FLW Stren Series – Central Division
Tenn-Tom Waterway, Mississippi
June 6 to 9, 2007
I have fished the Tenn-Tom Waterway several years ago in March. The conditions should be similar to other river systems in the summer pattern. Smaller fish in the river and the backwaters should be home to the larger fish. Problem is the backwaters fish win the event but are unpredictable and harder to find. That’s why they get big because they are very smart. Current will always be a factor. The key is to find a way to catch a limit quick then head to the backwaters for the big bite.
Practice Day One:
After driving all night and arriving in Aberdeen at 2:30AM, I caught a couple hours of sleep and was ready to hit the water. I launched the Skeeter 20i into the stump filled Aberdeen Pool and started fishing the area near the launch. As I approach a small bayou (backwater) I noticed the current was flowing good (A great sign for finding active fish). I picked up a Kicker Kraw and started punching the shore line mat and immediately caught a solid 13” fish. As I neared a bottle neck from the backwater I picked up my Black Market Balsa 2 and started working the Cypress Trees and Stumps and caught a 3 pound class fish. A very solid river bass and just what I need to find. I fished into the bayou a little to check the depth and hooked up on another solid fish in the 4 pound class. That was enough to let me know they were there. I moved to several other areas near the Lock and Dam. I caught a few small fish but nothing that was real exciting. I loved up the pool and headed into a creek that contained some deeper water. I fished shallow with no luck then began cranking the deeper trees with a BMB and immediately caught a very nice fish in the 5 pound class that was suspended in the trees. I moved up the creeks aways to see if the pattern was consistent and within a few cast hooked up with another solid 4 pounder that was suspended. Now this is getting exciting! These fish are just like I attack them back home of Truman when they suspend in the trees. This is the class of fish that win events. I was sitting in 28th place headed into this event a strong finish could really move me forward in my quest to make the championship. I continued on to several other areas and to expand my pattern. Just about everywhere I could find the right mix of trees, depth, bait and fry; I could get at least one solid bite. I feel these bass were guarding fry. As the sun began to drop on the horizon I headed south to Columbus in search of a room and to prepare for day two. Plus I had to meet David McCormick to pick up a special delivery from David Ryan – some new prototypes he’d been working on.
Practice Day Two:
With a big local charity event on the Aliceville Pool below, I decided to explore the Columbus Pool. I headed up Tibbee Creek the biggest creek on the chain of available pools. It reminds me of Deepwater Creek on Truman Lake or the Upper Reaches of the Pomme Arm. Tibbee Creek is stump invested and very dangerous to run and is known locally and nationally for it’s collection of props and lower units. I adventured into the creek and quickly tied on one of the prototypes I received last night. It only took one cast and I knew this bait could be deadly! The new Black Market Slim is a thin sided but huntin’ little bait – kind of like a good bird dog flushing the covey then pickin’ out all the singles, this thing was wild – just like I like my square bills. I started working a small bay off the creek and seen a nice patch of hyacinths and flipped the Kicker Kraw around and quickly caught a couple small keepers and had one other bite. I then proceeded to check the big trees in the bay with the new BM Slim and quickly picked up a nice fish on a point. I kept running the flats and bays and kept getting bites. I caught several nice keepers but the largest was about 3 ˝ pounds.
Practice Day Three:
Today I headed to the Aliceville Pool. I head back up river to fish an area that I had success in my previous visit. I was a Rip Rap bank and I started working a 300 Bandit on the RipRap and caught a couple small keepers. I needed to find more of those special backwaters and headed south. I fish another creek mouth and caught a nice two pound fish on the BM Slim and had and bigger one follow it out. That’s good enough. Next I headed to a large backwater and started cranking logs on a channel swing bank and quickly started catching some decent keepers. But these weren’t the fish to win. I kept heading farther and farther back and found a beautiful backwater. I kept beating the trees with the BM Slim and then all of a sudden it went totally dead, was I snagged? No it was a giant Tenn-Tom special. I finally got her in the boat and she topped the Cul-M-Rite at just over 9 pounds. What a monster. I moved the boat farther around the backwater and entered another backwater and in the same type trees quickly hooked up with another giant this one weighed just under 7 pounds. I needed to find more, so I headed farther south and explored more backwaters trying to kind the secret combination. I caught several more good fish the rest of the day but it was one here and one there. It seemed the big fish were there but you had to beat lots of water to get one or two good bites. I really needed to figure out how to catch a limit quickly or find the mother lode of big ones.
