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Date:11/8/2007 - 11/11/2007

FLW Stren Series Championship: Mobile-Tensaw Delta

 

FLW Stren Series Championship: Mobile-Tensaw Delta

Mobile, Alabama

November 8-11, 2007

 

Mobile Skyline from the Marsh

The Stren Series Championship is the culmination of 200 of the best anglers from across the United States that have finished in the top 40 in one of the 5 division of the Stren Series circuit. Many of the top FLW Tour pros still compete in the Stren Series and this year was no exception as over 25 full time pros qualified.

The Fishery:

The Mobile-Tensaw Delta comprises over 200,000 acres of swamp, marshes, bottom river lands plus miles of the Tombigbee and Alabama Rivers. The only off-limits is the area south of the I-10 bridge. There hundreds of miles of rivers, bayous and natural lakes and bays that can be fished. The recent drought in the area has reduced freshwater run-off in the delta and saltwater intrusion has been recorded all the way to the locks close to 100 miles up river. The saltwater has killed most of the aquatic vegetation in the lower delta which presents new challenges to the anglers.

Preparation:

 

The Basin Negro Lake Aerial View

Contour maps of the delta are non-existent, the only mapping products are drawn maps of the land and bayous or aerial photos. Exploration is the only viable means to see if you can get into the bayous, backwater and where to navigate. I spent numerous hours with the map products available looking for areas that I felt were areas that could hold fish or fit my style of fishing. The use of products like Google Earth are very helpful for these types of fisheries as satellite images allow me to view the layouts, structure and cover in some areas but you never know the water level and time or year of capture.

Arrival Day:

I arrived mid afternoon to the Mobile Delta and instead of launching the boat I got in my truck for a drive around the delta to look at water conditions and to get a better understanding of the conditions and to locate launch facilities for my practice days. I had a plan to start up north and work my way south towards the tournament launch facilities.

Practice Day One:

 I headed for McIntosh, AL which is located about 60 miles up river from take-off. I had noticed a nice backwater lake up the Tombigbee River. Once I arrived at Three Rivers Lake it had met my expectations; it was loaded with big cypress trees, plenty of water and several logs and stumps in the water. I started by using a Dave’s Custom Baits Black Market Balsa cranking flats and any logs or stumps I could find. Success was not immediate but I had that feeling that there were fish located in this backwater it was just too good. I then picked up my rod with a LuckyCraft Flat Mini SR and quickly started catching some smaller non-keeper bass. I noticed that this area had a nice ledge from the old river that once ran through this backwater and decided to probe a little deeper. I choose the Flat Mini MR in the same color to get a little deeper and I caught my first keeper. This was the beginning of things to come as I noticed the bass where relating to the deeper structure but still relatively shallow. The next area I visited was Hals Lake a long natural bayou. I quickly picked up a nice 2 ½ pounder on a Black Market Balsa. I continued up Hals Lake and had two more good keepers on the BMB and was expanding my area quickly. I next headed towards Bates Lake. I stopped on a channel swing and started to get bites on the Flat Mini SR. I ran several channel swings and caught fish on all the swings. The best 5 today would have amassed about 8 pounds but this was only the first day. And the sun was setting so it was time to head back to the launch.

Practice Day Two:

I met good friend and co-angler Bill Rogers from Jasper, Texas and headed back north to work the Tombigbee River from where I left off, back towards I-65. We started on the river and with very limited success this morning we decided to start working some backwaters. The first stop was David and Shepard’s lake. Immediately after arriving I quickly caught a 3 pounder on the BMB. We continued into Shepard’s Lake and fishing the flat side I could only get bit on the Flat Mini SR but they were all short. We headed to the deeper side and immediately started catching several really good fish from laydowns. The fish seemed to be suspended under the logs over deeper water. After catching 4 solid keepers and the best being around 4 pounds we headed to the next backwater. We fished several more backwater and all the fish were related to the laydowns with deeper water under them. It was really starting to come together. Today my best 5 would have been in the 14 to 16 pound range. Which was really impressive since many of the other anglers were complaining about not getting bit or only getting 1 or 2 keepers a days.

Upper Delta Backwater

Practice Day Three:

Today Mr. Bill once again met me to go exploring the delta. We launched at Cliff’s Landing just below the I-65 bridge on the Tensaw River. This area is comprised of more bayous and natural lakes and is the area where the woodlands become the marsh area of the delta. The water color was much cleaner so I switched to more natural color like a Shrimp colored BMB and the Chartreuse Shad in a BDS 1.2. I headed into the first bayou which was loaded with arrow head vegetation but had limited success. I tried to get into a couple backwater but low water conditions prevented entry. So I headed up the Tensaw towards Mifflin Lake. It was deep channel bank and I quickly started catching some small keepers. Not exactly what I wanted but it was still a start. We headed up into the lake and kept catching more small keepers until I came upon a beautiful log and quickly hooked-up with a 4 pounder. Next we headed back towards the landing to The Basin Negro Lake and started working some current area and hooked up with several solid keepers. The best 5 today would have been close to ten pounds.

