When Fishing Bass Tournaments Finish Your Last Cast – Never Give Up
By Marc Rogers
April 2009, the Central Missouri area was blessed with plenty of water. Once the ground became saturated, the streams and lakes rose quickly making for some tough fishing conditions. The clear water streams and lakes were extremely stained and the normally stained waters were downright muddy. During this time I was competing in a buddy tournament hosted by Joe Bass Team Trail on Stockton Lake in Missouri.
A late departure to a four and one half hour drive was not the best way to get started. My partner and I arrived at our motel after midnight and were only going to get a few hours of sleep at best. Both of us knew the fishing conditions were going to be tough from recent fishing reports of the local guides.
The guides reported bass scattered throughout the lake. Some were located in shallow, flooded timber while others were suspended. In addition, guides were reporting low catch rates along with stained to muddy water. Stockton Lake is generally a clear body of water and cold, muddy water always seems to result in tough conditions.
Tough conditions, little sleep and only my second day ever on Stockton Lake had me feeling like I should have paid my entry fee and stayed home. Doing so would have at least saved me the fuel and lodging costs. However, it was spring and we had spent little time on the water, so there was a desire to get some fishing time in regardless of the conditions.
The bass were locked solidly into a prespawn pattern before the chilly rains caused the cold and muddy conditions. The water surface temperature was in the low 50 degree range throughout the entire lake. In hope of the bass being shallow due to the heavily stained conditions, we started the day out pitching jigs and slow-rolling spinnerbaits in the flooded timber. We started on main and secondary points in the middle sections of the lake and continued this for the first four hours of the competition day. This resulted in not a single bite for either of us.
Searching for clearer water, we moved to the lower end of the lake and within sight of the dam. Again, we focused on points in hope of finding bass staging to move into the shallows for the upcoming spawn. While I continued to pitch jigs to flooded cover, my partner was throwing crawdad colored Wiggle Warts in the clearer water. This clearer section amounted to only the lower lake area within one mile of the dam. Another few hours of fishing this way proved no more productive than the first half of the day. Not a single bite for me, and my partner was able to catch only one largemouth bass but it was below the legal limit and released.
With just one hour until the weigh-in, I made a move and fished the face of the dam. Our focus was on the flooded rip rap covering the dam. With no bites on the jig or the crankbait, I picked up a rod with a Rapala X-Rap with two Suspend Dots just behind the lip, and began casting to the deeper water in front of the dam. My plan was an attempt to entice any bass that may have suspended in the clearer water.
Knowing that catching a limit in the last hours was very unlikely, I was thinking of at least catching one legal bass so we could gain some points in the division standings. While I was casting the jerkbait, my partner continued to throw the Wiggle Wart near the rip rap cover.
Thirty minutes to go, and collectively we still had only caught one bass the entire day. Not ready to give up, I knew we had about a 15 mile run back to the weigh-in, which left us with only about 15 minutes to fish. At this point we were not really worried about being late because a late penalty on zero still amounted to zero.
It was 20 minutes until weigh-in and I was preparing to make a couple final casts. Figuring I had time for two more casts with any chance of making it back in time I got a strike on the jerkbait. The water was clear enough I was able to see the bass strike the lure and it was big bass. The jerkbait was attached to eight pound test fluorocarbon line on a very soft action rod. This giant bass fought hard and I am thankful it never jumped during the entire fight as it was only hooked with the back treble hook.
The fight lasted a couple of minutes but felt much longer. Knowing I had little time left and still not having the fish in the boat, my heart was racing. I knew the fish was big, and remember thinking it was close to seven pounds, but didn’t realize its true size until moments before my partner netted it. Those few seconds this bass was close to the boat, but too deep to net seemed like hours. With only the rear hook holding the bass, I figured we had only one chance to get it into the net. Able to get the fish to come to the surface, my partner scooped it up with one swing and lifted it into the boat. The hook fell out when the net was placed in the bottom of the boat.
After placing the bass in the livewell, we now had another problem. We had exactly 16 minutes to make an approximately 15-mile run back to the weigh-in site. Thankfully, there was little traffic on the water and a wide open run was possible. Cutting as much distance as possible off the trip back, I avoided sweeping wide turns, allowing just enough room to be safe during the entire return trip. We arrived at the weigh-in with just 30 seconds to spare and avoided a late penalty.
After loading the boat and retrieving a weigh-in bag, I lifted the bass from the livewell. Not having time to admire it on the water, I finally realized the true size of the giant. As I approached the scales, the leading weight was over 15-pounds, but second place was under eight pounds. When the scale settled, the official weight of this one bass was 8.66 pounds and we just took over second place and big bass. There were only a few more left anglers with fish needing to be weighed and we held onto both. This only bite I got the entire day won second place and big bass of the event.
While I have always believed never to give up until time expires, this is one event I could have given up on before we launched that day. I am certainly glad I did not give up even ten minutes early that day.