Monday, March 23, 2015

Army Cargo Club Tournament on Wilson Lake 3-21-15

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Tournament time on Wilson, you say? Well....alllrriiigghhhttt. 

The oft overlooked lake has been good to me. No, I'm not saying I am GOOD on it, just that I have been successful. Or lucky. Or both. Go read about it. 

As I said last week, most people only fish this lake because they want to keep up in their Angler of the Year points. Few actually put in efforts to learn the lake. Not I. I love this lake. It changes from day to day and forces you to be ultra resilient and versatile. At least, that's my story. Or, you could always go to the dam and throw swimbaits and A-rig. Ok, so you don't ALWAYS have to be resilient and versatile. But, I prefer to be. 

Ok, so if you read my blog post from last Monday, we may recall that we caught around 13 pounds of fish while prefishing for this tournament. I didn't give a lot of details and I didn't take any video. The former is because we figured out some things that were a little unique. The later was simply because the day was tough and I didn't feel like the 10 fish we caught (full disclosure, Brad caught most) were worth videoing. 

Now, if you look at my Fish of 2015 page, you would have known what we were planning on throwing all day.  Sure, I only boated 2 bass on Monday, but that was kinda by design. At least, that's what I keep telling myself. Anyway, the two baits were listed there. If you are lazy, click these links.

Brad has had some great luck over the last year on Wilson on the A-rig. I hate throwing it. Other than this one time that Josh and I caught fish during the NATA Open, I've never had much luck. Also, my surgically repaired shoulder hates me for 2 weeks after throwing it, so there is that. He knew it would work, the question was WHERE it would work, and just what A-rig setup would be "the one." Don't worry, I'm not going to give away his secret, because it isn't my secret to give away. Sure enough, the A-rig worked that day, though we had discovered that the fish were NOT on main river bluffs, as he had hoped, but instead were on main creek channels adjacent to secondary points, which featured standing grass. We would catch males on the grass line. One after the other. And, while they were good fish, they weren't tournament winning fish. So, we pushed the boat out to the next contour line and looked with his Lowerance units. Sure enough, we would find groups of 3s and 4s sitting on the 20 foot contour line. While Brad plugged away with the Rig, I used a mixture of baits from PowerTeam Lures jigs to Spro Lil John DDs. 

After we caught 2 nice females in the deep water on the Rig, we knew we had a plan, so we left them. And, as I said, I caught 1 tiny fish combined on all the OTHER baits I threw and 1 fish on the A-rig. Meanwhile, Brad caught 8 or so. 

If I knew anything, which I probably don't, I would say that the males had pushed up and the females were staged. 

That's where things got tricky. With colder air and at least 2 days of rain in the forecast, we had to make a few choices. We made the assumption that the colder weather and rain would push the fish back out onto the main river ledges, despite having caught all of our fish in creek channels. 

We were half right, I guess. Well, let me take that back. The weathermen were half right. The rain really never developed, though the temperature drop significantly. So, we weren't REALLY sold on the idea of leaving the fish we found Monday.....yet. 

The real decision came when we pulled into Lock 6 and saw that the parking lot was COMPLETELY covered with boats. Honestly, I have never seen more than 20 trailers in the entire lot. And, it was completely covered. Considering that we had seen more boats in Shoals Creek on Monday than anywhere else, our minds were made up. We assumed (correctly) that most people would either go to the dam or to Shoals creek. Come blast off time, we hit bluffs and everyone went up river to the dam or into Shoals creek. 

Though I was sold on the idea of throwing the A-rig and doing so all day, I knew that the A-rig was a selective bite type bait. Half the battle is having a limit, and I wanted a limit. So, while Brad threw the A-rig, I threw the OTHER bait that I knew would produce. I tossed the Luhr-Jensen Speed trap. 

I had a solid hit on my first cast, but the fish pulled off. The same thing happened several times on Monday. I questioned whether I had new hooks (which I did) or maybe they didn't really like the color. But, I tossed back in to the same spot and a measuring fish pounded it. Got him in the livewell and made another cast. Another fish smacked it, but held on. 2 keepers within 2 minutes. Within minutes of that, I popped another fish, but it was a 15 inch smallie, which had to go back in the drink. Brad managed to catch a nice stripper on the A-rig.

We finished covering that stretch of bluffs, which has been very productive for Brad. We had 2 keepers in the tank and several short fish on a single 100 yard section of bluff. And, it happened so fast that I didn't even have the camera turned on to catch all of it. It wouldn't have mattered, as it was too dark anyway. 

But, hey, it was a great start, even if the fish were small. 

On a second pass, the fish weren't as forthcoming, so we decided to hit some other main river bluffs were Brad has had luck. 

The 2nd and 3rd bluff yielded nothing, though I admit that we were fishing dirty water behind multiple boats. 

So, we started talking. If the bluff bite was on, but only in areas that most people would avoid, there was only 1 other bluff we had fished that had yielded fish. I had caught a nice 3 pounder on Monday on a Speed Trap in this pocket. So, we motored down and fished it. Sure enough, we caught a couple of fish, but they were really spread out and didn't have much size to them. The bluff came to the a small cove and it looked interesting, so we decided to fish it. I went to throwing a Spro Lil John DD on the main point and quickly picked up 2 fish, one of which was a good cull. As we entered the pocket, I threw the Speed Trap up shallow for another fish, but it was a few casts later where Brad changed the game. 

