Monday, August 26, 2013

MFC Tournament: Wheeler Lake/Ditto Night 8/23/13

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I haven't had much time to fish tournaments this year. In fact, fishing time in general has been hard to come by. I can count on 1 hand the number of "full day" trips I have taken. By that, I mean, those where I get up and hit the water before sun up. That's part of being grown up, I guess. I have to get the kids to school since I have a wife that holds down a full time job. That makes it almost impossible to make it to ANY lake before 8am.

But, it doesn't really bother me. I am very proud of my wife and her career. It's a very worthwhile sacrifice. Anyways, I was going somewhere with that. 

Oh. Yeah. So, I have only fished 4 tournaments this year. I fished the NATA Open, the Snufish tournament, one NASA club (MFC) tournament, and I was going to get to fish this tournament. 

Friday night tournaments work great for me. I can get the kids settled for my wife and hit the water without having to worry about picking them up for school or whatever. So, I've been watching this date on the calender for awhile.

Of course, there are a few issues. 

Number 1: Aubree had a soccer game at 5:15 and I am the coach. Can't miss that. It's a 40 minute game and the tournament started at 5:30. So, I would be doing awesome to get to the ramp by 6:30.

Number 2: I have fished a grand total of about 5 night tournaments. And I have done well in them, by my standards anyway. Except that I have not caught but MAYBE 3 fish after dark. Case in point, Wilson lake in 2012.

All that meant was, unless Josh were to meet me at the ramp with a limit...I would be catching them after dark....or going home empty handed. 

So, I rocketed down South Parkway to Ditto Landing. Grabbed two Hardees thick burgers, a few Gatorade and a 5 Hour energy drink. Josh met me at the ramp. As we loaded my stuff in...I had to ask. 
"Do you have a limit?"
"No. But I do have a nice fish. About 2 pounds. Got him flipping isolated cover just like the pros."

Of course, I had to check for myself. My luck isn't normally THAT good. That end of Wheeler lake is tough to find ANY fish with size, other than 12 inch squealers. Sure enough, he opened the lid and showed me 1 solid fish and 1 squeaker. So, we were already 40% done! I'll take that. 

So, then we had a choice. We could fish the local areas...areas we know well...and HOPE to find a pile of 2 pound clones and pray that no one caught a bucket head. Or we could run to the dam. That's quite the dilemma. Neither of us has fished the dam very much. Neither us EVER has night fished up there. But we both knew we would struggle to find keepers fishing the typical spots. In fact, there is only one hole we know of where we MIGHT find a good bag...and that spot is so hit or miss that we didn't want to gamble. The dam costs a lot of gas too.....

So, to the dam we went. It's not THAT long of a ride, but both of us knew it was a gamble just to go and that it would be time consuming coming home after dark, for safety reasons. There were several boats up there, but no one we knew. We fished around the dam itself without any luck. Fished some wing walls and current breaks. Nothing. 

Dark came in on us quickly due to the mountains. 

We fished down a rip rap bank about 500 yards down from the dam. The depth dropped quickly to 20 feet from the bank to where we fished, which was about a long flip away. 

I was throwing a mixture of baits behind Josh, who was bouncing a T-rigged creature bait off the bottom. The bottom was very stick, as it seemed like my plastics were constantly finding nooks and crannies in the rocks on the bottom. But, boy did it feel good! 

Josh layed into a fish and it made the line sing a song that scared me! I guess that's because he didn't really know what he was up against. Whatever it was, it pulled back with such force that the tight line made a line of bubbles as it screamed through the water. I thought it had to be a trash fish by the force it was imparting on the reels drag. 

About that time I realized that we didn't have the net out and Josh was standing on the rod locker! I yelled to him to either boat flip it quick or scoop it. About that time the fish made it's appearance and we both got REAL scared! It was a brown fish. A big one at that! He waited until it made a run at the boat, kept the slack out, and boat swung it! Talk about ballsy! The massive smallie hit the deck and we both pounced on it! 

60% done. And with a fish we both were CERTAIN would take home the big fish check! 

As he retied his 8 pound test (ye, he boat flipped a 4+ pound smallie on 8 pound test) the boat quickly was pushed out of position by the formidable current. When we was retied and ready, another boat had taken up position where we were. I guess that's just our luck. 4 boats within 2 miles and 1 of those took our spot. HA! I guess they knew a good spot when they see one. We looked around to find a new spot. About that time, the other 2 boats in the area both moved our of a spot right below the dam that looked real fishy.The spot wasn't that big and two boats were already fishing it. But, it was either there or nowhere as the current was too strong on the other side of the river to even bother with.

