Some fishing stories have to be told, and since most of the ones we tell really require you to “have been there” I couldn’t think of a better way to take you there with me than to write it all up and give you something to read. When I was a kid, I wasn’t able to travel the world in person, but there was no limit to what I could see and experience by reading. So, it is in that spirit that I am compelled to share with you one of the most interesting bass tournaments I have ever fished and the strangeness of it all.
This past year work obligations have prevented me from fishing many of our club tournaments, or any tournaments for that matter, so this tournament would only be the third club tournament for me for the year. Even for a club tournament, I put my game face on and try to give it my best. Because we fish a lot of different lakes that often require some degree of travel and so aren’t lakes that I fish often, pre-fishing the weekend before has remained something that I try to do. The only real exceptions are for lakes that I am extremely familiar. Even then, I will make an effort to put in the time on those lakes, check my favorite fishing spots for that particular time and season, and it often doesn’t take me long to know exactly what I’m going to do during the tournament and how I’m going to do it.
I have never fished Lake Grapevine. There I said it. There is a large and popular lake in the metroplex that I have never fished. I know. But, that was the case for this tournament, and putting in some lake time was going to be essential. The kicker is that I was on vacation the week before the club tournament, so I had an opportunity to go out there and fish it every day to learn the lake, find fish, home in on the specific techniques and locations I would fish, and put together a solid plan for the tournament. But, that didn’t happen. I was so desperately enjoying the time I was getting with my family that it quickly became apparent to me that my first time on the lake was going to be the morning of the tournament, and I wasn’t even sure how to get to the boat ramp where we would be launching.
So, during the Tuesday night club meeting I wasn’t at prior to the tournament scheduled for August 13th , my good friend, Charlie, drew my name for the tournament as my back seater. Charlie called me, and I had to confess that he may have gotten a bad draw. I didn’t have a clue about where to fish on that lake. He’d been there a couple of times, but he said he wasn’t confident about his spots. Just peachy.
I picked him up at 3:30am (yep!), we stopped at the Whataburger to pick up some sausage B.O.B.s for the morning, and headed north in a light drizzle to Lake Grapevine. We launched at Katie’s Woods right near the Gaylord Texan. My gps map couldn’t find the address there that I had found online. His phone wasn’t doing much better. But, we figured it out and found that only two other boats from our club beat us there.
The wind was blowing hard out of the north when we launched the boat. The gps map of the lake lit up brightly as we motored out onto the main lake in the darkness. We could see there were storm clouds coming in quickly, and a quick check of the radar showed some of them were pretty strong. So at 4:30am, we put the throttle down and decided that we would head up and across the lake to the Twin Coves marina area. It wasn’t because we thought there would be fish there, but it was on the lee shore with that north wind getting stronger. We knew that if it got bad we could find safe shelter quickly. I was certainly grateful to one of the Facebook fans who had posted about Twin Coves the evening before or I otherwise might not have considered it.
We roared into the mouth of the large Twin Coves area and at a high idle speed worked our way carefully in the darkness watching our location being tracked on the gps map screen, the lights that were on in the distance at the marina, and the sudden lightning in the storm clouds that were about to land on top of us. Suddenly, my big engine made a long and very loud tone that told me something was wrong, so I quickly shut it down. This was no time for engine problems, and did I mention this is the first time I had ever been on this lake?
The water temp was 86, and I figured that idling in at such a fast clip without fully coming out of the hole and raising the engine up to let the exhaust breathe freely had caused the engine to start getting too hot. So, I cranked it up, raised the engine, and idled more slowly without any further problems.
As we were coming into the cove, we saw one of our other club members had arrived just ahead of us. He’s a good stick, and I figured if he was there he was probably on fish. Of course, then I thought perhaps he had the same idea we had about just finding shelter from the storm. He started on the far bank away from the marina, and we idled past him heading to the back of the marina. I had the idea that we would stick close to the docks, flip some jigs around the edges, and tie up and sit tight if the storm worsened. I was disappointed at the color of the water as best I could see it in the marina lights. It was very off color, and I was expecting the water to be light stained to clear.
