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.
By all accounts from anglers I talked to, the practice days went very well, with willing smallmouth and largemouth bass being caught and plenty of them over the 12-inch minimum but quite a few in the 2.5 – 3.5 pound range and some bruisers in the 4’s and 5’s. Practice days were also punctuated with a few fun hours seeking out the numerous northern pike for some fast tight-line action, and/or sorting through the vast quantities of yellow perch that constantly demanded angler attention.
During practice my travel partner and I found a consistent mix of small and largemouth bass hanging tight to bluff walls over anything from 10-30 feet of depth. They would be hunkered into the cracks of the walls and would hit a black and blue jig with a green pumpkin Chigger Craw trailer on the first fall if there was a bass residing there. This became a confidence pattern that did not hold out during the event for many in the field, including me.
Once the three days of tournament fishing started several factors came into play that changed the consistent fishing during practice. The lake level began to fluctuate due to area rains, snowmelt runoff, and dam operations; it dropped more than a foot, then rose and dropped a little each day, making the fish move around and not stay put for long.
Also due to runoff, the main body of the lake began to get muddy. Each day the muddy water moved closer to the dam and turned four-foot clarity to six-inches.
The wind became a factor on spots that had been productive fishing clear water flats with light line and small baits. The wind made it difficult to maintain line control in the open water areas and to feel very light bites or distinguish perch pecks from bass mouthing a worm.
Lastly, the fishing pressure was tremendous. Local reports say a large tournament on this lake is often no more than 25 boats. This event had around 70 boats including each state team and the High School teams attending.
Fishing pressure was felt most by those with specific “community holes” or spots. One place was Doty Cove, or “the Potholes,” a small cut or cove with a long point across the front making the entrance about 50 feet wide but with 3-8 foot deep water behind it. It seemed that at the start of each day about a 3rd of the field were within shouting distance of each other at this spot. Several boats would be along the riverside edge of the point, a large group would be at the very tip of the point fishing either the point or the bank opposite the point for transitioning fish, and another group would be milling about like a coffee shop book club surrounding a single spot in the back corner of the cove.
Another area was a large shallow flat with scattered humps and grass patches. A much larger area, yet it still had specific spots targeted by several boats at the same time. Both of these areas would produce several limits when the spots were hit at the right time, but could be barren if not the right conditions or after being pounded by dozens of boats.
Angler courtesy, when it was needed most, was often non-existent in this event. The word was that there would not be any encroachment rule, meaning that boats were not required to stay a specific distance from another competitor’s boat, which a number of anglers interpreted to mean that courtesy on the water was to be ignored as well. Reports were heard every day of people repeatedly casting over another angler’s line or driving their boat across the top of the fishing spot.
The most worrisome report caused by this policy is the fact that one idiotic, self-centered and callous fool, who came upon one of the Junior Teams fishing a laydown tree that he wanted to fish, drove in on them and stated that since he had fished that laydown before then it was his, (regardless of the fact that the other boat was there first,) jumped in front of them and proceeded to catch keeper fish right in front of the Junior team. This policy really does need to be reviewed and revised by the tournament staff and is the cause of the only contentious encounters and conversations reported during the entire event.
Regardless of the discourtesy on the water, this was a fun event that I plan to attend in the future. It was my 6th or 7th western divisional tournament and each one has taught me lessons and improved my fishing. Plus the fact that I get to meet and fish with new friends from across the western states and see again friends that I’ve made over the years past.
At this event, the top finisher from each State earns a place at the BASS Nation
National Championship to be held at the Ouachita River, Monroe, Louisiana, Nov. 6-8, 2014. The contenders there will vie for a chance to make it as a BASS Nation Angler at the 2015 Bassmasters Classic!
Congratulations to Ron Welch, (Gilroy Bassmasters
,) who will represent the California BASS Nation at the National Championship, his second trip in a row as the CA State Champion. Ron was the only CA angler with a limit each day totaling 25-14 pounds to earn the spot. Good luck, Ron! Also to Dejon Lewis, (Ventura County Bass Club
,) who landed the tournament’s biggest fish and won the Carhartt Big Bass Award
with a 5-8 pound largemouth bass.