Monday, March 17, 2014

MFC Tournament #1 on Guntersville

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I had some vacation to kill on Friday before our club tournament, so I decided to get out and look around. Initially I figured I would get some quality casts in, check some spots that I thought might be good to me for the club tournament, and if it slowed down, I was going to spend some time tweaking my Humminbird 798 which I haven't really used since I installed it, other than for basic GPS operation. But, after spending some time with Basswhacker and seeing how he utilized his when I Learned to Ledge Fish, I thought it wise to get up to speed. Luckily for me (or unluckily) the skies were very high, the wind was whipping and there was a BILLION boats on the water. I mean, it was nuts. There were 5 or 6 boats on every spot. Even on spots I had never seen anyone fish. So, I decided to start playing around with the Humminbird and stored my rods. I did manage to dial it in, which you can read my post about. I was amazed at how far off I was.

Anyway, I ran from spot to spot looking for things that might be interesting. I paid specific attention to water temps. On Friday, the warmest water I found was 55 degrees at 1pm.

Long story short, I took down some notes and called it an early day.

I am continually amazed at how I over value my fishing abilities. Josh and I decided that if we caught 15-18 pounds early on Saturday, we would quit early and save fish for the Frederick's Marina tournament the next day. After all, we were pretty certain that we would at least do well enough to win our own club. Never mind the fact that the Fish of 2014 Page says I haven't caught anything all year. But, historically speaking, we have done well in this club. Let's go out and knock a homerun and shut it down early, then try and cash a fat check on Sunday.

Saturday morning, we headed to Scottsboro City ramp. And we waited in line. Now, I knew there was a highschool tournament featuring 220 boats, but that was several miles away in Guntersville. I knew there was a Fishers of Men from somewhere else. I wasn't expecting to be waiting in line at 5:45 AM at this ramp. But, as I posted on Facebook. It's Guntersville on a Saturday. It was blastoff time and we hit it hard!


Josh and I had decided to start out fishing a spot that he and another guy had discovered last year. I didn't know where it was, so I just went with it. It was back in a pocket and had a creek channel adjacent. We figured it was a safe bet. And, since we were one of the first boats out of the hole and it was relatively close by, we shouldn't have too much competition.

Wrong.

We pulled in and had to immediately wait behind another boat. They struck out and hit the road. We immediately noticed that the water was very warm and there was obviously bait in the area. Crappie were feeding and there were a lot of crappie boats in the area.I very quickly caught a short fish on a PTL 6" Gator. Another boat came in and started running the dirty water behind us. That didn't bother us, as we had just fished the spot. What did bother us was how close the boat was getting to us. And, as they neared us, instead of fishing perpendicular to the bank, they started casting ahead of their boat. Even casting across my line! then as soon as they had fished on top of us, they hit the trolling motor and jumped us. Fairly flabbergasted, we hit the trolling motor and moved on, only to watch them catch a nice keeper where we would have been fishing.

We decided to give that spot up, as there were a half dozen other boats in the vicinity. We moved down river to the spot where Josh and I won our very first tournament. Admittedly, I hadn't fished that spot again. In fact, neither of us had laid eyes on it until we won that tournament. We ran to it and found it also covered up with boats. We gave the nearby area a courtesy fish and left. We ran to a spot where we had finished very high in a NATA Tournament a few years previous. But, we quickly realized that the spot was a lot different than that year, most notably the lack of lilly pad stickups. So, again, a courtesy fish and we decide to move on after munching on some EOTWAWKI Jerky.

We talked it over. Even though we had only had 1 bite in the first spot, we did see other fish get caught. We did notice the water temperature was several degrees higher than anywhere on the main river. And, we knew there was bait in the area because we had seen lots of crappie busting the surface. We made the decision at about noon that we would grind it out here, even if we struck out.