Practice Day Four:
I headed back to the Columbus Pool in search of more areas to fish on the way back or to the locks or to expand my big fish bite into the Columbus Pool. The first stop was a backwater loaded with big cypress trees. I fished for about an hour with no luck then all the sudden I got hammered and this monster arose from the swamp – it looked just like the fish from yesterday. That BM Slim is amazing and how it can hunt out those big, ole Mississippi Mossbacks. I kept exploring anything that I could find or remember seeing on Google Earth that had standing timber. I could find the fish I needed to win but I really needed another solid spot like I caught them in Aberdeen quickly the first morning. But if I could entice one of these big fish each day it sure beat a limit of 12” that weigh 5 or 6 pounds. I had another unbelievable day and with one day left I needed to make a decision on my plans to win this event. Aberdeen, Columbus or Aliceville. All three pools were productive and the bite was the same. Suspended fish in the timber.
Practice Day Five:
I wanted to head back north to Aberdeen. I feel this is my best odd and least pressured area to succeed. I tried some main river areas to find some smaller fish or fish to help finish a limit if needed, but with little success. The quantity had not made the move yet. I had a couple areas I seen last night on Google Earth that looked promising. I headed into the first one and quickly hooked up a 4 pounder. I hit another small area with no success as it had little water depth. I kept hitting some other areas and could catch one here and one there. The last place I wanted to check was a creek near an area I had success on day one. I worked the area hard with the BM Slim and just about the time I was ready to give up the crank stopped like was stuck on a log- this big, ole fish jumped and splashed and finally got her in the boat she tipped the scales at just over 10 pounds. WOW! If I can just get one of those big ‘ens to bite during the derby it’s game on. With meetings tonight and some tackle to prepare it was time to head back to the room and get ready.
Tournament Day One:
I still didn’t know which way to go this morning but I felt confident any direction I could find success. As I took off and seen the boats heading to the Lock south and heading up Tibbee Creek my decision was made head north to Aberdeen today and roll the odds. As I approached the lock the worst thing that could happened face me in my eyes a barge entering the lock and I had just passed when a few miles down the river. I fished the area near the lock for a while then another boat yelled 8:30. In FLW we are allowed to use a cell phone to call the locks. I dialed the lockmaster and he said no boats till around 8:30. I fished a little then thought about it 9AM get through the lock and at the latest lock back around 1PM that only allowed about 4 hours above to fish. I ran back to a couple back waters with no success. I needed to go to Tibbee if I was going to catch some fish. It was 1PM and not a fish in the box. I quickly put a solid fish in the box on a BM Slim. Then up the river farther I went. Right near a little entrance to a small slough I hooked up on a solid 4 pounder that had the BM Slim in the gullet. That’s the way they ate it all week. I kept beating the Tibbee and I lost a big fish on a laydown log. I kept my head up and finally hooked up on my 3rd keeper a solid 12 ˝” fish. Time was running out so I took my beating for making a bad decision and headed to the weigh-in with 3 fish for a little over 7 pounds (7-07) and that placed me in 43rd place. And highly disappointed. I had a couple opportunities but the lock had killed my plans this morning.
