Finally back from my fun filled weekend, and all I can say is I am beat! Both days were filled with rain, wind, and cold temperatures...the cold front was in full swing. Saturday we hit the lake around 7:30 AM, and started a mile or two South of our launch area and worked our way North up to the two rivers that feed into Lake Shelbyville. Lake Shelbyville in general is a beautiful lake with a lot of sparse stump fields, brush piles, rock piles, drop offs, and flats. Having intimate knowledge of this lake is crucial because the water level varies dramatically from spring to summer. At "winter pool" which is what the lake is at now is about 9-10 feet down from what the lake is during the "summer pool". You could tell just by the erosion of main lake points how far down the water was from normal summer pool levels.
A good starting tip that I learned from my club boater, Mike, on Saturday was that the spawning period for the lake was usually in mid May. This was one of the key points that I had to soak in because it told me several things...that the males are starting to move up to spawning areas, and the females will probably be lurking in some deeper water or might have started moving up depending on the portion of the lake they are in and the water temperature. Water temperature on Saturday was about 56 to 59 degrees depending on the time of the day which was perfect for most lures that I wanted to use. Water clarity was varied again depending on where you were at, but you could see about 1.5 - 2 feet down. This wasn't great so I knew that brighter colors or really dark colors would have to be key.
We hit several areas throughout the day, picking up a few keepers here and there with a mix of some hybrid white bass. Crappie fishing was in full swing there also so we worked our way around the chunks of boaters working brush piles for their dinner. While we were doing this I was making note of the areas we were fishing by marking way points (exact fishing spots) on my Navionics app on my phone. This app is 10 bucks, but allows you to drop pins on a lake map using your GPS location from your phone making it easier to hit your spots the following day. Water temperature, type of cover, water depth, and water clarity were all necessary pieces to the puzzle that needed to be figured out. The main thing though was to cover A LOT of different water quickly...and once you get that first bite you will be on your way to developing a pattern.
My boater, Mike, kept on getting hits next to stumps in our second area (the first area was a bust). The stumps were in 5 feet of water but had steep drop offs near by (secondary points). The stumps that were consistently holding fish were primarily next to main lake points. Now, I am a novice when it comes to lake contour lingo...but a main lake point is a land structure (usually a peninsula) that works its way down into the water...something that you can visibly see from shore. As you can see in the picture below, a cliff on the left side runs into the lake down to five feet of water where it flattens out. That is what would be called a main point. A secondary point though is when that depth transitions then to a deeper physical contour of the lake bottom...in this case the contour drops down to 12 feet of water and then flattens out again. So whenever you hear someone saying main point or secondary point, this is what they mean.
Not only were we catching fish on stumps next to main lake points, but also at gravel walls next to marinas and bridges. Mike caught a nice female next to one of the mouths of the bridge on a crankbait. The female was full of eggs and still feeding on shad. What is important to note was the condition of the female's tail. The tail isn't fully stretched out flat in the picture...but a good indicator whether a female is actively moving for the spawn is a bloody or red hued tail. When the females start filling with eggs they sit lower in the water column and hug the bottom because they are heavier and don't expel much energy. When they swim around then, they end up rubbing their tail on the bottom causing a non-permanent wound on their tail. The fish below did not show signs of this so she was still active and will probably be moving up soon for the spawn. Up to that point, all males had been caught...so an active female was a good sign that we might have some bigger fish in the bag come tournament day.
Stumps and rock points...we had our game plan. Most fish were caught between 5-10 feet of water and the water clarity was murky. The shad were in full swing and a lot of the bass were keying in on that so crankbaits were picked meticulously to match the hatch of the shad that we saw jumping out of the water. Light whitish grey sides with a light silver/pale black back was the key. KVD 2.5, Strike King 5 and 4 series crankbaits in Green Gizzard Shad and Blue Gizzard Shad worked the best. Spinnerbaits were also used, but the right color combo/blade configuration wasn't figured out until tournament day...but we will get to that juicy detail later. Black/blue jigs, black and blue creature baits, and green pumpkin senkos around stumps and brush worked well also.
The main thing we focused on though during practice on Saturday was to only set the hook on one or two keepers in an area once we found them, because if you catch a bunch of fish in the area...it will more than likely not produce on tournament day. A lot of the fish hit our bait and we let them shake free without setting the hook so they would bite tomorrow. Once we located fish in an area, we marked that point and made note of the characteristics of that area, and then made our way to a new area with similar characteristics. By the time we were finished we had 6-7 areas that we knew held fish that were willing to bite. I made note of all of this information, but come tournament day I might be fishing some totally different areas and lures depending on who I drew as my boater. That is the dilemma of the non-boater and practice...you are at the mercy of your boater on tournament day no matter how well you did in practice in other areas. Practice should still be utilized as a tool familiarize yourself with the water and the fish patterns to prevent you from getting overwhelmed and over thinking things. I have to say it helped me out getting my head in the game and having ideas in my back pocket that my boater might overlook.
