EDITORS NOTE: Potsdams Chris Flint, a member of the Northern New York Bassmasters Club, recounts the experience of competing in the FLW Everstart Championship in Monroe, Louisiana on Nov. 1-4 with the best bass anglers in the world.
MONROE, LA - My final event of the year snuck up on me like the great whitetail deer often does to hunters perched up high in their tree stands. Before you realize it, there it is and then its gone. As many sportsman in the North Country were attempting to fill their venison tags and waiting for the rut to arrive I was getting ready for my next adventure a 3,000 mile round trip journey to the Ouachita River in Monroe, Louisiana to fish in the FLW Everstart Championship from Nov. 1-4.
My destination might be more familiar to you as its home of Duck Dynasty the now popular TV series which airs on A&E. National Geographic called the Ouachita river one of the most beautiful rivers in the world, a bold statement but one I was looking forward to judging for myself.
The championship consisted of qualifiers from the five Everstart Divisions-Central, Northern, Southeast, Texas and Western. The top 40 pro and co-anglers from each division were invited to fish the no entry fee event. One hundred and fifty three anglers arrived to take their shot at the $50,000 cash prize along with a brand new Ranger Boat.
The winner of this event would also earn a no-entry fee invitation to the Forest Wood Cup, the tournament every professional angler dreams of fishing not to mention the $500,000 prize that comes along with it. Unlike the regular season events this one had off limits which meant every angler would only be allowed three practice days. The event would consist of four days of fishing, each angler being able to fish the first two days. The field would then be cut to the top 20 anglers. The final day the event would be cut to 10 anglers where a champion would be crowned.
So I loaded up my truck and boat with all of the gear I could think of and owned. I was also fortunate enough that my wife could travel with me again for this event. Many of you that know us are aware that we are avid dog lovers and own four German shorthaired pointers. Yes, four. Many of the times they travel with us as opportunity allows.
This was going to be a long drive so I picked the calmest dog out of the pack, Garrett who was five months old. We loaded up and started the 1,500 mile journey which I planned to do in about 28 hours. Fortunately we arrived with no major issues other than lack of sleep.
Day One Practice
Although I was running on very little sleep I could not wait to get up in the morning and hit the water for the first day of practice. I awoke at 4 a.m. and started coffee and took the dog out for a short walk. Much to my surprise as I stepped out on the porch of my cabin I was blasted with cold air.
I wiped the sleep from my eyes and looked around, was I still in the North Country? As I walked down a small trail I read a sign that says Beware of Alligators. I was definitely in Louisiana but it appeared I brought the North Country weather with me.
I checked the weather on my phone which stated it was 38 degrees!! Frost covered my boat and all I could think was I just drove 28 hours south and I have to pull out all of my cold weather gear. Regardless of the weather I was going to be fishing.
I arrived at the launch under the cover of darkness and to my surprise only a couple of boats in the parking lot. I launched the boat as daylight arrived and started to idle north up the river. My plan for day one was to fish the DArbonne wildlife refuge an expansive bayou off the main river. Much of my studies had shown many events being won out of this section of water with its vast stump fields and backwaters.
From reading my hardest problem would be getting into the bayou. A 10 minute run north I arrived at the mouth to the entrance of the bayou a narrow channel about as wide as a two lane road. This channel ran for about four miles which would then open into the bayou, much of that area was a no wake zone so it was slow speed travel. As I idled toward my destination I looked behind me and saw about ten other boats had now filed in behind me. I arrived at the opening of the bayou and was shocked at what I saw. Huge cypress trees and broken off stumps littered the expansive opening. It might as well been a minefield!
Many of the waterways I fish are greatly detailed with electronic map data which greatly assist you in not wrecking your boat. Unfortunately this was not the case here. I had stopped and made several attempts to find maps but after speaking with locals there was no such thing. Knowing this time of year the shad migrate to the far back ends of pockets in the bayou I needed to cross this minefield.
Using Google earth, depth finders and intuition I started my attempt and getting across this. Within a couple of minutes I quickly found myself sitting on top of a submerged stump which was lodged directly underneath my boat. There I sat with the front of my boat out of the water and my big motor out of the water. The rest of the boats which quickly attempted to scramble around me, three of which ended with the same results. I did come somewhat prepared and had a large push pole with me and after much maneuvering I was able to dislodge myself. I then stayed on the trolling motor and worked my way through the minefield of stumps and trees heading towards the furthest back point of the bayou. I arrived at my location to start fishing four hours later. I stayed on the trolling motor making waypoint marks to get into the location so if the fishing was good I would be able to make better time.
I then decided I would just fish my way out for the day. The day quickly came and went with me throwing everything I had in my boat in an attempt to get bites. I passed by a local who was fishing and he stated that the cold front shut fish down and it was almost impossible to catch fish at that time. Not really what I wanted to hear but I pushed on. I stayed on my trolling motor fishing back to the mouth of the Ouachita River arriving at dark. The only fish being caught being a drum and a freshwater gar. Disappointing but I did find a bunch of water that I did not need to fish now. Time to regroup and go at it again in the morning.
