Here it is, straight from the source. Right from the horse's mouth.
No reporters in the middle who don't know the difference between a "slew" and a "slough."
No legend busting me out because I failed to shave on the final morning of my first Elite Series win. Just me telling you what happened.
First, let me just say that if it wasn't for Judy Ray at Ray Chevrolet in Cabot, Ark., and Mike Reid at Country Chevrolet in Benton, Ky., I probably would not have made it to Iowa for the first day of practice. You can check that out here. Many kudos and thanks to both of them for going above and beyond to help us out.
Practice in a word sucked. I say that, but I actually had quite a few bites in practice. Bites that I had absolutely no idea how big they were, but bites nonetheless. I had spent a couple of days in Pools 19-17 the previous September on our way home from the final Elite event at Oneida. You can read a little about that here. Those few days on the water were under drastically different conditions, as the water was 2-3 feeet lower and much clearer than when we arrived. Even with that, I had a basic understanding of where I could easily run into backwater areas and where I needed to take my time.
Monday started up in Pool 18 as I headed into a series of SLOUGHS (not to be confused with "slews") above the small town of Oquawka, Ill. Some of the chutes ran back out to the main river, but many were dead-end ditches. Some were shallow; a few had decent depth to them.
The first slough I pulled in to, I caught a keeper almost immediately on a spinnerbait. I figured the bite to be tough, so I dug around in my blade box and placed a small piece of tubing over the hook on my spinnerbait to make sure that I didn't stick any more fish. Fishing fast through the rest of the slough, I had another good fish pull me around on the spinnerbait on the opposite side of the slough.
Not bad for the first 30 minutes of the day. Turns out that would be the last two bites I would have on Monday. I worked my way into every ditch, cut, and slough that the BassCat would fit in throughout the majority of Pool 18.
One of the places that I worked through was in the upper end of Pool 18 around the New Boston area. The backwater just above New Boston had some great looking water in it; deep water, willow trees, and some wood. Fished it hard and never had one single bump. Not a sniff.
Top that off with the fact that the place was crawling with competitors turned me off on the area. I knew there was a bite, but I also knew I did not want to fish in that big of a crowd or fight over one single stump that every fish in the area was holding on. Surely there were other places in 18 that were holding enough bass to do well.
Tuesday brought more exploration of 18. I looked through some of the chutes that I had missed the previous day around the area that I started in and found a few bites in a couple more dead-end sloughs close by.
As I was heading back up the pool, an alarm went off in my SmartCraft gauge telling me "WARNING! WARNING! (DANGER WILL ROBINSON, DANGER!) COMPRESSOR OVERTEMP! CHECK FOR CLOGGED WATER INLET! WATER PUMP IMPELLER MAY BE FAULTY!" That's probably not good. Top that off with the fact that the Opti wasn't "peeing," and I knew something was clogged.
I cut the blades off a spinnerbait and shoved the wire up into the pee-hole (I don't know what it's called. That's what Jay, the Mercury mechanic called it. Must be one of those technical terms) and still nothing came out. Hmm. Maybe the compressor was going out. That's a bad thing. Had the pulley come off the top of the compressor on a motor once and I went nowhere. In fact, I went back to the ramp on the trolling motor.
I eased back down the river at 3,000 RPMs. Went about a mile and the alarm went off again. Let it cool for a little. I could tell from the SmartCraft gauges that the engine was getting water, as the crankcase temp was normal, so I thought the worst I would do is smoke the compressor. Eased it back up on plane at 3K and went another mile. Quick check on the GPS and I see that I had another 7 miles to go. This is going to take a while. Maybe if I take the cowling off the motor, the compressor will stay cool enough for me to ease back to the ramp. It did; worked like a champ.
Pulled the BassCat back up on the trailer and at 11 a.m., and I headed south for the 45-minute drive to Fort Madison and the Mercury trailer. Jay had me fixed in just about the length of time it took me to type this sentence. Seriously. He had a longer piece of wire than my spinnerbait. Shoved it up in the pee-hole and out came a stream of mud and water. Duh. I felt pretty stupid. Back in the K-Pinkmobile and northward I went for the 45-minute drive back to Oquawka and the Promised Land.
