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.
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.
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.