My 2002 Championship Win, Start to Finish, Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, Keith took us through his pre-fishing period. In part 2, he’ll cover his pre-tournament strategy, as welll as days 1 and 2 of the Championship.

Pre-Tournament Strategy

Every day during pre-fishing, while fishing our “channel break” pattern, I felt I could catch four fish in the 18 to 20 inch range. But a couple of things started “bothering” me as I tried to decide what size fish I should keep during the tournament.

First, tournament rules allowed us to bring in 4 fish to the scales. North Dakota rules allow you five fish per angler, but once you keep a fish (put it in your livewell), you can’t upgrade or “cull” it. Once you keep 5 fish you’re done for the day. In tournament lingo – 5 weigh 4.

Second, during pre-fishing two anglers could run 4 rods. During the tournament, an observer rides with me so I can only run 2 rods. Plus I have to run the motor, re-tie lines, put out lines and reel in all fish (remember 75 to 100 white bass per day). Thankfully the observer can net the fish. So all in all, I wouldn’t be able to catch fish nearly as fast as in pre-fishing once I found a school.

Third, we had real short days. The blast off (actually leaving single file, in numeric order) was at 7:30am. An hour drive down (assuming you hit no obstacles or rough water) got me fishing at 8:30am. We had to be back to the launch by 3:15pm. To be safe I figured I would have to stop fishing by about 2:00pm. That’s 5&1/2 hours of fishing. On pre-fishing days I was averaging 10 legal fish, but that was 4 rods and 9 hours of fishing.

I set my goals at 4 fish at least 16″ long (1.5 pounders), then hold out for one bigger one (ideally a 20″ – 2.5 pound). I figured 6 pounds would be an average weight, 7 pounds great – 8 pounds or more would be leading.


Tournament Day Two.
The boats go out in reverse order day two – starting with boat number 52, so I was about #49 out. That made it an easy trip down, because the boat wakes ahead of me were washing up on all the shallow areas, verifying that my Icon trail was good. Got fishing about 8:40 because the In-Fisherman film crew was waiting at the state line and a cameraman got aboard. I didn’t mind that I had to wait, because Dave the cameraman had been with me in the past and had proven to be a lucky charm. This morning was not exception. I quickly landed a 19″ and 18″ fish in the first hour. Caught a couple of 15&1/2 inchers (which I threw back) before the bite seemed to die. I dropped off Dave, and moved to the same second spot I used the day before. It produced a nice 17″ fish (in the well) and two more 15&1/2 inchers (in the water). I was on about the same pace as day one, maybe with a little less weight.

Same spot three but this time, no keepers. New spot 4 (an area Gary had gotten his limit off of day 1), no keepers and a little tension starting to build because now it was almost 1:00 and I still only had 3. I was starting to think that I should have kept one of those 15&1/2 inchers. Thankfully I was marking lots of fish in spot 4, so I decided to turn into the wind and make a quick pull through the best stretch – it paid off – kind of – I got a 14&1/2 incher (probably .9 pounds). It was small, but it was a limit and I still had an hour to try to upgrade it with a bigger one. By the way, #4 Jointed Shad Rap – Shad or Silver Shad – are the ticket again.

I quickly reeled up my lines, and ran back south 8 miles, back to the state line area. I decided that I had caught more 19 inch plus fish here than anywhere else during pre-fishing so this is where I would end my day. I made one pass – no luck. I turned around and trolled back only too meet Bill Ortiz coming through the same area I had just fished – his results were different as he netted a nice fat 18 or 19 inch fish – and easy pound and a half upgrade for me. Oh well I knew they were here. I was marking fish, and I was right in the spot I had jigged up that nice one the morning of day one, so with 20 minutes to fish, I pulled out the jigs and pounded one white bass after another. With only 5 minutes to fish, a local boat came just off my bow. They were, pulling jigs and whacked a big 20 to 22 inch keeper – I was sick – if only I had been 15 feet in front of me and I could have caught the one that might have given me another 8 pound day.

I didn’t upgrade – and worse yet, I had pushed the time envelope a little – so now it was 2:10. It was nerve racking running back, knowing that if I got stuck on a sand bar or hit a stump I would not get to weigh my fish. Thankfully everything went well and I made it back with 10 minutes to spare. Day two’s fish weighed 6.42 pounds. Not bad since both Fairbairn and Kraft weighed about the same and I maintained the .7 lead for day three.

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