Achieving that goal is a much trickier task. You need to employ a combination of skill, determination, and sometimes a healthy dose of good luck to advance.
Taking on Unfamiliar Waters
After missing last year’s tournament on the Whitefish Chain of Lakes, I was mentally geared up for this year’s event.
I borrowed a friend’s boat and headed to Duluth for the tournament on the 8,000+ acre Island Lake Reservoir.
Island is known to be a good smallmouth bass fishery, but other than that I went into the trip not knowing much about the lake at all.
Club-mate Brandon Garrett and I arrived in Duluth around 2PM. After checking into the hotel we launched from the Abbott Road access and started to look at a few areas around there that I wanted to check out from my map research.
We started on a rocky flat and immediately started marking large schools of fish in about 13-15ft of water.
After trying to get a bite out deep for a while with no success, we decided to move up shallower.
I caught the first smallmouth of the week on a football jig with a craw trailer. It was about a 2lber so we kept fishing around there to see if there was a school.
After another hour or two without any other bites, follows or signs of fish, we both started to wonder if we were doing the right thing.
We knew smallmouths are the predominant species at Island, but we decided to check out some “slop” areas to see if we could find a largemouth.
After making only a few flips with my Halo Tube Craw (Crawdad color), I landed a nice 17” smallmouth.
Refining a Winning Pattern?
By days 3 and 4 of practice we had discovered that some type of vegetation needed to be present in order to catch fish.
Focusing on the South West part of the lake, we found success on top water baits, then following up short strikes with craws and other plastics.
Even though the final days of practice were very tough, I was able to build confidence in my pattern, and that the southwest part of the lake would where I was going to spend a majority of my tournament.
Tournament Day 1:
My day 1 partner and I got the boat launched with plenty of time to go float around before the tournament.
We got to the takeoff area and I opened up the livewells and turned on the aerators to show the tournament official that everything was in good order…only to find that it wasn’t.
The aerators would not turn on. We were dead in the water.
I tried everything I could think of with no success.
Back in the Game
I finally was allowed by the TD to go back to Duluth and borrow another club-mates boat for the tournament.
The entire process ended up costing my partner and I about 3 ½ hours.
When we finally arrived on the rocky/weedy hump I wanted to start on, I caught a nice 3lb smallmouth on my second cast with a Zara Spook. My partner quickly landed a 2lb fish immediately after that.
One hour after my first fish, I got my 2nd, another nice 3lb smallie caught on a football jig and craw trailer.
The bite turned off, so we ran few of his spots, but had no success.
We came back to the starting area and I made the same cast to the same structure as I did to catch my second fish.
I hooked up and quickly broke off on a nice fish. I felt my line and it was severely scuffed up from being hung up on rocks. It was a critical mistake to make when every fish counts.
Neither of us caught another fish for the remainder of the day. My two smallmouth on day 1 weighed in at 6.08 pounds.
Tournament Day 2:
A cold front came through for Day 2, with a strong wind blowing the entire day.
I started back on my primary area from Day 1. I was able to get two more nice 3lb smallmouth in the first hour of the tournament, and my partner got a 2lb fish.
We didn’t get any more bites there so we went to some areas that my partner wanted to try.
We buzzed all over the place and couldn’t manage another bite
Once again, we went back to the primary area that had been so good to me. I got very excited when I set the hook on a heavy fish, but slightly disappointed when I landed this toothy critter.
We headed back east and stopped on some slop spots where I caught some of those nice fish in practice. We didn’t find any smallmouth, but I did convince a couple of small largemouth to bite on a Tequila Halo Craw Tube.
We tried desperately the rest of the day to just get 1 more fish.
I ended Day 2 with 4 fish weighing 8.5lbs, giving me a two day total of 6 fish for 14.58 total lbs.
Agonizingly Close to the Top 12
This was good enough for 22nd place. Just a fish or two shy of making the coveted Top 12 cut.
Island Lake was a great challenge for 137 of MN best bassers.
There were only two anglers who were able to bring in a limit each day.
Congrats to fellow Viking Bassmaster Brandon Garret on this nice 4.87lb smallmouth on Day 2. It was the 2nd biggest bass of the day and third biggest of the tournament.