For the first hour, we did just that. It got so bad that I turned the GoPros off completely. There were nearly dead from videoing dead air all day anyway. We tried a variety of baits but mostly threw XCalibur XR series baits in a variety of colors or a swim job backed by a PTL Swinging Hammer. I had given up chucking and winding and had resorted myself back to the Gator, as it produced the only fish we had caught. I admit that I had mentally left fishing some time before. Josh was on me. He kept reminding me that all we needed was 1 bite. Maybe it would be a monster. Maybe it would be a technique that would give us the info we needed. But, I half way listened. It was just another day on the water for me. That was until a bump that nearly took the road out of my hand jarred me awake. I set the hook and leaned into the fish. But, the fish surged for deeper water, never showed its face, and made every effort to convince me that it was a drum. I yelled at Josh to get the net. It was either a nasty drum or a massive bass.

Sure enough, the girl showed herself and it was a big ole sow. After several attempts to net, Josh finally bagged her. In the box she went and we were on the board!

We had noticed that this area was very unique. Not just the pocket, but a very short section. So, we fished the same spot I had just caught the beast. 45 minutes later, Josh set the hook on a fish. When we saw it, were elated. Another nice fish!
We started feeling a little better about the situation, even though it was getting on towards 2PM. We thought that one of these fish might get us a big fish check. Two might manage to get us near the money. 3, on a day like today, would almost certainly do it. I had a bite on the Gator. I snagged the fish, felt the weight, felt the fish fight, and just like that she was gone. I pulled the bait in, which was now balled up around the hook, and found now teeth marks on the bait. Whatever it was, it was big enough to engulf the whole bait without touching it and pissed off enough to tug on it when it tugged back.

We went right back to it. I turned on the cameras, thinking we would grab some video gold. And, we did...sorta.

Josh laid back into a fish, but hit me in the face with the rod. He didn't get to sink the hooks deep and when the 8 pound fish surfaced, she threw the crank. Josh immediately pointed me to the back of the boat and told me to stay there.

At 2:15, still fishing the same small spot, Josh snagged another fish. We got this one in the boat. We figured we would have a check waiting on us, it was just a matter of if someone found the fish. Even a small limit wouldn't beat us with these 3 fish, which we thought were 18 pounds.

We found our club at the ramp, and it took 30 minutes of waiting in line to get the Bullet out of the water, which included 2 different people cutting in front of me. By the time we made the scales, everyone else had weighed in. I had talked to enough club members to know that they hadn't done much. But, as we produced the 3 pigs, I didn't hear the "ohs and ahs" I figured we would get. Instead, we got a few "nice fish." I asked if we should weigh both our bigger fish. I was told no. No? I mean, these were 6 pound fish! They told me that unless I had an 8 pounder hidden, it was a waste.

Of course, minutes later I found out it took 23 pounds to win and a 7.62 pound fish to win big check.

But, we did cash the 3rd place check, so I felt a little better. But not much. Everyone that saw this picture on my Facebook Page asked why I looked angry with 3 nice fish. I replied "Because it wasn't 5."
Josh and I always have some good conversations on the way back from tournaments. I can tell you that it is almost never backslapping. It's usually what we did wrong. What we should have done. What we did right, but didn't do it enough. And, so, with the NATA Open on the horizon (this Saturday) we are in unfamiliar territory for us. We actually think we are on some fish. In previous years, we have "eliminated water" in our prefishing. This spot seems consistent, the question is where they are in their spawning pattern and what they want to eat. While we didn't even weigh in a limit, we did identify that we KNEW the spot was good. It had all the makings of a good spot, but we never should have left it. It had a deep bank next to a spawning flat. It had bait. It had warm water. Tournament fishing isn't fun fishing. If it was fun fishing, sure, leave the spot and find somewhere they are biting. In tournament fishing, you grind it. You aren't trying to catch 30 fish. Just 5. Sad thing is, we had our chance and didn't seal the deal, despite not listening to our instincts. Lesson learned. Let's see if it pays off in 5 days!