This week, the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit Super Tournament presented by OPTIMA Batteries takes place on the Mississippi River. Launching out of Stoddard, Wis., in Pool 8, the pros will have the run of each of the adjoining pools as well.
For Jake Ormond, this is his first time fishing north of Tennessee, and thus his first time fishing the upper Mississippi. He’s not the only one lacking Mississippi River experience in the field, but considering many of the Major League Fishing (MLF) anglers that are part of the Super Tournament field have competed on the river a number of times, he’s got his work cut out for him.
Ormond starts his day at about 5:15 a.m. up in La Crosse, dropping his boat in and pulling a few rods out. He also takes the time to tie on a frog, which he somewhat miraculously didn’t have ready to go. Once it brightens a bit, Ormond is perhaps the third pro to idle out, heading down the river to work toward the lower reaches of Pool 8.
As he idles out of the no-wake zone, Ormond gets his bearings. The Mississippi is notoriously difficult to navigate, with shifting sands and maps that are not always up to par. After scrolling around between satellite imagery and the map on his graph, Ormond fires up and runs down the river.
The first stop is a backwater behind a marina. After idling in, Ormond pulls out his frog and gets to work. Moving briskly along the bank, it takes less than four minutes of fishing to put the first one in the boat.
“That’s how I practice,” says Ormond, as we slip along. “I just blaze through and hope to catch one. That’s the only way I know how to save fish shallow. And I’ll skip really good looking casts, where I think I should be able to get one.”
Moving on up the backwater, Ormond gives me the lowdown on how he got to where he’s at – in the running to make the Tackle Warehouse TITLE presented by Toyota if he can string together two more good events.
“I fished the Southwestern Division of the Toyota Series for two years, I finished 35th and 11th the second year,” says Ormond. “So, I had the confidence in myself to be able to do well. I wanted to take advantage of it while I could.
“If it hadn’t been for a really bad event in Florida, I’d be doing a lot better. I’ve learned a lot on certain things; in Florida I learned I should have trusted my instincts and went where I wanted to go. But, I really need my next two events to be good ones to make it in the top 50.”
After deciding the rest of the backwater isn’t worth much, Ormond begins idling back out. Passing under a bridge, he marks a few fish and decides to stop. Despite a Louisiana address, Ormond is really good with his electronics, and in short order he cranks up a keeper. Then, after breaking off and making a few more casts, it’s time to move on.
Ormond has a small stock of KastKing rods and reels on deck, and the piles really don’t grow much throughout the day. With a frog and a few other shallow baits and a crankbait along with a few other deeper baits, he’s well-covered for a day on the Mississippi River.
After idling out of the backwater, Ormond sets his sights on another likely looking area. Fairly quickly, he’s slowed down by a sand bar – the challenge of Mississippi navigation has begun. Luckily, Ormond is running an aluminum boat, which floats and slides with ease when he and I jump out of it. After pushing along for 20 yards or so, we clamber back in and he’s back to fishing.
Slinging his crankbait at a wing dam that’s en route to the desired backwater, Ormond catches a bitty smallmouth. But the spot looks really good, so he devotes a few more casts to it and the surrounding area before cranking up again.
Dropping his trolling motor, Ormond works with the current into a culvert and through to another backwater area. This one has a decent amount of flow in places, and he slides along throwing the frog at a variety of good-looking vegetation. It produces zero results for a while, with the only thing to break up the monotony being a brief adventure onto a dock to reclaim his frog after it broke off.
Finally, we get some excitement. Swinging big, Ormond sticks a northern pike. After busting out the net to land it, we meet up with Jim Tutt to borrow a scale to weigh the beast. It rings in at 12 pounds, 12 ounces, a clear personal best pike for Ormond, and likely the biggest pike of practice so far.
Poking farther along, Ormond begins to run into a bass or two again. With every fish he catches, he says it feels more like home in Louisiana. Growing up there, Ormond went to school at the University of Louisiana-Monroe, where he started the bass fishing team.
“I was the president of the first fishing team they ever had,” says Ormond. “The first year I think we had eight or 12 anglers. It took two years to get it going. All the other colleges around us had teams, but it was complicated to get it started.”
Ormond was a fine art major, with a concentration in sculpture, which is surely a unique major for a pro angler.
“I liked it, I was always really good at art and drawing, I wanted to do drawing. But, I realized how much I liked working with the different materials, and all the sculpture you do requires drawing.”
Now, Ormond is pretty all-in on fishing.
“I was a chemical plant operator, but I had to quit that in March when I ran out of vacation time,” he says. “Now, I’m fishing this, guiding a little around the house and making baits and jigs. That’s where the artistic part comes in. I can buy a mold and make it how I want it. But, I’m all-in to this right now.”
Running out of the backwater we’re in, Ormond rolls down a large offshoot of the river and stops at the entrance to another small backwater. It quickly proves to be one of the most productive stops of the morning, with several bass and pike coming on a frog from the matted grass. Though it wasn’t a massive group of fish, it was a good reminder of the potential of the Mississippi River.
“I think it’s gonna be one of those tournaments where you have to just fish,” says Ormond. “You may have a couple little areas, but I think you’re gonna have to fly by the seat of your pants and just cover water.”
For the next journey down the river, Ormond picks up a guide, following a local through the braided water near Goose Island until he decides to stop on some likely looking vegetation. Pulling a frog out, we get stuck again for a bit and then keep plugging. Just off the edge of the grass, Ormond gets one of the best bites of the morning, but unfortunately, the mystery fish pulls free – we think it was a bass, but neither of us actually got a good look. Next, Ormond moves on to flip a big isolated piece of wood that produces one tiny smallmouth. Then it’s time to roll again.
By this time, Ormond has worked almost all the way down to were takeoff will be at Stoddard. On the way, he samples some grass with a frog, and begins to flip a little as the sun starts to really heat up. Other than picking up a Berkley Flicker Shad off the surface, it’s a bit of a bust, so we keep moving.
After bouncing through a few more grassy sections down near the dam between Pool 8 and Pool 9, Ormond wraps up the morning by fishing a few current-related targets. Cranking around the head of an island where he marked fish proves fruitless – he’s only able to garner a few short bites from some wood.
With that, our time is growing short. Heading back up to La Crosse, Ormond drops me off and does an interview for La Crosse’s WXOW-ABC before heading back out. The Mississippi offers a ton of water, and Ormond has really only tasted it in this first morning.