Last weekend I fished my first tournament. It was actually my first time on the water this year. I try to get out at least a time or two before a tournament to get any kinks worked out of my gear - and the person holding the rod. But this year my schedule just did not permit it.
I am big on practice. Those who have driven by The Times' office in Minocqua during 10 a.m. break in the last few weeks have likely seen me in the parking lot pitching a bait caster at various targets such as leaves and rocks.
Winters here are long, as we all know, and an angler's mechanics can really suffer over those long, cold months. Practicing like this gets the feel of the rod in my hands, the mechanics of getting my thumb to react to what my eyes are seeing when the bait hits the ground (known in common circles as eye-hand coordination), and can even help with remembering the feel of the bottom versus the tap-tap of a fish. It is not a perfect solution, but it seems to help once I get out on the water.
The day was not without a "professional overrun" or two (also known as a bird's nest or backlash), but I think the practice paid off. For the most part, I remembered to adjust each reel properly as I picked up a new rod.
As recommended, I back off all of my brakes and line tensioners and drag at the end of the season so there is no pressure on anything during all those months they sit, forlorn and seemingly forgotten in the rod rack along the dining room wall. This is a great idea, but one needs to remember this before attempting to cast a rod the first time. Spinning reels are pretty forgiving. Not so for the average bait caster. This part of the day went fairly well.
As they old saying goes, they call it "fishing," not "catching," for a reason. For me, spring can be the most frustrating time to fish, and this first tournament proved that to be true.
One of the clubs I belong to fished the Waupaca Chain. The water is very clear and the fish were super spooky. It seemed if you saw a fish, it already had seen you and was going to do anything but show interest in most baits. I fished with my new fishing partner, but in this format, we fished against each other. This was a singles tournament, not a team tournament.
We saw probably 30 fish up cruising the shallows. Even a stick worm or tube was not a good enough offering for most of these guys. Thinking, if the males were up cruising, the females should not be far behind, I began to fish out of the other side of the boat, into deeper water. This proved fruitless the several times that I decided to "give it one more try."
A week or so before the tournament, I received some local information that a tube was the best bait to use. At one point I had four tubes tied on: one on a tube jig, one Texas rigged, one on a split shot set up, and one on a jika rig. None of this worked for me.
My partner was having some luck on a Carolina rig, with fish seemingly laying in that transition between the clearest, shallow water and the darker weed line. His success lead me to the decision to try a split shot.
I did not have a C-rig tied on and did not want to take the time to tie one - first suggestion, if the other guy in the boat is catching them on something, take that time. Everything I threw was either on monofilament or had a fluorocarbon leader. With clear water, I never really like to throw braid. I feel like it is too easy for the fish to see.
After netting seven or eight fish for my partner, I picked up the one rod that had only braid on it. There was just over half an hour left in the tournament, and I figured I could not do any worse than I was already doing. I tied a Texas rig and said "to heck with it," grabbing for a bag of Mann's Jelly Worms. Jelly Worms are older than I am, but there must be a reason they are still around. They actually even smell like jelly.
Now, I am sure fish do not eat jelly, but there must be something about that smell that smells like something they do eat - do not ask me what it could be.
Plum apple was my color of choice. Within 10 minutes of switching to the Jelly Worm - on braid - I had a fish in the boat. It was not a huge fish at 1.90 pounds, but it started the year off for me.
Second suggestion -do not discount something due to a preconceived notion that it is a bad idea. There are no bad ideas in fishing. Of course, by then, I was out of time, but at least I was able to weigh in a fish.
It was a great day on the water with a good friend, with some great surprises. In at least two lakes in the chain, sturgeon were cruising the shorelines. Almost every angler has the opportunity to see some of these prehistoric beasts gliding along. While there were some good fish caught in the tournament, the most excitement at weigh in came from the sturgeon stories.
In the end, I will likely have a Carolina rig tied on for the next tournament, and I will not run out of Jelly Worms for the rest of the year. But then, I wonder, what will I be missing by throwing those worms? Fishing always seems to bring more questions than answers, but it sure is fun to figure out the puzzle.
Beckie Gaskill may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.