Back in Pool 18, I continued to eliminate sloughs. I was looking for fish, but just as much, I was looking for places I didn't think would be productive. So far I had found four areas that seemed to be holding fish. Only one of those areas seemed to be deep enough to hold fish with any type of drastic drop in the water. I felt like I needed to find another area to complement this, the deepest of those I had found. Tuesday ended without finding that area.
Wednesday I stayed in Pool 19 to look at some of the areas I had scouted the previous September. I realized very early in the day that there were way, way too many guys roaming around in the areas that I visited. Too many for the size of the backwater areas and too many for the number of fish that I felt were swimming around in those small areas.
No way could I foresee a guy making it through 4 days of competition with a shot at winning in those crowded conditions. I knew that I had seen quite a few Elite guys in 18, but not nearly as many as would stay in 19. Wednesday was an early day for me, as I made up my mind to concentrate solely on 18, at least for the first two days.
As I re-spooled line, I thought about where I wanted to spend the majority of my time the next day and which areas I felt like I needed to concentrate on. My primary area would be the first slough I had visited on Monday a.m., Hole One. It had the deepest water of any of the sloughs in that area. It also had enough wood in the form of laydowns and treetops to hold enough fish to do well provided I didn't have too much company.
There was another smaller slough just around the corner, Hole Two, that I had gotten two bites in and still another slightly south, Hole Three, that I had shook off a few fish in. Depending on the amount of other competitors in the area, I could have a lot of water to fish or little water. I would find out the next day.
I had my arsenal locked, loaded, and rigged for anything. I had three flip sticks, two spinnerbaits, a buzz bait, three crank baits, a topwater bait, Kermit, and several other things that I can't remember and never threw all tied on and ready for action. As boat number 83, it was a while before I left the marina for the 28-mile run to Lock 18. A light rain was falling as I put the BassCat on plane and headed upstream.
Pulling into the lock 23 minutes later, I counted 30-something other competitors in the lock. That's a few more than I expected, but less than had stayed in 19. At 7 a.m., the lockmaster had not closed the doors, as had been scheduled. One of the lock guys came by along the top of the lock wall and I asked him what was up with holding the doors open. He replied that there had been an accident and the Tournament Director had called to ask that they hold the doors open an additional 30 minutes to allow those who had stopped time to get to the lock. Not a problem. What's the loss of a few minutes if someone is hurt?
About 7:15, Gerald Swindle pulled into the lock and he was shaken. He had been one of the first on the scene of Derek Remitz's accident and he was still upset about it. Let everyone on the lock know that we all needed to slow it down and be aware of where we were going at warp speed.
Out of the lock in the second wave of boats, I blasted up the river the 10 miles to whatever the name of the slough I was fishing I called it Hole One. I was the first boat up the chute and the first one in the slough. As I dropped the MotorGuide and eased up the slough, another boat pulled in behind me; Jeff Kriet. Not a problem. I had fished with Kriet last year in the TTBC and we had a great time. You can read about our two days together here and here. I knew that if we were the only two competitors in the slough, everything would be just fine.
The first fish came pretty quickly and it was a nice one. It seemed to be guarding or around a bed, as I missed it once before actually hooking it and putting it in the boat. Were these fish spawning? Guess they could be, since the water temps were still in the upper 60s.
That thought had occurred to me during practice. This particular slough and the one immediately south seemed to have quite a few fry in them. The next fish confirmed the spawning fish theory. I missed it twice, both times losing the tail off my tube or the claws off my Speed Craw. The fish were picking the bait up and moving it off the bed. Now I was looking for spots next to the wood that looked like where a bed should be. Even though the water was dirty, I could visualize in my mind where a bed might possibly be and get pretty close to hitting the mark.
By 11, I had boated three solid keepers and lost or missed three more. So I made a move around the corner to Hole Two. Within a few minutes I had missed a good fish and boated No. 4. Another move south to Hole Three and I added No. 5. I can't even begin to describe what a great feeling it is to catch a limit in what I knew would shake out to be a tough derby.
