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Lessons Learned from a River Bass Tournament, Part 1

by: Jeff Jones 6/6/2014
Swift river bass are known to be tough customers and fast fighters.  But the Coosa River bass are not the only ones who earn that reputation.  A recent trip to fish the BASS Nation Western Divisional was a lesson in river bass fishing in combat conditions, literally gunnel-to-gunnel with other boats.

I qualified to fish on the CA BASS Nation State Team at the 2014 BASS Nation Western Divisional Tournament held May 20-23 on Noxon Rapids Reservoir, Trout Creek, MT, joining 10 other State Teams, each comprised of 12 anglers and two High School contenders.  I had a great time in a beautiful location with friendly and helpful locals that helped to make the trip one to remember.  What I did not do was catch the right fish to place well in the tournament.  But I did learn a thing or two.

Noxon Rapids Reservoir is an impoundment of the Clark Fork River in NW Montana. One end of the impoundment is difficult to run in a boat due to rapids unless you know what you are doing, but most of the lake is wide and deep with either current swept banks, slack-water areas, or a few stream fed tributary coves that flow to Noxon dam.   The event was held at the Lakeside Motel & Resort in Trout Creek, a small western town of colorful locals, hunters, fishermen, horses and mules, surrounded by snowcapped mountain tops and lush, green tall timber.

I learned several things during this tournament.  The first is one that I have learned before but can be hard to follow at times.  Listen to the voices in your head!  My head was telling me that the quality fish were those that lived along the main flow of the current and that they could be targeted by finding breaks in the flow either along the banks or caused by grass beds and humps.  Unfortunately for me this theory did not become apparent until the last day of the event when I fished with a local who targeted the type of area I should have been focused on all along.  That day I landed every bass on a custom-made 3/8 oz. Falcon Tackle black and blue jitter-jig with a green pumpkin Berkley Chigger Craw.  Using a Revo Premier reel spooled with 15- pound Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon, on a Fenwick HMG 5 ½ foot Pistol Grip rod for accurate casting, I could place the lure right on the bank and next to each rock or piece of wood that was available to break some current. Casting to the bank, most hits were immediate but a few were hanging within 8 feet of the shoreline over grass.

The second is that these bass were accustomed to changing water temps, river flows, snowmelt runoff, or any number of factors that turned their feeding activity on and off on a daily or even hourly basis.  The common report heard after the event was that while the surface temp was usually about 55-degrees each morning that when the sun got high and the temp started to move up that the active bass would turn on when the surface temp reached 57-58 -degrees, usually about 10:30 each morning and well past the halfway point of the day.

The third lesson I learned is that fishing in a crowd is not for me.  I would rather take my shots at finding a few better quality bass away from the maddening crowd than have long drawn-out conversations about life with several other boats all morning while six boats and twelve anglers cast to a spot about the size of one of our boats so we can hopefully squeak out a limit.

...continued...
The CA State Team at Noxon Rapids Reservoir for the 2014 BASS Nation Western Divisional Tournament.Ventura County Bass Club`s Kevin Sherry with a nice Noxon bass.Trout Creek, MT local across the street from Lakeside Resort.
Blog content © Jeff Jones
Jeff Jones
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