Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Pre-Game

After fishing my home water with some new success (read about it here: http://www.smallcraftfisherman.com/2016/07/addicted-to-crank.html), I text my wife to check the weather over by the Mississippi river.  Severe storms were rolling through the area and my data connection is limited.  She confirms a chance of rain-only forecast.  Though exhausted already, I make the paddle back to the launch, load my kayak and gear, and start the 1 hour drive west towards "Vikingland", as my daughter would say.

The drive, though long is beautiful.  The river road follows the Wisconsin border along the St. Croix river until it meets with the Mississippi in Pepin, Wisconsin.  Large bluffs and scenic outlooks line the banks, making the drive enjoyable.  Staying on the Wisconsin side, I enter the sloughs of the Mississippi.  I'm not entirely sure where I'm going to fish.  With a kayak as my vessel, I drive slowly and look for the most inaccessible spots I can find.  I spot a gravel canoe launch.  It is steep, treacherous, and leads to a maze of backwaters marked as no wake, no airboat areas.  Perfect.  Having cheated on my frog this morning with a crank bait, I owe it some action.

The wheel in the keel of my FeelFree Lure handles the otherwise sketchy launch with ease as it slides into the copper-colored water.  I am greeted by the river with a head current and head wind.  I have a feeling it will be worth the extra paddling effort.

Given some personal commitments this week, this will be my pre-fish for the Mountain State Kayak Anglers benefit tournament on July 16th.  I'd like to snag one of the 10 KBF national championship qualifying spots up for grab.  A long shot since its nation-wide.  The Mississippi is my only chance at holding a candle to the southern bassers.  In an effort to locate the fish quickly, I alternate between a spinner and frog.  I work the banks, rocks, a tree I tagged "Creeper Tree", grass, and other vegetation without success.

Pushing into the wind and current, I head deeper into the slough.  I round a corner out of the woods as the sky lightens (I think angels sang "Ahhhhhhh!"), revealing my paradise.  Grass, pads, reeds, mats, and other vegetation inaccessible by boat as far as I can see.  I send my frog a wink.  It dances at the end of my Ardent topwater rod with anticipation.  Forget palm trees, white sand, blue water, and margaritas.  Paradise is copper water in a swamp with a kayak and hollow body frog.

I enter the thick vegetation.  A few boats pass and stare from the safety of the deep channel as they watch me work the frog while navigating the weeds with ease.  A few casts in a fish attempts at my frog in three rapid hits.  No hookup, so I give it another toss, slowing my retrieve.  I pause near the blowup hole and another appears under my frog.  Another hit, but no hookup.  A few more tosses and I have determined the fish has given up, likely a bit small to inhale the larger frog.  I work my way around the reeds.

The water is warm and shallow, near a channel with current.  I'm likely too deep in the shallows to get a mid-day frog bite.  Staying in the weeds, I inch closer to the channel watching the water closely.  I then spot gold in the water, minnows.  I follow them further towards the channel and decide to get close enough to the edge of the mat to cast just beyond and reel into it.

A couple casts in this new spot, a fish makes four rapid-fire hits at my frog.  My jaw drops and I work it slower through the same spot.  Fish on!  I use all the torque of my braided Ardent Tournament reel and topwater rod to haul the bass and 10 lbs. of vegetation to my kayak.  I land a reasonable 16.5" largemouth.  Though not very long, it is a typically fat Mississippi bucketmouth.  A good sign.

My next cast produces several hits.  I'm obviously on a good-sized school.  I slap myself to make sure I'm not dreaming.  I'm fishing from a kayak, in frog heaven, on angry schools of Mississippi Largemouth......  I must be dreaming.  Shortly thereafter, I land another 16" bass with nice size to it.  Not wanting to hit the area too hard, I move further into the wind.

Near the end of this section of channel, I wander back into a shallow wooded area.  Sheltered by the wind, the water is like glass.  I'm thankful I'm in the north because this area would be infested with gators in the south.  However, after working some key structures and vegetation, I have no results.  Time to check out the rest of the channel.

I decide to use the wind and current to my advantage and connect my drag chain before entering the channel.  From there, I slowly work the structures and mats towards the current.  Shortly after the downcurrent float, I locate another school of bass.  My frog is greeted with rapid-fire misses followed by the blowup of all blowups.  It was an aggressive bass-left-the-water through a weed mat blowup.  And it was a tank.  My adrenaline pumped, jaw dropped, and eyes bulged as I began to crank the tank and several pounds of weeds until it stopped abruptly, wrapped around some structure under the mat.  Or perhaps the entire school attempting to hold the bass back.  I have no choice but to release pressure slightly in an attempt to free it.  Another pull confirms I'm free.....of the snag and the bass.  Though disappointing, I'm OK with the results.  I know where the bass is at and I have a week until I'm going to fish it again.  I continue my float down the current.

I'm able to land two more similar sized bass and receive countless other blowups further down current.  Happy with the results and activity, I decide to head home.  I don't want to over-pressure the area before the tournament.  And it has been a long day of paddling.  Having located nice schools of fish and capturing all of the photos before a couple self-releases, I don't want to push my luck for the day.  Until the tournament.....

If you haven't joined, please join me in the Mountain State Kayak Anglers benefit tournament.  Even if you don't fish (or if you don't fish from a kayak), all proceeds go to victims of the recent floods in West Virginia.  Also, all entrants will be entered in a random drawing of great prizes from a growing list of sponsors!  You can find the event on the TourneyX page here: http://tourneyx.com/tournament/mska-flood-relief-tournament/

Stay tuned to see if this hotspot stays hot for the tournament!

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