Day One: This tournament I will be traveling solo. Both Chris's are already out there. Its a two day drive for me, with the stop over destination Memphis. It will be late into the night when I hit Memphis. The usual reason: Traffic jam. I will sit in traffic at Knoxville and the worse layover, Nashville. The next morning I awake to a light rain. I finally drive out of it when I hit Little Rock. The good news is that gas, which when I left home was almost $3, seems to be getting cheaper. Well, cheaper is a figment of the imagination when its over 2 bucks, but I fill my truck up in Little Rock for $2.73 a gal. The bad news? I decide to wait till I hit Rogers to fill up my boat thinking that perhaps it will get even cheaper. Wrong. When I first hit Rogers, the first gas station is advertising gas for $3.19 a gal! By the time I get to our lake side home for the week, its $3.29 a gal! It takes me $185 dollars to fill up my boat. Ouch.
Day Two: Its up bright and early this morning. Its the latest time wise we have ever fished Beaver and I'm sure schooling fish will play a major factor for success. Beaver is alot like Okeechobee. Not that it has grass and shallow, but that it changes ever year we come here. Its never the same, and this year is no different. In the 4 years I've been here, its been near record high levels and near record low levels. And each year there is an extreme, I make the top 10 here. My record for making the cut is is 1 out of 2. Chris reminds me this is my "off" year. Thanks Chris, lol. This year the lake is at normal level and looks great. The lake was down 18 feet last year, and the shoreline growth took off. If I was to blind fold you, put you in my boat, you would swear you are on Kerr Lake. There is button bushes everywhere, and some willows. The bad news is that the lake is ultra clear, with visibility around the bushes anywhere from 5 to 8 feet. Not good for flipping. Great for shakey heads again. My day will not go well, with no topwater fish and very little else to show for 10 hours of fishing. Man was the lake crowded today. There was a local tournament that had 350 boats in it, yes..........350 or more boats! Throw in the recreational boats, it was a zoo out there.
Day Three: The weather here is fabulous if you are on vacation. As yesterday, not a cloud in the sky and mild temps. Great for sun bathing, bad for fishing deep clear lakes. Unless you like finesse fishing. Like yesterday, I plan on looking for schooling fish. The difference today is that I have rigged up a couple Skeet's Custom spinning rods. As much as I hate it, I realize it will be a factor. At Beaver, a limit of spots goes along way. You catch 6 lbs a day, you get a check. Sounds easy, but its not. And I will look more around the lower lake today. Like yesterday, I will again struggle. No schooling fish and little else to go on. Tomorrow, its back into the river.
Day Four: I decide to trailer into town today. Wow! Gas has gone up to $3.44 a gal! It takes almost $200 dollars to fill my boat. Throw in an added $100 bucks in the truck and that was a $300 fill up! The forecast today is for some severe weather. Its been picture postcard weather everyday, perhaps alittle change will help. The river is so full of cover that I can pick up my Signature Series flipping stick and never put it down. I can catch fish, but getting one the 15 inch size limit is a problem. You might catch 10 fish and only have one that will measure. And just measure at that. By noon, the skies darken and the wind picks up. I find a little community dock with some empty slips just in case it gets bad. And it does. The skies light up with flashes of light and huge rumbling. A couple other boats suddenly shoot into a couple vacant slips. Its Wesley Strader and one of the guys who fishes for the National Guard. The rain is so hard on the tin roof that you can't hardly hear each other talk. A big bolt of lightning strikes a tree right next to the dock and instantly thunder rattles the rafters! I don't think I've ever heard more country descriptions of a storm than what you hear from Wesley Strader and his dad Bud. In between, there's alot of deer and turkey's getting killed. When the storm lets up alittle, Wesley give us his version of the Craig Powers Pop-R lesson 101. Finally the storm lets up and I decide to run down the lake closer to the ramp. Little E calls me to see where I was during the storm. He informs me another line is coming behind it, so I decide to take cover at the house.
Day Five: Today is a short day on the water. I'm on the water before light. I know that schooling fish will play a major roll in mine and all success. If you can catch a quick limit or just a couple fish early, the day will be alot easier. Well, less a struggle may sum it up best. I still have not connected with the schooling fish. Little E has found some, and with an early draw, thinks he can do well. Like just about everyday, the topwater bite is over quickly. FLW is usually known for fishing lousy weather, but not this week. I think other than the stormy afternoon, we have not seen a cloud in the sky period.
Its off the water by noon, and on to a school visit. The kids are really excited to see us. They have all printed out matching T-shirts proclaiming their school mascot as an angler. They also will be having a school fishing day were they get to have a catfish tournament at one of the local city park lakes. They are a very knowledgeable group of kids with some great questions on how to catch catfish and bass.
A little side note here on our school visit. One of the young girls ask us if we "know Co-angler Chris Koester"? I quickly chime in since I know Chris well. You may remember that Chris practiced with me a couple years ago during the FLW events. He lived in Greensboro NC back then but decided to move to Rogers AR because he liked the area so well. He took last year off to make the move. But after I tell the young lady I know Chris, she says "that's my dad"! Instantly I know she is, she's the spitting image of Chris. (She is the young lady on the right in the photo at left) She tells me that Chris will be in this event as a co-angler. I tell her that I have several photos courtesy of Chris when she was young holding bass she has caught.
The pairings meeting is today. Everyone is saying that we will set an all time low weight for making the top ten here. And even less for making a check. Judging by my practice, I agree. I'm still hoping on a few early morning bites to make the day go better, and I need an early draw for this. It won't happen, as I will get a late number. All my other friends, including Little E and Bump get near single digit take off numbers.