Tournament morning started at 5:45 AM with check in...followed by drawing for boat order number and non-boater draw. My name was called out and I ended up picking boat number 5. Boat number 5 belonged to a local guy named James Williams. Really great guy, and ended up learning a ton from him throughout the day. He had been pre-fishing for the last 3 weeks patterning the fish, so I knew we were going to get into them. The day called for severe weather and a little colder temperatures...but James and I were in for a little bit tougher day than expected...and not just from the weather conditions. From the get go he was having issues starting the motor. Everyone took off and we were left stranded on the trolling motor until one of his buddies came to give us some starter fluid. The motor luckily started up and we ran to our first area.
The starting spot was in one of the fingers of the lake...stumps and trees galore! I tried a black/blue jig for a while with no luck. James threw Texas rigged plastics but had no luck either. About an hour into picking the area apart...the rain came. Thunder and lightning started to come in but we stuck it out for a bit as the rain was pouring. I decided to switch up tactics and put on a white/chartreuse spinnerbait with gold and silver colorado blades. I threw that for awhile until I finally got my first bite of the day. We were way back in one of the fingers of the lake and I saw a lay down tree under the water parallel to the shore maybe about 2 feet down. I threw the spinnerbait right up next to it and slow rolled it after it sank down a bit. I wasn't fully paying attention until I felt a heaviness on my line. I had gotten hung up a few times that day so I figured that was the case...until my line started moving. I realized that it was a fish and I laid into her! Next thing I know she was off to the races! My boater dropped everything and scrambled to the side of the boat to help me. As soon as I saw the side of the fish I knew she was a big one and my heart started racing as she splashed around in the water. My boater finally lipped her and she was on the board, what an amazing feeling! I guesstimated her at 4.5 lbs but my boater knew she was heavier then that...we had to wait and see once we got to the scales.
The storm started getting worse with the lightning and thunder being right over the top of us so we went into a cover for a bit and waited for everything to roll through. Once it started letting up we went to go turn over the motor...didn't fire. We tried and tried to get it to run...no luck. It took us awhile to figure out what went wrong...and with a little help from another couple guys on a different boat we finally got it to run. Unfortunately we lost a good hour in the tournament, but we tried hard to recover quickly.
We fished a few more spots with no luck and finally headed over to a rock break wall that was next to a marina. James told me that this marina was where most of the tournament fish are released so we were sure to fill the rest of our limit fast if they were biting. James picked up two keepers quickly on a jig and creature bait and I picked up my second one on a KVD 2.5. Mind you, all of the keepers had to be over 14" so some short fish that we caught had to be tossed back.
We hit a few more areas with no luck, it wasn't until 10 minutes before weigh in that we found one more fish. James tossed a spinnerbait (same chartreuse/white one I had) at another lay down tree and saw a fish roll on it. The fish missed it and he immediately threw his creature bait in there. He hooked into his third keeper which was a fat 14" bass. I was too slow on the draw and I ended up missing that chance to capitalize on his miss...oh well, you live and learn.
We finally got into the weigh in...I was really excited to weigh in my fish because it could have very well been the biggest bass of the tournament. A lot of the boats surprisingly were missing from the parking lot...some left because of the rain and others had no fish so they took off early. I had a good chance! When it was my time to weigh in I pulled out my big bass and the feeling was just indescribable. She weighed 5.17 lbs!
The other fish of mine weighed 1.6 lbs so I had a total weight of 6.77 lbs. I didn't think that was enough to place because I found out Bob Pointer, another member of our club, weighed in 5 fish for 15.57 lbs. His big bass weighed 5.46 lbs. I didn't know how the rest of the field fared so I went and released my fish and headed back to the weigh in for the announcement of the winners. They paid out up to 6th place. It didn't dawn on me until they called out 6th place that I actually had a winning weight!!! My two fish were good enough to put me in 4th place...out of a field of 37 anglers! I was just shy of big bass too by .29 lbs! I walked away with $150 bucks for 4th, and Big Bass would have been an extra $190...I was on cloud nine either way. I beat 10 out of 13 of our club members, and I caught my biggest bass of the year...I just couldn't believe it!
I ended the day talking to my boater James and thanking him for all of the help. It was awesome to place in the tournament, but learning from someone who is a veteran tournament fisherman was priceless. I owe him a lot of the thanks, and all of my club members the same as well for making this tournament a memorable one. It was a great time, and the fishing gods were looking out for me.
Mike and I left the lake Sunday afternoon...and another fishing memory was in the books...
Thanks for reading, and tight lines!