Day two arrived under the same cold conditions now with the exception of heavy fog which sat upon the river. Heavy enough that I could only see about two boat lengths in front of me. I again was the first one to leave the launch and head north. My idea today was to fish the river system. I was going to make a 15 mile run and fish some major river turns to see if the largemouth were set up on the points where they could ambush migrating shad. As I drove the sun was just rising and I utilized my GPS to stay in the main channel and keep the boat just on plane as I could not see far ahead. I rounded a sharp river turn and saw a dark object in the middle of the channel, as I slowed and turned to avoid hitting the object I realized it was four deer swimming across the channel!
Almost a boat deer accident I am sure my insurance agent would have been thrilled with that. Once at my fishing location the sun continued to rise and the water warmed.
I started to notice small pods of shad flickering on the surface. I quickly matched the shad with a small crankbait and caught my first Louisiana Largemouth. Throughout the day I attempted to duplicate the pattern and ended my day with three largemouth caught. Some of the times when I caught fish I would see followers, once a fish was caught I would mark the spot and leave
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it in hopes of returning and catching limits there on tournament day.
Day three I was fortunate enough to have a partner who fished with me on day one in the Clayton event. We again ran North and the weather continued to warm. Now we started noticing the large trees and brush piles which were scattered along the river were holding shad. Many of these trees were submerged in 20-40 foot of water and would top out at the surface. We began throwing white spinnerbaits into the trees and started getting results. Often when the bait was thrown in around the top of the trees you would see shad scatter. When this happened a fish would often be caught. If no shad scattered we would throw in again and let the spinnerbait just fall down through the trees. When this happened the deeper fish would come out and grab the bait. This pattern was starting to produce plenty of fish. I located plenty of trees holding fish and we decided to make a run south of Monroe. The problem with running south was a ¾ mile no wake zone which burned up some of your fishing time. Once south we located the same type of structure and duplicated the pattern, often switching between the spinnerbait and the crankbait depending on the mood of the fish. Our day ended with locating what I thought to be plenty of fishing spots. Although I did not think I was on fish big enough to win the event I was confident I was on enough to cash a check.
The day started and I ran north, my plan was to work north on day one and south on day two. I quickly found plenty of boats running north along with me. As I pulled to my first spot to start fishing the boat traffic was heavy and as boats continued to pass me in the narrow river I noticed the water starting to get dirty. On my seventh cast I landed my first fish. Off to a great start considering it took a long time to catch a limit of fish and often bites did not come until later in the afternoon. Boats continued to run past me as I fished on. Hours passed without bites or any sign of shad moving. Noon came and went and I had one fish in the livewell. It was time to make a decision, do I run south and hope my bite is better? If I do and catch fish I have burned through all of my fish spots and still have at least one more day to fish. I decided I needed a limit and I would deal with tomorrow when it arrived. I ran south and fished the rest of the day there. Not one other bite. I walked to the stage on one of the biggest tournaments of my career with one tiny little largemouth. Humbled these days happen to some of the best fisherman in the world. I told myself I would not be disappointed I am living my dream and I have made it this far I was not going to quit.
Tournament Day 2
As I sat eating dinner the night before I wondered how was I going to turn this event around? All of my fish have disappeared or so I thought. I felt like I had no idea where to start the following day. I decided whatever the outcome was going to be I needed to set a goal for tomorrow and keep it simple. I started my day and told myself I was just going to fish for a limit. I would let the conditions and the fish tell me what to do. I started North again picking away at areas I had fished or known fish to be during practice. As I reflect back I really can say what happened but I started producing fish. I was more relaxed, read the water better and just pulled up to spots which felt right. I can do this often when I fish the St. Lawrence river my comfort zone. It produced huge results for me during the 2012 season helping me cash a check in all but two events I fished there.
I worked through the day fishing good, not missing bites and making perfect pitches to the trees. By noon I had a limit of fish, I reached my goal now it was time to exceed that. I ran south and worked some of my other areas. My time there also paid off with me culling three of the fish that were in my livewell to add small increments of weight. I hit the stage on day two proud that a Northern boy had caught a limit and made a personal comeback. Not enough to make the cut for the day but a personal achievement. I finished the event ranked #117 out of 153 anglers. Not very impressive but I had to say to myself I qualified for the event and had the chance to fish against the best anglers in the country.
At the end of each event I often reflect back at the who, what ,where when and why of the tournament. I had plenty of time to do this during my 1500 mile ride home. I realize as I have written about in my previous article it all comes back to self confidence. Day one by noon and only having a few hours left to catch a limit the events of the day got in my head and I got rattled. If youre the average guy who goes out and fishes on the weekend you may never feel this. Ask anyone who tournament fishes at every level from club fishing to the pro circuit, a solid state of mind and good decision making will push you to the top. I know it is a weakness of mine and I have continued to work on this problem throughout the 2012 season. As human beings we set goals for ourselves every day and many of us may take this for granted. Many of us wake up and say , I need to get the lawn mowed or the laundry done. A small goal, but when completed gives us a sense of accomplishment. With this in mind we should all set goals for ourselves no matter how big or small it gives us the self fulfillment that makes us who we are.