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Follow my Fish of 2014
Many of you know that my wife's family is from Tuscaloosa. So, when it's Holiday times, we usually make a trek down to T-Town to visit. And, as a bonus, every other year we get the added pleasure of having the Iron Bowl in town. We had tickets, thanks to my wife's wonderful uncle, who is on staff at the University, so we planned to go and take Aubree with us. Aubree had been begging to go to another Iron Bowl since I took her in 2011. I was really hesitant, and you can read why in my Iron Bowl Preview.
On the Tuesday previous to the Iron Bowl, I received a phone call from Alyse's other uncle, Uncle Tony. You may recall that he occasionally asks me to fish with him down there, especially during the Eagle's Wings Benefit tournament.
He knew I was going to be in town and asked if I would be interested in fishing a club tournament with him on Saturday, the day of the Iron Bowl. It was going to be tight for me to fish it and make the game, but since I was pretty sure on how the game was going to end, I didn't figure it would matter if I missed some of the beginning. So, of course I said yes.
Recall that fishing Tuscaloosa lake is very different than what I am used to, which is great for me, since I am trying to become more versatile. Frequently that means fishing ways that you aren't used to. And what's more different than fishing Guntersville? How about fishing jigs and shakey heads in 30-40 feet of water? Though my Fish of 2014 won't show it, I felt like versatility had grown a TON in 2014, and for the most part, it showed....and you can kinda see that in my 2014 Tournament Fishing in Review.
So, how did he tell me to prepare? I would need 3 rods rigged up. A jig, a shakey head, and a swimbait. Swimbaits? Yeah. I can dig some swimbaits. While I haven't caught many fish on them in the last year, the PTL Swinging Hammer has been a solid producer for me, which you can buy on Amazon for the best price by clicking this link. Shakey heads? Sure. Shakey heading has been, by far, the best producing presentation for me in 2014. I have been using the PTL shakey heads backed by the PTL Sick Stick, another bait you can get for the best price on Amazon by clicking here. In fact, by my count, 25% of the fish I caught this year were on the PTL Sick Stick. But the jig? Ehh......I started having some success in 2013, but I just hadn't thrown it much. What's a better way to learn, though. And, PTL came out with a line of jigs this year that I wanted to use, since I get a great discount on them and they seem to be great baits.
So, we got to T-Town late Friday afternoon and I ran to Academy to spend some money my dad gave me for my birthday. I really needed a set of fishing coveralls. I have been making due with some ski bibs and a heavy hunting jacket. But, they don't do well against wind or water. I ended up picking up the H20 Xpress setup, which cost right at $200. Turns out, they don't go on sale on Black Friday like everything else. Go figure.
So Saturday morning rolled around and we were on Uncle Tony's Venture, headed out to catch some fish. He said to expect between 10-15 boats and he was dead on. There ended up being around 17 I believe. And, we needed around 8 pounds to win. Which meant that you could either try and cull up spots all day, or go after one largemouth kicker. The gameplan? Scare up a limit of spots real quick with jigs and shakey heads and then hunt a largemouth kicker with swimbaits.
The fish weren't exactly hopping in the boat. We ran a couple of bluffs and points with out many bites. Uncle Tony had several, but they were all picking up the jig and swimming with it before spitting it out. Because I don't have a feel for the jig just yet, there is no telling just how many times one did exactly that to me and I didn't even notice. In fact, try as I might, I was having trouble feeling the bottom and/or having enough patients for the lures to find the bottom in 40 feet of water. I tried going to a larger 1/4 ounce shakey head instead of a 1/8th shakey head and a 1/2 ounce jig instead of the 1/4 ounce. But, I was afraid the larger presentation may not get the bites.
Finally, we started finding some bites. By "we", I mean Uncle Tony. He bagged a small spot that measured on a jig. I did follow it up with one of my own on the PTL jig backed by the PTL Craw D'oeuvre.
Uncle Tony then went on a 3 fish tear and bagged the rest of our limit while I didn't have much of a bite. But, we had a limit. A very small one. But, we didn't want to waste time trying to cull up. It was time to go hunt a kicker.
So, we put down the jigs and shakey heads and picked up the swimbait. In the past, we might have kept trying to cull, but he knew the fishermen in the club were good enough to do that as well. He didn't like our chances (or theirs) of finding the one spot among millions. Instead, he wanted to do what few people in the club were comfortable with....looking for that one big bite. Sure, catching tons of fish is cool, and I wouldn't have been against it, but we were here to win.
We headed to look for the bucket heads.
We were working some creek channels when we got just the bite we needed. The fish came out from some cover, opened that big mouth and sucked the swimbait in. Then she dove deep...just what we needed her to do. Uncle Tony slammed the rod. The fish came churning back at us, made a jump, and tossed the bait back at us. It was easily a 5 pound fish...a monster on that lake. And just the fish we needed.
Sure, it was easy to be upset, but we had a lot of time left. We did realize that the chances of getting that quality of fish to bite more than once were slim, but maybe we could make it up by catching 2 medium sized largemouth.
The fish weren't overly active, but we were able to get bites. The problem was that many of them were simply headbutting the swimbait. Some would even follow it to the boat. Every once in awhile Uncle Tony would snag one. I couldn't get one to hook up, however. Uncle Tony did manage to get one decent largemouth in the boat, which bettered our chances.
After hours of chunking and winding, I finally had an opportunity to catch one. Uncle Tony had a solid fish come up and headbutt the swimbait. As he retrieved the bait, I tossed back towards where the fish had been sitting. I twitched the bait as I would a soft jerkbait...popping the tip on slack line. One pop. Two pops. Let it fall...and the fish smoked it. Another largemouth in the boat which culled one of the small spots.
We finished up the day still trying to find that big bite, but to no avail. I have to admit that my shoulder, which I had surgery almost a year to the day ago, was really giving me fits. I guess it's the constant use with shakey heads and jigs, but by noon it was really hurting. We came in a good bit early. Aubree, Griffin, and their twin cousin's were at the ramp and wanted to see the fish.
It took 8 pounds to win, which I believe came from a single 5 pound largemouth and a short sack of spots. Everyone else either had 7 or below, which is what we had. My largemouth went a little over 2 pounds. Sure, there are some things we could have done different. Could we possibly have culled up spots? Yeah. We have done it before. We have weighed in 13 pounds of spots before after spending the entire day. But, we have also managed to spend an entire day trying only to have 5 fish for 4 pounds as well. We had the bites to win, that's for sure.
But, I LOVE fishing with my kin folk and I LOVE trying to become more versatile. Getting outside of your comfort zone is what makes you better. Tony's phone call asking me to fish was the best news I had received all week and I was so excited to get to fish. We had a good showing and you don't have to win to have a great time!