Sunday, June 26, 2011

AIM Mississippi River Recap

My first Anglers Insight Marketing (AIM) tournament is in the books and I had a disappointing finish, 23rd out of 31. I have had disappointing tournaments before but this one hurts more than others. After pre-fishing I thought I had a good chance at this one but my program fell apart.


I fished this tournament on my own (many anglers "team up" with other anglers to find places, presentations etc.) and I only had 4 days to pre-fish. The tournament was on the Mississippi River in Dubuque. We could fish pool 12 (Dubuque) or we could lock up to pool 11 or lock down to pool 13. That is a lot of water to cover for one guy so I had to be as efficient as possible. I had a couple of friends, with knowledge of these sections of the river, help me out.

The first day of pre-fishing, Saturday, I went down to pool 11. We set up about 8 miles south of Bellevue only to notice that my new 12 ft. lead core rod was broken. Of course, I did not have a spare in the boat and we ran back up to the boat landing to get the spare rod. Not a good sign!

After finally getting set up we hit a fish right away but not the type of fish I would need to compete so we moved on. We then headed down to Savannah. We barely set up and had an 18 inch walleye. Minutes later we caught a 17 incher. We made another pass and caught a 20-1/2 inter and a 19 incher. I was starting to feel pretty good.

We made one more pass, to get a feel for the spot and caught a 16-1/2 incher. Unfortunately, another boat saw me reeling in the fish and he immediately followed my trolling line. We immediately switched to a Dubuque rig and started to fish the upper end of the spot on a current seam. I had one crush the jig and plastic. I did not have the drag set correctly and the fish came unbuttoned. This did not bother me at all as I was pretty sure it was a big walleye. Luckily the other boat did not see that I had a fish on. We left and the other boat did shortly as well.

I was really happy with this spot and we started checking other areas. We did catch more fish but nothing of significance.

Day 2 - We decided to stay in the Dubuque pool on day 2. We really struggled to find fish. We noticed a bunch of people fishing the Steamboat Flats but I decided to stay out of there. I knew that area was going to have a bunch of tournament fisherman in there and wanted to concentrate on areas that were off of the beaten path. We ended up only catching one 24 inch walleye. I was pretty sure I was going to go down to the spot I fished the day before for the tournament so I needed a couple of places to try on my way back. This spot would be a perfect spot to try.

Day 3 - I decided to try pool 11 on Monday. I wish I could take that decision back. I should have been looking for more spots down on pool 13. We fished wing dams above Cassville and caught 3 17 inch walleyes. By noon I knew that I would not be fishing up here so we left and took the boat back down to Dubuque. Even though we did not catch a keeper I had a couple of new spots I could try on the way back on tournament day.

Day 4 - I headed back down to pool 11 to check my number one spot. My first couple of passes were unsuccessful. I was getting a little worried that the fish had left. I tried a pass further out on the flat and immediately hit a 24 inch walleye. The water had been dropping and the fish had moved out on the flat.

That was all I needed to see trolling wise so I decided to try the upper end of the current break. On one pass I caught a 22 and a 21-1/2. I immediately left feeling really really good!

I did not have a lot of time left to pre-fish as all boats had to be off of the water by 2 PM. I tried to find similar spots to the one that was producing. I hit several other spots with no luck. I stopped at a spot about 4 miles south of the dam. I barely got my dubuque rig to the bottom and caught a 27 incher. I spun on the spot and missed a fish and my buddy missed one as well. This was in less than 10 minutes. I left immediately and looked for similar spots. Unfortunately, I ran out of time but I was feeling confident.

Tournament Day 1 - The only problem with my spots is they were a long way from where we take off and I had to go through a lock system. Eight or nine boats made the long run only to find a barge in the lock. Uh-oh! We fished the rip rap just above the lock and dam with no luck unless you call a catfish luck.

We finally got through the lock and ran another 20-25 miles down to Savannah. We did not get down there until after 9, so I had little time to make it happen. To my surprise there were two tournament boats fishing the same area I was. A third one came in shortly after I started fishing. These boats were pulling three-way rigs along the flat close to shore. I started out trolling crank baits using lead core.

I caught a 16-1/2 inch walleye on my first pass. I made several other passes with nothing. It was becoming obvious the fished had moved again. The water had come up and the fish moved closer to shore. While weighing my options the three boats close to shore started killing them.

I tried my three ways on the current break I was fishing the day before. The current had picked up out there and I did not get bit. I could have swung in behind the three boats and fished the way they were fishing. Because I did not fish the line that close to shore I chose not to. In the tournament fishing world it might be called "tailpiping". I have a friend that says I am stupid for not doing it. I am not sure how the other boats would have felt. Regardless, I stand by my decision even though it cost me a chance at a good finish in this tournament.

I went back to trolling and picked up a 17-1/4 incher and then hit a 26-1/4 incher. Both of those fish came at the upper end of the flat on the current seam. This seam ended up close to shore and I had to time my run so I did not run into the other three boats as they would end up in the same spot. I did my best but ran out of time and had to head back.

No luck in the Dubuque pool so I had to settle with the 3 fish that put me in 17th place one out of the cut. The other three fishing that area were in 2nd, 4th and 7th. That is where I thought I was going to be so being in 17th was a real let down.

Day 2 - The lock was open when we got there and we got right through. Even though I only caught 3 the day before I was confident that with more time I could have a good day. Unfortunately the rising water pushed that current seam even closer to shore. I did have one on but it came off before I could even grab the ride.

Because I did not get in behind the other three on day 1 I certainly was not going to follow their pass on day 2. To make things worse a local boat came in and drifted my trolling pass broad side. I switched back up to pulling three ways but with the seam closer to shore I found my pass difficult to run. I tried to time it as best I could but I found myself right in the middle of the other boats.

I made the decision to leave to try the spots that I had found in pre-fishing. I was unable to try them the day before because I ran out of time. I knew that if I left I could not come back but I rolled the dice. Unfortunately, the rising water changed my other spots and I was unable to get anything going.

Running out of time I decided to hit every wing dam and eddy that looked good. We casted crank baits and caught a lot of fish. Unfortunately, if they were walleye they were too small. We caught just about every other species in the river it seemed but we ran out of time and went back to the launch dejected.

It turns out that I only needed about 7 pounds to make the cut. I was emotionally drained and extremely disappointed. In tournaments like this you do not get many chances to be in the "hunt", especially when you are fishing alone. I spoke with one of the best and most successful walleye fisherman of all time. He said it was a really tough tournament because he only had one other "partner" there instead of the four they normally had saying "they had missed the bite". That other fisherman is also one of the best and most successful walleye fisherman of all time. To think they missed the bite and I was on one made me feel good but it also made me realize that I let this one slip away.

I went to bed on Tuesday night thinking I would catch 25 pounds. Things went downhill from there and I never recovered. At least I know that I gave it all I had and I fished with integrity. Now it is on to Otter Tail Lake!