It isn't often you get to fish a team tournament in Michigan that pays out a total of 58k. Partially because we had our cancelled qualifier rolled into the D&R Classic but partially because we just have it really good in west Michigan right now. It’s pretty awesome to have the opportunity to fish a local series like D&R. While the venue was a downer for pretty much everyone because that fishery is in a huge downturn right now, a tournament of that size certainly wasn't.
We honestly didn't know what to expect other than the weights were going to be garbage. Neither of us had been there since our classic win there a couple years ago. We finished 7th in a previous classic there as well so it is definitely a place we click with. We didn't pre practice so we had no indication of how the weeds looked or if we would even be able to get bites. Based on all the weights up there it certainly didn't seem like picking up the big stick all day would be the deal. So we were going to keep an open mind during practice and see what was working best.
The weather started out great on our official practice day. Flat calm conditions gave us the idea to go for a little cruise and see if there was any bait activity going on. It didn't take us long to find one of our primary areas for this tournament. Jittery bait, a few blow ups, and some quality bites really dialed us in to what we were looking for. I'm going to be honest I thought we were on the stuff to win because our pattern was so repeatable. Every time we found the right stuff they were there. However as the weather deteriorated so did the predictability. We never had any big fish but I'm sure we had 12+ pounds worth of bites and that was going to put us right there if we could do it for 2 days. It was a weird strategy because unlike previous trips there where you had to find big ones. The whole strategy for this one was to just get as many bites as you can and hope to end up with a decent bag. We definitely had some things figured out for the tournament though and were feeling pretty confident we could have a good finish.
These 2 day tournaments are so much more exciting. There is more strategy going into it and it really helps to take the luck factor out of it. All we wanted to do on day 1 is catch enough to be in it but boat number 60 wasn't going to help that. The bonus to being at the back of the pack is that we would likely have our pick of spots on day 2 as the order was reversed. Shockingly only one other boat was in our area. It was a good sized chunk of real estate so we actually never had to fish near each other. We were surprised and excited that we were able to fish it. Our pattern was going to be a mix of reaction baits and finesse fishing, with some flipping thrown in to. Things started out pretty slow but we did catch a 2 pounder there. That was the only keeper we were able to find though and with plenty of water to run it was time to burn some gas. We were excited to find out what we really had from practice because until you actually fish it and set the hook you have no clue what's really there. The next 2 spots were duds which really surprised us, they were both holding plenty of bites the day before. We hit a spot we call ghost island next and snatched 2 quick ones off of it. A spot we call Gorilla island from our last trip there was next. However this time we didn't expect to find any gorilla sized fish but hoped for a few chimpanzees. We filled out our limit in short order and culled once there. Since we had a limit with a couple 2 pounders we decided it would be best to save gorilla and ghost islands for Sunday. We ran more of our stuff catching more keepers and culling little by little. We did end up catching a 2.46 off of a place that has always been good to us but that was the only one we caught there all weekend. We went looking for new stuff for the last half of the day, never to really find anything great. The wind was really rocking so we were really trying hard to force the reaction bait deal on some new water. It never really seemed to click however but we did end up with 3 reaction bait fish and 2 finesse fishing fish in the livewell for weigh in.
We didn't know what the weights were going to be like but we figured we had done our job of keeping ourselves in it for the next day. I think our total weight ended up being 10.52 and had us in 10th place. There was one 13 pound bag and a couple 12s and we knew it was going to be tough to repeat that the next day. Another 9-10 pounds would get us paid but if we were able to have a day like practice who knows what would happen. We put barely any pressure on our best 3 spots and 2 of them were pretty sneaky so we were feeling good about day 2.
Sunday was looking real interesting with a ton of rain coming and potential thunderstorms. We could deal with the rain but lightning isn't cool. Fortunately we never got the lighting but the rain was absolutely ridiculous, worst I have ever fished in. It was definitely a good test for my Blackfish Gear Aspire suit, it was nice to be dry all day. I've never seen my boat bilge pump work so hard though. Anyway our plan was to start in the same place since it had quality and we thought we could get a couple moving bait bites there. Then we would go lean on our 3 best areas and hopefully have a limit.
