Day One: Its been a long season, one with alot of ups and downs. Today will start the journey for the last event of the season, the Stren Championship in Mobile, Alabama. What began in Texas, went as far North as Montreal, will end in L.A., that being Lower Alabama. Its a new fishery for me, but there is some history there. Its was the site of the Millennium Rangers Owner tournament several years back. If history serves correct, it will be a tough, small weight event.
Bump has qualified for the Stren Championship also, we will meet up in South Carolina. He fished the M1 back then, and confirms it will be a small weight event. The Mobile Delta is a huge area, consisting of the Mobile, Tenasaw and Alabama Rivers. Its where the rivers dump into the Gulf of Mexico. Extremely brackish and tidal. The best description of where this event is going out of is imagine putting in at Jamestown on the Potomac River and running to DC. The big difference here is that the tide swing is every 12 hours opposed to about 4 hours on the Potomac. And with the severe drought hitting the South, the salt line probably has moved way up the rivers. Alot of variables will come into play.
Day Two: Having settled into our hotel for the week, I awake to a mild morning for November. Its in the 60's and will reach into the eighties today. The plan today is to launch way up river, that is if we can find a ramp. The river is almost void of large public ramps, and no marinas with gas. So gas consumption will play a major role in where you fish. Rumor has it will be won way up river, perhaps as far north as 100 miles, but without gas, I can't see how. The one major ramp we know of up river is closed, go figure, so we resort to a small private ramp in the back of some bayou. It could be tricky getting out at low tide. The first thing I notice as we prepare to launch our rigs is that every boat there is small, and if you watch, every person preparing to launch is loading an arsenal of weapons in the boats.
Curiosity gets the best of me, so I ask one guy why all the guns? "Pigs son, PIGS", is his reply. "I got my shotgun, a 22 caliber pistol, a 30-30 and even a bow", he added. Dang, I thought perhaps it was protection from gator's which I'm glad its NOT! I need to make sure I don't accidentally buzz one of the boats on the water.
Today will turnout pretty unsuccessful, with little results to show. I spend about as much time looking at my map and GPS as I did fishing. The Delta can be one intimidating place, with its canals, winding rivers and creeks. I did notice several packs of pigs feeding on the Marsh grass.
Day Three: Again the forecast is for the upper 80's. Least the weather is great. Today I will travel to the other side of the Delta, put in at a popular ramp for local tournaments. Its about 30 miles up from where the Stren Championship is going out of, again another long run to reach. When we arrive at the ramp, the parking lot is full. I first think its other Stren guys but is a big local tournament going out of the ramp. As we pull up to the ramp, a guy rushes over and tells us we have to move, an ambulance is coming. An ambulance? Seems during blast off of the local tournament, a contestant was thrown from a boat while navigating one of the winding turns at a high rate of speed. I'm not sure what his injuries are, but it looks pretty serious as he lies on the dock. As I ready my boat to launch, another guy comes up to me and tells us we have to leave? Leave, I thought you said "move". He informs us that this is a ramp designated for tournaments only, no recreational launching. I am in a tournament but he quickly explains one that is taking place that day at this ramp. Bump and I and a couple other Stren boats with us decide to throw 5 bucks a piece in a hat, call it a tournament so we will be "legal". The guy doesn't go for it, unless we agree to pay the big rental fee the facility imposes. On to search for another ramp as the day before.
We finally find another ramp further down south, closer to the Gulf. It don't take long to realize that the salt has migrated way up north. Almost every pitch of my jig gets a bite, but its not fish, its crabs ! The jokers will hold on to your lure for dear life, even after you have them in the boat. Once they finally let go, then its challenge to catch the critter without getting pinched. They are mean. I notice as I continue to fish, you can see crabs swimming in the tide, and even attached to any limb or piling you pitch to. Bass fishing and catching crabs.....
Its not just crabs that I will catch today. I manage a couple really nice Red fish. If I had a place to cook them or take them back home, I keep'em. Another interesting thing that happens today is that I see alot of locals fishing with corks and long rods. While fishing by a boat, the family inquires to me about my Pedigree wrap. I notice the father in the group rigging live shrimp on the hooks for the kids. I told him he should catch some Reds here since I had. "Reds", he glamors, "We are bass fishing"! With live shrimp? Never heard of it, but I notice them catch one about 12 inches as I fish the other side of the marsh from them. Turns out that live shrimp or imitation shrimp is the bait of choice for locals fishing for bass. I guess the bass are as the ole saying goes, "are what you eat" because I manage alot of shrimp sized bass today, not may 12 inch keepers. I did manage a couple bass in the 2 lb range in one little creek. That will be the difference here, probably alot of limits of 1 to 1.5 pound bass will be weighed in, if you can average atleast close to a 2 pound average, you will be doing well. Even if you can manage a couple 2 lbs bass in your creel.
