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Author Topic: Joshimoto's Stren Championship: Part 1 - Practice  (Read 3445 times)

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joshimoto son

Joshimoto's Stren Championship: Part 1 - Practice
« on: November 19, 2007, 10:48:27 AM »

Heading down to Alabama.

For the second year in a row, I managed to qualify for the Stren Series National Championship as a co-angler. I wanted to fish out of the back of the boat because I knew that it was the best way to learn these new bodies of water, I also believe it is my way of “paying my dues” and gaining confidence while still having a chance at cutting a check. I am ready to move to the front of the boat, but still need to find the money to do so.
This year’s championship was in Mobile Alabama on the Mobile Delta. The Delta is a series of main river system and tributaries that all migrate together and dump out into the Gulf of Mexico. Because of its connection with the ocean, the Delta is affected by the tide and depending on the day and weather conditions, one could see a fluctuation of water levels from one to two feet.

I was only able to travel this year because my friend and local club member Duane Mroczka (mer-os-ka) had signed up as a boater to fish the Northern Division and we were able to split expenses. In case that name sounds familiar, Duane was the 2004 Michigan Federation State Fish-off Champ up on Lake Charlevoix.

Consistency was the key for both of us this year, which is the only reason we were able to qualify for the Championship. Neither one of us set the circuit on fire, but managed to accumulate enough points to put us both in the top 40 in the point standings. In Duane’s rookie year he managed to finish 35th overall in the Pro division and I sat 27th as a co-angler.

When I approach any tournament, I break it up into three parts, doing your homework, studying for the test (practice) and taking the test (fishing the tournament). The homework part is finding out as much as you can about the body of water your fishing before you even set foot on it. I do a lot of research on the internet, looking at past tournaments gives me an idea of the kind of weights I should expect to see and the write-ups on the top finishers helps me understand some of the techniques that I may need to employ. I also look at a lot of satellite imagery on the body of water. It just helps me get a better picture in my mind of what I’m fishing and sometimes can tell you things that a contour map can not. I also find local fishing reports to see what the current conditions are and some of the best places to find that information are a local message board. Hmm… go figure! Then I’ll talk to all the people I know that has fished the body of water or can hook me up with someone who has. A little first hand information can go a long way.

My homework for this tournament told me that the weights, compared to what we see here in Michigan, were going to be down and the fishing was going to be tough. I had seen in one recent tournament that approached 100 boats only taking a two day total of 22 pounds to secure the win. The online reports I read had told me that finesse tackle was one of most successful ways to catch fish. More specifically the shaky head and mojo rig. From the satellite images I could tell that the water was going to be very stained with some of the backs of creeks and lakes clearing up.
From the personal information I received, I was told that the Delta much like the entire south, is in a drought and anglers were having to run over 90 miles to get away from the salt water coming in from the gulf due to the low water levels. It was also mentioned that Katrina in 2005 really wiped this place out and turned it into a proverbial suck hole. So I had that going for me. A 12” size limit with the chances of catching five a day being very low.

Instead of leaving late after work on a Friday like we had in the past, Duane and I took the day off and started our trip down at 4:00 am. Just how long does it take to get from Michigan to Mobile? Well… it took one stop at Bass Pro Shops in Indiana just incase they ran out of the stuff we wanted at the Bass Pro Shops in Alabama. A lengthy discussion reviewing our entire season up to date, we talked about our better halves. The funny thing is that both of us are engaged. We both met our fiancés on a blind date, they each have a seven year old daughter, they both work in the medical field and we each moved in with our girls in September. Four stops to fill the truck up. Dinner with Duane’s buddy Chad from Montgomery Alabama and since we were there, another shopping trip at the Bass Pro Shops. All of which was set to a musical montage dedicated to the history of hair bands. 19.5 hours later we finally rolled into Mobile at 11:30pm and were ready to crash.

