Sunday, April 10, 2011

MWC IL River - What Went Wrong

After spending the previous weekend and the two days prior to the MWC IL River tournament, Shooter and I felt we had a good shot at winning the tournament. We knew it was going to be a shootout due to the excellent water conditions and the lack of bigger fish being caught. If the fish we were catching on Thursday were still there we were going to be in the mix!

Saturday was a raw, cold, day with east winds gusting to 30 mph. Our plan was to hit our big fish spots with the number one spot being the Peru flats. I was a little nervous that there would be a ton of boats as I noticed several were fishing there on Friday. As we pulled up to our spot I was shocked to see that no one was fishing the flats. This could only mean one of two things, one we have the spot to ourselves and we are going to win this thing or the fish have moved on.

Unfortunately, it was the latter. We spent 3 hours jigging and trolling crankbaits. There were plenty of fish there, the problem was the big females were gone. We quickly caught our limit and began sorting but we caught nothing over 16". That is what happens when fishing rivers in general, especially in the spring, here today, gone tomorrow! We went shallow, deep, slower and faster but we could not find them. We decided we had to move as you cannot win the tournament on day 1 but you certainly can lose it!

We then went to plan B, a spot the locals call Auggies which was close to our first spot. This was a hardly a secret spot as there were fifteen boats, or so, fishing the tight break. Again, we caught plenty of fish but nothing that was going to help us win so we packed up and headed to the clam beds.

In most years, the clam beds are going to hold big sauger, especially when the river is in good shape. The IWT tournament was won the week before in the clam beds and it was sure to be a player. We rounded the corner to see an armada of boats fishing from the high  wires all the way down past the power plant on both sides of the river. This area was getting pounded to say the least but we knew all of the boats were down there because big fish were there.

The action was not fast and furious but we did manage to catch about 2 fish every jigging pass. They were all female sauger, none were huge but we did manage to upgrade all of our fish in just 3 passes. We were in the right area as we would go right by the eventual winner as he was trolling upstream and we were jigging downstream. We did not see a lot of fish caught so I am not sure if the big fish were caught early or not or if trolling was producing the bigger fish. Regardless we needed a "kicker" fish so we left with about an hour to go and ran back up the flats hoping that the big fish moved in.

No luck as we continued to catch fish but nothing to help us. We headed in very disappointed knowing that we would need a huge Sunday. We ended up weighing 8.93 pounds which put us in the bottom one third of the field. The good news was, as we thought, it was a shootout and only a couple of pounds separated us from the top 20.

Day 2 - We decided to change it up on Sunday and cover as much water as possible hoping that we would find that "kicker" fish. We decided to run all the way up to Utica to fish the spot where my buddy Mark caught a kicker walleye on Friday. If I had to do it all over again I would not have made the run. I hate fishing up there because you know there will be a ton of boats and a ton of smaller fish. Plenty of tournaments have been won up there and big fish are always caught. However, it is hard to catch them two days in a row up there as the  big fish seem to be on the move.

The steep break where we had caught them on Friday still held fish but not as many. We easily caught our limit in the first hour but nothing of any size. By looking at all of the boats it looked like a good number of the fish had moved to the other side of the river. Probably caused by the river level going down. We didn't check it out and headed back down river to the flats.

We set up on the flats and started smoking them. The good news is some bigger female saugers had moved back in. We were catching them like crazy with doubles being common. The problem was they were all in the 17" range. We kept hoping and hoping that if we put in our time we were bound to catch a big fish. No cigar, after about 3 hours the bite died so we headed back down to the clam beds to see if we could upgrade.

Again we caught fish but nothing to help us as the fishing pressure seemed to be taking its toll. We thought our best chance was to head back to the flats and hope. To my surprise, when I turned the key to my Verado nothing happened. Uh Oh! The battery was dead. I had a problem the Saturday before the tournament due to a wiring issue. I fixed that issue, what now? We didn't have time to worry about that as we were floating down a working river with barges and a ton of fishing boats.

The only thing we could do was to switch the leads from the Verado battery to the kicker battery. It was a big pain but we were lucky enough to get it done without incident. Luckily the boats that we almost floated into understood we were without power and avoided us as we floated down river. It turned out the brand new battery was bad and was not holding a charge.

We headed back up to the flats and we started smoking them right away. We did upgrade a couple of fish but our biggest for the day was only 17-3/4". We headed in and ended up having a better day weighing over 10 lbs. That moved us up to 52nd place out of 123. The sad part is we were only one good fish away from placing in the money.

I was disappointed to say the least but I can't complain about the fishing. It was awesome we just could not catch the "kicker". There were lessons learned that I can use in the future. I love fishing this river and still think I will have my day it is just going to have to wait! I am already looking forward to the 2012 MWC!

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