OSHKOSH, Wisc. Ohio's Brad Wall went into the final day of the B.A.S.S. Federation Nation Northern Divisional with a comfortable 8-pound lead, but found the last-day fishing more difficult.
It wasn't that he couldn't catch fish on Lake Winnebago. Instead, the issue was getting the bigger fish to bite.
"I had a limit of 2 ½-pounders that I threw back," Wall explained.
Such a decision was forced by Wisconsin's no-cull rule, which mandates anglers stop fishing once the fifth fish has been placed in the livewell.
Wall stuck to his plan, which called for jumping from rock pile to rock pile in the northwest corner of the lake, to boat four bass that upped his total to 44 pounds, 14 ounces and sealed his win in the overall individual competition.
"The main factor was breaks on the rocks," he said. "I would throw (onto rock piles) in 5 feet of water with my boat in 8 feet.
"You had that good drop, with a hard bottom."
The best breaks were those that included beds of muscles.
"A lot of hits happened if you could throw over the muscle beds," he said. "They would hit it on the fall."
Innovative Sports Group (ISG) tubes in several colors were the only lures Wall threw during the three-day event. He rigged the tubes on 3/8-ounce jigs, which were tied to 12-pound Seaguar 100 Percent Fluorocarbon.
His retrieve was important, but there was no one technique that shined.
"I call it 'freestyling,'" Wall said. "Depending on which way the wind was blowing and how hard it was blowing, I might be dragging it or I might be hopping it along. It just depended on the conditions."
He said the changing weather, which went from hard overcast and calm the first day to partly cloudy on the second day to blue-bird and windy the final day, really didn't play a factor.
"I literally caught fish in practice in every weather condition but pouring rain," Wall said.
The reason the bigger fish didn't provide the opportunity for Wall to put five fish in the livewell on the final day probably could be found in a combination of factors, he said.
First, his area of the lake became progressively crowded through the three days of competition, increasing the pressure on the schools of smallies.
But he also felt bass were simply not feeding as well.
"I think they fed so hard for us during practice, that they weren't hungry today," Wall said.
Wall not only won the overall title, however. He also earned a ticket to the B.A.S.S. Federation Nation National Championship scheduled for Kansas' Milford Lake in November by beating out his 11 other team members.
The divisional features anglers from eight states, with each competing for individual and team honors.
Joining him as team winners were Illinois' Jim O'Malley, Brian Hensley with the Indiana team, Iowa's Terry Fitzpatrick, Kent Miller of Michigan, Minnesota's Rick Billings, South Dakota team member Shane Oltjenbruns and Wisconsin's Brady Farrell.
Each of these team champs move on to November's national championship.
In the team competition, Wisconsin climbed from third on the second day to the top spot with a three-day total of 278-7. It is the state's second consecutive divisional win, and its sixth in the past nine years.
However, team members recognized they were the recipient of what they called "a Christmas gift" after Ohio's Brian Runyon's second-day bag was disqualified.
"We called it Christmas in August," team captain Terry Hilbert said.
Runyon's 12-plus-pound second-day catch was DQ'd for breaking Rule 16, which states that bass cannot be "mangled, mashed, mauled or otherwise altered."
"This isn't an issue of someone cheating," Tournament Director Jon Stewart made clear. "It's an instance of bad judgment. He just made a mistake."
Ohio ended up in third with 271-11, while Minnesota moved to second with 272-4.
Wisconsin team members spent hours each night discussing strategy, but one of the local divisional qualifiers really closed the deal.
"One of our non-boaters (Chris Johnson) really got on them," Hilbert said. "His second-day partner gave Chris the boat, and he went to one of his areas and really got on them."
When his final-day boater, Minnesota's Billings, again allowed Johnson to go to his fish, a deal was struck with the other Wisconsin team members.
"He said, 'Give me my water in the morning, and I'll come get you if the bite is on," Hilbert explained.
The Johnson/Billings team had their limits by 7 a.m., and spent the next couple of hours rounding up the other Wisconsin team members.
"If we don't work as a team, we don't win this tournament," Hilbert said.