After such a poor showing at the Potomac River, I desperately wanted to end the season on a high note, and I believed the Upper Mississippi could make that happen. I really like the waters there.
Arriving early for a Rapala media junket, I spent several days on Pool 4 north of La Crosse, Wisconsin. Fishing was good and it bolstered my confidence going into the tournament. I patterned both smallmouth and largemouth using familiar tactics and the outlook seemed good.
Soon, however, I would learn how differently Pool 4 fished compared to those designated for the competition.
On day one of practice, I started in Pool 7 — one pool north of official take-off. My first stop was in Lake Onalaska at the bottom end. There, I found an abundance of topped out grass and giant lotus pads. It looked like frog city!
It took some time, but I eventually located two good areas. Both were shallow and covered in duckweed. The fish struck a Terminator Popping Frog aggressively. I was confident they would hold until tournament time.
A few hours later, I ventured north to a backwater pond — a place where I had caught them really well in a previous event. Things looked drastically different, however, so I moved back out to the main river channel and started looking for smallmouth.
In several areas of high current, I patterned the smallies on a Rapala Skitter V topwater lure. The strikes were frequent and almost predictable. In all, I felt the day was well spent.
On day two, I put in at the official take-off point in Pool 8 then proceeded north up the Black River. To my surprise, a large percentage of the field was there as well. I jockeyed for spots between them, hoping to find something they may have overlooked … eventually settling into a small grassbed at the mouth of a creek. It was there that I got numerous bites flipping a Yamamoto Fat Baby Craw on heavy braid. But that was all I found in the Black River.
My next stop was to a backwater slough below a spillway to the west — a place heavily fished each year we come to La Crosse. Without a bite there, I moved slightly downstream and found a few quality fish by throwing a Rapala X-Rap Prop.
After that I moved to the main river channel and worked a series of current breaks until I reached Goose Pond. At that point, I moved to an open area within a large field of topped out grass and continued throwing the prop bait. I got a number of bites, but none were the quality needed to excel.
On day three, I returned to the main river channel in Pool 8 to check some wing dams. Other than finding some small keeper-size fish, it was a bust. It was time to head in and prep for the actual competition.
Having a late draw in the take-off order, I wasn’t quite sure where to start. Early that morning we received a text from BASS stating that the locks wouldn’t be clear until after 9am, so I decided to start in the Black River.
When I arrived at my best area, I found Kevin Van Dam and Aaron Martens sitting on the better parts of the grassbed. I shut down behind them and dropped the Power-Poles, then told my Marshal I thought KVD would likely leave — he’s not known for staying in one area very long.
An hour later, with Van Dam long gone, I caught my first keeper. It was a 2-pound largemouth. Another hour passed with only a few non-keepers to show for it, so I left for the lock to Pool 7.
Approximately 45 minutes later, I arrived at my best area of Lake Onalaska — a spot that had given up numerous frog bites in practice. Unfortunately, the entire field of scum and duckweed was gone. Apparently bad storms the night before had blown it away. I tried fishing the area anyway, but all I caught were pike and one small bass. I decided to move to another place nearby.
Slowly working my way along the edge of a topped-out grassbed, I plucked fish after fish using a Fat Baby Craw. Unfortunately, all were non-keepers and the day was slipping by.
Finally, around 1:30pm, I caught two decent largemouth, back to back. Shortly after, I had to leave for the lock, hoping I could finish my limit back in Pool 8.
It never happened. I was plagued with non-keepers right up until the buzzer sounded.
On day two, I decided to stay put in Pool 8. Rather than starting in the Black River, however, I elected to try the spillway area to the west. The decision paid off, as I quickly caught several largemouth, two of which would keep.
On the horizon, I could see a low, dark cloud churning in my direction. I told my Marshal it was fixing to get ugly. Moments later the wind began to gust and streaks of lightening crossed the sky. We ran for shelter beneath the I-90 bridge.
On arrival, we found a camera boat with my friend Seigo Saito aboard. I asked him who he was covering and he said tournament leader Ott DeFoe. A minute later, Ott showed up, also seeking shelter. The rain and wind pounded us to the point it looked like it might not let up, but eventually it did and we resumed our search.
Gradually working my way toward the spillway, I found Ott working one of the high-current areas — the very spot I did well in several years before. That was a bitter pill to swallow.
I moved away, telling my Marshal I had messed up. Somehow I had gotten sloppy in practice and didn’t figure out what was there. Ott did, and it was now his for the taking.
Back at the scales, I weighed the same two keepers I’d caught earlier in the day. I failed to add anything to my creel. It was another brutal tournament and I was ready for the season to be over.
Looking back, I’m not sure where I went wrong. Like several other events, I found fish only to have them disappear. Things changed, yet I didn’t change with them.
In a game of constant adjustments, I failed to adapt. Hopefully next year will be much different. Stay tuned!