Read about all of my Fishing Adventures!
Being without a boat and having two partners expecting (and having) babies.....wait....let me rephrase that.....having two fishing buddies whose wives are having babies....has made it tough to get out this year. Now, contrary to what my wife THINKS, I haven't fished THAT much this year. And, I haven't been on Pickwick all year. I LOVE Pickwick. It's always been pretty good to me. I've done decent in most tournaments on Pickwick. I've caught some nice smallies. I've had monster days catching largemouth. But, I've never put it all together in one day, and certainly not during a tournament. This would be an interesting tournament because there hasn't been MUCH current. It's been averaging about 30,000 CFS. On Pickwick, you really need 60,000 minimum to get on a smallie bite. It's late May, which means ledge fishing. And, I knew from previous trips that the better number of ledges were down river. WAAAYYY down. Like, Waterloo.
So, for a quick recap, let's look at some other trips.
Catching magnum smallies? Check out this trip with guides Brent Crow and Jimmy Mason
Finding success in tournaments on Pickwick on tough days? Well, here is one writeup
How about a tutorial on catching ledge fish?
Catching massive amounts of largemouth? How about the 3 days during the .gov furlough?
Personal Bests on light line?
But I knew that all of those aside, we would HAVE to ledge fish, and, like I said...that meant a long run. Now, our club isn't big, so there isn't any real money to be won. Josh and I had to really talk about what we wanted to do and what we wanted to accomplish. I've fished the stretch between Natchez Trace and Waterloo a good bit, and I knew some really good spots. But, anything can happen. Without the current, there was no telling if the ledge bite would even work. Not to be too cocky, but we figured we could hang around 7 Mile Island and scratch up a limit that MIGHT get a check.
But this year has been about getting better. I haven't kept it a secret to my close friends that I want to get more serious about tournament fishing. I'm not in that class of fisherman,but I am competitive. And, if we (collectively) want to get to that point, we have to quit taking the easy way. We have to learn to do things the winning fisherman do. In this case, that means make long runs, use electronics, and fish off shore for those 5 bites, even if that means a chance that it takes all day to get those 5. And, most importantly, we have to accept the chance of failure when trying to win instead of hanging around not to lose. Make sense?
So, that's what we decided. We would run the 25 miles from McFarland to Waterloo. I had a place that was fairly unique that I know holds shallow fish and we would get a quick limit. Then, we would spend the next hour idling ledges looking for fish. Only AFTER we found fish would we pick up a rod.
So, I got up at 2:45 and drove to meet Josh on the way. We were supposed to meet at 3:30. At 3:35 he wasn't there, so I texted. At 3:45 I knew we had a problem. It wasn't a surprise. He has a 2 week old baby. I've been there. And, I didn't want to call him for risk of getting on his baby momma bad side. At 4, I had to do it. And, it was a good thing, His alarm hadn't gone off and he was on his way.
We were only about 30 minutes late to blast off, which put us an hour between being late and making the run before we ever picked up a rod. It didn't really bother me, because I had noted via the TVA app that they had spooled the turbines up around 6 from 25K CFS to 40. And, I suspected it would keep getting higher. It would take a few hours for that current to make its way to us, so as along as we found the fish before then, we would be ok.
In the meantime, I had him stop short of the Natchez Trace bridge at what I call a "hard placement." Those are man-made structures. In my opinion, hard placements offer permanent cover that are unaffected, as laydowns can be, by current and weather. In this case, places like barge tie ups, pump houses, and rip rap banks.
John and I had fished this place several times and I knew it held good smallmouth when the current was rolling and it held largemouth in the various eddies. John and I had always fished on fairly deep, but Josh and I were having bites shallow. Like, so shallow that we would make casts with cranks all the way to the bank (sometimes ON the bank) and when we would pull the slack out, there would be a fish on the line already. While he threw a top water plug, I threw a Spro Little John MD. Our first casts were made at 6:30. By 7:30 we had a small limit and had even culled once or twice. By the time I caught my 5th fish, I realized that I hadn't caught them on the same bait twice. I caught them on the Spro, a Strike King 6XD, a Pop-R, and a PTL worm. But, as I settled on one bait, the Spro was easily the go-to. Not only were they eating it, but it's easy to cast and easy to pull. It doesn't wear you out.
The bites were plentiful.
