The six long months of my 2019 tournament season was finally coming to a close. After seeing the current national AOY rankings and looking at the schedule for next season, I made the decision to forego the Trail, Challenge, and Pro Series Championships in La Crosse Wisconsin. It would be better for me to save my vacation time in order to attend more events in the 2020 season. This meant the only event left was our Club Classic on Round Lake.
Round lake was shaping up to be an interesting event. It is a very small lake, only 330 acres. Normally this wouldn’t be a very big deal for our Club Classic. The past two years have only seen 10 and 12 anglers even compete. But this year it looked like we would have close to 20. We were going to be packed into that little lake like sardines. Add in other recreational fisherman and it could get a bit crazy.
The other big factor at play was the weather. We had been enjoying nice warm temps for much of September, but when October showed up, the weather turned nasty quick. We were forecast for a major cold front Friday night. Our first frost and freeze warnings of the season. This was after a smaller cold front on Wednesday that had already cooled things off substantially. Water temps were sure to plummet and this could make fishing tricky. Only time would tell exactly how the fish would react.
The Club Classic had another wrinkle in it for me. The pressure of being on a lake I have a history with. Everyone in the club knew I liked to fish Round. They also knew I put up some big numbers during the July monthlong and those fish all came from Round. There was lots of joking going on such as I’m just following Tyler or Ask Tyler where the big ones are. It was all in fun, but it was certainly getting into my head. I wasn’t used to the pressure of being a favorite, or even just being expected to do really well. I had to keep reminding myself it’s just another tournament. Gotta go out and catch 5 fish and see what happens.
My preplanning was going to be pretty quick and simple. As its name implies, Round lake is just a shallow round bowl. There is very little structure or bottom contours so it can be difficult to key in on any single thing except vegetation. This time of year the shallow rim is choked with pads and hydrilla. The pads stop in about 3-4 feet of water. The hydrilla extends out to between 8-10 feet of water, and then stops. The middle is relatively devoid of any structure or vegetation. There is however large schools of bait (bluegill and crappie) that can roam the basin. I had a few waypoints marked from earlier in the season. Weed beds that seemed to be more productive than others. I had two in particular that I wanted to fish and felt they would be good spots to hold up on for a good portion of the day. I knew most anglers would be circling the lake all day like a giant toilet bowl. I wasn’t going to join in on that. I would hit my first waypoint, fish that area for a few hours, then move on to the next one as soon as nobody else was in that area. Hopefully I could stick to that plan.
Thursday night I took the time to do something that I didn’t do enough of during the regular season. I rigged my rods but more importantly I rigged my kayak specifically for this tournament. Most of the time, I’m throwing the same few baits, so there isn’t too much variation to what I keep in my center hatch. If I don’t have a specific plan, then I go with my standard set-ups and keep an array of plastics and such handy. But for this tournament, I was familiar with the lake and the season. I knew exactly which baits I would throw and how I would have things rigged. Since I had everything down that specific, I was able to really clean out my center hatch. I pulled out all the odd bags of plastics and put them back in the binder. I put the bags of plastics that I knew I wanted to throw into the center hatch. I rigged my rods up specific for how I was going to fish that day knowing it would be cold and we weren’t expecting much wind. I retied my leaders and rigged up the right weights on my texas rigs and changed out jigs to the weights and colors I wanted to use for this event. I had everything I needed and was all set. If everything went as planned, I wouldn’t need anything other than what I had right in front of me in the hatch.
Tournament morning came and it was COLD. The thermometer at the house read 30 degrees and there was a heavy coat of frost on my truck and kayak. I grabbed my coffee and headed out the door giving myself plenty of time since I planned on stopping at Dunkin on my to the lake. It was the last event of the year, it was cold, and I figured the guys would like some hot coffee and doughnuts at the ramp.
I pulled in and there was a handful of people already unloading. Nobody seemed to be in a big rush to get out on the water. The mist was rising up off the lake and it was slick calm. The sun wouldn’t be up for another 45 minutes, but there was just a hint of light coming up from the horizon. We all chatted and got ready for the cold morning ahead.
It was just after 6:30 and time to launch. I wanted to lock down my starting spot so I wasn’t going to wait around. I pulled out and took off across the lake. It’s a small lake so it only took me 10 minutes to get to my first spot. I pulled up a little short of my way point and just started drifting around a little. I brought my anchor with me, but the hassle of using it wasn’t worth it since the wind wasn’t going to be bad at all. Plus my plan didn’t have me targeting specific small spots. I would fish larger areas, about the size of a basketball half court so if I drifted around a little, it wouldn’t be a big deal. I sat and ate the breakfast sandwich I brought out with me, and waited for first cast.
My alarm chimed and I pitched out the Reaction Innovations ManBearPig I had rigged to start my day. Normally I fish a big worm, but in prefishing I had gotten a few bites on a Brush Hawg so I figured a big creature bait would be a good place to start. I stood around pitching the bait in the grass for only about 10 minutes before I had to stop and sit with my hands in my pockets for a few minutes. The sun was just peaking out over the horizon but it wasn’t warming up quite yet. But after just a quick minute I got back to flipping the creature bait and it wasn’t long till I got my first bite. I felt the unmistakable tick of a bass sucking in the bait as it fell, I set the hook, and quickly reeled up a nice 17.50 inch bass. I kept quiet. No fanfare, no yelling in excitement, not even holding the bass up. I didn’t want anybody who might be close to see that I had caught a nice bass. I got my photo taken, uploaded to TourneyX, and got right back to fishing. It was a good sign and I was excited. My typical pattern is only maybe a bite every 40 minutes to an hour. It meant I might only get 10 bites, but they are usually the right ones so I figured I was on my way to a solid day.
