Nat’l High School Bass Tourney is this week

By By Capn. Ted Peck

Oklahoma bass fishers Cooper Lewis and Wyatt Wisian hone their bass fishing skills on backwaters of Pool 9. (submitted)

The 14th Annual High School Bass Fishing World Finals and Championship kicks off June 21 out of Copeland Park in LaCrosse. Over 440 to student teams from all over the United States will be chasing $3.3 million in scholarships and prizes.

Mississippi River pools 7, 8 and 9 are open to competitors with finals of the event on June 24. Both largemouth and smallmouth bass are fair game with a three bass daily bag allowed and 14-inch minimum size requirement.

Working as a fishing guide on the Upper Mississippi for almost 50 years I am diametrically opposed to fishing tourneys that remove quality fish from their habitat to be transported many miles to another river pool to be released and hopefully survive. But after serious torment over situational ethics, I agreed to guide teams from Louisiana, Oklahoma and Arizona prior to cutoff of outside information or assistance at sundown on June 11.

This concession was made for two reasons: help the next generation internalize respect for the environment and other anglers—and teach them how to stay safe in a brutally apathetic, dangerous environment. River fishing on a bona fide force of nature like the Mississippi was a foreign concept to all three teams of future BASS pros I guided.

The first lesson deals with fishing philosophy. If you focus on fishers in 439 other teams, it’s game over before you even launch an $80,000 bass boat. Every boat in high school competition has an adult captain to drive the boat between fishing spots chosen by participants.

Success on the River—and fishing in general—is adopting a philosophy that you are fishing against the fish, not other fishers. The balance point of this quest is the River itself. Work with the River instead of fighting it and odds tip in your favor.

A classic example of this philosophy is casting the shoreline along a shady rip-rapped area on the River mainstem. Working this structure by using the electric trolling motor while heading upstream means the troller has to pull the boat at higher speeds. Making directional adjustments under power is challenging. Fishing a shady bank with the boat’s bow pointed downstream allows lower trolling motor speeds. But with the current pushing you the boat is moving too fast to work fish holding spots effectively.

Learning how to work down a shady shoreline backwards is a foreign concept to bass fishers. Once my young clients learned how to do this their presentation and catch rate increased significantly. Fish in a river system always face into the current. Sliding downstream backwards enables the angler in the bow of the boat to make an optimum presentation with a search bait like the Rat-L-Trap. The angler fishing in the back of the boat can cast perpendicular to the shoreline with a finesse lure like a senko or Ned rig, with the option of throwing a search bait like a Bill Lewis lures MR-6 directly downstream, retrieving his cast slowly back upstream to the boat.

The MR-6 floats at rest and dives when retrieved. A productive retrieve which “tics” the rocks when being pulled back upstream will result in snagging up if you’re doing it right. But allowing the reel to free spool, carrying the slack line downstream with fishing rod held high causes a large “J” in the line, often freeing the lure from the snag. More often than not, a fish is waiting when the lure backs out of the rocks and starts floating towards the surface.

If you caught that reference of fishing the shady side of the River the learning curve is shortened. Towering bluffs along the Mississippi create shade along the east shoreline in the morning until about 10:30 a.m. in some spots. Likewise, shade which puts bass in a more active feeding mood begins draping western shores about 4 p.m.

Essentially all bass fishing is done beyond the red and green channel markers that designate navigable water. The mnemonic “red, right, return” when heading inland from the sea or navigating upstream provides orientation when easing out of a backwater toward the channel.

Navigating toward the channel should always be done at a 90-degree angle to the shoreline. A vector of 45 degrees may lead to unwelcome contact with rocky structures called wingdams or closing dams. Boat captains from other states unfamiliar with river fishing learned to always give the downstream side of islands a wide berth to avoid siltation and sandbars.

Bass location in many productive summer spots on the Mississippi is often one foot deeper than a rod tip poked in the water as it disappears from view.  

There are hundreds of islands in the Mississippi River flood plain. Water can be mere inches deep across acres of faceless water which lies between these barriers. A key to finding deeper, navigable water is looking for islands with tall green trees. The flood of 2019 killed up to 60 percent of mature trees on some areas of pool 9. Islands with living trees usually mean less siltation and deeper water close to shore.

An old River guide’s greatest satisfaction comes from seeing a novice angler catch a “personal best” fish using a lure they have never used before.

Weigh in for the 14th annual high school World Bass Fishing National Championship will be 4 p.m. this Friday at Copeland Park, on Clinton street in LaCrosse, Wis.

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