JASPER, Ind. An Iowa angler held on to his lead to win the CITGO B.A.S.S. Federation Northern Divisional by the slimmest of margins.
Steven Houdek, Calmar, Iowa, went wire-to-wire to win the individual champion honors by 1 ounce over Jimmy Johnson, La Crosse, Wis. Houdek caught the only limit of the tournament the first day to take over the lead and weighed in one keeper each of the next two days to finish with seven bass weighing 14 pounds, 1 ounce. Johnson took the runner-up spot with 14 pounds.
The Northeast Iowa Bass Club member prefished at Patoka with a guide about three weeks ago and found some key areas for the tournament. However, he struggled during the three official practice days this week. "I didn't catch much the first three days practicing here," he said. "I found one spot way up above that had fish and I got one fish up there the first day, but it was at the top end of the idle zone and I didn't want to run way up there all the time."
The 48-year-old construction worker relied on three areas each day to catch fish. "I had one area down by a boat launch ramp that had some big fish there in the early morning," he disclosed. "Then I had one good bank on the main lake that had weeds in 5 feet of water and I also had one place up the lake in the shallows where I caught one keeper up there the first day." His most productive spot was a long main lake bank with weeds growing out to 5 feet deep and a gradual drop into 10 feet of water. The tournament champion caught three of his five keepers the first day from the spot.
A 1/4-ounce black-and-chartreuse spinnerbait with tandem Colorado blades produced best for Houdek early in the morning. He retrieved the lure quickly over the top of the weeds to trigger reaction strikes. Later in the day he switched to a pumpkinseed Chompers plastic grub on a 3/16-ounce jighead or a green pumpkin Zoom Baby Brush Hog Texas-rigged with a 3/16-ounce sinker. He slowly dragged these lures over the weed tops and let the baits fall into the weed pockets.
On the first competition day, Houdek ran to his best spot and caught one keeper on the Brush Hog, but also lost a quality-sized fish. His spinnerbait produced two keepers at his next stop and then he ran up the lake to the idle zone where he took his fourth fish. He ran down to a spot close to the take-off site to catch his fifth fish. "I ran quite a bit that day," recalled Houdek.
A fog delay the second day hampered his fishing as Houdek caught only one keeper, but retained the lead as the rest of the field also struggled. He caught his keeper in the last half hour of fishing on the Chompers grub.
Today, Houdek caught his only keeper early on the spinnerbait. "We went down my main bank three more times trying to get bites there," he said. "I might have had one big fish hit that Chompers. It pulled hard so I set the hook, but it spit it out right away."
As the tournament champion, Houdek qualifies for the 2006 CITGO B.A.S.S. Federation Championship. Johnson also advanced to the Federation Championship by catching the most weight for the Wisconsin team. Other state leaders qualifying for the Championship include Fred Myers, Illinois; Ron Nale, Indiana; Paul Soma, Michigan; Jim Severson, Minnesota; Joe Hanning, Ohio; and Gary Steichen, South Dakota.
Forty-six state winners will compete in the championship along with qualifiers from Canada, Italy, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Japan. The top finishers from each division (Central, Northern, Southern, Eastern, Western and Mid-Atlantic) advance to the CITGO Bassmaster Classic.
Even though they competed against their teammates for Championship berths, contestants in this tournament fished together as state teams.
Wisconsin won state bragging rights by catching a collective weight of 56 pounds, 15 ounces. Indiana took second in the team competition with 56-03, followed by Iowa, 49-08; Ohio, 46-14; Michigan, 44-13; Illinois, 42-05; South Dakota, 35-09 and Minnesota, 28-12.
Although Johnson was an integral part of his team's success, he gave his teammates credit for the victory. "We have an incredible team," he said.
"We decipher the water and everybody makes sure everybody is on fish."
Paul Soma, Traverse City, Mich., won the $1,000 Purolator Big Bass Award by catching the biggest bass of the tournament. He caught a 5-pound, 4-ounce largemouth bass on a 3/8-ounce Nichol's white-and-blue fleck spinnerbait between two logs about 10 feet deep near a main lake drop-off at about 2:40 p.m. today.