 fish were weighed in. Fishing is such a great sport for this very reason. It offers life lessons all the time. Never think you are better than you are. Always remember that no matter how good you are, you can't make them bite. Lastly, and most importantly. Don't. Ever. Give. Up.