The starting spot produced nothing and Ghost Island gave us 2 bites. One buried us in the weeds and the other was a short fish. Gorilla Island was dead too but I had a great feeling about spot number 3. I felt stronger about catching a limit there than anyplace. We caught a keeper there quickly and then 13.75 incher. Things were looking up and it didn't take long for another keeper plus another one that was just short to come aboard. Things went dead for us everywhere after that, we had some more that were just short but bites were few and far between. I think around noon we finally picked up our 3rd keeper. Plenty of time to get 2 more with a 2:30 weigh in. After rotating around some more we ended up right on the tiny juicy spot of Gorilla Island and hooked up with a solid one. It ended up burying in the weeds and getting off which was pretty devastating at the time. It was obvious the bite was terrible and each fish was going to bump us up a lot. At about 1:30 we finally caught another keeper but that would be it for the day. 2 keepers flipping and 2 keepers finesse fishing, the moving baits absolutely let us down!
It's always frustrating to not weigh 5, especially when you have the chances. We lost 3 buried in the weeds but one really stands out in my mind. I have no doubt that fish would have bumped us up another couple pounds. It should have been a done deal with a great hook set and everything. But the worm doubled over on itself and prevented good hook penetration. No real way to explain or prevent why it happened on that fish and not any others. We ended up weighing 6 pounds and change and ended up in 16th place with 17 and change. We got a check and bonus money for 2nd highest finishing Nitro and Highest finishing Nitro in AOY points. So it certainly could have been a lot worse. Congrats to Ron Chess and Chuck Schrader for the win with only 22 pounds and change.
Let that 22 pounds and change sink in for a minute. This particular series has by far the best competition of any Michigan tournament series I've ever fished. Lots of guys have history here and the best we can all come up with is 22 pounds over 2 days? A couple years ago when Shaun and I won the classic our day 2 weight was about the same as our 2 day combined weight this time. This isn't because they just weren't biting or any other popular excuse we use, those bigger fish simply aren't there. Tournaments were won out there all year with 10-13 pounds. It sure seems like there is a problem with the fishery to me. Where did all the 2 -2.5 pounders go that we didn't even pay attention to in 2017? It sure seems like there was some sort of die off, people certainly didn't eat them all. Natural causes, disease, excessive amounts of chemicals in the lake to kill weeds? Or maybe a combination? I don't really know how to explain it but something has definitely happened. It seems like it was a popular place for classics this year too. Is putting a ton of pressure on a fishery that is known to be struggling really a good idea? This is the 2nd time now I've been to a major classic on a great tournament venue where it is no secret that the fishery is in shambles (Hardy Dam after the die off there). I've got no problem going places where the bite is tough or it doesn't take mega weights to win. Someone is going to win every tournament regardless and it isn't going to have an effect on my effort. But does it really give us a good look as tournament fisherman to be putting a ton of pressure on places that might need a bit of time to rebound from some sort of catastrophic event? Anyway I hope tournament directors give that some thought when making their schedules next year.
Still other than some kids helping themselves to some items out of our boats it was a great trip. We had an awesome crew to stay with and a house right on the lake. The launching situation sucks on those lakes so leaving the boats in the water was awesome. I don’t think we’ve ever been more prepared as far as food goes breakfast casserole/burritos, steaks, sandwiches, burgers, chicken, and just about anything else you could want. Big thanks to Mike for bringing the steaks and Kyle for adding some Reel n Smoke seasoning and grilling everything to perfection. As a house we did pretty well overall in the tournament too as 4 out of 5 boats ended up getting paid for the weekend.
Other than that tournament things have been pretty low key as we prepare for the next baby Elliott to make its appearance soon. Wrapping up hunting season prep and swapping boats are the next projects. We did get to go on a little vacation to Frankfort this month with Amanda’s family. I think there were 30 plus people there and I think everyone had a great time. I experienced the most frustrating salmon jigging of my life there. Betsie Lake was loaded with them but bites were hard to come by. I went 1 for 4 on Thursday evening and couldn’t even get a bite on Friday. Thursday they at least showed interest in the jig but Friday they totally ignored it. It’s always nice having the Humminbirds dialed in to see exactly what is happening. The weather never aligned for me to make it to Platte Bay for cohos which was disappointing. But it was nice to at least be around some fish compared to how Muskegon has been this year. I’ll probably give it one last shot this week to see if any come in. But next year I think I’ll have to travel north to find some consistent action.