At the weigh-in, I was a little surprised to see 16 pounds leading. After dropping my 10-10 on the scales, I was in 18th place. Not too shabby. Figured I could improve on that Day Two.
Day Two dawned 180 in conditions from Day One. Rain was replaced by sun. Out of the marina as boat No. 15, I was one of the first boats to the lock. Spent a few minutes throwing a small jig around on some rocks just below the lock wall and managed to boat two small non-keepers.
First in the lock and first out of the lock, I had clean water and everyone in my wake as I sped upriver to Hole One. Kriet dropped in right behind me and we went to work. I quickly boated one of the fry guarders I had missed the previous day. It was going to be a good day.
As Kriet and I worked slowly up the slough, John Crews slipped in behind us. JC made a circle around the lower end of the slough and managed to catch two that looked to just measure. Good for him, as he had zeroed on the previous day.
Jason Williamson followed him into the mouth of the slough and saw that four boats in such a small area was too cramped. He made a circle back toward the mouth and on the way out boated a 2 1/2 pounder. Ouch. Hate to see other guys pulling fish out of the slough, but it's their water just as much as mine. Not like they were trying to elbow their way to the back. It's just fishin'.
I fished all the way down the right side of the slough without another keeper. Missed two, one of which I had missed on Day One. Kriet had two and lost a good one under a stump just as we reached the back of the slough. I made a quick pass down the left side of the slough, missed another fish that was guarding, and headed to Hole Two.
Hole Two was much smaller than One and really only had five pieces of wood that were positioned to hold fish. I caught a bass off four of those pieces. One came on a buzzbait and the other three came within 30 minutes on the E1 crankbait. Conditions were perfect in Hole Two for the crankbait. The water was slowly falling and clearing, pulling the fish slightly off the bank and positioning them tight against the wood. I knew then that if I could get the same conditions for two more days, I could wreck 'em.
At the end of Day Two, I sat in eighth place after dropping my 11-4 on the scales. One of the things I had noticed on the water that day was key to what went down on Days Three and Four. As I threw the E1, the bait had a tendency to run too deep. It would dig in the bottom and pick up decaying leaves and foul the cast before the bait ever hit the piece of wood I was deflecting the bait off of.
I had used 15-pound Vicious Fluorocarbon, which is what I normally use. Back at the camper, I changed out the 15 for 1- pound and loaded another rod with 17 pound Vicious Ultimate their copolymer line. I felt that one of these would keep the bait higher in the water and away from the bottom. That change probably made the difference.
Another day, another change in the conditions. We flopped back to clouds and a light rain as we headed upstream for the run to the lock. While fishing the rock pile below the lock wall, I noticed that the water had dropped close to six inches since the previous day. I remember thinking "that should mess things up a bit in this pool." I caught a small non-keeper and lost a fish that might have been just-a-keep. Hate that.
Again, first in the lock and first out, I was the lead dog headed up the river to Hole One. It took Kriet longer to get there that day and when he finally made it up in the slough, he came with bad news. One of the marshals had been thrown on the ride up from the lock. Almost all the field had stopped and the marshal was fine, but still scary stuff.
I started up my side of the slough with the Speed Craw and it was a wasteland. Not even a sniff on the first three pieces of wood. Not good. A light rain began to fall. Picked up a spinner bait and almost immediately caught a nice one. Turned back to the mouth of the slough to start over and caught a few short fish. Coming back down the slough, I boated another keeper. Switched over to the left side on my way back out and caught another keeper. Time for Hole Two.
As I rounded the corner to Hole Two, I saw another boat back in the slough. Hadn't seen anyone even close to this place all week, but there was someone back in there. Who was it? Mike McClelland.
After getting in there and talking to him, he had fished in it the previous day for a short while, catching a keeper and several short fish. I started on the opposite side of the slough at a piece of wood where I had missed a fish the previous day. Quickly had a bite and missed him again. Moved to the next piece of wood and caught one that just barely missed making 14 inches. Went back to the first piece and dabbed around until I got the fish to bite again. Missed him again. This was getting personal.
I put the flip stick down and picked up a jig rod. Put a Baby Brush Hog on it and made a flip back to where the fish had been. He picked it up and headed away from the wood. Like a jerk, I jerked and came up with a hook and weight no bait.