 We decided not to set the alarm for Saturday morning and go fishing when we got up. Past experience has taught us that being a mind blubbering, drooling wreck because of lack of sleep from traveling was not the way to start practice. By the time we bought our fishing license and located the ramp where we wanted to start it was already noon and we were more than ready to get our day started. Our initial focus for practice was going to be on the creeks that fed the main river. We discussed that the two ways to approach them was to start at the mouth and work our way back or the exact opposite. With the windy conditions we decided that we would start in the backs and work our way out with the exception of one spot on the main river that had caught Duane’s eye on the map. It was a large island located in the center if the main river that was adjacent to deep water and had tons of wood on it.

Studying for the Test: Practice

It only took about ten minutes to get to the island and the anticipation was killing us, the shore line looked perfect as we trolled up to within casting distance of our first target. By looking at the graph it appeared that the water kept getting shallower and shallower and our thoughts were, that by the time we would reach our destination, there wouldn’t be any water to fish in. Then as we got up to within pitching distance the water depth went from three foot to 11 foot right off of shore. As it turns out there was a small feeder creek that came out from the top of the island and hugged the shoreline running easily over a mile long until it merged with the main river. This place looked amazing! Duane picked up his flipping gear and I grabbed a shaky head. Duane and I have always tried to work as a team when it came to practice making sure that one of us was always trying to do something different than the other. The wood looked great, but I noticed that we were marking some fish on the deep side of the break created from the creek. It only took ten minutes before we caught our first fish. I was just dragging the shaky head on the break and caught a 10 inch largemouth.
I don’t know about anyone else, but when I travel 952 miles to a body of water I’ve never been to before and catch a fish in the species I’m looking for in the first ten minutes, I get really excited. I continued with the back of the boat dragging technique and about five minutes later I get another thump on my shaky head. It didn’t feel any harder than that little 10 incher, but when I set the hook that fish just started pulling out drag. I was using eight pound P-Line Flouroclear and had my drag set a little tighter than I would with most eight pound line. All I was thinking as I was fighting the fish is that we found “the deal” in the first 20 minutes of practice!

I had never seen a red fish before. What I thought was going to be a whopper of a Largemouth turned out to be a two pound red and it fought like mad. We took a picture and released the salt water fish back into the river. That’s funny, I just caught a large mouth and then picked up a red fish. I felt like I had just seen a color I’ve never seen before in my life. We fished for a little while longer and the thoughts of those big creeks and Cyprus trees were killing Duane, so we picked up and headed to our first creek that incidentally was located inside of the island.

As we found out later, most of the smaller creeks that come off of the main river have a sand bar that stretches from point to point of the mouth. Some of them we could get across and some we had to wait for the tide to bring up the water. Once we made it into the creek the water would get much deeper, ranging from 4 foot to 15 foot. The first creek was loaded with shad and these “flying fish”. Their acrobatics would make a small mouth jealous. The creek was also littered with lay downs adjacent to yet another creek channel. Ray Scott himself could not have made better looking bass habitat. We pitched… and we flipped… and we threw the shaky head… and run spinnerbaits, crank baits, worms, soft plastic jerk baits, toads… for two hours going up and down this creek and only managed to catch two tiny bass. Now we’re scratching our heads. What gives? Maybe the creek is just too small and we should look at a larger one. We packed up and headed back up river to the back of a creek that ran about seven miles off of the main river.

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joshimoto son

Re: Joshimoto's Stren Championship: Part 1 - Practice
« Reply #1 on: November 19, 2007, 10:50:01 AM »

Continued from above:


When we finally got off pad and started to look around, Duane and I could not take the smile off our face. We were in the everglades of Alabama, Cyprus trees galore with all the mossy stuff hanging off of them, huge pieces of wood in the water, shad was flicking and the creek channel was about 19 foot deep and winding in and out. THIS was the spot!
About another two hours and one short fish later we again found ourselves scratching our heads. How can this be? It is just some of the most remarkable looking stuff we’ve ever seen and there’s no fish.