Tournament Day Two:
Since I never made it Aberdeen and a call to the lockmaster before take-off that guaranteed a lock at 7AM and 1PM My decision was made to head north. I headed to the backwater that I had caught the fish early my first practice day. I quickly caught a solid 2 pounder. Then my co-angler caught a nice one, then another. I kept pounding the trees as he hit the opposite side. I quickly hooked up and lost a very hot fish it was a keeper but not a big one. That happens. I kept moving farther and farther back. I lost two more solid fish one hung up in a tree and another just had the jumps. The fish weren’t swallowing the bait like practice. I finally arrived all the way in the back. I was amazed at how shallow and how easily the big 20i could maneuver in only a few inches of stump and cypress knee infested water. It sure paid dividends to have that MinnKota 101 never once did I have to push pole or fire the motor to get off a stump. We just kept slippin, slidin. Rockin and rollin in the backwater. As I neared the bottle neck to the backwater I noticed current flow like earlier. I hooked up big fish on the grass point and fought it for a while it jumped and went back in to a stump and grass wad and finally came unbuttoned. That hurt. I seen a fish just a few feet away blow up on some bait and quickly through over there and hooked up on a solid 3 pounder. Just as we went to dip the fish a 5 pounder tried to get the BM Slim. That would have been awesome but the livewell was adding up. As I was putting the fish in the livewell my co-angler hooked up on and landed a 3 plus pounder. We were having a blast Mr.Bobby was a local banker and just loved to throw cranks. I fished back out of the bayou with no success. Then I thought – you never leave fish to go find fish. So I headed back in. We started fishing around again and right in the bottle neck I caught a small keeper that just cut the 12” line. We each had three and all I needed was two more solid bites. I kept beating the trees and hooked up on another solid fish that Mr. Bobby estimated around four pounds to jumps and entangled in a stump later and he was quick released back in the water. We kept pounding the backwater. The lost two more fish this round in the bayou. What had changed? I tried a regular square bill but could not get bit – these fish wanted the BM Slim but just would not eat it like practice. I hit one other area before I needed to lock back south that I caught a good fish in but with no success today. I weighted 3 today for about 6 pounds (5-11) and feel to 46th place. I was just 6 pounds from the top ten cut and needed some big fish to make a run. I had the chances today but just didn’t execute.
SideImaging View From Trolling Motor (797c2) of the Bottleneck
Tournament Day Three:
My after practice plans were to spend a day in each pool but good friend and leader Greg Bohannan had wacked a big sack in Aliceville. The last thin I wanted to do was mess up his chance to win this event. Plus I had a limit lost in Aberdeen. I just need to manage my time better and hit the big fish holes today. I ran up to Aberdeen and headed to the same bayou. I kept pounding the BM Slim and was on my toes to teach them fish a lesson. I made it through the bottle neck and halfway down the best side and not a bite. What had happened? I quickly went back to my Humminbird 997c and check the Weathersense and we were under super high pressure. I kept crankin and windin but to no luck. I kept hitting my best areas and knowing one or two bites could vault me into day four. And just one bite couple keep me where I needed to be in the points race. Something had changed and I fished hard all day but just couldn’t get the big fish to bite. Had I made the wrong decision? It’s hard to start over fresh on new water but the pools were getting beat up. I never had success in Aberdeen today. I locked back through to Columbus and the bite was the same. I hung my head low as I knew I would drop big time the limit guys could pass me. I finished in 90th place.
Post Tournament Wrap-Up:
Tournament fishing is about decisions. Making the right decision leads to higher levels of success. After reviewing this event. My number one mistake was making the wrong decisions. The decision not to contact the lock prior to traveling north the first day, the decision to locate a way to catch keeper fish vs the big fish, the decision to chase a win vs fishing for consistency. But I made a decision earlier this year to shoot for the win when given the chance. I knew in my heart that the fish that I had found in practice were of the quality to win this event. It took just 11 pounds a day to win this event and less than 10 pounds a day to make the cut. I really thought the potential was there for a 20 pound sack at least one day, or two or three or even four – if I could get the big fish to bite again. One thing for sure I found a winner in the new Black Market Slim from Dave’s Custom Baits. This bait has some very unique characteristics that I have never seen in any other bait. The thinner profile and hunting ability of this bait proved it’s potential in practice. Now I just need to teach it to perform better, when it counts on Tournament Day. Even though I had a lower than expected finish, my previous two finishes of the year were strong enough to keep me in the top 40 with the final event on Lake of the Ozarks in September. I look forward to working harder and harder and getting back on the top of my game and mastering this fishery to help me secure a top 40 spot and a trip to the $1 Millon Stren Championship in Mobile, Alabama.