Friday, October 14, 2016

The Saga Ends

The final chapter of my tournament marathon picks up where I left off in "The Saga Continues".  Instead of grinding the water after work like in the previous week, I take a few days to rest by body and mind.  I also perform some basic maintenance and cleaning on my gear.  I have the final two days of the tournament off work to cover as much water as possible.

The first day is a beautiful morning, but it was not a great day for fishing.  I did my usual seeking with a spinnerbait.  It produced, but nothing of size.  I tried cranking, but it produced the same.  By the afternoon, I had worked the entire reservoir without locating the big ones.  I sat slumped in my kayak asking myself, "What now?".

The Wisconsin fall was moving in.  We were reaching 40 degrees at night and 70 during the day.  This weather pattern makes for difficult fishing.  Water temperatures are in the mid 50s in the morning, rising to the upper 50s by the evening.  At this point, I need to make a big move.  I stare at my tackle trays in my crate.  I come up with a crazy idea.  I may have done the Dr. Evil pinkie look.

Expecting the fall bite to continue, I had sadly put my frogs and other topwater lures away for the season.  Luckily, I had brought my topwater tray.  I grab my topwater tray like it were Excaliber and my crate the stone.  I draw it ceremoniously into the air and lay it in my lap.  I grab a poppin' frog and cannot wipe the smile off my face the entire time I tie it on.  I head to the few remaining weeds in the shallows.

Shortly upon arriving in shallows, I get a huge blowup on my frog.  Honestly, I wasn't expecting it and let the fish take it longer than usual before the hookset.  At that point, the fish was deep in the weeds, which deflected the hookset.  As I reel in 10lbs of weeds, I immediately start looking around the area for other key frogging spots.  I'm able to land several small bass on the frog.  Froggin' is my favorite.  For a moment I was so excited for a (potentially) last topwater bite this season, I completely forgot I was targeting larger fish.

Once I come out of my froggin' buzz, I tie a buzzbait on my spinning reel (not ideal but I am curious if buzzbait will produce in these conditions).  It does.  Multiple times.  Three huge blowups were followed by the fish ripping line off the reel.  Even the drag of the 4000 size reel couldn't take the fight.  The soft tip on my old spinning rod (I lost my good one in the Mississippi this year) didn't allow for a good hookset.  I lost them all.  Frustrated and tired, I decide to call it a day.  However, I did learn a valuable lesson for tomorrow, my last day.  Topwater is still an option.

The final day of the tournament I am again on the water before light.  The air temperature is 40 degrees and the water temp is 55 degrees.  The fog is so thick I can't see more than a few feet in front of my bow.  Luckily, this is an electric-only lake so I don't have to worry about a fast-moving boat colliding with me.  If you are not an experienced paddler with proper equipment, do not kayak in these conditions!!!!!  

Paddling in the dark, in thick fog is a surreal feeling.  The water is like glass, the air calm.  I have my sonar screen brightness turned down to preserve my night vision.  Every few seconds, a local bat swoops past my head to rid the air of more mosquitoes.  The air isn't moving, surrounded by a cloud of fog on either side.  The only sound is the lapping of my paddle waking the water from its slumber.  I can feel the kayak gliding on the water, but the still fog causes my eyes to question my brain's understanding of my movement.  A dizzying feeling I found takes more concentration than usual.

I start the morning trying a buzzbait in the shallows I hit the night before.  It is still dark, my buzzbait now the only sound on the reservoir.  Its squeaky, lapping, buzz echoes in the valley.  Nothing.  As suspected, the water is too cold this early.  I tie on my spinner bait and head back to the rock bank.  The rocks, holding more consistent temperatures, are a good bet to start the day.

As I approach my destination, the sun rises above the bluff surrounding the side of the reservoir.  The thick fog causes it to shoot rays above the trees, a great photo op that perfectly fit my Bending Branches Angler Pro.

At this point, you may be thinking I'm crazy.  I'm trying to win a tournament, why am I stopping to enjoy the scenery and take pictures?  Well, because.  Because I spent the last two weeks fishing harder than I ever have before.  It started with landing a tank of a bass.  Since then, it was a grind.  My body hurt, I lost another rod/reel, and I've been plagued with dinks.  I didn't like the feeling that I "had to" fish.  Prior to this push, I always "wanted to" fish.  My wife reminded me during the week that it can't become "work".  Don't get me wrong, this tournament stuff is fun.  But I started taking it too seriously, but I digress.

