Muddy, rising water has been the bane of the FLW Tour recently. After a rising-water event at Lake Cumberland, then a mega rising-water event at Beaver Lake, the pros once again find themselves in a familiar predicament at the FLW Tour presented by Evinrude on the Mississippi.
After a warm, sunny practice where bass were moving up by the droves to spawn, a cold front dumped plenty of rain in the river basin Wednesday. For FLW Tour pros, it was like déjà vu all over again. And with many Tour pros having very little prior experience on the Mighty Mississippi, things can get even more confusing.
But even just a little experience on the river goes a long way, as day one tournament leader Matthew Stefan of Junction City, Wis., demonstrated Thursday.
Stefan took the early lead with five smallmouths weighing 18 pounds even.
“I am by no means a river stud over here on these pools, but I do fish here about five days a year,” says Stefan, who lives about two hours away from La Crosse. “I’ve never fished here in May, but on this place, just knowing how to get around in these backwaters and how to gauge barge traffic for locking is a big help. So, comparatively speaking, I probably do have a little bit of an advantage on guys who have never seen this place before this week.”
Stefan sampled pools 8 and 9 for his catch Thursday. He weighed in all smallmouths, a rarity for day one limits.
“I really didn’t come here specifically to target smallmouths this week,” he says. “But I just couldn’t get much going with the largemouths in practice and I found there were still a few quality smallmouths on beds, so that’s the direction I went.”
Stefan started his day by plucking a couple of bedding brownies that he had marked in practice. From there he mostly fished banks where smallmouth bedding is more probable.
“I know two of the ones I weighed were on beds, but the other three came just fishing,” he says. “Could they have been on beds? Maybe so, but I don’t know that for a fact.”
Stefan was understandably not very detailed about what kinds of banks he’s targeting, but did say he’s fishing the same way he does back home on the Wisconsin River.
“The Wisconsin is like a little mini Mississippi River,” he adds. “The fish set up the same way. So I’m fishing similar type banks that I would fish back home. It’s stuff that feels comfortable to me.”
Like others, Stefan is on edge about locking again on Friday.
“I’m going to start in 8,” he says. “And if I can get to the cut weight by staying here, then I’ll save 9 for the weekend. But if I can’t get it going here , I might have to risk it and go down there for a bit.”
Top 10 pros
1. Matthew Stefan – Junction City, Wis. – 18-0 (5)
2. Matt Arey – Shelby, N.C. – 17-14 (5)
3. Todd Auten – Lake Wylie, S.C. – 16-11 (5)
3. Andy Morgan – Dayton, Tenn. – 16-11 (5)
5. Matt Greenblatt – Port St. Lucie, Fla. – 16-1 (5)
6. Scott Martin – Clewiston, Fla. – 15-14 (5)
7. David Dudley – Lynchburg, Va. – 15-13 (5)
7. Jeff Sprague – Point, Texas – 15-13 (5)
9. Josh Weaver – Macon, Ga. – 15-9 (5)
9. Cody Meyer – Auburn, Calif. – 15-9 (5)
Beale takes day one co-angler lead
Tim Beale of Hernando, Miss. sits atop the day one co-angler leaderboard with a five-fish limit weighing 15 pounds, 8 ounces. Beale, who fished day one with Maiden, N.C., pro Drew Montgomery, says he caught his fish dragging plastic baits in shallow water in a backwater area off the main river.
“We fished a combination of muddy and clear water,” says Beale. “It was tough fishing at first, and it took us a while to get the bites.”