The first tournament of the year is in the books. Overall pre-fishing went well and the weather was unbelievable. Now it was time to see if we could we could execute our plan!
Our hopes were high as we waited for takeoff in the fog. The temperature was in the upper 40's at takeoff which was cooler than it had been but still well above normal for this time of year. The water was up slightly with increased current. Isolated storms had hit up river on Friday which added debris and muddied the water. By Illinois River standards in the spring the river was still in great shape.
We were boat 66 and headed down river which is where most boats headed. We set up on the downstream side of a flat that is about a mile long. This area was no secret with almost half of the field fishing this area. We were prepared for company and hoped that we could fish inside the majority of the boats. We immediately caught fish as we trolled lead core in and out of boats. By the end of our first pass we had 3 keepers but nothing of any significance.
On our second pass we caught our biggest fish of the day, an 18-1/2" sauger that had spawned out. This was still a good fish but it really would have helped us if she was still carrying her eggs. We motored on weaving in and out of boats and caught a nice 17-1/2" sauger that was full of eggs. We were feeling pretty good at this point knowing that it was 8:30 and we had our limit. We were confident that we would be able to upgrade fish all day.
It was becoming apparent that the most productive spot was the last 200 yards of our mile run. Almost every time through this spot the story was the same, we would catch one or two and the inside rod would get hung up. Early on this was not an issue as most boats were fishing below this area. This soon would change as other boats in the area noticed we and other boats would catch one.
On our next pass everything was the same except there were more boats in this 200 yard stretch, most were jigging or using 3 ways. We were trolling in the opposite direction and going significantly faster. Like clockwork the back inside rod goes off and Mark reels in 1 16-1/2" sauger. I netted the fish when I looked up and noticed the back outside rod had a fish. Mark grabs the rod and says "good fish"! As I am working on the fish in the net the hook gets caught in the net. Mark is confirming it is a good fish and I look at the inside rod and it is in the, you know you are in the right spot, snag. Add in me trying to drive through 15 some boats and you have quite the fire drill. I get the fish and the lure out of the net, point the boat so we don't ram anyone and Mark cuts the motor. There must have been slack in the line for just a moment and the fish got off.
We had been slowing up for big fish but not stopping the motor. Mark did everything he could but with me panicking and both of trying to stay out of the way of others the fish took advantage and was gone. We will never know how big but Mark was sure it would have significantly helped us.
We continued on and the fishing slowed. We were still catching fish but not as fast or as big. It was 1:30 and we had to be back by 3. We decided to make one more pass. As usual we caught a fish in the last 200 yards but we also had two lines tangled. While Mark untangled the lines I decided to jig through the spot that was holding fish. I was fishing for maybe 2 minutes when one crushed my plastic. It wasn't huge but it was an upgrade. Unfortunately, this fish sealed our fate. Mark and I jigged through the area several times with nothing to show for our work. We were going to head to our secondary spot after our last pass but the time we spent jigging made that run impossible. This would turn out to be a big mistake.
We ended up weighing 8.73 pounds which was good for 39th place. Disappointing but, as expected, it was a crap shoot and only one team had over 12 pounds.
Day 2 was a little slower for us to start. We caught 3 keepers within 15 minutes but before and after we were struggling. It was 11 o'clock and we decided to make the run that we were going to yesterday. We setup and instantly caught a fish and ended up with 3 more keepers on the first run. The bite up river probably slowed down due to the pressure. The fish in this spot had little pressure with only a couple of boats occasionally coming through and they were on a feeding frenzy.
We ended up catching 17-20 keepers on the day, I am not for sure as it was hard to keep track. The fish were all around 17 inch females with eggs and looked like clones. If we would have come down on Saturday we would have upgraded two fish as we weighed a 16-1/4" and 16-1/2" sauger. In most tournaments that is not a big deal, in this tournament it is a really big deal. When we were waiting to weigh in I used a culling board and scale to determine our best five fish. We had two that were slightly bigger but the other seven fish in the live well were identical in weight. Oh if we could have had those two yesterday!
We ended up with almost an identical weight with 8.63 pounds and moved up to 36th which was 6 spots and less that one half of a pound out of the money. We were only a pound and a half out of the top 10. Mark is convinced and I agree that if we would have spent more time at the power plant we would have cashed a check. The fish that got off on Saturday would have probably done the same! In this tournament there are a lot of teams that have similar stories which is probably why we can't wait to do it again!
Mark and I had a blast even though we didn't do as well as we had hoped. There are a lot of characters that fish these tournaments and it is fun giving each other a hard time. We did that for sure and laughed along the way. It was great to see the sportsmanship too as there were a lot of boats fishing close to each other. All of the boats were courteous which is always great to see. I was also impressed with my new Lund 1875 Pro V. If you have ever fished lead core in a group of boats using different tactics you know how tough it can be to control the boat. I was able to slide in and out of boats using my wireless remote on the front trolling motor without a single incident. One of the great things about the Lund 1875 Pro V is it is small enough to maneuver in tight traffic yet big enough to handle big water!
Another MWC Illinois River is in the books and I can't wait for next years!
Up next, the FLW opener on the Mississippi River in Red Wing!