My next bite didn’t come for another 80 minutes. I hadn’t really left the area I started at. There were other kayaks continually on my other way points so I didn’t want to leave this spot. I also knew that the weed patch I was on was productive enough I could pull a few out of it so I was comfortable sticking around. It was the right call and at about 8:40 I landed a nice 16.25 bass. Less than two hours in and I had two quality fish on the board. I just needed to stick with it.
The next two hours were a grind. I moved around a little off my way point, trying to let my area rest. The ManBearPig was getting torn up from pulling through the weeds a bit so I had switched over to my usual plum colored worm, but I wasn’t getting bit on that. I pitched a jig around but that wasn’t getting bit either. I kept reminding myself that the bite I am on is a slow one. It only takes a five bites and I would be ok. I saw my next closest way point was a clear so I scooted over there pretty fast. I flipped the worm and jig around a little with no luck. I decided that maybe I needed to try something a little more aggressive. I had rigged up a lipless crank knowing the cold might have them on that kind of reaction bite so I grabbed that rod started fishing the more scattered weeds just a tad deeper than I had been. That was the ticket and just after 11:00 I finally got my third bite. It was classic lipless. I was casting out and ripping it through the tops of weeds. I had just yanked it through a clump of hydrilla and before I could give the reel a crank the bait yanked back. I loaded up the rod and again quickly boated a 17.25 incher. The fish were certainly in a funk from the quickly dropping temps. This one didn’t put up near the fight they had been earlier in the summer. I was happy for that especially with the lipless, it meant they were less likely to jump and throw the treble hooks.
The day was half over, and I had 3 on the board. They were a good three so I was happy with that. I just needed two more bites, but I wasn’t sure what would be my best way to get them. The flipping bite had slowed, and I wasn’t getting bit. The lipless bite might be the key, but I wasn’t fully committed to it. I went back to flipping, but I changed baits. I figured maybe they wanted more action than the worm like the creature bait. The jig wasn’t coming through the grass quite like I liked so I put on a lizard with a nice chartreuse tail.
I stuck to that same area for a while flipping but no more bites. Some other anglers had moved off my next way point so I moved on to it. I was tossing everything at the point. I would quickly switch from the jig to the lizard to the lipless and even mixed in a little swimbait action. The wind still wasn’t picked up enough that I was confident in the chatterbait even though I have had good success there in the past with it. That way point wasn’t producing and it was just short hop up to the next one so I moved on again.
I go to thinking about what I was throwing. The ManBearPig I started with was a green pumpkin color. The lipless was a blue chrome that resembled a baby crappie which is one of the main forage. Maybe the chartreuse was too bright and needed something more natural. I yanked off the lizard and went back to the ManBearPig. I was out of the Green Pumpkin, but had a full bag of the California 420 which was a little darker, but still in that same color family. The change to a natural color was an important one.
It was just after noon when I made the change and within a few casts I put my biggest of the day in the boat. A solid 18 inch fish and I was right back on schedule. It was five hours in and I had gotten four bites, but I was sitting at 69 inches and was still confident in what I was doing. It was clear the flipping bite would still work and I just needed to stick with it. It was what put me over the top in July, it’s how I got my three of my bites so far, I needed to trust I would get one more bite.
I put all my eggs in that basket and went to work. I kept at it flipping every tuft of weed I could see and more importantly those I was seeing on my side imaging. The wind was now blowing me backwards but that was ok. I would drift back over the previous two way points so maybe I would get bit there. I flipped and flipped and flipped as I drifted. But no more bites.
I was down to less than an hour left and I was almost all the way back to the waypoint I first started at. Two hours without a bite and I was getting nervous again. I just needed one more for my limit. I’ll admit I panicked a little. I kept telling myself one more bite could come at any time. I knew my pattern was right. I even have DON’T PANIC written on my kayak, but it didn’t work. I left the deeper weeds where I had done all my damage and pulled into the shallow pads. Over the summer I had caught in few in there, but they were not the quality I was looking for. At that point however all I was thinking was I just wanted a keeper. I had gotten bites there in practice and the weather had warmed up considerably so I figured maybe some bass would pull into the sunny warm shallows around the green pads. I spent the next 30 minutes working the pad edges hoping for that one last bite. It never came. I had one last play to call. There is one decent point on the whole lake where a little stream flows in. I’ve always marked fish there but have never gotten any bass, only crappie. I knew there had to be bass there, so it was my last hope. I gave it a go with the creature bait, the jig, and even a finesse jig, but nothing. The end of the day came and I was left with only four in the bag.
As I pedaled back to the ramp the usual million things went through my head after an unsuccessful outing. What could I have done different? The day had been tough and slow and I don’t think I would have fished any different. The only thing was that I wished that I had gotten to fish a couple other way points. Unfortunately they had other anglers on them all day so it just never worked out. It was just how things went and now all that was left was to see how things played out with the standings. I hadn’t looked at the board all day, but from the talk at the meeting, it was clear it was a tough one. My 69 inches got me second place behind the only angler who put up a limit. It was not the finish I hoped for, but it did mean I cashed a nice check which is always a good way to end the season. With that, my 2019 tournament season came to a close. It was a long year with lots of ups and downs and lessons learned, but that’s a discussion for another day. For now I can relax and switch gears towards deer season and putting meat in the freezer.