Then from nowhere a couple of “old boys” came zooming by us in a flat bottom boat. We just figured that they were crappie fishing like the rest of the locals we encountered during the day and continued fishing. 10-15 minutes went by and I looked back to see the same two guys silently floating behind us. I never watched the entire movie Deliverance but I watched enough to know that I needed to tell Duane that we had a gallery behind us. He said, “I know, I seen them a couple of minutes ago.” So I turned around and said hi and struck a conversation with them. They asked us if we had been catching anything. Duane and I said we had caught a few little ones. It must have been our accent or lack there of that prompted the guy in the front of the boat to ask us where we were from. I said, “Michigan.” To which I got and instant and stern reply, “Then why you werrin’ an Alabama hat!” Now all of a sudden the Alabama “Roll Tide” hat I just purchased at Wal-Mart for $5 was not such a bargain anymore. “Oh $%!#” was all I was thinking. I just ticked off the locals and the only thing I could spit out for a rebuttal was, “… I uh… I um… I just thought…I’m just represent’n!”
“Representing!”, I screamed inside my head, “Oh God, please don’t let them get mad.”
Duane picked up on my stupidity and quickly changed the subject and asked them if they had got anything. The guy in the front of the boat said they had one hog. “Really” Duane replied, “How big was it, about four or five pounds?” The guy in the front of the boat replied, “no… about a 100 pounds.”

It was then I realized that these guys were not fishing when I saw the gun barrel sticking out from under a camouflage coat. The hair on my arms started to stand up. Here we are seven miles from the nearest contact with civilization and we’re face to face with two guys toting guns and drinking beer. If these two guys wanted to, they could have shot us, dumped our bodies in alligator infested waters, and ran off with a brand new Ranger Z20. They were actually hunting for wild pigs. They had explained that after Katrina the government had bought most of the land located around the Delta and there was an explosive pig population. $16 bucks would buy a license to shoot as many pigs as one could shoot to try and control the damage that all the pigs were doing. The guy in the back of the boat said they had just shot the one they had in the boat and asked us if we had heard them shoot. We told him that we never heard anything. He said, “good… because it’s not gun season yet.” Welcome to Alabama!

I can tell you for a fact that the people of Alabama are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met and these two guys were no exception. They told Duane and I that one of their buddies that does a lot of tournament fishing makes the run 80 miles north to the Alabama river to catch his fish. We talked about fishing and hog hunting for a few more minutes and then parted ways.

With about an hour left of daylight Duane and I started to fish our way out of the west arm of the creek we were in. Duane picked up a spinnerbait and I grabbed my frog rod and started hitting every piece of wood I could. As I was waiting to get closer to the next piece of wood I just made a blind cast in the middle of really nothing. I got about two cranks on the handle and a 1.5 pound fish smashed my frog so hard that it had set the hook on itself. I quickly reeled it in and flipped it in the boat. Duane grabbed his frog rod and we started to hit everything and anything. Over the next 20 minutes Duane had caught a two pounder, lost an even bigger fish and I had missed a fish on my frog. All the action we had came from the middle of nothing. They weren’t tucked next to a log, they were out cruising and chasing shad in the spaces between the timber. Feeling like we had finally figured out a pattern we decided that we would take the remaining daylight to get back to the launch and come back the next day to expand on our pattern as we had seen lots more areas that were identical to what we had just went through.

For our second day of practice we woke up much earlier and were on the water and heading back to the East arm of the same creek by 7:30. Geared up to start putting a whacking to some fish, we started out throwing a buzzbait and toad, and again, after about three hours of throwing the kitchen sink at em, we went biteless. Everything we fished was identical to the area we fished the day before with the exception that we weren’t catching any fish. It was apparent that the fish we had caught the day before had moved up for the evening feed and that we needed to back off the shore and go looking for them in the creek channel.

Looking at the map we picked a couple of creek bends and points made by the intersection of two creeks. For the next three hours we hit all of our strategic spots throwing cranks baits, jigs, shaky heads and worms. Working all of them from the top to the bottom and then turning around going from the deeper water to the shallower water with out even a sniff. Six hours with out a bite and our ambition was getting flattened. We didn’t want to, but we decided to go back to the exact spot we caught them the day before to solidify our thoughts. Those thoughts being that the fish we caught were just feeding during the last hour of the day, and if so… with the lack of action we were having, there weren’t enough fish in the backs of the creeks to warrant going there for the tournament.

Back at the original spot our thoughts were confirmed after an hour without a bite. Now what do we do? Duane decided to head out to the main river with only a couple of hours left in the day and just stop and fish what we thought looked good. Half way out of the creek we stopped at an intersection of another two creeks that had a tremendous amount of bird and shad activity. For another hour we fished the shallow stuff and the deep stuff with still no takers.