So, we decided to fish "dirty" water. I bet we got some laughs as we pulled past the two boats that were leaving.

The first 100 yards didn't yield more than a bream bite. I don't know about Josh, but with the sun down and they best "bite" we had having a boat on top of it,  I was getting pretty used to the idea of not getting a fish. Which, after the Table Rock trainwreck, would be par for the course.

If it would have been day time, I would have thrown a crank and covered a lot of water...eventually picking off a fish or two. But, with night time in full effect, I slowed down and threw the old shakey head. 

I have well documented my desire to get better with finesse techniques and I have gotten to where I have confidence in the shakey head. It's been a New Years Resolution. So much so that I put my other rods down and decided that it was either the shakey head or a T-rig big work for here on out. 

I was throwing my Spot Remover Pro Series 1/4 stand up shakey head(I won't throw anything else) backed with a PowerTeam Lures 5" Sick Stick in Watermelon Red Flake/

It didn't take long to pay off. After a miss or two, I figured out that I was missing soft bites. I started hopping the wait instead of shaking it. That way, if a fish had grabbed it, I would feel the extra weight. I snagged a short fish, tossed him, made another cast, hopped the bait about a foot off the 20 foot rocky bottom and it got heavy. I nailed the fish (since my YouTube subscribers say I hook set like a woman.) The fish, obviously a keeper, fought back. This time, we had the net out and although Josh missed the fish AT LEAST 5 times, it finally did him a favor and jumped in the net. It wasn't massive, but it was a nice 2 pounder. 

Josh picked up his shakey head and we worked the remainder of the bank. Up and down, though we occasionally had to skip areas for bank fishermen. There were definite areas where the fish were...and those where the fish weren't. Soon, we knew where those spots were and we caught 2-3 fish real quick. So it went and next thing you know, we were catching nothing but quality fish, including a NICE 4 pound large mouth that I had to fight for what seemed like eternity.We culled at least 3 times that I can recall and we figured we were sitting on 12 pounds. 

We started at that spot around 9:30 or so and we started heading back around 11:15 in order to be safe.

I have to admit how smug I felt. And, if you follow me on FaceBook on my Best5Zach Outdoors page, you could tell I thought we had it in the bag. And, why not? Deep summer on Wheeler is a crap shoot. Josh and I have done extremely well in the past in the deep summer Wildcat tournaments out of Ditto. It normally takes 9-11 pounds to win and sometimes just a limit of 6 pounds can take a check. With 12 pounds and a solid kicker, we just KNEW it was over. 

So, we didn't fish on the way back. We just cruised under the full moon. As I peered over the bow looking for debris or buoys, I spotted something hit the front of the hull and bounce towards Josh. I yelled at him...but it was too late. A bat smacked him in the face, then decided to hold on for dear life! 

It was crazy! And scary. It about knocked him out. I guess it was like getting hit in the face with a baseball. 

Other than that, we made it back. Smugly tucked our fish into the weigh bag and headed to the scale. I HAVE learned that you don't always have the big fish. Even if you have the biggest bag, it is ALWAYS possible someone hung a wall hanger. But, I way could anyone have a bigger bag. I seemed to be right as several of our boats didn't weigh fish, or weighed in 5 small ones. So, we dumped ours and weighed in a surprising 14+ pounds with a 4.27 Small mouth. WOW! 

The last boat came to the scales as Josh went to take the fish back to the water. As they opened the bag, I saw this massive maw of a mouth looking up at me. At LEAST a 6 pounder. No problem. Even with a 6 pounder, they had to have a 2 pound average on the remaining 4. Well, after they dropped in a 6.82 beast on the scale, they dropped a 5 pound book end on us. And then, another 2 nice fish. For a grand total of...


19+ pounds. 

Now, I have HEARD of sacks that big being weighed in at Ditto. But never in the summer. And never at a short night tournament. Josh has seen a few bigger bags that that, but during the prespawn. In fact, to be honest, our bag is one of the biggest I have seen weighed in up there. Maybe the largest. It beat me and Josh's old personal best by over 3 pounds.

Oh well. To be honest, I was flabbergasted at first, but I got over it real quick. Sure, I didn't win a tournament. But, we caught a lot of fish, had several personal bests (Josh's PB small mouth and our combined biggest sack PB). We caught fish after dark. We learned were some rock piles were and we have a lot of confidence in a new area. That's probably the most important part because we KNOW that's where the winners fish.