How can a guy miss a fish that many times without hooking it? I pulled another Baby Brush Hog out and threaded it on the hook. McClelland is across the slough laughing at me, wanting to know if it's a keeper. I don't care if it's a keep or not, I'm catching this fish. The next flip, I caught it. No, it wasn't a keeper, but I put the fish in the boat. Dammit. No little fish was going to beat me.
Moving along the bank, I flipped the Baby Brush Hog alongside a log where I had caught a keeper on Day One with a buzzbait. The BBH came swimming back to the boat at a high rate of speed and a 3-pounder was soon swimming in the livewell. All I needed was one more for a limit and a decent chance at fishing Day Four.
Pulled out of Hole Two and headed down to Hole Three, which I had not visited on Day Two. Shaw was at the mouth of the slough, where he had been the two previous days, and there was a boat sitting in the middle of the slough. I eased up to Shaw and asked him who it was sitting in the middle of the slough. Billy McCaghren. McCaghren who was in second place.
McCaghren, according to Shaw, had fished there the previous two days. Even though I had made a pass through the slough on Day One, I turned and headed out to visit some other areas.
A few miles downstream from Hole Three was another small slough that I had gotten a few bites in on Tuesday. Even though it was a shallow entry, I decided to give it a look and see if I could catch a keeper out of it. Almost didn't get in the place.
I made a quick pass around the slough, but the water had fallen too much. After dragging my way back out, I headed back up to Hole One to try and catch No. 5. As I pulled into Hole One, the sun popped out of the clouds just a little. I pulled out the E1 and went to work. Halfway up the slough, I scored No. 5 and even culled one that just barely measured with my sixth keeper of the day.
Kriet was still in the slough, but had only two fish. I handed him a couple of the E1's. Every fish a guy brings in a super-tough derby can make a huge jump in the points. I knew that if Kriet could catch one or two more fish, it could make a huge impact on his standings in the AOY race.
Kriet asked how much weight I had.
"About 10 pounds. Think that will be enough to stay in the Top 12?"
"Dude, there's no way you'll fall out. You'll probably move up."
I left Hole One shortly after noon in search of more water for Day Four. Searched until 2:30, when I had to be back at the lock, without finding a thing. I basically had one slough, Hole One, and maybe a little something left in Hole Two. Maybe.
As I drove down the river to the weigh-in, I wasn't even sure I could catch another bass out of Hole One. How long could that small of an area hold up to the pressure? Just how many bass could there be? I would have the chance to find out on Day Four, as my smallest limit of the week, 9-8, moved me up a few places to sixth.
Day Four what it's all about. If you don't make it to Day Four, you don't have a chance to win. I had been close to a win a few times in the past on Day Four and knew the potential, but with a 5-pound deficit to start the day, I figured I would need to catch 15 to 16 pounds to even have a shot.
After fishing Hole One for 3 days, I felt that 15 to 16 might have been possible on Day One (if a guy had the place all to himself and hammered it), but not so much a realistic goal on Day Four. I was going to be perfectly happy with (a) my first keeper, (b) then maybe think about a limit, and (c) just proud to make it this far in the toughest Elite Series event ever.
The ride up to the lock was uneventful, except for the helicopter getting so close I thought it was going to cut my feakin' head off. Dude, I don't know who you are that was driving that rig, but you are one wacky helo driver.
Waiting and fishing just below the lock, Steve Kennedy hauls in a 2 1/2 pounder just downstream from me to start his day off right. I told my cameraman, Rob Rhodes, that Kennedy would probably go on to catch 20 pounds that day. Mr. Lucky.
Again, first in the lock and first out, we rolled up the Mighty Mississip at 74 mph. As we rounded the corner to the sloughs, there were several spectator and camera boats waiting for us. Spectators would not be good in such a confined area.
Before we left the marina, I had asked Rob to relay to Chad, our chase boat operator, to please stay out toward the mouth of the slough to cut down on pressure and noise. All week long, Kriet and I had fished ever so slowly through the slough with the MotorGuide on super-low. I turned off all my electronics didn't even mount my front unit in an effort to cut down on noise. Positioning Chad at the mouth of the slough would prove to be a good move.