Back out on the main river heading back to the launch we spotted a section of shoreline about a mile long with a band of small size pads that paralleled the bank. Duane started out flipping an Ugly Otter in the pads and I alternated between a spinner bait and crank bait throwing them right behind the boat clipping the edge of the pads. After 20 minutes we came to a small break in the pads and I threw my crank bait up by a small limb in the water and had a 1.5 pounder eat it. Duane’s next cast was with a frog and a 2 pounder on the edge of the pads dropped a bowling ball on his toad. We had gone almost 8 hours with out a bite and then boat two keepers in back to back casts. We fished the rest of the stretch for the last half hour of the day without a bite and put the boat up on the trailer. After talking, we again chalked that up to the evening bite and not to a pattern we could rely on.

Back at the hotel, to add insult to injury, our roommate Chris “Sparky” Peterson proceeded to tell us that he had his third day in a row where he would have weighed in 10 pounds or more and that he found another place that he was confident he could catch a limit in fairly easily. Sparky was my day one boater in the first tournament of the year on the Potomac River and we have shared housing and been good friends ever since. At only 23 years old Sparky had already had two top tens in the Stren Series and one top ten in a BFL Super Tournament this year and has proved to be quite and angler.

Sparky was not fishing as far North as we were and was actually finding fish in fairly brackish water within a few miles of the gulf. Not to give in to dock talk just yet, Duane decided for our third day we would go even farther North and try another large creek. We cross it on the interstate and could see it had some scattered vegetation along the shoreline that looked very promising.

Monday, day three of practice. Before we headed to the creek that was further North, we headed back into the creek we had fished for the last two days. Duane wanted to stop back at the intersection that had all the bird and shad activity and see if we might encounter a morning bite and fish the smaller of the two creeks that came together for a bit. We gave that spot a good two and a half hours and came up empty handed.

We packed it up and headed north. Again, some of the best looking stuff we had ever seen. This creek was even deeper than the last with the middle of the channel averaging from 30 to 40 feet deep. The remainder of the day is very easy to explain. We fished two more major creeks doing the same thing we had done for the last two days and caught one small fish. Duane decided it was time to punt and go back to the hotel and get some more information from Sparky in hopes that we could work together and find more of the same thing he was fishing.

Sparky’s deal was fishing some wood, but mainly creeks that were lined with toolies or tall grass looking stuff like we all saw on the Bassmaster’s footage in the California Delta. Having been there a week longer than Duane and I, Sparky first struggled finding fish, but then as more anglers showed up, he noticed a lot of them were fishing the same areas he was. So he decided to fish the stuff everybody was passing over. Areas that didn’t look like a fish would even think about holding on. He picked up a spinnerbait and within a few minutes he caught a 4 pounder and then a 2 pounder and then another two pounder. He then went back to all these places he had initially skipped over and caught fish after fish. What was it that they were holding on? Nothing really, they were just mud flats and depending on the tide they were in 2-4 feet of water. This was his pattern and he had gotten good at spotting these places no one else was fishing. On the wood Sparky was fishing a mojo rig with a black finesse worm and everything else he used a spinnerbait.

Loaded up with spinnerbaits we started day four only a half mile from the gulf in a creek called Game Warden’s Ditch. Duane grabbed a spinnerbait I picked up a chatterbait. I caught the first fish of the morning, it was a speckled trout, yet again another fish I had only seen on TV previously and no camera that day for a picture. Then as we were working our way up the creek I caught a 13 inch largemouth that probably only weighed a pound. Off of the creek was a small, shallow bay that had some newly constructed condos and a boat ramp. Duane switched to a frog and started throwing at some darker spots in the water. We couldn’t quite tell if they were weeds or just a different type of bottom. After a few casts Duane put a two pounder in the boat. A couple of more minutes later still hitting these dark spots he caught our biggest fish of the trip. A largemouth that would go about 3.5 pounds. We then decided to get out of there before anyone else could see us. For the next couple of hours we found some more of the same and Duane had caught two more solid keepers in the two pound plus range on a spinnerbait. Thanks to Sparky, we finally had a pattern that was working.