We got to the back of the cove where the marina is located, dropped the trolling motor, and moved closer to the docks where a ramp from the shore reached out to the floating boat slips. Start fishing time was 5am, and we had about fifteen minutes to kill. We organized our rods, got the net and measuring stick out of storage, and I made sure that my phone, wallet, etc. were safely stowed so as not to have a repeat of my previous tournament experience. My new phone is working great, by the way.
Just as the satellite-synched clock turned 5am, and we made our first casts, the bottom fell out. I hadn’t seen rain in a long long time, so I was grateful. But, wow. It was really intense. I didn’t mind my top getting wet, but I quickly put down the rod and dug out my rain paints and put them on. Charlie was smarter than me, and he put on his whole rain suit. We got back to fishing, and he stuck one and quickly got us on the board with a bass in the boat.
We continued to toss jigs and shaky heads around the docks and decided to work our way to the outside edge to find deeper water. Water was pouring off of the tin roof of the floating docks so hard it was like pitching through a wall. We went around the entire length of the docks and got around to the back side of them between the boat slips and the bank. There was a bit of brush sticking out of the water directly opposite the ramp between the bank and the shore where we started. Charlie pitched in there and stuck his second keeper of the tournament.
Let me share with you now the trouble with my theory of just putting on rain suit pants. It doesn’t help a great deal especially if you have your shirt tucked in. I was drenched top to bottom. I was cold from the wet and the wind. And, I was confused. I simply couldn’t process what I was experiencing. Who would have thought in the midst of the unbearable heat and drought we had been having that on Saturday with no less than five bags of ice, every means of proper hydration available onboard, tubs of sunscreen, and prepared for the Sahara that I would be wet and cold. But, there I was.
So, I hopped onto the dock and sought shelter under a canopy just long enough to shuck my wet shirt and put on my rain suit jacket as my “shirt.” Warmer, dryer, and more comfortable I got back in the boat and started chunking crankbaits along the bank as we worked our way back out towards the main lake and the middle point between the two twin coves. By this time, the sun would be coming up soon, although we didn’t expect to see it for a while. The heaviest part of the storm had long past, and we were left with a steady drizzle.
I continued pitching my jig along the rocky bank back into the second cove where there were three covered boat docks. We carefully worked each one, and I had a couple of light bites that could have been bream biting at my jig trailer. Working carefully around the outer edges of the third very well maintained more like a house than a boat dock, we came around its north edge and were fishing toward the bank. Charlie made the comment that near the door of the elaborate boat dock it looked like a motion sensor. I looked and thought maybe it was for a light like the one I have outside my garage. The red blinking light didn’t mean much to me, and we kept fishing
Then my heart leapt out of my ears, my brain was put on the highest of high alerts as the reptilian portion of my brain that keeps me from being eaten by saber toothed tigers quickly considered whether fight or flight was appropriate, as the motion sensored alarm blared at ear splitting volumes as we kept fishing down the bank. The sky was just turning a brighter gray as the sun was getting higher somewhere beyond those rain clouds still covering us. I felt so sorry for anyone within twenty miles who was trying to sleep. This thing just wouldn’t give it up, but we kept fishing.
Finally, my ears couldn’t take it anymore. We hadn’t gotten another bite, and so I suggested we make a run down to the dam and see what’s doing down there. I may not know the lake, but I know that there must be fish somewhere along the dam. Charlie said he’d never really fished it, so we decided to get our life jackets on and go on a scouting mission. Since the siren was still blaring, I told Charlie to look real suspicious as we idled out of the cove and beyond the no wake buoys, and we laughed. Just as we reached deeper water, and I was about to put the hammer down on the throttle, the siren stopped. Figures.
The rain stung our faces and our eyes as we raced down lake towards the dam. I opted to stay closer to the lee shore side and pointed the boat towards the large intake tower towards the north end of the dam. I brought the boat down off of plane, idled towards the pocket where the dam ends, dropped the trolling motor, and picked up a wacky worm pitching it to the edge of the rocks. Wham! I boated my first keeper of the day.
We worked down the bank towards the intake tower and noticed another angler on the edge of the marker buoys surrounding the tower. He stayed put on his spot for a long time as we got closer. We said good morning and found out he was with a bass club out of Ft. Worth fishing their club tournament there this morning, too. We saw him catch some smaller fish, so we swung wide out around him to give him space and went on down a ways and started fishing again.