The day started of slow. Molasses slow. I finally caught a small keeper on the spinnerbait; Goal (a) was met. The water had finally started to fall hard in 18, as there was a 4-to-5-inch wet line on the logs that were partially submerged. I also noticed that the water in the slough was clearing more.
I knew that Hole Three, where Billy and Shaw were fishing, was much shallower than Hole One. I thought that the fish Billy had been targeting toward the back of Three would probably move out to the mouth, where Shaw was fishing. In my mind, I saw Shaw being set up for the win, as he was a little over 3 pounds off the lead. I pushed that out of my mind and concentrated on catching No. 2.
Shortly after 9 a.m., I looked toward the mouth of the slough to see another boat with four passengers in it easing up into the slough. They stopped at Chad's boat. I was working my way back down the slough on the left side and realized that the occupants were James Overstreet (head snapper for the dotcoms) and the famed TV personalities of Mark Zona and Tommy Sanders. I motioned them over to see what was up.
"What are the important people doing in this part of the world? Why aren't you guys down around the corner watching B Mac and Shaw?"
"Nothing happening down there" was the reply.
I knew that Billy had been catching his fish early in the day then laying off them. If Billy wasn't catching them and Shaw wasn't either, had they run out of fish? Had the water finally gotten too shallow for the pressure and they had bolted? Hmm. Damn, I might have a shot at this.
I eased back up the slough with the boatload of characters beside me. Overstreet wanted me to make sure that when I hooked one I brought it around to his side of the boat so that he could get good photos of it. My reply? Along with kiss my white butt, I told him to get out on the bank and tromp through the frogs, snakes, and ticks if he wanted a face shot. When I hooked one, it was coming in the boat however and a whichever angle I could get it in. Didn't take long to prove my point.
I pulled up to a likely looking log where I had caught a decent fish one of the previous days. With the E1, I started casting at the log from every conceivable angle. That is the key to catching fish off wood in these conditions. One or two casts to a log or stump will only get a reaction when the fish are aggressive. When they have been fished over for three days by multiple anglers, throwing multiple baits, bringing the bait across the wood at the correct angle to trigger the strike is a trial and error process. We call it "vaporizing" the wood.
It's not uncommon to make 20, 30, or even 40 casts at a log or series of logs. Spending 15–20 minutes on a jumble of logs with the crankbait is not out of the question. The bigger and better the logs look, the more time you spend on them. If it looks like it holds a fish, has enough water around it, and has something for the bass to feed on, there are probably bass under it. Are you patient enough to catch them with the right tools, is the question. I had the patience and the tools.
Vaporizing that first log with the ESPN entourage in tow was an eye opener for them. Especially when I pulled a 2-1/2 pounder off it on about the 15th cast. Z wanted to know what just happened there, how that fish was positioned, how it reacted to the bait, all the right questions. After following for a while longer, they bugged out with their photos and their heads full of knowledge. Then came the air boat.
Why in the world would you need an air boat on the Mississippi River? I never knew that airboats were all that great for jumping over stumps and logs. Guess they'll go over anything if you're crazy enough to drive them. The airboat roared through every slough in the area, some of them twice.
Fortunately, Chad and a spectator boat were sitting across the mouth of the slough and the airboat turned away, or I'm sure he would have blasted his way to the back of Hole One. With only two in the box at 11:30 a.m., I decided it was time to make the move around the corner to Hole Two.
With the falling water, Hole Two was even harder to get in and too shallow when I did finally get over the logs in the chute and into the slough proper. Not a good move. With the sun trying to peek through the clouds, I made the move back to Hole One to ride out the rest of the afternoon. I felt like there should be three more bass in the slough. I knew whatever was left in there would set up on the wood and bite during some window of time during the afternoon. On Day Two and Three, I had caught fish on the crankbait during the noon hour. Was that the window?
Noon ticked into the 1 p.m. hour. The conditions were getting better; sun was peeking out, water was still clearing, it was going to be OK. I told Rob that it was about to go down and go down fast. Time seemed to slow down and everything around me was a blur. Nothing mattered but getting that next bite.
