There’s no need to sugar coat it – the fishing on the Mississippi River was tough.
Instead of limits coming in bunches, the top pros were often scrambling to get five keeper bites a day at the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit Super Tournament presented by OPTIMA Batteries event.
Even local legend Tom Monsoor struggled … though, not enough to stop him from winning. While he focused on gravel bars and drops in the Black River section of Pool 8, the majority of the rest of the top 10 fixed their attention on weeds or wood across all three pools.
2. Wheeler nearly goes back-to-back
There are good anglers, and then there’s the level Jacob Wheeler is fishing at right now.
Fresh off his win at the Super Tournament on Chickamauga, Wheeler was less than 2 pounds from going back-to-back for his seventh victory in two years.
“I’m just having fun out there,” says Wheeler. “Things are going well. When you go into a tournament and you have confidence you’re going to catch them, that’s sort of how it works.”
Wheeler certainly had confidence thanks to a two-pool pattern.
He repeatedly made a risky run to the sneakiest of backwaters in Pool 7, making him the only pro in the top 10 to spend significant time in the northernmost pool. Tucked away behind miles of vegetation and a stump field, the spot opened up just a little to allow a significant amount of current run through it.
That fact about the current was key both there and when he fished down around Goose Island in Pool 8.
“You have raging current, fast current and meandering current,” says Wheeler. “Meandering current is better for largemouth. They tend to want to be off the main stuff. So if I found meandering current with grass and duckweed, that’s where I focused.”
Once he found a spot, he either threw a frog or a swim jig.
The frog was his go-to, as he had four different ones on front deck in various colors, including an “old-school” Reaction Innovations Swamp Donkey, a SPRO Bronzeye Frog, a 13 Fishing Trash Panda and a popping frog. He threw them on a 7-foot, 6-inch heavy Duckett Jacob Wheeler Series rod, with an 8.3:1 Duckett Paradigm CRW casting reel and on 50-pound-test Sufix braid.
If the fish weren’t fully committing to the frog, he switched to a black and blue swim jig with a Googan Baits Krackin’ Craw trailer. He threw that on a 7-foot, 2-inch medium-heavy Duckett Jacob Wheeler Series rod, an 8.3:1 Duckett Paradigm CRI casting reel and 30-pound-test Sufix braid.
3. Walker’s stubbornness helps, hinders
If he hadn’t been stubborn, David Walker wouldn’t have been in contention to win. Yet, if he’d been just a little less stubborn, he might’ve pulled off the victory.
Fishing Pool 8 around Goose Island, Walker simply “looked for targets.”
“A laydown, rock … something different among all the grass that’s there,” says Walker. “The catch 22 was that there’s so much that looks good you can go awhile without catching anything. So mentally, you have to keep it together and just bird dog them.”
The goal every day for Walker was to toss a soft-plastic toad or a Z-Man CrossEyeZ Snakehead Swim Jig with a Z-Man Turbo CrawZ trailer (green pumpkin) and catch 12 pounds. Yet, after day two, he realized the majority of the fish he was bringing to weigh-in were caught on the swim jig. So he committed to it on day three and brought in the third-largest bag of the event.
However, any good feelings evaporated the final morning when the rising water had moved all his fish and at 2 p.m. he only had two fish.
“Being stubborn has ups and downs,” says Walker. “Going out there and knowing you’re not going to get many bites, you have to be stubborn and just keep doing it even though you’re not getting a lot of positive feedback.
“Well, at 2 p.m. I moved out to some areas I fished the first day that were a little too shallow. I pulled up on the first spot, and the first cast one sharked after it. The next cast and it was on. I caught four there in 15 minutes and then had to go.”
4. Birge lives and dies near marina
La Crosse is Zack Birge’s “favorite place in the whole country” for a reason – he seems to always do well. No surprise he did again thanks in large part to a “nothing special” spot in Pool 8 near the Pettibone Boat Club.
“It’s just a little hole,” says Birge about his spot. “Nothing special. There’s one tire on bottom and a couple sticks. The rest just feels like sandy bottom. I think it’s just deepest water in there, and the bait and fish just congregate in there.”
In the first three days, Birge figures he caught more than 80 bass from that lone spot before it died the final day. His weapons of choice were a Yo-Zuri 3DB Series 1.5 squarebill (gizzard shad) and a shaky head with a 4-inch Yamamoto Senko. The crankbait he threw on a 7-foot Favorite Rush Series rod, while the shaky head was launched on a 7-foot, 3-inch Favorite Pro Series rod spooled with 15-pound-test Yo-Zuri SuperBraid and a 10-pound-test Yo-Zuri TopKnot Fluorocarbon leader.
The first couple days, he also mixed in a secondary pattern flipping and frogging cut banks with grass and trees touching the water. He threw a small creature bait on a 7-foot, 6-inch Favorite Pro Series rod and the Jackall Kaera Frog (red frog) on a 7-foot, 3-inch Favorite Rush Series rod. Both were thrown on 30-pound-test Yo-Zuri SuperBraid.
5. Eelgrass/duckweed combo key for Stewart
When you’re only getting five or six bites all day, it can get pretty stressful. Yet, the bites were the right ones, which is why Tyler Stewart kept putting himself through the anxiety.
Hanging out on Pool 8, Stewart stuck around Goose Island looking for matted duckweed, but not just any duckweed.
“It needed to have eel grass, too,” says Stewart. “If you had that and two creeks coming together to make a point with some duckweed, that was money right there.”
“I’ve never been here before, but I like it,” says Stewart. “I like anywhere you can throw a frog all day.”
