I have fished many catch and release tournaments with the club and have made a habit of getting my butt kicked. But one thing I’ve learned over the years is that when there are fish on beds then you better be fishing them or you’ll get beat every time. I put that lesson to good use when the club had it’s first tourney of the year on Clark Lake last weekend and there were definitely fish on beds.
Practice: I had been out ten days before the tournament just to get a feel for the water and what phase the fish were in. It was cold and the water temps were only about 48 degrees and I didn’t see many fish in the shallows. I returned just two days before the event and the water had warmed to over 60 degrees and there were beds everywhere. My plan was to get a few areas where I could target pre-spawn largemouth out on the breaks and then GPS as many smallie beds as I could in a 7 hour period.
I did eventually find a few good potential areas where I could catch decent largemouth on a suspending jerkbait and a few good ones showed themselves so that was a good back-up plan. By the end of the day I also had coordinates to about 25-30 smallmouth beds that either had keeper fish on them or looked like they would by Sunday. With this many beds I knew this contest would be won with smallmouth and I needed to get to those first on game day.
Tournament: When we took off Sunday I headed right for a big fish I’d found Friday and hoped to get to it first. These fish can be fairly easy to catch once they’re locked onto the beds but after they’ve been caught a few times they tend to get leery or even leave. Unfortunately another competitor was heading for the same area as we were and after a brief conversation I decided to head elsewhere.
Elsewhere was a shallow gravel flat not far away and it was so shallow I doubted anyone else would find these fish right away. I threw mainly two baits this day when targeting beds, a tube and a zoom super fluke both in chartreuse. My fluke produced the first keeper of the day, a small male and then followed it up with a 3 pounder a few minutes later. The sun wasn’t out yet and the beds were hard to see but my coordinates were dead-on and I was able to make long casts without spooking the fish.
With two on the board we headed back to the big fish where we originally wanted to start and the coast was clear. I caught another smallmouth off a bed right away which was close to 3 pounds on the Fluke again and then set my sights on the big one. My partner John Bidle had two beds he could cast to and I was still able to barely make out the bigger bed holding the 4 pounder. I used the tube for this one because I could make long accurate casts and feel the bed once I got on it. Two casts later I hooked and promptly lost the big fish half way to the boat on her first jump. No problem, bedding fish will bite again and a few minutes later I had a 4.1 pound smallmouth in the boat for fish number 4.
With the overcast conditions our plan was to get a few good smallmouth off beds and then head for off-shore largemouth which my partner was more accustomed to fishing for anyway. The sun was starting to poke out and it was getting windy but I’d hoped the green fish would bite until later in the morning. Our first spot was a weedy point that dropped off into deep water and I promptly hooked a monster with a Lucky Craft Pointer jerk bait. The fish was well over 4 pounds but wanted nothing to do with the boat and just before John could slide a net under it, it was gone. Those of you who have lost big fish in tournaments know the sick feeling that set in but it was still early and I had to shake it off.
We were close to a small area where I had some keeper beds marked and I wanted to fill out my limit before it got too late in the day. These beds only had small fish on them Friday but the first cast with the Fluke had a 3.2 pounder inhale it and that was fish #5 and about 13 pounds. We decided to focus on smallmouth beds for a while longer and then ventured over to the north shore where a big concentration of them were located. A few club competitors were on the flat but the wind was picking up and I think that enabled us to get close to the beds without spooking them.
It only took about 20 minutes for me to catch 3 good bed fish and cull out my small ones and give me my final weight of 17 pounds and it was only 11:30. All 3 of those bed fish came on the tube and that big largemouth was all but forgotten. My technique for catching the bedding fish was to get as far away as possible and still be able to see the bed. I’d cast my tube past the target and with my fireline I’d be able to feel the small rocks located on the nests. I’d usually leave it there for a while and many times the fish would just pick the bait up and start swimming with it. I couldn’t see my line move but every once in a while I’d pick up and feel pressure and knew to set the hook.
We spent the rest of the day throwing jerk baits out on the breaks trying to catch those big pre-spawn largemouth but they never showed up. We got several small keepers but could not connect with the bigger fish. We had hit most of the beds but it was getting hard to figure which ones we already caught fish on in order to not duplicate our catches. A lot of the better fish were gone later in the day which supported our decision to target spawners early before they got beat up too bad. It was a good decision and probably the reason I was able to win the event.
My partner John hadn’t fished bedding smallmouth much so it was a learning process during the whole tournament. But by the end of the day he was spotting the beds right away and making accurate casts to them and proved to be a quick learner. I’m sure he will be a force in the club as he gets a little more experience and was a great guy to fish with all day.
Gear Notes: Tube bait was fished with a 1/4 oz jighead paired with 6 lb fireline and a 3′ leader of Bass Pro Shops XPS fluorocarbon. Fluke was fished on 12 lb XPS fluorocarbon and paired with a 4/0 EWG worm hook. The Lucky Craft Pointer 78 jerk bait was the ghost minnow pattern and was fished on 10 lb XPS fluoro