Monday, May 7, 2012

Clinton Lake: ABA Tournament #2

Last week I got a call from one of the club members of my bass club that wanted to head down to the Clinton Lake ABA tournament on Sunday.  Couldn't pass up an opportunity to get my feet wet on another new lake so we planned on leaving early Sunday morning to head down Clinton, IL.  What is nice about Clinton Lake is that it is very similar to Lake Shelbyville as far as cover, water depth, and lake contours go.  The only added twist to this was that Clinton Lake is a cooling lake.  So water temperatures are always higher than other local lakes and ponds especially during the cooler months of the year.  I had no idea about water clarity and water temperature so it was kind of crap shoot what to expect.  Knowing that this body of water was similar to Shelbyville I went to Bass Pro the night before to stock up on a few things.  The first being some deeper running crankbaits.  I wanted these to be on hand because I had a suspicion that the bass were already moving into a post spawn pattern.  I knew the week prior from other sources that fish were on beds already...and considering it was a cooling lake the water temperature would probably accelerate this process and push them into post spawn relatively quickly.  From what I understand in most cases after the spawn bass retreat to deeper water off of the shallow bedding areas to recuperate.  So deep diving crankbaits as well as weighted texas rigged plastics and big spinnerbaits would probably produce the most.

I have a couple 7' crankbait rods that are great for shallow-medium divers but in order to get the full effect of a deeper diving crankbait I decided to pick up a longer crankbait rod in order to get more casting distance.  I had a Shimano Compre deep diving crankbait rod previously, but it was way too tip heavy and awkward for what I I sold it and now needed to find a new one.  I decided to pick up a 7' 6" MH Boyd Duckett Crankbait rod.  I took a chance on some of the Ducketts last year and really liked how light and durable they were...but I really couldn't find any application that they really shined on.  This ended up not being the case with the crankbait rod.  I ended up throwing that  setup 70% of the day and it worked out perfect!

Immediately in the morning my boater, Matt Bennett, and I started shaking down some rip rap (shore with multiple types of cover) near one of the main brides.  I tried plastics...didn't work, I tried a spinnerbait...nada, and I tried a crankbait...ended up losing it.  What to do now???  The water temperature was around the 72 degree mark and the water clarity was about 1.5-2 feet (similar to Shelbyville) and had a green tinge to it.  My boater didn't get a bite at our first spot either so we moved.  It took a few spots until we finally started getting into them by one of the other boat launches.  There was a rocky ledge next to the launch so we started working that first.  Most ledges on Clinton and Shelbyville have really steep drop offs...transitioning from 5 to 15-20 feet relatively quickly.   I picked out one of my Strike King 5XD crankbaits (diving depth of 15') and threw it close to shore.  A couple turns of the handle and I could already feel my bait come in contact with the rock on the bottom...exactly what I wanted!  I had to be careful not to continue cranking after the crankbait dug into the bottom because I could easily get snagged on rocks and other debris.  I would pause as soon as I hit bottom, raised the rod tip up to get it out of the rocks and put my rod tip back down and use the rod tip to pull the crankbait along.  As soon as I would hit rock, I would pause every time...then reel in the slack and use my rod tip to pull the crankbait forward again.  It took about three casts and BAM first fish nailed it on the pause!  It was a nice fat largemouth...but after throwing him on to the bump board he was just a hair under 16".  For this Lake, like many others, there are different slot limits.  Clinton lake allowed you to keep 3 fish at a minimum of 16" anything smaller had to be thrown back.  

It was a good sign to finally land a fish so I primarily fished the crankbait the rest of the day.  I tried throwing plastics and spinnerbaits for awhile but it was pointless considering that the bass were no longer on beds and the carp in the lake were spawning on the shore and muddying up most of the water.  A few spots later around 10:30 we got onto a small point.  I threw the 5XD crankbait a couple times and finally got bit again after banging against the rocky bottom.  I felt the "bump, bump" of a fish...I paused a short 1 count to allow the fish to inhale the crankbait and I set the hook on him pretty hard.  Next thing I know my first 3+ pound keeper comes sky rocketing out of the water! Luckily that Duckett rod had a lot of play to it and it kept those trebles pinned well inside it's mouth.  First keeper was in the boat!