Mifflin Lake Channel Bend

Practice Day Four:

Today was the last day prior to Day One. I decided to launch at the take-off landing and head back up to explore more areas around The Basin Negro Lake. I entered Smith Bayou and quickly caught several nice keepers including a couple 3 pounders. This area had a great feeling as I fished and reminded me of home. I continued to explore more backwaters in the area and when the conditions got right – stumps or logs near deeper water I would get bit again. I made the decision that this area would be my starting area, since it was closer to take-off and then I would move up river. I had another limit today approaching the ten pound range again.

Tournament Day One:

I took off this morning it was a cool brisk morning. The tide was falling and predicted to fall for an additional hour. On tidal waters a falling or rising tide creates current and periods of higher activity for feeding fish. First stop today was Smith Bayou near The Basin Negro Lake. I picked up the Luckycraft BDS 1.2 and on the first channel swing caught a short fish and lost a keeper. I then headed up the bayou to the next channel swing and quickly put a solid keeper in the boat. I kept heading up the bayou and fishing only the outside swings with logs or stumps on the channel break. I quickly hooked up with a big bass that had a 5 pound head but only weighted 3 ½ pounds. I caught another solid keeper as the tide began to slow. I knew the fish were here and there were several quality fish in this area. I’ve been told time after time, “You never leave fish to go find more fish.” So I decided to stay in the area and grind out a limit. As many anglers were predicting 8 to 9 pounds a day would get you in the top 10. And I already had 5 pounds in the box. I headed up to Maple Bayou just around the corner to see if they were biting and after about an hour and no keepers, and the tide beginning to rise I decided to do or die in Smith Bayou. As I returned, I noticed my stumps and logs were covered with water now. I quickly switched my Humminbird 797c2 over to Side Imaging view then used my trolling motor to relocate the underwater structure I needed to hit with my crankbait. I quickly picked up a keeper. Then on the next bend another one, then I lost another one that would have been a twin or maybe larger than my biggest of the day. I finished my limit on the next bend, so I made the decision to head back to the mouth of the Basin Negro Lake and Tensaw River. With the incoming tide the current was really rolling. I caught and culled 4 times on this little stretch and decided to head towards the ramp. Day one results was 8 pounds 13 ounces and in 13th place. I was shocked at where I was positioned in the field and had opportunities for even a higher placing.

Local Resident of Smith Bayou

Tournament Day 2 (Cut Day):

I made the decision to return to the same area – at least give it a chance to produce again. The fish were there and I was quickly beginning to understand how the tide influenced the behavior of the bass in the area. Plus today I had an additional 45 minutes of falling tide. I returned and began working the bends and immediately caught a short fish again. The next two bends I fished hard and nothing. Had I made the wrong decision? Was it going to be another “one day wonder”? As I approached the 4th bend that produced the kicker yesterday and I lost it’s twin, I hooked up on a solid 2 pounder, then just a few casts later another keeper. I turned my Skeeter around once more to hit the same bends over again. The tide had quit pulling and yesterday the fishing slowed during the bottom of the low tide, too. I never caught a fish in any of the four bends. I decided to see if any current remained at the mouth were I had culled yesterday. I fired a cast at a awesome log cluster and a huge bass engulfed my BMB. It turned around and went down in the log cluster and just as quickly as he engulfed the bait he rubbed the line against the barnacles and off she went. Man I needed that one. After fishing down the bank and the tide starting to rise I knew it was time to head back to the channel swings. On the first bend I caught another solid 2 pounder. Number 4 was in the box! I just needed one more. I fished all 4 bends and nothing but a few shorts. One more pass and then it would be getting close to time to head back. I returned to a log that had a turtle on it the day before and I caught a keeper off it on Day One. Mr. Turtle was back so this time I asked him where the fish was and he turned his head to the right side of the log. I fired down that side and what do you know number 5 was on and in the box. I finished the day with 5 more bass for 6 pounds 14 ounces, giving me a total of 15 pounds and 11 ounces – and making the top 10 cut!

Man what a night. The Stren Championship is a major event, the press and publicity was out in full force. Along with providing interviews, autographs; numerous anglers offered their congratulations. Many that I look up to daily. The one that touched me the most was fellow Skeeter Pro, Harold Allen. Mr. Harold and I have built a friendship over the years and he told me I was his hero today. There is no way that I felt I could be his hero – he’s the “Legend,” a man that has worked his tail-off from the beginning of tournaments and still hits the trails. Mr. Harold is a class act 110% of the time, and he’s the biggest cheerleader when it comes to fishing for his friends and counterparts.

