One of the reasons I look forward to the MWC IL River opener is it means I am usually breaking in a new boat. This year I went with the Lund Pro-V 1975 with a Mercury Verado 225. I dropped it in the water for the first time the week before, March 16, the tournament started. I absolutely love this boat as it is not too big and yet not to small.
The boat ran beautifully and am I ever glad I went with the full windshield. The weather was horrible all week with several days that did not get above 32 degrees. There were two days that the wind chill was below zero degrees when I went on the water with winds of 20-30 MPH and gusts that were even higher. To say the least it was miserable but the full windshield allowed for as comfortable of a ride as I could get.
The river had dropped about 5 feet and was at flood stage with water temperatures of around 40 degrees. The first two days of pre-fishing I was able to find some male saugers that were willing to cooperate. It took me a little while to slow down enough to get them to bite but I adjusted and was starting to put together a pattern. Now I had to find where the female saugers were hiding.
The weather took a turn for the worse on Tuesday and Wednesday. There were only 10-15 boats that fished those days and after a few hours of no luck I was wondering why I was fishing in 30 mile an hour winds with temperatures below freezing. On Tuesday I checked out some areas south of Hennepin but all I found were asian carp and dirty water as you can see in the picture below.
I kept checking spots and I was rewarded for sticking it out. I found a down river area that was holding nice fish, tournament winning fish. I ended up catching 10 fish on Tuesday in two passes, all females.
Thursday the weather was a little nicer and most of the field was back on the water. I continued to look for additional spots and caught a couple of nice fish at the clam beds and then headed up to the Peru Flats. I made one pass and caught 4 nice females and 1 male. I thought I had this thing figured out. I was trolling rapala's really slow upstream. What was encouraging is I started to catch them on the number 9 floaters when earlier in the week I was only catching them on number 5's. I thought they were getting more aggressive and the bite would be on for the weekend!
There was a lot of grumbling about how bad the bite was. I was feeling pretty good as I had put in the time all week when many stayed in bed. I gained even more confidence when Shooter joined me Friday morning. We went to my down river spot and we caught two 19 inchers in less than 20 minutes. The two pictures below weren't the best as we were trying to keep these fish out of sight from other boats but I can assure you they were both nice, 19 inch females.
We were able to keep the first fish out of sight. However, a boat saw us catch the second fish. I get a kick out of some of these guys. As soon as the boat saw we had a fish he immediately changed course and got right next to our boat watching our every move. He got so close our rods were almost touching as we both trolled up river. I probably should have said something but I decided to ignore his bad etiquette. I guess that is what he had to do seeing as he didn't want to fish in the cold on Tuesday and Wednesday. We headed up river and were only able to catch one more fish. The water got real dirty but I was confident that it would clear up over night and we would be fine.
Tournament - Day 1
The weather actually was pretty nice as we made our run down river. There were 25-30 boats fishing the stretch of river we targeted. We saw a couple of fish caught trolling early but it became apparent early that the jig bite was picking up. We made three passes with no fish and saw maybe 10 fish caught with most caught jigging. The river had been slowly dropping all week and visibility was better than it had been all week. In my opinion I thought there should have been more fish caught so I assumed that the fish had left so we headed up to the Peru Flats. I was a little nervous but I thought for sure that we could catch fish on the flats.
Wrong again, that is what I get for thinking. We made two long passes with no luck. Even more concerning was the fact that we didn't see a fish caught and there were a ton of boats fishing the same area. Uh-Oh, scramble time. I decided to head back down river, at least we saw fish caught there. We tried trolling with no luck and only saw one more fish caught, jigging. We then switched over to vertical jigging and went to work. We tried numerous spots and we did not get a single bite.
Our day was over and for the first time, other than 2007 when only 4 fish were caught out of 200 boats, we didn't weigh a fish. I felt a little better that nearly half of the field zeroed and there was only one or two limits caught with a measly 8 pounds plus winning. Wow! I knew the bite was tough but I never expected to see numbers like that!
Tournament - Day 2
We decided to head down river again but this time we were committed to jigging. It was clear that the pattern I was on had all but died and the jig bite was the answer. On our first drift down river Shooter hooked into a 16-1/2 incher. That was the only fish we saw caught there and around 10:00 we headed up river and started hopping spots. We did not get another bite until we got to the upper end of the flats. We caught several small fish and I caught 16 and a 17-1/2" sauger on consecutive drifts and that was it for the day.
We ended up finishing in the middle of the pack with 3 fish that weighed 5-07 pounds. There were more fish caught on day 2 and the winners jigged up a nice limit to end with a little over 18 pounds.
In the end I stuck to my trolling pattern too long. The river dropped and cleared up which pulled the fish off of the flats and into the middle of the channel. I don't think the bite was better on day 2 than day 1. I just think it took the field a while to find where the fish had moved. Looking back I should have got the jig rods out sooner and headed into the middle of the channel. Unfortunately, Monday morning quarterbacking doesn't work. I can only learn from the experience and apply what I learned the next time I experience a similar situation.
Next stop is my favorite, Red Wing, MN, on the Mississippi River for the Cabelas National Walleye Tour at the end of April. Updates to follow!