Day 1: It seems like it takes forever to get to the hotel in Monroe, La. I weighed in my fish at the Santee Everstart, helped my co-angler get his gear together, wished him good luck (he made the top 10 cut) and hit the black top. I drive late into the night, and still have about 6 hours of the 14 hour drive ahead of me. I pull over to rest some at a rest area. Its very noisy and busy at this stop. Not long, I decide to continue on. I will arrive at the hotel around noon the next day. Chris has already arrived a couple days earlier. He says parking will be tight, that's an understatement. By time I get my gear in the room, a fishing license, its late afternoon. I decide to try and organize my boat, take a power nap, and get ready to hit the river tomorrow.
Day 2: The weather today will be windy, with a front coming in. Just great, leave a cold miserable tournament to start another. The river is 6 feet above normal pool. It had been 10 feet or higher in the last couple weeks. I hope this will work to my advantage since those who have been here practicing for weeks, things will have changed greatly for them. Me, I have never seen the river, only know that there is three main areas to fish. One is in the pool which we take off in, being able to travel some 50 miles south to a lower lock. This pool also has a second huge backwater area called Di Arbonne where most tournaments are won. Third is to make a long run north, lock into the upper pool, which is basically Arkansas. With my limited practice, I decide to try and find something in the main pool from take off. Immediately, it is obvious that the river conditions are going to be tough being able to fish the bank. The water is so high, even when you get into the maze of cypress trees, you cannot reach the bank. I find little that I like today. The bushes have slimy and muck on them from the falling water. It just does not look good.
Day 3: Today my good buddy Chris Koester will join me. The plan is to go further south on the main pool. I will find some better looking areas, some that allows you to fish the bank and shoreline cover. I will also find some schooling fish. I catch two fish from the school, one will go about 2 lbs and the other almost 4 pounds. All in all, Chris and I will catch 9 fish today, with 3 being keepers. Chris is moaning, saying he is ready to call it quits because the weather has been bitter, with a cold rain and wind.
Day 4: This morning I awake to something I had worried about, congested parking at the hotel. Its so bad that I can't even get my boat out of the space in front of our room. I will get a late start, as the people who own the car that had me blocked in finally arrive. We will have to work on the parking situation tonight, can't afford this to happen during a tournament morning. The plan today is for Chris and I to again go back south to see if we can expand on the little area I found yesterday. I find a little drainage ditch that Chris will catch a nice chunk from and I will catch another keeper. Another spot that has potential. As we work our way out of the cut, Chris gives out a big grunt with a "I got a good one on". Good one? This thing comes out of the water and is huge !! Its not a bass but we are not sure what it is. Chris will play it for 15 minutes and all we know is that it is huge. I'm guessing its a huge catfish, but when he does get up to the boat, its no catfish. What it is, is a 100 pound plus paddle nose fish. Man, it is huge. I tell Chris to play it, I will get out my camera cause this fish is the biggest thing I've ever seen in freshwater. As soon as I get out the camera, the fish gets wrapped around a stump. The line will catch the stump, while the fish will still take out line. After about another 15 minutes, the fish will finally break loose. Bummer, this fish would have been one for the photo album. We will call it a day, get ready for the meeting tonight. I caught several fish today, most were non-keepers. At the meeting, most are crying the blues, while the talk is that those who choose to make the long run north and lock are going to sack them. There is no gas marina's on this river, so the talk is wether some can make the run up and back. Its about 60 miles just to the lock, then up more to fishable waters. Going up will be against the swift river current, so it will put allot close to running out of gas. If I can get a early take off number, I am going to gamble by going the opposite direction to the schooling fish. I will get my early number, having drawn boat 6. My co-angler is from Missouri. I tell him I'm banking on the good fortune of the early draw, and going to make a long run south to schooling fish.
Tournament Day One: I awake this morning to my worst fears. I am blocked completely in at the hotel. Someone pulling a cow trailer has parked his rig directly in front of my boat and truck. This is unbelievable !! Not only has he blocked me, but he has blocked several other hotel guest. Its 4:30 am and I got to go. I frantically go to the front desk, luckily I manage to get the night clerk to open the door. I plead, "Please tell me you know who owns that cow hauler"! He says he thinks its room 202. I beg him to call them to move it. He does but the guy is reluctant to come down. After about what seems like forever, he comes down. I make the comment graciously, "thank you" and its obvious he is very mad making no point to acknowledge me. I will rush to meet my first day partner. I think I have aged 10 years.
After two passes, I start doubting the fish will school. Its gotten allot cloudier, and in fact, has started to sleet. Not what I had hoped for. But I will manage another keeper. To make along story short, I will fish for the schooling fish way up into the morning, only to see this not happen. I tell my co-angler get ready to make a long move back toward the take off area. The move almost seems like the right one, as I will land another keeper within minutes. I will also loose one, and catch another. I should have had a limit, but will end the day with four keepers. They are small and will have me playing catch up. The pre tournament talk about 8 - 9 lbs being good did not happen. But the talk of those who make the long runs north would sack them did. Some impressive stringers are caught up north, with the biggest being over 20 lbs. I will have to seriously consider making a huge gamble and go north tomorrow.
Tournament Day 2: Today I parked my boat and truck almost out on the highway. I am trying to avoid the near disaster from yesterday. The parking lot is again full, with some boats in the back having troubles getting out. My co-angler today is from Alabama. I tell him that we are going to make the long hour run up north, lock thru, and just go practice fish. And hope for the best. Unfortunately, today I will be the next to last boat out. I will count, only about 6 boats will choose to go the south direction I went yesterday.
Its very obvious more boats have made the decision I have made, go north young man. By land, its really not that far of a run, but by water, the river snakes and winds, sometimes almost making a circle in turns, it will take over an hour to just get to the lock. I feel like I'm in an army maneuver hitting the front lines, as I head for the locks, I will pass causalities of war going, with some dealing with some kind of mechanical problems. You just continue on, there's really nothing you can do for them but cross your fingers and hope your faith is better. When I get to the lock, the entire field is still sitting there. I can tell there is a nervous wait from them, as they all quietly eye me as I idle in. But I will not be the last boat. As the lockmaster begins to close the doors, 3 more boats will try and squeeze in.
Today the air is crisp and cold. It will be a bone chilly run down south. I only hope that this severe drop in temps does not hurt the shooling fish. If the sun will come out, I think they will school. It doesn't take long to realize that I will be one of the few who choose to go south. During take off, everyone has to jockey for position in the swift current, making anyone, like myself, who goes south obvious. When I arrive to my fish, the water temps have dropped several degrees. But I manage to land a nice keeper pretty quick. Another boat comes idling in, theres not room for more than two or three boats in this drain. He works his way up to me, makes the comment, "Are we having fun yet"? I will work past him, allowing him to go further up the drain..
Some guys will give out words of disapproval toward them. And just so because I was the next to last boat in last flight, so they must have choose to fish someone first. It will be every man for himself deal as the lock doors open to the upper pool. I plan on just going somewhere there is not a boat and begin fishing. My choice seems good, as I will land two keepers quickly. It will be up in the morning, and I will land two more. Now if I can just get a big bite, I can make a good run at a check. But it will not happen, I will again get stuck on 4 fish. I will miss a check by 2 pounds again. On the return trip, there will be several boats tied up, either broke down or out of gas. It is really mentally draining making long runs like that. Its like a Nascar race on a road course, winding and turning. I feel good about my decision to run North blind. It didn't work out, but just as well could have. In big tournaments like this, its about who makes the right move, right area and correct roll of the dice.