Top 10 – Day 3:

I was really pumped up today and felt no pressure. I made the cut and now it was time to have some fun and win some money. I had been fortunate to save my best fish for the finals and felt very confident that I had just as much of a chance to win as anyone else, heck I hadn’t even been to my best fishing areas. The day started very early as we were once again mobbed by the press and festivities. FLW Outdoors goes all out to make this event special. Today I would be in the Bounty Boat powered by an Evinrude ETEC a motor I was very unfamiliar with as far as fuel economy and that concerned me. Chad Smith ,originally from Odessa, MO (15 miles from my hometown), the Head of  Yamaha Tournament Support was on hand and my first question was how’s this motor and fuel consumption. He said don’t worry it’s very similar to my Yamaha HPDI. Well I guess that was the jinx because only about a ½ mile from take-off I had a powerhead failure. We immediately called in and they went to retrieve another boat for my use. I was very upset but knew I still had a job to accomplish. FLW hurried to get me a boat but I lost about an hour and missed the tide up the river where I was planning to go. What a disastrous way to start the biggest tournament of my career. So I went scrambling trying to force myself to make up time and cover only the best areas – which was not my plan. I drew local co-angler Allen Hults and he had located some fish in the marsh during practice. I said lets go. Allen showed me an awesome reaction technique with a jerkbait the locals use and in the final hour we boated over 50 fish. I had 3 keepers and he got two. I lost one keeper that wrapped around a metal pole and finally broke off. What a day. I never imagined or expected so much uncertainty. But heck I made the Top 10 and I gambled today. Sometimes gambles pay off and sometimes they don’t. I just wish I had the power to control my destiny. I only had 2 pounds 15 ounces today, muck lower than expected but still in the hunt as fellow Skeeter Pro Greg Bohannon had a little over 10 pounds for the lead. The best part I helped my co-angler Allen Hults finished in 6th place.

Top 10 Weigh-in at Mobile Convention Center

Tonight was another very long night because after weigh-in we produced tags and stills for the television show commercial breaks. I finally returned to my room at around 9 PM.

Top 10 – Final Day:

It was another earlier morning and I had to switch tackle back into the Bounty boat and get over to the landing. The crowds where huge at take-off every day. Mobile, AL should be proud of the support they provided and showed. It was an emotional time for me as it really sunk in this morning what I had accomplished. But I was ready to gamble and make a comeback. Run up north catch my best 5 and still win this event. I felt very confident I could bust a 14 to 16 pound sack here if I hit the conditions right. Once again Chad Smith was on the dock to help if needed. He pulled me to the side and suggested I take it easy on that motor – since it had not been run much. Man this hit me that a long run was out of the question right off the bat but I had a back-up plan continue where I finished - fishing the marsh. I took off and on my 4th cast caught a keeper on the jerkbait. I kept heading down the bank and another keeper was in the boat. I made the decision then to stay south and get me a limit and work to increase my pay-day tonight. I continued down the Tensaw River and caught several shorts then I hooked up with a solid 3 pounder. It came out of the water and my jerkbait came flying back. That one is going to hurt, I thought to myself. I proceeded to keep pounding the banks and catching lots of 11” to 11 ¾” fish just shy of the tournament length limit of 12”. I moved to an outside bend on the main river and fished a small cluster of cypress trees that had strong current. The water was gin clear and as I jerked my jerkbait erratically by a tree a huge bass came out and hammered my bait, I set the hook and nothing. The current had so produced somuch slack in my line I missed this opportunity. That fish was well over 3 pounds and probably in the 4 to 5 pound range or even bigger. I continued fishing that area and even tried a few areas in the Blakely and Apalachee Rivers and only could entice small non-keepers to the boat. I finished the day with two small keepers for 2 pounds 2 ounces and settled for tenth place finish.

The Tackle

Conclusion:

What an event – it was a dream come true. I just wish that I had the power to control my destiny. But mechanical problems are unpredictable. If humans build it, it can and will breakdown. I really missed fishing in my own boat and it gave me a higher appreciation of the products I have to use. I have to give full credit to LuckyCraft for supplying me the bait to catch numbers – the BDS 1.2 in Chartreuse Shad – this bait matched the hatch of the smaller baitfish and numerous shrimp in the delta the bass were feeding on. I also have to give Dave’s Custom Baits credit as his baits helped me entice the larger less numerous bass to bite. The Black Market Balsa gave me the confidence and ability to find the better quality fish. Humminbird Side Imaging gave me the advantage to locate the stumps and logs I had to hit with the crankbait to get the fish to react when the tide rose the water level above where I could visually see the stumps. I appreciate my sponsors for giving me the products and support. I firmly believe in your products and in my best opinion superior to others. I got to experience the many differences this week and made me a believer even more in their products. I also thank all those that followed me and emailed or called expending your best wishes and success. I only wish that I could have brought home a bigger check or the Championship trophy.  

Television Show:

The FLW Stren Series Championship was televised for Fox Sports Network. It will air January 13, 2008 at 10:00 AM Central Time on FSN Regional Networks (Locally Fox Sports Midwest).

Visit FLW Outdoors Television Schedule: http://www.flwoutdoors.com/tvschedule.cfm.

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