I recently put together a seminar that I called “Next Level Tournament Fishing.” The seminar was all about the mental side of tournament fishing, decision making and positive attitude. Ironically, one of the things that I addressed was bad weather. Bad weather tournaments are truly my favorite ones to fish. Not because I enjoy freezing, sweating, fighting off lightning bolts, or driving in six foot waves, but because much of the competition is done before the blast off ever happens. We’ve all heard the dock talk the night before…”It’s supposed to be awful tomorrow. 30mph out of the North. Thunderstorms. It’s going to be rough.” I love it. Some of my biggest wins have come under terrible conditions. So when the weather forecasters were calling for rain and 20-30 mph north winds last Saturday I felt pretty good about my chances.
I was fishing a Weekend Bass Series tournament out of Paris Landing on Kentucky Lake. I drove the Tundra to Paris early Friday morning to try to figure the bass out. The water temp was in the low 50s and huge bags had been winning all the local tournaments… I mean 25-35 pound bags. So I knew I had to get around some of those big pre-spawn females to have a shot. It took me and my friend Chris Tarpley about 4 hours to figure the pattern out, but about 11 AM we started finding them. We didn’t catch any giants, but quite a few in the 4-5 pound range. I figured I was at least around the right class of fish. Friday was picture perfect, partly cloudy, no wind at all. This kind of day is a rarity in the spring on Kentucky Lake. I knew it was supposed to get worse overnight with storms and a cold front. I just hoped that what I had figured out on Friday would hold up to the changing conditions.
When we took off on Saturday morning the wind was at about 12-15 out of the North and it was raining steadily. I made about a 25 mile run south. I won’t say it was a smooth ride, but the waves were manageable. When I arrived at my first stop there were about 2-3 rollers pushing against the current. I had to put the MotorGuide on 90% to make any headway into the wind. On Friday this spot had been loaded with bass, but all I could manage was four or five. I left about an hour later with two 3 pounders that I knew I needed to cull if I was going to have any chance. As I idled out and headed for my next stop I noticed two things: first, I was the only boat I could see anywhere braving the big waves in the middle of the lake, and second, the wind was picking up and it was only going to get worse all day.
My next stop was a creek ledge where we had caught a 3.5 and 5 pounder on Friday. I fished about fifty yards and the rod loaded up. I never felt a bite, so I kind of figured I was hung in a rope or fishing line, but then a felt a big head shake. I had to get the fish around some shallow cover so I just held the rod tip high and fought her to the boat. The fish flashed about 15 feet away and I knew it was a good one. My co-angler netted her and it looked huge. I’m bad about big-eying the bigger bass, so I just guessed it at 6 pounds and dropped her in the box. It was about 8:00AM and I had one of the five that I needed.
On the next stop, my co-angler boated a 6.5. That one hurt a little, but he was fishing completely differently than I was. It did give me some encouragement that I was around the right kind of fish. Stop four produced a 4.5 pounder and I had a limit by about 9 AM. Now the wind was starting to show her stuff. It was cranking about 20 with 15 miles to build up. About every third wave was crashing over the bow, filling the boat with water while I tried like mad to keep one foot on the front deck and one on the trolling motor.
I had been saving a spot for later in the day where I had a couple of big bites on Friday. I set the Triton down about 25 yards south and fought with the trolling motor on 100% to make it to my waypoint. When I hit the waypoint, the rod loaded. It wasn’t a big one, about three pounds, but I culled a small one. By the time I could cull and get back on the trolling motor, we had blown 50-100 yards away. I fought back into position, made one cast and hooked up again. Net, cull, back on the trolling motor and repeat. This pattern went on for about 12-15 fish in a row. Every time I’d fight my way back to my waypoint, taking waves over the bow in the knees, I’d catch one, and every time, the fish got bigger. After about 45 minutes of playing this game, I had four over four pounds and the big fish I had caught earlier. I figured I had 23-24 pounds. It was still early, so I was optimistic that I could catch two more big ones and make a run at the win.
At this point in the day, simply moving from spot to spot was no small under-taking. I spend quite a lot of time on Kentucky Lake and this was one of the roughest days I can remember. It was bumpy but my Triton handled it all well. We never speared a wave and remained dry all day. I bounced around (quite literally) from place to place and caught several more bass, but never could catch another one that helped me. To say I was disappointed with 24.70 would be a lie, but after the start I had, I was hoping for more. I figured I would be close to being able to pull out a win due to the very tough conditions, but down deep, I thought I’d come up a little short.
I came up a lot short!
First place was a tie with two boaters weighing in 29.08. Third place was my buddy Brent Anderson with 25.82. I landed in fourth. My big fish weighed 7.79 and was second biggest fish of the day. There were some tired wet dudes standing around the weigh-in line with tales of dead batteries, speared waves, and sore backs. It was definitely a challenging day, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Obviously I wasn’t the only one who fought those big waves and big bass all day.
A few pointers for the inevitable rough days like these:
- Bring an extra set of clothes. You never know when you or your partner is going to get bucked over board. I always have an extra set of rain gear on board just in case.
- Good batteries and a strong trolling motor are an absolute must! I run three 31 Odyssey batteries and I still had power to spare at the end of the day. I was amazed. Don’t skimp on batteries or trolling motors. For the few extra hundred bucks, you can catch a lot more fish on rough tournament days.
- Don’t run directly into (or with) big waves. You have to quarter into or over big waves or you will get wet, or worse.
- Use your trim. In moderate waves (2 footers), I keep my motor trimmed most of the way down. This keeps you from being airborne the whole time and cuts the waves. As the waves get bigger, you have to trim up some to keep from spearing, but too much can send you flying. Play with the trim to get the best ride.
Until next time, keep chunkin’ and windin’,
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