Day Four: Today I'm gonna put in at the official Championship ramp. Enough of this getting turned away from a ramp and then searching. Plus I'm just not catching enough fish way up river to justify the long runs with no gas available. I ask a couple locals if there was any sale of gas on the upper end or anywhere on the water, they all said none that they know of.
You can immediately tell the water down here is very salty. Its also one of the most visual area's I have ever put my bass boat in. Its one of the nations busiest International ports, there's huge cargo ships, oil barges, cruise lines, big industries line the water. And its where I10 crosses, like a big intercoastal waterway for vehicles. You put in under the "causeway" as its called, then you have to run a couple miles left or right between the interstate bridges. Make a wrong turn out of the causeway, and you will be greeted by mud flats.
Specially at low tide. I take note here.
The area is also a lot different from the upper reaches of the Delta. Its more like a coastal plain, with huge marshes and tidal flats. You can see pelicans, sea gulls and even crab and shrimp boats working. There is red fish tailing in the flats, and I even manage to catch a few. You see shrimp scampering across the top of the water like little minnows. One interesting sight is the jumping mullet. You can be fishing, and you will see huge schools of them working toward you, jumping out of the water sometimes 4 and 5 feet like small schools of dolphin. Each time as the school nears me, I think one will jump head on to me, but one never does, amazing sight as they all work past the boat.
This area of the Delta is known for alot of small bass, with limits of 5 fish weighing under 5 lbs. From talking to Bump and some other guys at the hotel, 6 pounds a day will probably get you a check, and 8 lbs a day will make the top 10 cut. I don't have much trouble catching bass today, just they are extremely small. I mean you will catch a dozen just to get one keeper. And then it just barely measures. A kicker fish down here will be 2 lbs.
I decide to try and fish some of the huge tidal flat creeks. This means you better know where you are going, or you better keep the hammer down when crossing or you will end up stuck until the tide comes in. Which could mean a 12 hour wait here. You can sort of judge the depth of the flats by the wildlife around it. The seagulls seem to be working the deeper, I mean 3 feet or less areas, while the smaller fiddler birds work the 3 inch or less areas. The trick is staying in deeper water. My first couple flats, everything goes ok. Then as I coming out of one of the marsh creeks into a flat, I come to a sudden stop. I didn't hit anything, it just stopped like something wrapped around my prop. I raise the motor and yep, there is a crab pot hung in my prop. The good news is that is only about 1 foot deep here. The bad news is its only about 1 foot deep here, meaning after I get it off, I will have to idle to find enough water to get back up.
While using the trolling motor to locate deeper water, suddenly the water around me explodes in schooling fish. Wow, could this be a twist of faith, finding a crab pot where a huge school of bass is. It don't take long to realize this is not bass, its flounder. Yep, flounder. I don't have any experience fishing coastal inlets, so this is all new to me. But I still can't help myself and begin firing away, catching flounder after flounder, some up to 3 pounds. I quickly learn that flounder have teeth! If this was any other time, I would have been filling my livewell up with flounder, but since I have no way of keeping the fish, I just throw them back. What an amazing day, I manage to catch a limit of largemouth bass, crabs, red fish, trout and even a limit of flounder from the same area.
Day Five: Today its back to the upper end of the Delta. I still believe the key to doing well is having the ability to catch a limit in the marsh, then run up river to find a couple or one kicker fish. I have a friend from Va joining me today who is fishing the co-angler side. The little creek we put in looks more like your typical bayou, big cypress trees and alot of gator's. Its real foggy, so we just start fishing. I manage a couple fish pretty quickly, even one that will come close to 3 lbs. The day will go pretty good, with both of us catching fish. We even catch a few crab and flounder this far up.
At the end of the day, I learn more about the sport of pig hunting in Alabama. Most of the little creeks you fish, you see the guys on trolling motors perched in seats with guns, sort of a on the water stalking of the pigs as they feed on the marsh grass. There's another method too. At one of the ramps, a man and his two sons are preparing to go pig hunting. There is no guns in this group, only dogs. When ask about this, they say, "There's no sport in hunting with guns, we catch them by hand". Are you kidding me? They explain that they catch the pigs, take them home to holding pens to be killed later when ready to eat them fresh. They have three dogs; two beagles and one pit bull. The beagles are loaded in the boat, but the pit bull needs more prep. They put on some kind of armor coat that slips over the dogs head and thru his front feet. The two beagles are for tracking, the pit bull is for taking the pig down. The armor jacket protects the dog from the pigs tusk. Once the pig is down, the hunters come in, tie it up, throw it in the boat.