We continued to build upon this pattern and my boater eventually switched to a deep diving crankbait like I was doing.   We caught a decent amount of short fish but it seemed like every area we would pull up to we would only catch 2-3 fish and then the action would go dead.  We pulled into a cove around 12 and my boater got his first 16" keeper of the day in a little pocket with a green pumpkin creature bait.

It was about 1:30 and we only had an hour and a half to come up with some more fish.  After asking around it seemed like most of the people in our tournament only had 1 keeper in the boat.  We still had a chance but we needed to find at least one more keeper a piece to still be in the game.  We pulled up to a steep shoreline that had a bunch of lay downs in the water.  We worked the area over well and we only had another 20-30 feet of shoreline before we were going to move again.  I threw my crankbait right up along side of one of the lay downs next to the shore...a few turns of the handle and I paused the bait.  I went to go turn the handle again and I just felt a weight on the end of the line.  I thought I got snagged again because I had lost several crankbaits to rock and wood during the day.  Then I saw the tip of my rod bend...I had a fish!  I set it hard and she took off straight towards the boat.  I reeled in fast as she darted towards me and then she dove down quickly as my pole doubled over.  I got her to finally swing up towards the surface...she was a TOAD!  Then I saw how she was hooked and she barely had two of the back treble hooks in her mouth...CRAP!  My boater dropped everything and got the net.  A couple more good runs and we finally got her in the net.  I just stood there in disbelief after seeing how big the fish was...legs were shaking, hands were shaking...holy cow!  I thought my first fish was decent but after putting this pig in the livewell I was afraid she was going to eat my other one.

Unfortunately right after I caught my last fish we had a dead battery on the boat and had to improvise to get the motor cranked over.  We counted our blessings after finally getting the motor started and decided just to head in early to the weigh in since it was getting close to 3 o'clock.

I weighed my big bass...she tipped the scales at 5.32 lbs and with my other fish I had a total of 8.74 lbs...just could not believe it!  My boater weighed his one fish for a total of 2.52 lbs.  Most of the field weighed in 0 or 1 fish for an average of 2-3 lbs...even had an 18" smallmouth weighed in that was 2.56 lbs.  A few people besides myself had 2 fish and averaged 5-5.5 lbs.  I thought I had big bass until my boater's friend came in with a huge female...5.75 lbs which was enough to get him big bass of the day and 3rd place!  Mike Pappas, another ABA regular, came in with the only limit...we knew he had a good sack of fish when he showed up. He weighed in a little more than 13 lbs...caught all of them on a Zara Spook early in the morning.  My weight was good enough to put me right behind him in second place.  If that other short fish I caught would have went I probably would have had around 11.2 lbs...still not enough though to get first.

Just could not get it to sink in....a fourth place finish last week and a second place finish this week...just unbelievable.  Lucky streaks like this are rare, but I am going to work hard to try and keep the momentum going if I can.  My boaters played a huge role in my success the last couple weeks and I am really thankful for all of their help!!!

Here is a picture of the two fish that I weighed in...just amazing the size difference between the 3 and 5 pounder!

I had my 7' 6" Duckett cranking rod paired up with one of my new Daiwa Zillions (6.3 gear ratio)...the setup  worked out just how I wanted it to!  The three colors that produced for me were all of the gizzard shad colors that Strike King makes.  The blue gizzard shad produced the most for me and mimicked the bait fish in the lake the best.  Another lure that caught a couple fish also were the Rapala DT10's in Disco Shad.  The Strike King colors can be seen below.  Just as a side note...I lost 6 crankbaits during the day.  I know most people get leery after losing one lure but you have to remember that running crankbaits into different types of cover is what will get you bit more often than not.

Just another awesome day out on the water.  It was rough waking up at 1:10 in the morning to get down to the lake by 5:30...but it was well worth it!  If any of you have the opportunity to fish an ABA tournament, do it!  A ton of great guys in that bunch and you will get to learn a lot from other people.

Thanks for reading and tight lines!



  1. Congrats! Clinton is a tough lake.

    I fished there for Regionals a few years ago, and the field played out pretty much the same, but I didn't have quite the finish you did.

    Well done.

    1. Thanks man, yeah it was tough there for awhile. Just got lucky that crank dropped in the right spot at the right time.