Ron’s Fishing Tips and Stories: How Tournaments are (almost) Won
This week let’s talk about tournament bass fishing. I realize that 99% of you will never fish a bass tournament, but in today’s story you may learn something that will make you a better bass fisherman.
During the 1990’s, Ron Jr and I began fishing weekend tournaments in the team division. I also started fishing pro/am tournaments in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. Our team division was filled with about 130 teams with 20 teams as good as you could find anywhere. The pro/am division was about the same with 150 pros and 150 amateurs with 20 or so pros as good as any fisherman anywhere in the world. Many of these pros fished the BASS circuit and other major circuits as a full-time profession. Many have done very well as full-time pros such as Alton Jones, who won the Bass Masters Classic last year.
In 1994 Ron Jr. and I won the Anglers of the Year and finished second the next year. I also qualified for the pro division championship which would be the top 80 pros from all over the USA paired with the top 80 amateurs. The championship was to be held on Grand Lake in the northeast corner of Oklahoma. We were allowed to practice two weeks before the tournament started.
I made several calls to friends who knew the lake very well and got some ideas. From this info I made a decision on what part of the lake I would concentrate my efforts. I always divide the lake I am going to fish into 3 parts. The lower part which includes the dam, then the mid section of the lake and finally the upper end of the lake which includes the river that feeds the lake. By dividing the lake into thirds I don’t have as much water to cover or to try and locate the bass. If the lake is a 30,000 acre lake then I concentrate all my time and effort in only the 10,000 acres I feel is best at that time of the season.
On Grand Lake I chose the upper part of the mid section and the lower part of the upper section. I made my decision based upon the following info I got from friends. In this part of the lake there is a marina called Red Devil Marina and this marina hosts the majority of bass tournaments held on the lake. Also I found out that the water was mostly clear in this section as opposed to the upper part of the lake which was muddy due to heavy rains. I got a good tip from Denny Brauer who had won a tournament fishing boat houses up near the dam. The water was very clear and Denny had to use very small light line to catch his bass. This tip from Denny allowed me to rule out that area as very clear water and very small line is not my game. I do best in slightly off color water using 20 lb mono. Each of us should decide what we do best and stick with what we’re good at doing.
I had bought a map of Grand Lake, made maybe six phone calls and had decided which part of the lake I would spend my time and effort. I then studied the map and picked out maybe four areas to practice fish and formed a fishing plan. This was all done sitting in my office back in Texas, without ever seeing the lake.
I then finally went to Grand Lake and began working on my plan. I started fishing a small little N along a highway that had concrete rip-rap. I couldn’t believe the number of quality bass I caught the first afternoon. I felt simply great as my plan so far was working. The next morning I decided to fish some willows that had about 2 feet of water around them as the lake was high. I fished a black jig with a pork rind trailer and caught 2 small non-keepers. I ruled out the willows after about 5 hours of fishing. I then started fishing main lake points with a Carolina rigged zoom watermelon color lizard. This is one of my favorite ways to fish and have had a great deal of success fishing this way. I finished the day without a good feeling as I only caught bass with only one keeper. I was beginning to worry a little as I didn’t want to go into the tournament with only one pattern.
Every night I would drive to a great steak place to eat as they had a glassed-in restaurant where you could look out at the lake. I was sitting there during my meal and watched two beavers chewing on a green willow tree. I made a mental note that if the beavers felled that tree into the lake it might attract some bass before the tournament. The next day I spent time time up Catfish Creek flipping a Texas rigged craw worm into bushes in three to four feet of water. I managed to catch three or four small bass and one big hoss that weighed almost 7 lbs. This nice fish took a solid black craw worm with blue pinchers. However, this was my only keeper for maybe six hours of hard work which meant I couldn’t use this pattern to get 5 bass. But maybe I would try here if I had five bass and needed to cull a bass.
My last day of practice, I went to check on my beaver friends and found they had felled the tree into the water but I didn’t dare fish the tree as there were several boats fishing the cove. I left the cove and went up the creek by Red Devil Marina. I fished the bank opposite RD and caught three pretty nice 2 lb bass using a fire tiger Bagley B. I was fishing some old blood weeds that were flooded by the high water. I left the bank and went under a very small highway bridge that was just wide enough for my Skeeter 300. I went on up the creek and fished about 2 hours and started back to the highway bridge. There was a guy pleasure fishing the concrete rip-rap close to the bridge. As I was slowly coming up to him he caught a nice 5 lb bass on a crank bait. Of course I made a mental note but I didn’t stop and try to help him catch his fish. I finished up the day feeling not so good about the championship coming up in two weeks. I returned home to Texas with a lot of serious doubts about my chances in the tournament.
