Monday, October 31, 2011

Eagle's Wings Benefit Tournament on Lake Tuscaloosa 10/29/11

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One of the highlights of the fishing year has been to fish the Eagle's Wings Benefit.
Here is what they are all about:

Eagles' Wings, Inc. is a non-profit organization that provides day habilitation services for adults with mild, moderate and severe intellectual and physical disabilities, including those who are medically fragile.  We strive to provide a wide array of services to meet their spiritual, physical, emotional, social and vocational needs.  Our primary objective is centered on happiness for each individual in a respectful, secure, nurturing and structured environment which maximizes potential for independence, productivity and integration
with the surrounding community

Now, Lake Tuscaloosa is known for it spots. I have caught a few NICE ones on it. \

Not only is it for a great cause (make sure you read up on what they are all about), but  I get to fish with Alyse's Uncle Tony. Uncle Tony has been fishing his entire life on Lake Tuscaloosa. I doubt there is anyone, save for Pawpaw Doug, his father, who knows the lake better. I have fished 3 tournaments with Tony, and we have finished 2nd, 6th,...and (I won't spoil it, yet)....

So, when I received my flyer for the Benefit, I was writing the check when Uncle Tony called me.

"I just thought I would ask if you wanted to fish with me this year. We have done so well thus far."
"If you will have me, then absolutely. I was about to call you...."

So, we agreed on the terms and he said he would be prefishing and would call me about a week before. And, right as rain, he did so. He explained what we would need to throw. I admit, throwing rattlebaits this time of year was new to me. Up here, it's all about the top water and swim baits (at least to me). Even when I throw them, it's on braided line and it's all about ripping it through the grass. There SURE ain't no grass down there like on the G.  But when Uncle Tony tells you what to do.

The best thing about Uncle Tony is when he talks about the daily plan. It goes a little like this:

"Weather is going to be tough. Cold front moving out. High skies. But we gonna catch a bunch of fish. We gonna run to a few places and catch us a quick limit of spots and slowly cull up through the day. If it gets tough, we gonna get on some bluffs and docks and throw that bitzy jig on 'em. Look for that big bite."

What a great thing to hear...since normally "Weather is going to be tough. Cold front moving out. High skies." means..."We will be lucky to GET a limit."

Like last year, his son (and Alyse's cousin, TJ) would be fishing with his partner. TJ is an accomplished fisherman who is my age. He finished 4th last year and we finished 6th. Not a bad way to represent the Free and Taylor clans!

Finally, the weekend came around and we headed down to Tuscaloosa on Friday night to make the Pre-Tournament dinner. It's free (with your paid entry) for you and a guest. The Northport civic center hosted the event. The BBQ was terrific as always. The people were as warm and inviting as ever....even for a guy wearing an Auburn 2010 National Champions shirt. They gave out door prizes, gave the pre-tourament rules and explained what Eagle's Wings is all about.

We got some good shut eye and made it to the Rock Quarry Landing (the tournament uses split ramps because of the amount of boats in the tournament). Amazingly, there weer only 9 boats at Rocky Quarry. From what I could take, everyone was staying at the upper end of the river to look for largemouth. It's a solid game plan. Spots don't get much bigger than 2 pounds. You can have a solid 9 pound sack of spots and get showed up by a single largemouth with supporting small spots. So, most of those guys were looking for that 5 pound fish. I would be a liar if I said it never works. 2 years ago, we had an 11 pound sack of spots that decimated the field, only to be beaten by a sack of 4 small spots and one 5 pound large. Talk about a crushing defeat......

But Uncle Tony knew the odds. He said that the number of large mouth bass have dwindled in the last few years and he wasn't going to use ANY valuable time to hunt them. I agreed. So did the other 8 boats at the quarry. Most of which Uncle Tony knew. So either only we few knew what we were doing, or the majority of boats were going to whip us.

So, surrounded by $60,000 boats, the old 1980s Venture with the yamaha 90 blasted off #2.....and was quickly passed by the entire field! HAHA!

We didn't have to run far. Here is a picture of the area we fished. I won't give out exact spots, aside to say that we fished main river points. The boat stayed in about 35 feet of water, we cast to grasslines on the shore.

Uncle Tony threw the Strike King Red Eye Shad in the half ounce.