Tournament Day One: I awake to a foggy morning. I plan on going to the take off via water, so it makes me run alittle late. Ironically, we go out on time even though the fog is pretty thick. I think this was a good decision as there seemed to be just pockets of fog. The fog should help with the topwater bite, and it has my spirits ready to go try. I plan on just practicing today, just hit new area's with a
CLU topwater and see what happens. My first stop, I quickly land a 14" largemouth and several cast another. What's up with this, I'm trying to catch spots and now I'm catching short largemouth. A legal spot has to be only 12". I manage to catch about 5 short largemouth's, and my co-angler lady partner has on a nice keeper spot. I ask her if she wants the net and she says, "no, its hooked on the top of the head so I can't keep it" What, you weren't sight fishing, so I scramble for the net only to see it jump off. I manage to catch two keepers on topwater. I'm ecstatic considering I haven't had any on top during practice.
The topwater bite doesn't last long, as the sun burns off the fog and the wind is dead calm. I can't decide now if I want to run up the river and try and get 2 or three keeper largemouth or just stay close with a shakey head. With two in the box, I decide to go with the shakey head and see if I can muster atleast 8 to 10 pounds, which I think will be good. The day will be long and painstakely slow for me. I'm no fan of the shakey head, in fact I hate it. I don't get bit much on it, and when I do, they just seem to jump off. I have two really nice keepers on late in the day, one a nice 3 pound smallie that hurt bad.
I will end the day with 3 fish that weigh less than 5 lbs. I should have had my target weight of 10 pounds easily. When you aren't getting bit much and its a low weight tournament, you just have to put every opportunity in the boat. 10 lbs turns out to be the top 10 cut as expected. Man, only "if". The good news is that my buddy Chris Koester is catching them on the co-angler side. Tomorrow is another day, and with alittle luck and good decision, I can still get a good check or even make the cut. The weights are just that low.
Tournament Day Two: Today is decision time. Do I run up that river and hope to catch a sack of largemouths or do I again start out with topwater and then switch to a shakey head and grind out some fish? Upon blast off, its apparent more people are exploring the topwater bite. Word got out that the leader and several top guys had their fish in the first hour with schoolers. Ever spot I try and start on has one or two boats working it. I begin the day off with the shakey head and the more and more I fish it, the more and more I hate it. I tell my partner I'm gonna change up and atleast have some fun. I pull out my trusty Skeets Signature Series flipping stick, tell him we are gonna run up the river till we find some dirty water and go to work. He's all for it. By goodness, I might not catch a keeper, but atleast I will be doing something I like doing.
After about an 40 minute run, we finally run into some stained water from the recent rains. I thread a Berkley Beast on my Eagle Claw hook and go to work. I realize I'm only fishig for one or two good bites, but those two bites will got as far as a limit of spots. Plus I'm more comfortable with 20 lb test line opposed to 8. If I'm going down, I'm going down smiling. It doesn't take long to start connecting with the fish. My first bush will produce a just barely short largemouth. He's so close, my co-angler says, "step on'em"! I chuckle at him but it don't work that way. Whats amazing is that I will go on and land 9 bass, with everyone being less than a half inch from being 15" legal. But the tenth fish will be the one I've fished for. I flip the Beast into a bush and it explodes when I set the hook. A little note to the tree, there was a large crane sitting on it as I was working the stretch up to it. I noticed the bird because he made a big splash in the water trying to catch a shad that came just alittle too close.
And the dock next to the bush has the stereo blarring Van Halen's "Jump"! But the same exact bush the crane was sitting on produced the rod jarring strike. The fish quickly buries me up as it makes a "jump" in the bush. "Durn, thats the fish I need! Get the .Net"! It will take a few dramatic moments, but I bring the brusher into the boat. I make the comment, "hows that for dramatics with alittle Van Halen in the backgroud? Perhaps I will have big fish for today". And as the day ends, I will. That one fish holds on to be the 2nd Day FLW tournament big fish. I will get a check. The crazy thing about this all is that if every fish I caught up the river had been only an half an inch longer, I would have had a sack big enough to make the top ten. I don't know if was an record, but the weights were way low.
The good news is that my buddy Chris Koester has made the co-angler cut. He goes into the final round as the top co-angler.
The next couple days will be spend working the Pedigree Pavilion. I know I've said it before, "can the crowds get bigger"? The first day of the Fun Zone, they are backed up around the block waiting to get in. Today the co-angler champion will be crowned. It will be an agonizing weigh in for Chris. I got to talk to Chris afterwards, and to let the cat out, he finished second only by ounces.
"I really thought I had it won," said Chris Koester. "It was an emotional roller coaster of a day right from the start to the end. I got to fish with Jay Yelas, and he had one dock he was fishing. He made the comment if we didn't catch them early, it would be a long day. And it was", added Chris. "I caught three really good fish the first hour and then I went the entire day without a bite until the last 20 minutes. It was almost like it was meant to be, like I had the tournament won. And I thought I did right up to the time the scales posted my weight," said Koester.
A side note is that the eventual winner had his fish by 10 am and made the comment he stopped fishing because he knew he had it won. As the picture above shows the agonizing disbelief Chris had when the scales registered 3 ounces short for the win.
Monday is usually a driving day but I have chosen to stay over and represent Pedigree in the Annual Kids Miracle Network Charity tournament. We are paired with special guest who pay to fish with us for a fun day of fishing. Again the weather is fabulous. With 19 hours of driving time ahead of me, I have time to think about next year at the ever changing Beaver Lake. Hey Chris, "It my 'ON' year"!