Sunday, April 19, 2015

On A Roll, In The Wrong Direction

My fishing career in 2015 is trending; only it's going in the wrong direction. My placement in the second #Bassmaster Southern Open event on Alabama River was a miserable 123rd place (out of 182 pros). 

The points I earned for this event put me in 127th place (top 60%) in Angler of the Year standings. 

Even though I'm not happy with my finish, I have to take comfort in knowing that I am stil ahead of several big Elite pros. 

On the Alabama River solid rain and poor weather altered the river conditions and made the bass fishing tough. 

Normally a clear/ semi-stained river, this week we saw conditions that caused muddy water to roll down the river and flow out of backwater oxbows. 

With over four inches of rain in the watershed, the water regulators were forced to move water downstream to avoid flooding. Two hydro-electric dams on the Coosa River (Walter Bouldin and Jordan) and one on the Tallapoosa River (Thurlow) fed the Montgomery section of the Alabama River that we fished. 

When the Walter Bouldin and Jordan dams were flowing water was clear. When the Tallapoosa River flowed it brought turbid water with zero visibility.  

The further you went down stream on the Alabama River the muddier the main river became from all the backwater bays flushing in storm runoff. Erosion and collapsing river-banks were a common sight along he way. 

I found the Alabama River was rich with backwater bays and oxbows, sand bars, rock, trees, and a some aquatic water-willow. 

My practice was good for finding fish using shaking head jigs and topwater lures along the main river. I also had a good backwater pattern using lipless crankbaits and spinnerbaits around trees and wood.  These baits produced in both clear and stained waters. 

Tournament Day One:
Army Corp of Engineers lowered the water level of the Alabama River nearly two feet overnight in response to heavy rain showers. This made the fish skittish in the shallower water bays. The low river water helped drain the dirty water out of these bays and into the main river. 

Launching out as boat 171 (out of 182) I found most of my creek mouths were already taken by competitors. I managed to find one area still open and started fishing. I worked my way from the mouth into the backwater river about five feet deep.  After 30 minutes I left without a bite and moved out into the main river to fish fallen trees. I caught my first fish of the tournament, a 2lb largemouth on a shakeyhead jig. 

Next, I moved into another stained bay and caught several small bass before landing another keeper largemouth on a Redeye shad lipless crankbait. My crankbait even snagged one of the prolific Gizzard Shad back in the bay. 

Since most of my river areas were turning muddy and less productive, I made the decision to run 40 minutes up to the Coosa River near Wetumpka, AL in search of clear, flowing water. 

I found the water clarity of the Coosa River still good and quickly finished out my five bass limit on the #StrikeKing Redeye shad.  Somewhat later my coangler partner landed a 3lb spotted bass on a Spinnerbait which gave me a clue.  I switched over to a hard jerkbait and landed a 3lb bass of my own and culled a few other bass. With not much time left I headed back to weighin. My first day weight was 6lbs-8oz. 

Tournament Day Two:
This day the Army Corps did not let the water flow downstream so the Alabama River rose overnight. This added two feet of water and flooded my once visible cover.  My best areas in the Coosa River were now under water.  The heavy flow tested my ability to hold the trolling motor  against such strong currents and It was extremely difficult to hold the correct boat positioned and fish effectively. 

My first cast of the morning with a jerkbait produced a bite from a bass that looked to be about two pounds. It jumped and threw the bait back at me. I hooked and lost six more good bass before I finally landed a 2lb largemouth. 

Every stop I made I got bites on my jerkbait and lost fish. I changed out the treble hooks but still lost bass. 

A few hours into fishing and the river flow doubled in speed. I was forced to find current eddies off to the side.  When my coangler landed two bass over three pounds on a chatterbait, I switched over to my own vibrating jig. I landed my second fish of the day, a spotted bass over 3.25 lbs. I continued to search out current breaks along the river but never caught another bass. I weighed in only two bass for 5lbs, 1oz. 

They were only "show" fish: something to walk up on stage and show off. There was not enough weight to help me jump up the leader board. 

James Overstreet took my picture holding the spotted bass for the webpage.  A few other photos were taken from BASS staff and displayed as well. 

Pre-tournament research showed me the river has almost always produced the winning stringers. Having caught a small limit on the first day, I thought I found the right stuff in the Coosa River to do well the second day. However, the second day was even tougher and my execution for landing fish was the worst I've experienced in a long time. 

Only landing two bass out of more than a dozen good size bass was a horrible performance. Either my bait size, color, or cadence was off. I never figured which it was. Had I landed those fish, I would have made a nice finish and earned a good check to take home. 

I am greatful for the experience and pride myself on enduring in tough tournaments, but this year the bass are getting the best of me. 

As with most things in life, there are up and downs. You have to experience both, and I'll be glad when I get back on the upswing. 

The tournament was won by a local pro fishing the main river current breaks. His knowledge of the key breaks gave him the win. Cold rains muddied up the backwater bays and made only the river successful. 

Not always the case, but in this event local knowledge prevailed and only more practice would have given me enough options to be competitive. 

I will use this experience for my next event on Lake Seminole reservoir. Another hydroelectric system with three rivers flowing in: Chattahoochee, Spring Creek, and Flint River. 

Until next time, good luck fishing! Jeff