The first day of the tournament was a beautiful clear sky day but very windy. My amateur partner was from California and a very nice guy but knew nothing about Grand Lake except it was a long way from his home. I first went to the crank bait fish along the rip rap by the highway. Too much wind as I simply couldn’t hold the boat. I left that spot and went to the beaver willow where I boated my first bass and it weighed 2.3 lbs. and my partner caught a small non-keeper. We fished it for about 15 more minutes and then I used the troll motor to go deeper in the cove to some blood weeds flooded by the high water. I made a cast into an opening and BAM another 2 lb bass was on my line, BUT my partner throws into the same hole and catches a nice 5 lb bass. I was proud for him, but I must confess I wanted that bass. He is fishing for $5000 and I am fishing for $30,000. I finally managed to catch 2 more bass that day and weighed in 10 lbs. I finished the first day in 10th place as Steve Smith, Kyle Rowe, Marty Fourkiller, Alton Jones all had 20 or more pounds.
These top leaders had caught all their bass on jigs under the willows where I had checked my first practice day. I pretty well counted out my chances of winning the tournament but decided I would just do my best and see what happened. That night one of the most brutal cold fronts passed, sending the temps down into the teens. At the same time, the lake BOSSES opened all the gates and dropped the lake level maybe 2 to 3 feet overnight. The next morning met us with a clear bright BLUEBIRD sky with no clouds and a brisk North wind about 20 mph — the absolute worst conditions for a bass fisherman. I went to the beaver tree first and it was on dry land, as were the blood weeds. Next I went to the highway rip rap where we fished for about 2 hours using cranks, but nothing doing. It was now about 10 am and no fish so I went to the Red Devil Creek and started fishing the bank opposite the marina. I finally caught a nice 3 lb bass on a black & white Bagley but then there were no more bites. I cranked up the motor and moved us to the highway bridge where I had seen the pleasure fisherman catch a nice bass. We first fished the lake side of the bridge and rip rap with no luck, so I moved us under the bridge out to the other side. We turned and started fishing the rip-rap with my partner using a red plastic worm and me throwing a bomber model 7 in a fire tiger. I moved the boat so we could throw under the bridge. Nothing! After maybe 5 minutes I decided to crank the devil out of the bomber and get it as deep as I could, trying to bump some of the rocks. I bumped a rock pretty good and WHAM! I got hit but the fish didn’t stick. I made another excited cast and this time I bumped the rock and BAM the big bass nailed it. She weighed over 5 lbs and I was going crazy to throw again. Another cast and another bump off the rock and wham another 5+ lb bass. Now I had about 13 or 14 lbs in 3 bass. Another cast but I didn’t get the bait deep enough to hit the rock — no bite. Next cast, no rock, no bass. The next throw I managed to hit and bounce off the rock and WHAM! a really good hard pulling bass that weighed over 6 lbs. As I was taking the hook out of her mouth the back treble hook pulled out of the bait. I looked in my tackle box but no more fire tigers so I tried to fish my crippled bait that had only one set of trebles in the middle of the bait. No Luck as I felt the bass hitting the back of the bait but I couldn’t hook the fish.
After about an hour of no luck fishing I decided to go to Red Devil Marina, which set up on top of a high bank with the dock and marina down below. I pulled up to the dock and saw a sign that said “Ring the bell for service.” Problem is tournament rules forbid any contestant from leaving his boat. My fishing rod is not long enough to reach the button so I started yelling and waving my hands. No Luck, so we took off up Catfish Creek, looking for a buddy that I knew would have some Bomber 7′ in a fire tiger. We spent about 40 minutes looking for Ricky Potts but couldn’t find him.
I returned to the bridge and found that no one had claimed our honey hole. I started tying on many baits to try and get down to the bass which have been in about 7 ft of water. No luck!! A pleasure fisherman comes by, using his troller and I tell him I will give him $20 for a bomber Model 7 in a fire tiger color. He says he has one but he looks and looks and can’t find it. He says he is sorry but he points to another boat about 200 yards away and says that his friend will have one. So he cranks up his motor and goes to his friend and when he kills his motor he tells his friend that this crazy SOB over there will give $20 for this bomber bait. The friend looks and looks but doesn’t have one.
I finally tie on a little N in a fire tiger which will dive to maybe 4 ft. I had tried earlier but the bass were too deep. But the sun has warmed the water and I hope the bass have come up some. Sure enough the first cast where my bait hits a rock I catch my 5th bass. I keep on fishing and catch 2 more keepers and cull the smaller bass.
It’s time to go to weigh in and we are in the last flight which means we are the last ones to weigh in for the day. The first thing I hear is that all the first day leaders have posted big zeros. The big stringer for this day so far is 13+ lbs. I fill my bag up and start walking to the scales as fishermen are looking with disbelief. My bag of bass weighs 22.9 lbs and puts me very close to the championship. As it turned out, Marty Fourkiller–who lives on the lake–beats me out of first place by 4 ounces. His first day weight was just too much for my 10 lbs to overcome.
I had a great time and got a friend of mine to pull my new Skeeter boat and motor back to Texas. It was a great trip and one where I smiled all the way home.
If there is nothing more to learn from this story, it is never leave home with only ONE BOMBER MODEL 7 FIRE TIGER CRANKBAIT!
I hope you enjoyed this Ron Speed fishing story. One of the best ways to hone your skills is to get away for several days to a lake where you can put new ideas in practice. Naturally, I’m keen on Mexico bass fishing lakes and Brazil Peacock Bass rivers.
Good luck with your fishing and wear that lifejacket.