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Tournament of Champions Recap

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December 15, 2015

Tournament of Champions Recap

As the Flint Hills of Kansas loomed against the sunset, Josh tapped on a Band of Horses song and we sailed south across the prairie. When the sun peeked out the next morning we were approaching the pine and oak forests of southern Oklahoma and by late afternoon we pulled into Lake Fork Marina in Texas.  The waters of Lake Fork had risen considerably since Caleb and I had fished it a year ago. The endless skeletons of flooded trees were now hidden just below the surface. Each one a unique totem pole of snagged lures and prop carvings that tell the tale of the lake.  A bass mecca where anglers go to watch dreams die or come true. No big deal.

We spent the first evening fishing around the marina and pulled in a few small bass. We were all fairly tired that night but spent a bit of time rigging up our gear and talking excitedly of where we planned to fish in the morning. When it arrived we went searching some open water humps for schooling fish. We located good numbers of smaller largemouth and a bunch of big white bass. By early afternoon we were tired of fighting the wind and moved on to try out some bays. Once again, there were dinks everywhere...showing signs of a good spawn in the spring. That evening I started catching so many white bass that I couldn't even get a crankbait down to the largemouth before it got smacked. I scratched out the area I was fishing in hopes of finding somewhere with less white bass.

Thursday morning dawned overcast with a bit of rain. The radar was showing thunderstorms so Josh and Caleb stayed back for a bit but Gramps and I followed a couple buddies Marty and Ryan to a protected bay. The overcast weather made for a good bite and we started catching small fish right away. The skies boomed all day but nothing close enough to scare us off the water. By the evening I had caught a nice limit including a couple fish in the 4 pound range.  Meanwhile, Josh and Caleb had moved to an area with a big offshore hump and they had also done well. They caught good numbers of largemouths, whites and Caleb landed a massive drum. Josh also managed a 5 pound bass on the spot.

Friday would be the last day of prefishing for me as I had to qualify on Saturday. Josh and Caleb were convinced the hump they found would be productive so we decided to head back to that area and check it out a bit more. The weather was clear and windy and the big fish were not biting, the shorts were more than willing. Tournament time was nearing and there was a bit of frustration as we were not real confident that any of our spots would produce a winning card, especially with three kayaks fishing the same general area. There was some heated discussion on how it was going to play out but I finally decided I would return to the bay I had fished the day prior and try to qualify there on Saturday. We picked up some beer and headed back to the hotel to shoot the bull with the other anglers.

Saturday turned out to be a great day from start to finish. I went to the captain's meeting in the morning to get ready for the launch of the Presidential Access Division only to discover that three directors had registered and that meant I was automatically qualified for day two! This also meant another day of prefishing and a chance to find some big fish. Gramps drove the three of us to a new area just as it was getting light out. The weather was overcast and rainy and the bite was on. Just an hour into the morning I hooked up with a 6 pounder that gently inhaled my crank only to erupt from the water and give a couple dramatic head shakes. She would end up being my big fish for the trip.

We caught some more very nice fish and for the first time in the week, all three of us managed a nice limit. Our spirits were lifted and we decided to celebrate by taking Gramps to eat at AJ's Fish House. Gramps had been taxiing us around, cooking for us and cleaning up after us all week. We were all looking forward to a hot meal but what was seen at the fish house will never be unseen.  The place was a monument to fried food. Every fried morsel you could imagine piled on a huge buffet table. We dined like kings of the double wide on fried cheese, shrimp, apples and catfish and washed it all down with cold, carbonated, corn syrup beverages. With grease shined lips and slow movements, we crawled back to the hotel with high hopes of crushing the competition the next morning.

Tournament day came early and it was cold. 91 anglers stood in the dark under a cloud of coffee steam while Beau went over the rules. Soon after, we were racing down back roads in the predawn towards our ramp of choice. As we pulled into the ramp which we'd had to ourselves previously, we saw the parking lot was littered with trucks and kayak trailers. Grandpa panicked and just decided to gun it down to the ramp and swoop in front, blocking the ramp. We had a pretty good laugh as we tried to unload and get out of the way. We hoped we didn't piss anyone off but Gramps was on a one track mission to get his boys to the fish. By legal casting time, we were ready to rock. As the sun came up, I began feeling worried. There was not a cloud in the sky and the temp was 20 degrees cooler than the day before. The fish were still there, bellies on the bottom along the creek channel but the bite had shut down. By mid-morning I had landed a 15.75" keeper while vertically fishing a fluke. I had also manged a bunch of shorts on the crankbait which had been the money bait the day prior. With two hours left I was dissecting a point and suddenly saw a school of shad burst towards the surface. I tossed my crank in the school and an 18.25" bass crushed it and dove under my kayak. Moments later, the fish was measured and released and I was convinced that I could do well with just one more keeper as I imagined the bite was tough for everyone. I was right about the tough bite but I never caught another keeper. The last 20 minutes of the tournament were spent catching fish on almost every cast but all were shorts.

The ride to the weigh-in was about 15 minutes and I was feeling pretty heavy. I had prepared and sacrificed for this tournament, done pretty well prefishing and only came up with two fish. Caleb had landed one 18.75" fish and Josh had taken a skunking with the majority of the other 91 anglers.
The check in was eye opening. 91 anglers on Lake Fork and only three had caught more than 3 fish with most of the top 10 entering only 2 or 3 fish! The results just go to show how quickly the weather can shut down a bite. Once again, I found myself only a few inches from the money with a 15th place finish, it was kinda heart breaking. On the positive side, I did better than my 16th place finish last year  (heh heh). I'll get my day. Marty Hughes represented Nebraska well finishing in 7th place overall! Not too shabby for two Nebraska anglers to finish in the top 15 out of 91 at Lake Fork. smile

The trip was again a good one. We met some real neat people and had a fun time reuniting with friends made last year as well. It was also nice being able to meet and hang out with some fellow Hobie Fishing Team members. A big thanks to Beau Reed for all the work it took to make this an exceptionally well run tournament. A huge thank you as well to our grandpa for all the effort and work he did for us on this trip. Also, a big thanks to our ladies back home. Lastly, thanks to all our sponsors...especially Select Sail & Sports for helping us chase the dream. Until next time ...

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