Tournament Fishing And Humble Pie

The Washington Outdoors Report

Rusty Johnston shows off two nice bass caught at the Old Fart’s Bass Tournament

My fishing partner, Rusty Johnston, and I always considered ourselves to be very good bass anglers. At least, we did until we decided to dip our toes into the world of tournament fishing.

Every September there is an event at Potholes Reservoir called the “Old Fart’s Bass Tournament” where at least one of the two anglers in the boat has to be over 40 years old. The rules are simple. Fish for eight hours and weigh in the five heaviest bass from each boat by 3 p.m. All the bass are released after the weigh-in.

Our first foray into tournament fishing didn’t go well. We weighed in a five-fish limit but altogether they only weighed three pounds. Yikes! We’ve fished this annual tournament five times. Our heaviest bag was a five-fish limit weighing 14 ½ pounds. Not bad but not anywhere near a paycheck when the winners routinely weigh in 20 to 25-pound limits.

We’ve learned a few things along the way. First off, your boat and motor matters. Rusty owns a 1994 16-foot aluminum boat with a 40 HP outboard motor. Top speed? About 29 MPH. The competition? They primarily fish out of 17 to 20-foot bass boats with outboards ranging from 90 HP all the way to 200 HP and they can top out at nearly 60 MPH.  When it comes to getting to the hot spot at first light, we don’t stand a chance.

Then there’s the issue of staying on the hot spot. Many new bass boats have power poles mounted on the stern that can anchor a boat in shallow waters of less than 10-feet. Other’s have trolling motors with a feature called Spot Lock that keeps the boat in place. If you are fishing a piece of structure like an underwater hump you can lock yourself in at the top and fish the slopes where the fish often hang out. As for us? We have an old anchor and a rope. It works but we tend to float away several yards from where the anchor drops, meaning our positioning (and ability to target the fish) is not as exact.  

Something else we’ve found is the need for a modern fishfinder with a GPS plotter and map. We have a basic fishfinder that shows us the bottom and fish but it doesn’t have a GPS plotter.  During one tournament, we drifted over a habitat box at the bottom of the lake. These boxes provide cover for bait fish and bass are attracted to these boxes too. We picked up a decent bass as we drifted over the box but with no GPS, we couldn’t find that box again despite trying to do so for ½ an hour.  At about that time a modern bass boat roared in. Using a way point the anglers had previously marked with their GPS, they went right to that habitat box. In 15 minutes, the anglers on board reeled in five good bass and sped off to the weigh-in site.  

That was the moment we realized it was time to upgrade! We can’t afford to buy a new boat or motor but we are upgrading to a modern fishfinder. We’ve ordered a new Lowrance Hook Reveal 7 that has incredible sonar with the ability to see not only what’s below with incredible clarity but also a side sonar feature to see what’s on either side of the boat. This Lowrance unit also has a GPS plotter and a Navionics map with topographic information for 11,000 lakes to include Potholes Reservoir. Better still, it’s all displayed on a 7-inch color screen and is very easy to use.  

We’ll spend the summer using this to mark the humps and habitat boxes around the lake that hold fish in the fall.  We are also fishing a new event; the Berkley Big Bass Tournament taking place October 3rd at Potholes Reservoir. With our new Lowrance and a little luck, we might finally take home a paycheck. Then, we can go back to believing we are as good of anglers as we once thought we were! I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

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