By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Once Bryan Schmitt found some fish-holding grass at the Mississippi River, he was standing in the proverbial tall cotton.
The Maryland resident and longtime Potomac River ace achieved his first tour-level win at the FLW Tour's sixth stop of the season in La Crosse, Wis. He overcame constantly changing weather and water conditions (the predominant theme on Tour this year) to post a four-day total of 61-06, outdistancing runner-up Joshua Weaver by 2-11.
The vast majority of the 20 fish he took to the scale came off the same 100-yard stretch that he had all to himself and managed brilliantly for 3 1/2 days. He rotated between three different baits, depending on the force of the wind, and backed off frequently in order to prevent the fish from becoming lure-weary.
"You had to whack them and then leave it alone you couldn't just sit there and keep making casts," he said. "If I left for an hour, I could come back again and catch some more."
The five-time winner at FLW's triple-A level pocketed $125,000 for the victory. He also secured himself a Forrest Wood Cup berth with his climb to No. 7 on the points list, with only the event on his home water remaining on the regular-season schedule.
Following are some additional details of his triumph.
Schmitt had never been to the Mississippi before and got very little help from people familiar with the venue before it went off-limits.
"One guy who was also fishing the event gave me a brief overview of the layout, but he's a Pool-8 guy and he doesn't like locking," he said. "I did some online research and saw that some tournaments were won in Pool 9, but I was worried about getting locked out."
He started practice in the oft-visited area near the town of Stoddard and caught a couple of decent fish from the middle of a giant bay. They came from a 5-foot depression that had some sparse grass, but he was unable to find that scenario elsewhere.
"Every protected backwater had fish, but it also had a lot of boats and it seemed like that wasn't going to be the deal," he said. "At mid-day I found this one manmade pond at the bottom of Pool 8. I started fishing between the grass and the bank and I got a big blow-up on a frog, and that told me something was going on.
"I got another blow-up and I saw some swimming around and saw a couple locked on beds. I knew the fish in that bay were spawning and I had a special feeling about that place."
He sampled Pool 9 on the next practice day and again ran into quality of both the largemouth and smallmouth variety.
"I decided that on day 1 I'd start in the spot in 8 and give it an hour. If nothing was happening, I'd go to 9."
> Day 1: 5, 14-12
> Day 2: 5, 16-04
> Day 3: 5, 15-12
> Day 4: 5, 14-10
> Total = 20, 61-06
Schmitt opened the tournament by catching a couple of run-of-the-mill keepers from his spot on Pool 8, but then went a considerable time without a bite. He locked down to Pool 9, despite being advised against it by the lockmaster due to a great deal of scheduled barge traffic, and boxed a quick limit with a decent kicker.
"After that I went right back to 8 and this time I stayed on the outside edge of the grass and just started whacking them," he said. "The light bulb came on the water (level) had been dropping and the fish had pulled to the outside edge. I caught a bunch and weighed in a nice little bag, and I was excited for day 2."
He jumped from 17th place to 2nd the next day, just four ounces off the pace of new leader Andy Morgan.
"On day 2 I really worked that place (in Pool 8) and learned the whole area. I never even left it.
The weight of Schmidt's four bags ranged from 14-10 to 16-04.
"Day 3 was the same thing, but I did leave once. I went to a spot in Stoddard and as soon as I got on my waypoint, I caught a 3 1/2-pounder. Then I went back to my main spot and kept culling up."
He had a 12-ounce lead over Morgan going into the final day and caught more than 14 1/2 pounds from his primary location. That stringer was the day's second-best, trailing Larry Nixon's haul by three ounces.
"I lost a big one a 3 3/4-pounder, that I thought was going to cost me the tournament. Fortunately, I survived."
Schmitt's offerings were divvied up between a swimjig, a vibrating jig and a soft stickbait. He caught fish from water that was 18 inches deep out to a maximum of about 5 feet.
"When the wind was calm I could do a lot of work with the stickbait," he said. "When it got a little windy I'd go to the swimjig and when it was really windy I'd throw the vibrating jig.
"With the stickbait, the slower I fished it, the better. If it was calm and I could just let it sit there, the fish would be just shooting around and one would pick it up and start moving with it."
Winning Gear Notes
> Stickbait gear: 7'3" medium-heavy Fitzgerald Stunner HD rod, Ardent Apex Grand casting reel (7.3:1 ratio), 15-pound P-Line fluorocarbon line, 1/8-ounce Riot Baits T3 tungsten weight, 4/0 Hayabusa 956 worm hook, Riot Baits Riot Stick (blue steel).
> Vibrating jig gear: Same rod, reel and line, 1/2-ounce Riot Baits Recon vibrating jig (sexy shad), 3 3/4-inch Riot Baits T3 Paddletail swimbait trailer (white trash).
> Swimjig gear: Same rod (7'), reel and line, 1/2-ounce Riot Baits Minima Jig (black), Riot Baits Little Fuzzy Beaver trailer (kush).
> He trimmed off some of the weedguard on the swimjig so it wouldn't be as stiff, and he dyed the tail of the trailer chartreuse.
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in his success "The biggest thing was finding that spot on the first day of practice I had an overwhelming feeling that I'd really found something special. When I started whacking them on day 1 and realized they were funneling out to that outside grass edge, it was a magic feeling."
> Performance edge "My Mercury motor I lost a prop ear on day 4 and it got me back in. That thing was shaking so violently that I don't know how it kept running. Also the Garmin (depthfinder) because that grass bed and mat were submerged by the third day and I couldn't see it (visually), but I could turn on Panoptix and see it right in front of me. I'd been waiting to use it in the grass and it really helped me. And finally, Anglers Express, which is a tackle store in Maryland that sponsors me, has been shipping me baits all year long and that's helped me out a bunch."
> Schmidt now has 10 wins in FLW competition (one Tour, five Series and four BFLs). He also won last year's Lake Champlain Bassmaster Northern Open.
Much of the tackle referenced above is available at the BassFan Store. To browse the selection, click here..