The morning and early afternoon are a repeat of my recent trips.  I land over a dozen fish, but none bigger than my smallest in my TourneyX online bag.  I make a pit stop on the beach for a lunch of champions (a pizza Lunchable and gas station pre-packed sandwich with mystery ingredients).  In between bites, I make a few casts (I've landed some nice bass shore fishing on the beach in the past).  My stomach full and my shore fishing unsuccessful, I assess the conditions.  The wind is picking up, the temperature is warm, the sun bright.  Perfect conditions for topwater in the shallows.  I eagerly tie on my frog and head for the calm waters in the shallows.

Upon arrival, I get several hits, but they were half-hearted and I couldn't get a hookup.  After working the mats, I take notice at the open water gaps between the mats.  The cold weather, winds, and rain have further broken up the mats.  I tie on a buzzbait and begin leaning like Michael Jackson to reel it carefully between the mats.  Again, a few hits but nothing landed.

At this point I'm completely physically and mentally exhausted.  I haven't been this exhausted since two-a-days when I played soccer in high school while working a full-time summer job landscaping.  I can't give up.  This is my last shot, and it may be my last topwater action of the year.  I head to the edge of the weed mats, which I know border a ledge.  The day growing late and the water warmer, I expect bass to be making their way up the ledge to feast on the shad taking shelter in the shallows.  My expectation is confirmed by a massive blowup.

This is a picture-perfect blowup.  Bucketmouth emerging from the water, white spray everwhere, a slight hesitation followed by a hookset, and vigorous winding of the reel.  Except the hookset wasn't picture-perfect and I lost it.  I'm unsure of the size, but it was enough to take out drag (I have my drag tightened to the max with 50lb. braid).  Eager to land a big one, I toss the buzzbait near the same spot.  Another massive blowup, but I completely miss the hookset.  My adrenaline is pumping so I'm completely oblivious to why my hooksets are failing.  Topwater is my go-to.  I rarely miss a hookset, and I rarely lose a fish while reeling it in on a buzzbait.  I press on.

The next cast, I have a hit.  This one not as epic, but welcome.  A respectable fish, but not big enough to add to my overall length in the tournament.  The smaller fish allows my body to metabolize the adrenaline.  I then become overtly aware of my hookup issues.  My hands are in swollen, sore, and throbbing in pain.  My IT day job coupled with the countless hours on the water have done a number on them.  I push the pain away with denial and continue working the bay.  I finally realize my tournament push is over when I get another hit and am physically unable to set the hook, nearly dropping my rod.

I hang my head and take a moment to reflect upon this entire experience.  This tournament push has had its ups and downs.  The surge of adrenaline you get when landing a bigger fish than the last is amazing.  But I hated the disappointment, stress, and pressure.  I felt like I "had to" fish.  I also had several trips on the water that would have been great by normal standards, having landed a dozen or more respectable fish each time out.  I hated that feeling of disappointment just because I didn't catch a "big enough" fish.

I realized I prefer "wanting to" fish.  I enjoy taking time to appreciate the scenery.  When I leave the water having landed several fish, especially this quantity, I need to leave with a smile on my face, not a look of disappointment.

Don't get me wrong, I have been tournament fishing all year and absolutely love it.  I especially love the online format made possible by the technology of TourneyX.com.  However, everyone must assess what they want out of the sport, like anything in life.  Some people are highly competitive and thrive on hardcore tournament fishing.  I prefer to use the tournament fishing as a platform to hone my fishing skills.  The online tournament allows me to track my performance against other anglers and naturally makes me think of ways to better myself as an angler.  Of course, I will continue my tournament efforts.  However, I am going to approach it like I did up until this point.  Enjoying fishing, honing my skills, and seeing where it takes me.

This also confirmed what I truly love about the sport of fishing.  Spending time close to nature on my kayak.  Sometimes with good friends to share the memories, sometimes alone to clear my head.  I enjoy the adventures it brings, and I love sharing my experience with you, my readers.  I thank you for your kind words, support, and patience.  I'm back, and looking forward to sharing more shenanigans with you.

In the end, I missed a Kayak Bass Fishing National Championship spot by .75" to a deserving person.  It was a good run, fun, I bettered my fishing skills, built some muscle, and learned a lot about what I want out of the sport.  A fellow member of the Wisconsin Kayak Fishing group on Facebook shared with me a quote that made me smile, as it was appropriate for my journey.

"Winning, there are alot of misconceptions about winning. It doesn't necessarily mean you have to be on top but do the best that you possibly can."
--Walter Payton






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