We didn’t leave that spot for the next four hours. There were stretches where we caught bass every cast for several casts. Bass would come up and school around that area of the dam, and we could throw just about any lure we wanted or had tied on and catch them. Lake Grapevine is a slot lake, which means in this case that you can legally keep for your five bass limit any bass under fourteen inches or over eighteen inches. Anything between fourteen and eighteen inches is in the slot and must be released.
Most the bass we were catching were unders, and therefore keepers, or on the low end of the slot. I culled fish and culled fish releasing slightly smaller bass in the livewell and replacing them with ever so slightly larger fish. I figured there had to be some larger fish there, and maybe they were under those smaller fish. So, I tied on a crankbait that runs about nine feet deep and caught my biggest bass of the day on the first cast with the crankbait. The bass was just under five pounds.
We had a ball! We were occasionally chatting back and forth with the other angler who was also catching fish. Finally with about an hour and a half or so left before weigh in at 1pm, we decided to go try a couple of other spots to try and find a kicker fish or two. I’ll tell you, the first rule of tournament fishing is don’t leave fish to find fish. But, in this case we had our fill of smaller fish and weren’t finding the larger fish we needed. And, when the rain stopped the bite didn’t turn off, but it definitely slowed down dramatically. So, we went across the lake to another marina. Charlie caught one pretty quickly after we arrived, but it didn’t help his catch.
After a while of not catching anything, we decided to go back to our productive spot and give it another chance. You could hardly buy a fish there at this point. The other angler was still there, but the same was true for him. So, we took a few minutes to go through our catches and do some calculations. In our club, we are allowed up to three “paper fish” in a tournament. A paper fish is a fish that we mark on a sheet we print out off of our website, and you get credit for an approximated weight of that fish by its length. The weight for a paper fish is probably about a third less than what the fish actually weighed.
This system was originally designed to make sure that less skilled anglers were able to put fish in the board and earn points when they caught smaller non-keepers. However, the lengths and weights listed go up to 24 inches, and we use this for slot limit lakes. So, I had two good paper fish, one big bass over the slot, and two keeper fish under the slot. I had five live fish in the livewell, so we each had to make decisions about which fish in the livewell we would turn back.
I had completed my task, had stowed equipment and we had about five minutes to make it back to the no wake buoys at the boat ramp in order to not be late for weigh in. In tournaments, you are penalized on your final weight for being late even one minute. So, we had to move quickly. I was sitting in the drivers seat ready to go while Charlie finished up. I noticed there was a small bass on the bag next to me. It needed to be released quickly, and Charlie was juggling a lot of things at once so I asked if he wanted me to put that fish back in the water. He said yes, so I carefully lipped the bass and dropped it in the water. That’s when I noticed Charlie’s culling tag was still attached to the fish! I couldn’t grab it quickly enough, and the fish swam down with it. We looked and looked hoping the fish might be spotted but to no avail.
It wasn’t good for the fish, it wasn’t good to lose Charlie’s tag, but while we pride ourselves on very carefully caring for our catches to ensure that they are released healthy back into the water on occasion things happen. We had to book it back to the ramp, so Charlie snapped on his life jacket, and we put the hammer down on the throttle. We had to laugh at my goof, and I asked him if he had any other equipment I could toss overboard.
We arrived in the no wake zone with two minutes to spare. After the boat was loaded and the fish weighed in, the standings were announced, and I was surprised to have gotten first place. Charlie and I got first place as a team, and he placed fourth as an individual. It was a strange day on an unfamiliar lake, and I think I was more excited about the rain than the win. The best part about our club tournaments is the fellowship. Everyone had fun, everyone came back in safely, and each tournament you learn something new. In our club tournaments, we don’t fish for money…just points, tabs for our plaques, and fellowship.
If you’d like to join us, send me a note, visit us online at www.tarrantchristianbassclub.com, and come be with us at one of our monthly meetings. If you have a boat, that’s great. If you don’t have a boat, that’s great, too! We pair riggers with non-riggers for each tournament with a random draw, so you have an opportunity to fish with someone new each time. It’s a great way to learn, and it’s a lot of fun.
Until next time, be safe, be Naturally Fun, and I’ll see you on the water!