The main issue was that neither of us had fished clean to that point. We had lost a combined 4 or 5 measuring fish, two of which would have probably made the final count. I was failing to really lay into the fish hitting the crank bait and I played them too long. Josh was having the fish hit the back hook of his crank, and they were throwing the bait.
We knew that if we were catching them, so was everyone else. A 9 pound limit wasn't going to cut it. We had to go after big fish.
But we had a limit, and for us, that's been 99% of the battle in the last year. After making a second pass without catching a significantly larger fish than what we already had, we decided to get on the ledges. I did a final count using the GoPro and we have 10 or 11 fish on video from that first spot. I know that I lost 2 or 3 and so did Josh. But, we figured it was time to move on.
Josh recently purchased a new Lowerance HDS-7 and has spent a ton of time learning how to use it. I had done the same with my Humminbird last year, as you can read below.
We really started putting it to use this month as the fish have all pushed to the ledges. We wanted to build on what we had done on Wheeler just a week ago, which you can read about here:
We idled for a good bit. A fish here. Two fish there. A bait ball or two. But, nothing really exhibited what we were looking for. We want to see fish on the bottom, preferably on the ledge in groups of 3 or more and adjacent to either a channel switchback and/or stumps and rocks.
Eventually we found just that. On the backside of an underwater hump, on the river ledge, where a group of stumps. On those stumps (and adjacent to them) were distinct arches on the bottom. In my experience, that's just what you want.
We made a few casts, me with the Spro DD and Josh with a combination of ledge busting plastics. I quickly located the stumps with the crank. Crawling the bait through the stumps resulted in a quick bite from a smallmouth. Then, a largemouth that threw the bait. As mad as I was, I knew we were on to them.
We both sat back for a second and collecting ourselves. We knew this was when we needed to fish clean. We knew the fish were here, but not in enough numbers to be a slugfest. We might get 5. We might get 10. But we needed to get each and every one of them in the boat
So, we went to work. And the rain came.
Luckily the rain wasn't too bad. In fact, it was quite pleasant. And, it triggered a great flurry!
Catch fish. Cull. Catch fish. Cull. One after another, most of the original limit was tossed back in the drink, even two at a time as Josh and I doubled up.
The problem was that we weren't catching pigs. Most of them were between 2 and 2 .5 pounds. The culls were in ounces.
Josh finally got the bite we needed on a crank . I dropped my stick and grabbed the net, laying on the front deck to net this slob. Jumped once and we saw what we wanted to see. A 5 pounder.
About 5 feet from the boat it jumped again and threw the crank right back at my face.
The bite died with that fish.
We headed down river hitting a few other ledges I knew about. Two were misses. One had a few bites for us on back to back casts, including a nice 3 pounder that I hooked up with on a PTL 7" Finicky Tickler. Normally plastic bites stay hooked up....but this one came unbuttoned some how. This fish didn't even jump. Just came up to the boat, looked at me, and spit the worm back out.
By this point, every single ledge had boats lined up on it. Something that I hadn't seen on this lake in the 5 times I fished this stretch. In fact, this was the most boats I had EVER seen on Pickwick. We fished behind someone on every stop.
So, we thought about it...and decided to go back to our first ledge. No one had been fishing that stretch. That was mostly because the hump itself didn't show up on GPS because it was so small. You REALLY had to zoom in on it to find it.
Up the river we went.
The bites slowed dramatically. We left the cranks and went to plastic baits exclusively. After an hour, Josh said it would be his last cast and we would start back up river. After all, we had about 200 extra pounds of water, a 20MPH headwind and a long way to go.
He made the cast and as he brought in the slack, it got heavy on him. After trying to feel the bottom for a few seconds, he decided that it probably wasn't grass or something else fouling his bait...so he went with the homerun swing and connected!
We netted our big fish for the day, an instant 2 pound upgrade.
We had 5 really nice fish that we had guessed were around 15 pounds.
Back up the river we went...this time all the way up.
We were lucky enough to win, though everyone found fish. In fact, every boat weighed in a limit. The funny thing is, our 15 pounds we THOUGHT we had was actually 12. Turns out, post-spawn fish don't weigh much. WHO KNEW.
It was a terrific trip! I sure wish we came back with 20+ pounds, but we didn't. We did catch a lot of quality fish, just nothing over 3.5 pounds! All told, we caught slightly over 20 fish total. The majority on Spro cranks and big worms.