6. Losing lower unit doesn’t stop Meyer
There are no shortage of things to hit on the Mississippi River. Cody Meyer found that out the hard way.
Fishing in Pool 9, he’d sacked up a good bag on day one flipping wood with current on it. So he “felt good” going into day two, especially after catching a 4-pounder.
“So, I take off and run out for my next spot,” says Meyer. “I make it 5 miles down the river and rip the lower unit off. I end up drifting down the river for about 4 hours.”
Fortunately, he caught a bass while drifting, and after Justin Lucas picked him up, he got permission to fish from his boat and caught two more to make the cut with just four fish.
While he contemplated continuing the flipping pattern, he opted to completely switch gears and focus on deep current seams and breaks for smallmouth, which catapulted him into the top 10. Unfortunately, the size of the smallies just dwindled on the final day.
For the flipping bite, Meyer used a Strike King Rage Bug (green pumpkin purple) on a 3/8-ounce weight with a 4/0 Owner Jungle Flippin’ Hook. He threw it on an 8-foot Daiwa Tatula Elite with a Daiwa Tatula Elite Pitch/Flip 8.3:1 reel and 22-pound-test Daiwa J-Fluoro Samurai fluorocarbon.
Meanwhile, the smallmouth got to chew on a Strike King Dream Shot (KVD Magic) on a No. 2 Owner Mosquito Hook with a 3/16-ounce Strike King Tour Grade Tungsten weight. His smallmouth tackle was a 7-foot, 4-inch Daiwa Tatula Elite rod with a Daiwa Exist reel and 10-pound-test Daiwa J-Braid to an 8-pound-test Daiwa J-Fluoro fluorocarbon leader.
“Minus the rock pile I hit, I had a really fun week,” says Meyer.
7. Boutries sticks with the frog
With so much vegetation, it’s hard to beat a frog on the Mississippi River. So Bailey Boutries did exactly that, putting a BOOYAH Pad Crasher (bullfrog) in his hands and covering a ton of water in Pool 8.
He never got a lot of bites, and often he’d go hours without even a sniff. Yet, if he fished long enough, he’d eventually run into a an area with a few willing to bite. The key was looking for little places others missed.
“The whole river looks amazing,” says Boutries, who threw his frog on 7-foot, 2-inch medium-heavy Profishiency rod with a 7.3:1 Profishiency reel and 50-pound-test P-Line XTCB-8 braid. “I think most people are focusing on the big grass mats, and it’s easy to get sucked into that. There’s just so much of it. So I was focusing on areas with no grass or very little, the little places with small pieces of wood or a small patch of duckweed blown up into a laydown. Things other people were missing.”
Boutries also mixed in a Texas rigged X Zone True Center Stick in lighter cover.
8. Reehm best of “magic tree” trio in Pool 9
While the majority of the field was in Pool 8, Pool 9 is where the drama went down this tournament.
Multiple anglers had found a “magic tree” that was absolutely loaded with fish, and if you ask Clark Reehm, if anybody had had it to himself they’d have won the tournament. Unfortunately, none did, but Reehm did the best of the bunch who fished it regularly thanks to the tree keying him into multiple other spots.
“Essentially, I was looking for trees on sand flats with current where there would be washouts,” says Reehm. “That magic tree was near some drains and it had a 6- to 7-foot hole beneath it holding fish.”
Yet, while Reehm did fish that tree every day, he also had found multiple other areas like it where he could basically call his shot with a Texas-rigged Yamamoto Senko with a 1/8-ounce Elite Tungsten weight and a 3/0 hook. He’d cast it out on a 705 Dobyns Champion Extreme HP rod and 20-pound-test line and simply let the worm drift itself in the current back to the washouts. He also mixed in a wacky rigged Yamamoto Senko (green pumpkin) with a nail weight, a Ned rig and a Zoom Z Craw Jr. (black and blue) with a 3/8-ounce weight.
“By the final day I could run isolated, random trees, and if they had grass around you caught a pike,” says Reehm. “If it was just a wash, you caught a bass. You just didn’t know the size. That and a lost 4-pounder day one and 3-pounder day three cost me.”
9. Hall also keys on “magic tree”
No. 2 of the magic tree trio was rookie Kyle Hall, which helped him make his first top 10.
Like Rheem, his main focus was the lone laydown, which he flipped with a Strike King Rage Bug (green pumpkin) or a Strike King Denny Brauer Premier Pro Model Jig (PB&J) with a Strike King Rage Craw trailer for bigger bites.
Yet, he also spent a bit of time frogging the weeds nearby it.
Most of all, Hall credited his Garmin Force Trolling Motor, both for its electronics but also its durability.
“I put it through the test this week,” says Hall. “If it could be broke, it would’ve been broke. It held up well.”
10. Wiley swings and misses final day
Three days of battling it out on the magic tree in Pool 9 had Scott Wiley leading the first day and in contention for the win after day three. Yet, he’d finally had enough by the final day, opting to stay in Pool 8 to try and “swing for the fence and try to hit it over” because the worst he could do was finish 10th.” Well, he unfortunately didn’t hit it over.
Down in Pool 9, Wiley gave the tree fish a different look by flipping a Zoom Magnum UltraVibe Speed Worm (junebug red) on a ¼-ounce weight and a 5/0 hook because it was different and had a bigger profile. He threw it on a 7-foot, 6-inch Ark Invoker flipping stick, with an Abu Garcia reel and 20-pound-test Sunline fluorocarbon.
Yet, all four days (and all of day four), Wiley would come up to Pool 8 and toss a frog looking for bigger bites. One particular mat was key, as it had slightly deeper water just off it, where he felt the fish rested until pulling up under the mat to feed.