Throwing into mere inches of water, a fish freight-trained the A-rig. It stayed low in the water and it wasn't until it was 10 feet from the boat that we saw it. It was a massive brown fish. A 5+ smallie. And, it slid right in the net. Suddenly that small 8 or 9 pound sack had jumped to a respectable 12. 

Now, this area wasn't something that we had expected to produce. Instead of being a stretch of bluffs, it was a small pocket bracketed by bluffs and featured a pea gravel shoreline. 

So, we fished the whole cover, all the way to the other point, which is when Brad gave us another game changer. After sticking the A-rig to a rock, he jigged it free, where a waiting 4 pound largemouth was waiting. The fish engulfed the A-rig and within a few cranks, Brad had culled us up another 2 pounds to around 14. 

We were starting to feel really good about ourselves, especially since it was 9:35. But, we weren't out of the woods yet, and we knew it. Even though we had a limit and a kicker, we had at least 2 fish in the livewell that were small. I ventured a guess that a 3 fish sack from the dam could probably beat us. So, there wasn't time for back slapping. It was time to grind. 

So, we ground that spot for another 4 passes. We fished shallow again with limited results. It wasn't that we weren't catching fish, just the wrong ones. On one of the passes, we marked some nice arches that we surmised where females. So, we pushed out again and I went back to work with the Little John DD. That paid off, yet again with a 3 pounder. It wasn't a massive upgrade, but it was another pound and allowed us to get rid of one of the squeakers in the livewell. I guessed we were up to 14.5 pounds. 

At some point, I was fishing the speed trap when I snagged something. It felt it move and swim, but dang if it didn't feel like a ROCK. I was right on both accounts as I had caught a turtle. Luckily, I was easy to remove the hook and the dude went on his way and I managed not to lose any fingers in the process. That didn't make the final cut of the video, but I will upload it later. 

After grinding that spot for 3 or 4 rounds, we decided that either A) we had caught all the fish or B) we needed to let them rest. 

We decided to ride back into Shoals creek and see if it would produce for us, as it had on Monday. We had to wait in line (first time for everything) to fish where we wanted to fish. Indeed, Brad caught 2 fish in about 3 minutes while he was on the phone with our friend Taylor. It is funny to watch it in the video, because Brad never checks up. Granted, both fish were small. 

After running that spot, we decided that it wasn't going to be any help. We got to thinking, could we find areas similar to the one that had produced for us? That is, bluff walls book ending a shallow cove with pea gravel? Sure enough, we found 2 of them right next to each other. The first one was a bust, but the second produced a couple of fish on the A-rig, which didn't help us...but one fish off the speed trap that DID. It wasn't much, but it was a solid half pound cull. We had now gotten rid of all the small fish. Minutes later, I had a fish absolutely CRUSH the speed trap as I bounced it off some log jams. But, it ran right at the boat and pulled off. It could be the combination of a smart small mouth and dull hooks. It was the biggest fish I had felt all day. For all I know, it was the one we needed. But, what you gonna do? Straighten your cap and make another throw. That's what you do. 

With 1 hour until weigh in, I decided that I would put the speed trap down and go big. After all, the 3 largest fish we had came off the A-rig that Brad had been throwing. I hadn't throw the A-rig all day, instead throwing a mixture of the Spro and Speed Trap. The speed trap had produced all the numbers for us, pacing the day with around 15 catches. The Spro Little John had another 3, but all those catches had come off of main river contour breaks, which we would not be fishing. So, I picked up the A-rig. 

Not to spoil it, but I didn't catch anything on it. Brad did catch another smallie, which was slightly heavier than our smallest largemouth at 2 pounds even. I had guessed we had right at 16 pounds. Again, the issue wasn't that I didn't think it was enough, but that someone had caught 2 monsters to our 1. You can sure make up a lot of ground with 2 5+ pound fish. We spent that last hour looking for it, but to no avail. 

So, it was off to weigh in. May of the boats had weighed in already, and I spent much of my time talking to some of my friends whom I know from the fishing community who also fish this club. From what I gathered, everyone caught at least a few fish, but quality fish were hard to come by,The first bag I saw weighed in was over 18. The second was 15 and change. At that point, I just shrugged and figured EVERYONE caught them good. The last bag I saw weighed was Taylor's and it was also over 18 pounds. Ours went 15.97 and I figured we were just out of the money. That really didn't bother me. I don't like losing, but we caught a lot of fish and it was a pleasurable day. There wasn't much to complain about. 

And, I was honestly surprised when we made 3rd place. The weights were 18.39, 18.22 and then our 16 pounds. After that, there was a 15 pound bag, 2 13 pound bags and then nothing. That being said, I was really surprised that there were multiple large fish caught. There were at least 8 fish over 5 caught and the big fish was over 6! 

So, we won a little cash, which is better than no cash. I only lost 1 crankbait, which is always a win in my book. It was easily the best day I have had this year. Even if we didn't win, I would be smiling ear to ear. Wilson continues to produce for me, even when I don't fish the things I typically fish. 

My crankbaits, on the other hand, did take a beating.