While I threw the same thing with a few caveats. First, I had "silenced" it by drilling it and removing the steel shot and using epoxy to seal it. This trick won me a tournament on Guntersville in February. It's great for fishing pressured areas. I was also fishing it on braid, which is highly visible. After watching Tony catching 3 quick fish off the first stop, I swapped baits to my all time favorite, the Xcalibur 1-knocker.
jerkbait. I adopted it and it paid off in spades.

We had a limit by 8am. Not a big one, but a decent one.

The other tactic that I thought was really interesting was that we never stayed still. I don't mean we ran alot..although we did do that, but Tony stayed on the trolling motor. There were times that we caught fish on consecutive casts, but we continued to zip down the sides of the points.

Even after seeing the proof, I still didn't understand how we were doing this. I am such a bottom and bank oriented fishermen that I had to ask.
"The fish are suspended, sometimes 20-25 feet deep." He told me. Which meant that they were coming up 20 feet to eat our lures. I guess that's what happens on ultra clear lakes. But, when it don't question it.

So, from 6:45 to 9, we skimmed those points and culled our limit time and time again. Sometimes an ounce. Sometimes half an ounce. I finally got the catch ratio to around 2:1, largely because I finally swapped to reels with clear flourocarbon. I also managed to catch 2 fish big enough to say I had a part in our limit.

Then the sun came up and stayed high in the sky without a cloud in site. Not good. The bite died on us. We moved to the rock bluffs and started running down those. I threw a War Eagle spinnerbait in Blue Herring in half ounce.
Again, I was amazed that even though we sat in 50-60 feet of water..10 yards off the bluffs, the fish would come and hit this spinner bait which was only 5 feet under the surface. Getting them to hook up was difficult, however.

Without much luck, we slowed down to throwing jigs. Best fish of the day was caught on the jig. We had 4 GOOD spots, all around 2 pounds each. But we had this one little guy. All we needed to do was cull him up with a 3 pounder and we would have this thing won. I won't lie..I felt good as it was. We had caught 25 fish or so in the 2 hours.

The fishing REALLY slowed down at this point, and we averaged about a fish or so an hour. Still good fish, just no help. I did pick up several on the spinnerbait, even one good one. As I swung him over the boat, the line broke and he flopped on the deck with that 6 dollar bait in his mouth. I have never hustled over a non-keeper as much as I did that fish! I managed to save the bait and boot the fish (gently) overboard.

Kind of bummed I couldn't find that big spot which I had found in the past, we headed up river to the ramp (we fished out of the lower lake, recall, but weigh in was at the other ramp).

I bagged the fish and headed to the scales. I noticed on the big board that there were a TON of Zero'd out boats...meaning they didn't even weigh fish. But, it was early and we were one of the first boats to weigh. I watched the few boats in front of us. 6s and 7s here and there, but mostly 5s. We weighed in our fish. 8.84 pounds. Not bad. Uncle Tony had said that there had been 3 100+ boat tournaments in the last month won with less than 9 pounds. But I knew it wouldn't stand. So, I helped myself to free hotdogs and drinks. 15 minutes later, I looked up at the board. We had been knocked out of 1st and into 2nd...but the numbers looked in, there were only about 5 boats that hadn't weighed in. Meaning, we had a check. I couldn't say I was TOTALLY surprised. 9 pounds of spots is SOLID.

Next thing you know, they call the weigh in done. Taylor and Free were in 3rd. Someone brought in 10 pounds...they had found the missing fish we couldn't find. 2nd had 9.06, which is literally a few drops of water in the fishes mouth from 8.84.

But 3rd pays good...and it certainly feels good with 70+ other boats not getting a check at all.

I will take a free fishing trip ANYDAY. And one where you catch 35 fish is even better! Add in some good country company and you have as good a day as it gets.

Best part is, it is for a great cause.

I want to thank Uncle Tony for his hospitality and faith to ask me to fish with him. He is a better guide than any guide I know...and he doesn't ask a dollar for it. The company is the best part.

Thanks to his son TJ for the good company and laughs. I know he will put it on me next year at this event.

Thanks especially to Eagle's Wing's and all the sponsors who put it on. I hope they do it next year, and if you have a chance to fish it, do so. Lake Tuscaloosa doesn't have the 20+ sacks..but it won't let you strike out, either.