No. 3 came in the boat shortly after that statement. It was set up under the junction where two logs crossed and it choked the E1. I moved to the next set of logs that crossed and after a little vaporizing, pulled another solid keeper in the BassCat. It was happening. Love it when a plan comes together.
Shortly before 2, I was able to get another solid keeper off the last set of logs that crossed. I moved to the biggest series of logs in the slough, which I had not taken a fish off of all week. I spent the last 20 minutes decimating those logs, hoping for an Iaconelli giant on every cast. It didn't happen that way.
As I blew out of the slough toward the lock, I had no idea that I would be even close to winning. I knew that I had caught a limit all four days of the toughest tournament we had seen on the BASS Tour level in years, and that I had just experienced one of the most amazing days of my fishing career. I told Rob in the lock that I wasn't concerned with where I finished, I had just had one of the best weeks of my life.
After the ride back down to Fort Madison, I still had 40 minutes of fishing time. I pulled into the barge pit south of the ramp. This was the first slack water downstream from the release area. Maybe a fatty had pulled up on the rocks lining the pit and I could cull the smallest fish, which barely hit the 14-inch mark.
Even though I had not had a single bite in Pool 19 all week, I felt that this was my best shot at another keeper. Being lazy, I picked up the E1 and started bouncing it slowly off the rip-rap along the sides of the pit. Halfway down the first wall, the E1 started swimming sideways a fish! I jumped a rail-thin, 2-pound, sore-lipped bass in the boat. It wasn't the monster that I wanted, but it was heavier than the 14 incher I had brought back from Hole One. The perfect ending to a perfect day.
Trip had told us on the previous day not to be talking amongst ourselves about who had how many, how big, etc. and we didn't. That didn't keep the reporters from talking, though. I quickly learned that (a) Billy hadn't caught them, (b) Biffle hadn't either, and (c) all the reporters wanted to talk to me.
In all fairness, I thought I had somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 to 13 pounds. That would put me somewhere in the 42 - 43 pound range, but I had started the day 5 pounds behind Billy and 2 pounds behind Biffle. In between Biffle and I were Scott Campbell, Shaw Grigsby, and Alton Jones it was going to be a shootout.
As I bagged my fish, I was getting the first good look at them since dropping them in the box and I realized that I probably only had 12 pounds. Amazing how they shrink in that water. Rounding the corner of the stage, I was surprised to see Kelly Jordan sitting in the hotseat. He must have had a great day. I needed 11-4 to take the lead from KJ. When the digits stopped flashing, they read 11-13. Not much room to spare, but enough to bump KJ. Sitting in the hot seat, I figured I would be there only a short while.
Alton, Shaw, Scott, Tommy all crossed the stage and I'm still sitting in the hot seat. I had heard that Billy had only two fish. Was this really going to happen? As Billy walked around the corner of the stage, I got a look at his bag and realized that those two probably did not weigh the 7 pounds he needed to win. Holy crap, I had just won the Genuity River Rumble!
Someone asked me as the smoke was clearing after the win, what was the best part of the whole experience. At the time, I really didn't have a good answer. After a few days to reflect, I would have to say that, from a fishing perspective, the last day and, in particular, the last hour that I fished in Hole One had to be the high point of the week.
Oh yeah, the hardware is sweet, the check to the bank was nice (even though the deposit slip didn't have enough digits for all those zeroes), and the accolades are cool; what will probably stick with me the longest is those few minutes when time seemed to stop, the world went on by, and everything worked perfectly.
From a personal perspective, the best part was having my wife Kerry there to share in the glory. She has worked just as hard and just as long to make this happen. I can't imagine trying to do what I do without her help and support.
After dinner with Barone on Sunday evening, we drove back to the campground outside of Fort Madison. It was pretty cool, because we had seen a few fireflies every night throughout the week. One or two or three around the camper every night. As we came over the last hill to turn down the country road to the campground, the roadside was absolutely brilliant with thousands of fireflies.
For more info on Kevin Short or to contact Kevin, check out his website at www.kfshort.com.