A fishing trip to Louisiana
May 12, 2014 at 8:54 PM
Since March 2012 I've gotten the chance to fullfill my boyhood dream. As you may or may not have read in last weeks inaugural blog, that dream was to become a professional bass fisherman.
To get to that point, I had to qualify through a series of three tournaments. In 2011, those tournaments took me to the James River in Virginia, the Detroit River in Michigan, and Lake Oneida in New York. After the three tournaments had concluded, I finished in 1st place out of more than 200 anglers. Competing in a fishing tournament is one of the most unique competitions out there. There are so many variables.
For this weeks blog, I will focus on my recent trip to Toledo Bend Reservoir that sits on the Texas-Louisiana border. Toledo Bend is the largest southern reservoir. Every fishery I've been to from Wisconsin to New York and Florida doesn't seem that big to me, but that's primarily because I regularly fish Lake Erie (or at least I used to). In all fairness, Toledo Bend is huge. Waves get big there. They're not like the ones that blow out of the northeast on our section of Lake Erie but I'd say it's fairly normal to see 4-6 foot waves there when it's blowing. To make navigating your boat there even more difficult, you have to keep your boat within boat lanes or you'd be at the mercy of driving your boat into a flooded submerged forest. My first time there was in 2012. I didn't have a clue how to drive my boat there. I had to idle over to a recreational fisherman and ask for some navigation assistance. Inversely, during my most recent trip, I was cruising up and down the boat lanes with ease, confidence is key.
My destination was Many, Louisiana, which is about an 18 1/2 hour drive from Fremont. I didn't leave until around 12:00 on April 26th because I had a prior commitment I didn't want to miss. That day I drove nine or ten hours until I found a Pilot gas station to rest my head for the evening. I found a great spot, right in front of a line of semi trucks and next to dumpster. I was safe! Saving money was the one thing on my mind. I walked inside the truck stop to scope the joint out before I went to bed in the back of my truck.
I've slept in my truck enough to have some crappy nights and some that were just below bearable. That night was bearable. In the morning, I went inside to brush my teeth, stared at the truck stop shower, thought about using it, decided against it, got in my truck and resumed my trip south to Louisiana. Sleeping in your truck might seem like a bit much, but when you drive until 10 or 11 p.m. and wake up super early to begin driving again, spending money on a motel seems unnecessary to me.
The rest of my drive went smooth. I arrived in Many between 4-5 that Sunday evening. My roommate on tour, Casey Scanlon, knew a guy who let us stay at his fish camp for the week. Up north we call houses on a lake where you stay cabins or a rental. Down south they're fish camps. The place we stayed was right on the lake. After I arrived, I had to run into town and get my fishing license, then head back to the fish camp to work on a few rods before it got dark. The first day of practice started in the morning.
In the tournaments I compete in, we are only allowed 2 1/2 days of practice: all day Monday and Tuesday, then a shortened day on Wednesday due to the pre tournament meeting all anglers must attend. Monday's and Tuesday's I always practice from dawn to about an hour before dusk. Early Monday started off with a major storm system pass directly over the lake. I had been watching the sky and was pretty sure I was going to hold off before I put my boat in the water.
With my boat finally in the water I had begun my search for a pattern that would give me a chance to make a top 12 finish to compete for the $100,000 top prize or the very least a top 50, so I could be guaranteed a $10,000 pay check. I planned on using topwater baits, chatterbaits, jerkbaits, squarebill crankbaits, floating worm, senko style baits and some sort of soft plastic like a Berkley Pitboss around shoreline grass. Usually by this time of the year in Louisiana a very large percentage of the bass on Toledo Bend can be found in mid depths or close to their summer time patterns. Due to the severe cold and late spring most of the country faced, a lot of the fish were still shallow, which was good because that's typically how I like to fish and consider it my strength. At the days end, I managed to catch around 10 bass but the problem was they only weighed around 12 lbs, which I knew wasn't going to be enough to cash a top 50 check. 13-14 lbs was what I figured I'd need for a top 50. I had to find bigger fish on Tuesday's practice.
On Tuesday, I put my boat in the water at the boat ramp right next to the fish camp I was staying. During practice, I wanted to fish different sections of the lake than I did the day before. Monday, I fished a lot of main lake and secondary points and the pockets that were in close proximity. I started the day off with six or seven rods on my deck and finished the day with probably twelve. Not a good sign that I found a solid pattern. My plan for Tuesday was to target the very back of two or three of the largest creeks on the lake. When I got to the back of Hausen Creek, I caught three bass in the three pound class within 45 minutes flipping a Berkley Pitboss with a 1 1/2 oz weight. Three pounders weren't great but catching five of them on Thursday and Friday would probably advance me to Saturday and the all important $10,000 check. I'd probably start on this spot if I didn't find anything better on my half day practice on Wednesday. Wednesday happened to be my worst day yet. It was very windy, which made fishing even more difficult.
The first day of the tournament brought much cooler conditions. Air temperatures dropped 15 degrees from the three previous practice days. My first spot I planned on going to was my shallow flipping spot in the back of Hausen Creek, which was probably a mistake with the cool morning but I went anyways. I stayed there until 11:30 and only landed two fishing the Pitboss. One was a three-pounder, the other only a little 15 incher. I was due back at 3:30 that day, so I figured I had four hours to get my three other fish to fill out my limit. When I returned to the check in dock I had my five fish but they weighed less than 11 pounds. I caught my other three on a weightless senko style bait.
Day two I was due back in at 3 p.m.. This day I went to a spot I knew I could catch a limit fairly quick. By 8:15, I had caught my limit on the senko, but they only weighed around nine pounds. After that, I raced back to my spot in the back end of Hausen Creek. With the air temperature getting back to what it was in practice, I was hoping those fish would turn on again. After fishing through my best areas, I couldn't entice any bites.
The rest of day two, I cast a swim bait and cruised the banks looking for sight fish trying to find those bigger bass that I desperately needed. I came up empty handed. With a half hour remaining, I decided to finish the day close to the check in area. Using my Humminbird electronics, I found a sunken brush pile with only 25 minutes left. I made one cast to it with a carolina rig and immediately caught a five pounder. Four casts later, I had another one pull off that was just as big and then 10 casts later had a three and half pounder surge towards the surface and get off. I couldn't believe what was happening! Time was up, I had to make my 3:00 check in. Day two I weighed in over 13 pounds, and had a two day total of almost 24 pounds. Just under 30 pounds was needed to make the day three cut. Those two fish I lost would have probably made the difference. Devastated is an understatement of how I felt with losing those fish and my 82nd place finish.
The next morning, I packed everything up to leave the fish camp, but I had to know how many fish were on that spot, so I put my boat back in the water and caught three fish for 15 pounds in a half hour. If I only would have had an hour on that spot the day before I would have probably made a huge jump in the standings and made the cut.
One of the biggest things that makes the best tournament anglers or fisherman in general so good is their ability to make good decisions quickly. Nice rods and all the best tackle help, but it's not nearly as important as the decisions you make within an eight-hour tournament day.