Saturday, June 8, 2013

Southern Open on Coosa River

The third Bassmaster Southern Open tournament of 2013 was held on Alabama's Logan Martin in Pell City. It was a another amazing event with water levels constantly changing.  Wow, were Coosa River spotted bass fun to catch!
Photo by BASS: James Overstreet
I missed several opportunities to do better during this event and it cost me with a 120th place finish.  Despite the poor showing, I still had the best season of my career. While not satisfied with my performance this year, I will accept the fact that 2013 was the pinnacle of my professional bass fishing career.  

Here is how Logan Martin fished:
Heavy rains during the weeks leading up to the tournament brought the water up six-feet above full pool. My initial campground was under water when I arrived on Sunday for my first day of practice so I had to scrabble and find another campground. I've learned to keep a list of all the local campgrounds and hotels for just such an emergency.  
With the high water brought muddy conditions and lots of floating debris.  The bass were trying to spawn in the 68F degree water temperatures and spawning beds were common in the shallow, backwater areas.  Largemouth bass were easily located in water two feet deep along the shorelines of coves using topwater, spinnerbaits, and soft plastic creature baits.

Aquatic vegetation grew along the shorelines and submersed plants grew in the quite coves of several creeks. Still, largemouth bass over four pounds proved to be elusive and not feeding well.

Spotted bass were doing what they do, schooling along main points of the Coosa River and in coves.  Topwater, jerkbaits, and crankbaits got plenty of bites during practice from one pound spots.
Coosa River spotted bass (Micropterus punctulatus)

Typical schools of bass fry in the shallow water creeks
By Wednesday I had two areas that held good bass, Rabbit Cove and Clearwater Creek.  They were a fifteen minute run from the launch site so I needed an early boat draw to allow me to reach my fish before the other anglers. As luck would have it, my boat number for day one was 38.

My practice weather had sunny and light winds so on tournament day it was, obviously, it was overcast.  The water management agency had lowered the lake about one foot overnight in anticipation for rain. I was able to overcome the weather change but the lower water started re-positioning the shad.  The spotted bass were roaming more over deep water (40ft) and not bunched as much up on points.  I found a good cadence for my jerkbait that caught several spots, just no big ones.  With no keepers in my livewell by mid-morning, I made a move to fish for shallow-water largemouth bass.

I motored to my best creek and quickly caught three keepers on a speed worm.  Water that was once three feet deep in practice was now only two feet deep.  While the overcast conditions kept the bass shallow, the fish instinctively knew to swim to deeper water to avoid being left stranded on dry ground. In addition, a local angler was enjoying a day of bass fishing and was doing a real good job of catching all the bass I located. So much for un-pressured fish...but wait...I saw a bass chasing bait shallow.  I threw a soft plastic fluke to the where the bait fish were jumping and a good bass eats the lure in one foot of water.  I set the hook but the plastic balled up on the hook and prevented me from getting a good hook set.  I quickly picked up my xrap hard jerkbait with three treble hooks and work the area.  Just when I was about to lift the lure out of the water for another cast, a largemouth bass about four pounds hits my lure.  I immediately noticed it hit the last hook, and just barely at that. I gently tried to play the fish but the skin-hooked bass easily surged and got away. Ouch, I knew that was going to cost me in this event.

By noon I had enough of the shallow water and decided to spend the rest of the day in deep water trying to catch the three pound spotted bass I had found in practice.  The first pass on my main point in Rabbit Cove produced two nice keeper Coosa spots that gave me my limit.  While a limit felt good, I was targeting larger bass and thought of my small limit as only by-catch.

Live blog post on 
BASS was testing out a new blog during the Open events, so my co-angler snapped a picture of my first Coosa spot in the tournament for the live blog.

I culled by ounces the rest of the day and ended with a total of five bass weighing 8.4 pounds, good for 119th place (out of 164).  I was miserable.  The four-pound bass I lost would have put me in the top 50.

BASS tournament organizers flip boat numbers on the second day to make it fair to everyone.  Since I launched early on day one, I could expect to launch late on day two.  My number ended up being boat 127, in the 9th flight.  But that wasn't the bad part of the day.  The bad part was the water was down nearly two feet overnight due to heavy rains expected in the evening of day two. That was going to hurt my shallow water bite.

I ran to the deeper spotted bass points to try and get an early bite while the water was flowing.  Spotted bass were eating, and I had a small limit within the hour on my jerkbait.  Thinking I need big largemouth bass to climb up in the standings, I moved back into my shallow water creek.  The fish had left, and I didn't catch a single largemouth big enough to cull the spotted bass I had in my livewell.  Not having time to relocate the largemouth, I started fishing every point for spotted bass on the way out of the creek. I was rewarded with a nice 2.5 pound spotted bass and a few two pounders.  Still, I knew my small limit would not help.  I fished as hard as I could trying to relocate the shad and my three pound spots but I never did.

In hind sight, the items I did not fish in my cove were two marinas.  And wouldn't you know it, the eventual winner of the event, David Kilgore, found his bass feeding on shad that have moved to those marinas.  The overcast apparently put the shad in the mood to spawn, and the only thing in the cove to spawn on was the floating docks.  I learned a valuable lesson.

My second day ended with almost the exact same weight for five fish, 8.5 lbs. The 120th place I earned was the worst of my season and pulled my overall Angler-of-the-Year (AOY) ranking from 12th to 28th. When I get focused in my tournament mindset, nothing but a win is acceptable, and I was very disappointed while driving back to Florida and reflecting on my performance.  I continue to achieve my goal of improving my fishing skills, but that does not remove the sting of knowing that I could have done better.

Now that the event is over and I had time to put it into perspective, I feel proud about a 28th AOY finish in the Southern Open level of the Bassmasters tournament trail!

I learned a lot this year and beat some prominent Elite tour professionals along the way. I walked away from the Alabama event with the best fishing season of my professional career and I already look forward to starting the 2014 season.  

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