Saturday, Bill and I hit the water for the Stokes County Mental Health Association Bass Fishing Tournament. The event drew about 70 boats from across North Carolina and Virginia. We were enticed by the fairly high purse and our growing knowledge of Belews Lake - where the tournament is annually held. The story goes like this....
We started honing in on the lake early, practicing about 3 weeks in advance. Since Belews is a power plant lake, fish have been in pre-spawn mode for some time. However, they also spawn for a much longer period of time than normal lakes and sure enough, we found fish on beds in mid-February. However, they were not bigger females, so targeting bedders was not part of our plan.
Our first day out, we filled out a nice 8 fish limit including a few fish around 3 lbs. We felt good about our pattern, especially because that practice day was a Saturday and there were 3 tournaments on the lake that day, so it kind of mimicked an actual tournament in terms of boat traffic, commonly fished areas, etc.
The next weekend, Bill found a couple other strong patterns, including a good jerkbait bite. He was getting quantity and decent quality from that bite, so when we went for our final practice day early last week, we started with jerkbaits. Sure enough, the bite was there and we had 8 keepers within 3 hours. We also caught fish flipping wood, throwing a shakey head on deep transition banks, and on topwater in the morning. Based on all of our practice, we had plans A through C. These plans also considered the predicted weather and wind patterns. Then tournament day came....
Tournament day arrived and everything looked perfect....except the weather was going to throw us for a major loop. The forecasted wind of 10-15 MPH was non-existent and the fish just weren't active in our areas early. We waited, seeing fish on the graph, but the wind still did not come. We tried going shallow to wait it out and Bill hooked a solid keeper on his first flip of the day to get us on the board. Next I caught one a shakey head in a creek channel and things were looking up a bit. But by 11 AM there was still almost no wind and we knew that was a killer for our areas. We headed for the back of a creek with a beaver dam and started throwing plastics at the dam and on points. I hooked a small keeper on a point followed by a short fish in the channel. Then, suddenly, the wind picked up. We ran back to our main area. And in that 5 minute run, the wind had again died. We waited, hoping the gust was a sign of things to come, but the wind was not our friend. It did start to blow, slowly, swirling out of the northwest...the one direction it did not hit our two main areas. It had been predicted from the west and southwest nearly all week.
So, we strategized and ran to one of our favorite areas on the lake. 30 minutes and zero bites later, we moved again. At our next stop, Bill quickly caught a keeper on a Carolina-rig before another boat roared in and cut us off. A little frustrated, we headed to another area and I hooked into a solid keeper on a shakey head.
About this time, the sun started to come out and we hoped it would draw even more fish shallow. We headed back to our main areas to work on the suspended fish we were marking. I started chucking my A-rig and got a bite, but not a hook-up. I have heard all sorts of things about the A-rig and my conclusion is that I like it. It actually was less of a mess than I expected. I threw it on my Carolina Custom Rods A-rig/swimbait rod with a Abu Garcia Revo Toro. The only downside is that you really have to use braid...and I hate braid. Anyway, we had another fish slash at a jerkbait and that was about it. That seemed to be the theme for the day as it just didn't get windy enough for the fish to commit to the jerkbait - they either followed or slashed.
Time was running out and things were looking bleak. But there was no last minute tournament magic for us this week. In fact, it got even worse. In the last hour and a half of the day, I lost a fish on a shakey head and what felt like a small fish on a Deep Creek Sink & Catch worm. Bill had a solid fish nail his jerkbait and break his line at the boat and had another hit the bait, but not get hooked. We ended the day with 5 keepers (out of 8) and about as many short fish. None of our fish were over 3 lbs and one squeaked to the 14 inch mark. It was frustrating, knowing that throughout the day we had missed out on at least 3 keepers that were all solid fish due to a mix of poor execution and bad luck.
At the dock, we felt a little better after hearing a lot of boats return with fewer fish than us, but there were some very nice bags caught as well. We ended up somewhere in the middle of the pack and knew that we should/could have done much better. It was rough for us, having good practice days only to have all of our plans fall apart on tourney day. Maybe our downfall was sticking to the plan too much. Maybe we were fishing too shallow. Maybe we should have slowed way down. Or maybe we should have just sat on those suspended fish and thrown everything in the box at them...I'm just not sure. However, you can probably bet that next year we will be out there again competing in this great event for a great cause. Everyone treated us great and we had a lot of fun.
Duke followed suite Saturday night - going 0 for the first 10 minutes shooting the ball and looking like a rec-league team on defense. I think it is time to go look for some white bass in a nearby creek to cure my crankiness. Until next time....Tight lines!