Day Six: Today its back to the lower end of the Delta, the official take off site. The weather continues to be great, with highs near 80 but windy. The plan today is to make sure I know how to run up river from the take off. The tidal flats can jump out and grab you at low tide, and tomorrows low tide will be just as we start. One thing I notice immediately is that with the strong north wind, the tide is lower than normal. The whole basin we are launching from is almost dry, and the bays around it are nothing more than huge tidal flats. Glad I decided to make sure I could run the flats. Even though I almost get stuck a couple times, I think I can get up river. I stop to make sure my trail is on my GPS, another Stren contestant idles up to me and starts asking if I know how to run from there to the take off area at the USS Battleship Alabama. He has been practicing all week way up river and has not gone to the official ramp. I try and explain it to him, but finally just say, "follow me" and proceed to run the flat so he can mark it. As we hit the ramp with the Battleship in view, he waves at me with a "thank you" and I'm off to check a little creek close as my starting spot. When I get there, seems others have decided the same, its full of boats.
Today is registration day. At the meeting, everyone is saying it will take small weights to do good, perhaps less than 16 pounds to make the cut. I meet my first day co-angler, he is a local. Not local to the Delta, but local as in NC. He lives about an hour from me. I tell him I'm pretty sure we fished together a couple years ago at Santee. He ask if I'm making a long run, and I tell him not at first. He seems pleased since the forecast tomorrow morning is for record lows on the Delta. Figures, its the first day of the tournament, the weather always seems to take a turn for the worse.
Tournament Day One: Wow what a change! I awake to a heavy frost on my boat. The weather channel says it is a new record low, 29 degrees. Great, tidal fish just hate frontal conditions. And if that was tough enough, when we arrive at the ramp, who stole the water ! Wow again. When you look out toward the Gulf of Mexico, all you see is dry tidal flats. The north wind over night, along with the dropping tide has sucked out all the water. FLW has a plan in place to shuttle us back and forth from an off site parking lot, I wonder if they have a plan for no water. Even going thru boat check this morning, you see guys getting stuck as the photo above showing Jim Tutt blowing mud just to reach the check boat.
I'm in one of the earlier flights, but its pretty clear early on that alot of anglers got caught off guard by the low water. You can see guys running aground, then you see guys scrambling behind them to miss the stuck boats, only to start stacking up like cord wood on the tidal flats. I see guys ahead of me run left while running the Causeway, not sure why, but I keep the hammer down, continuing on the course I charted the day before. Then when I get to where I am to turn in between the interstate bridge columns, more boats come flying thru from other directions. It makes for a hairy blast off. Word later that day was that several got stuck for hours until each boat helped the other until everyone was free.
It doesn't take long to reach my starting creek. Just what I had hoped would not happen happens, its crowded. I tell my partner that we will stay, hope that the others grow impatient and leave. The boat traffic muddies up the creek. I manage a couple quick keepers, as does my co-angler, then it slows to a bite now and then. Everyone seems to be taking the same approach as me, waiting everyone out. With 3 keepers, I decide to run to another area. It pays off, as I will finish out my limit. That bout sums up the day, just a limit. The weights are low today, with my small 6 pound plus limit putting me on the check bubble. Overall, they caught them better than I expected with better being relative to everyone having around 5 to 7 lbs. As predicted, the difference of a 1 pound average fish limit opposed to a 1.5 pound average fish limit is huge. And also as predicted, the better weights came from long runs up the rivers.
Tournament Day Two: Its not as cold today as I meet my second day partner, who is from NY. He is all dressed like its below freezing and complaining how cold it is. You would think since he is from up state NY, it would seem like its summer here to him. With the warmer morning, and some cloud cover, I tell him I'm gonna gamble and run up river to that little creek I caught a couple 2 plus pound bass in, then if all works out, run back to finish out my limit. Another 6 pounds today would probably get me a check, a 8 pound or better limit might make the cut.
The water is not as low as yesterday, making access in the shallow bay easier. I'm in a later flight today, and it appears things are going smoother during blast off, no mud flatters today. I wish I could say my day went smoother, but it doesn't. The run to the upper creek doesn't pay off and I spend most of the day up there with nothing to show for it. I manage only 3 small keepers after I run back down to the marsh. Overall, it was a disappointing day even though between my co-angler and I, must have caught everything but bass. We caught flounder, crabs, bowfin, reds, drum but not bass. My small weight will drop me out of a check. Hindsight, I guess I should have stayed in the Marsh, catch 6 pounds and went home with a check. But this is the Championship, no points involved, alittle more weight and I would have been fishing in the finals.
My final impression of the Delta is that is a unique fishery. Yes, its kind of tough, but full of a diverse species of fish. The weights are small, compared to say Champlain, but its all relative. 6 pounds a day on the Delta is like catching 14 pounds a day on Champlain. Nice bag, but will get you nothing.