Then we stopped and talked to a local man and his wife who were crappie fishing. We told them that we were fishing the big tournament that was down here this week and that it has not been the best of practice. The gentleman said that he doesn’t do any tournament fishing, but his good friend does and that he wins a lot of tournaments in this one area along the main river and in another creek adjacent to it. I knew exactly where he was talking about, it was at the very end of where we stopped fishing on day two by the small lily pads. Duane decided to take the man’s advice and head back up river to fish it. The wind was blowing too hard to fish the main river, so we ended up spending the rest of our day fishing the back of another creek with no change in our findings from the previous three days.
Day five was going to be a short day of fishing because we had to be in early to make it to the registration and meeting. Duane had a lot of confidence in the areas we fished earlier the day before and our last day was going to be dedicated to finding more. Our stops were very brief and if a fish was not caught in the first ten minutes, then he would pick up and go to another area. The last day felt like we were running a two minute drill in an NFL game. With one keeper caught flipping the Ugly Otter, we called it a day at 1:00pm to go back to the hotel, reline and tie up for the first day of the tournament.

My recap for the past five days. Practice sucked! Of the entire four and a half days, only four hours of it yielded areas that gave Duane the confidence to start his tournament. It’s easy to get frustrated and let it snowball into something even worse, but I will hand it to Duane, every morning we got up, he started out with the attitude of, “we’re going to get ‘em today.” That in itself is very difficult to do. My job was to let Duane do what he had to do and gain his own confidence and in the mean time hopefully find a few key baits that will work from the back of the boat. I didn’t really connect with any baits that I thought I could go anywhere and catch fish. So again, I was forced to figure it out on tournament day.
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Team houston

Re: Joshimoto's Stren Championship: Part 1 - Practice
« Reply #2 on: November 19, 2007, 11:53:37 AM »

Fantastic journal. Can't wait for the rest.
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Cy

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Re: Joshimoto's Stren Championship: Part 1 - Practice
« Reply #3 on: November 19, 2007, 02:10:20 PM »

Thanks Josh!  I always enjoy reading your journals.
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Cyrus Ruel

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Re: Joshimoto's Stren Championship: Part 1 - Practice
« Reply #4 on: November 20, 2007, 12:45:44 PM »

Josh,

Nice reading! I appreciate the time you took typing it! :)
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motocross269

Re: Joshimoto's Stren Championship: Part 1 - Practice
« Reply #5 on: November 21, 2007, 09:08:31 PM »

Congrats on your finish.  I really enjoyed reading the article.  I have always wondered what it would be like going into a southern impoundment basically cold turkey.
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Team houston

Re: Joshimoto's Stren Championship: Part 1 - Practice
« Reply #6 on: November 27, 2007, 12:01:13 PM »

The suspense is killing me. Where is the rest?
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joshimoto son

Re: Joshimoto's Stren Championship: Part 1 - Practice
« Reply #7 on: November 27, 2007, 02:54:58 PM »

Sorry, between turkey day, and my future father in-law having tripple bypass over the weekend, I had a hard time getting anything done.
But I did finish up the first day of the tournament. look for it on another post. I don't want to jam up one post and make it hard to manuver.

joshimoto son  ;D
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joshimoto son

Re: Joshimoto's Stren Championship: Part 1 - Practice
« Reply #8 on: November 28, 2007, 08:54:49 AM »

I have always wondered what it would be like going into a southern impoundment basically cold turkey.

Motocross,
I know what you mean. That place is huge. Ad you can fish it three different ways. The back of the creeks are just about what you'd find on a reservoir with the exception there weren't any houses on them. You could fish it like a river system, kind of like you would see on the Mississippi. Then you could stay closer to the Gulf and flip the tall grass and toolies. 80% of the field stayed close and put a pummeling on the fish. I mean they were elbow to elbow.

Incidentally, flipping that stuff was how it was won on the pro side. He was just lucky enough to find an area that no one else found. There's a couple of stretches that I know would have provided enough fish to win if someone had it to themselves.

joshimoto son ;D
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