Grand Winning Pattern
Grand Win Was All About The Jig
Wednesday, June 7, 2006
When the Complete Co-Angler was a regular column, I always enjoy interviewing and writing the stories behind the co-angler champions at each of the events I fished. It's great to meet these guys, hear the excitement in their voices and see how proud their families are.
by Chris Koester
It's also great to pick their brains a little about how they caught their fish and see if I can glean a little tidbit or two that might help me take my own fishing up a notch.
But, quite naturally, it's usually a little bittersweet. After all, my subjects are always anglers who've just beat me in a tournament. In the back of my mind there's always that nagging thought that I'd really rather be interviewing myself.
Well, I really managed put it together last week at the Grand Lake Bassmaster Elite Series, and I got the job done.
No nagging thoughts today.
Here's how I did it.
I only practiced 2 days for this tournament, rather than the allotted 3 days. Monday was Memorial Day, and Grand Lake is absolutely packed with huge recreational boats. I just didn't want to fight the traffic and rough water, and I knew those conditions would not approximate what we'd see during the tournament.
My fishing gear was also a disorganized mess and I needed to do some electrical repair work to my boat anyway, so I spent the day working on gear and getting my stuff ready.
I hit the lake to start practice before dawn on Tuesday.
As usual, I practiced out of my own boat for this event. Because BASS rules prohibit co-anglers from sharing any fishing information or locations with the pros, I took a little different approach to practice.
I completely avoided wasting time trying to establish any really good spots or areas that were holding fish, because even finding the fishing hole of a lifetime full of 8-pounders on every cast just wasn't going to help me. I made a conscious effort to move around a lot and fish as many different areas, depths and water clarity as I possibly could.
The goal was just to establish confidence in generating bites under multiple situations.
Photo: ESPN Outdoors
Chris Koester practiced with his own boat, but didn't bother with finding spots – he was more interested in dialing in bait choice.
I started off fishing shallow - there's some great-looking flooded willow-tree cover in this lake. After the first hour or two I'd gotten a good number of solid bites up in the willows flipping a small jig. In fact, it started out so well that I quickly became pretty convinced the tournament could be won shallow.
If there's a good flipping bite anywhere, these guys will find it and exploit it to the max.
As hard as it was to leave those shallow fish, I forced myself to quit fishing that way. If I drew a guy who was fishing shallow and flipping that stuff, it wasn't hard to know how I'd choose to fish it, so there was no need to continue catching fish that way.
I ran down the lake a little ways and began fishing deeper. One of the first structure spots I pulled onto was a riprap bridge end. In about 20 minutes I'd caught a pair of solid 2 1/2-pounders and a nice 5-pounder, all on a shakey-head worm.
I ran around some more and tried to find some deeper ledges to fish, but I didn't want to waste a lot of time just graphing, since I only had 2 days to fish.
I spent most of Tuesday and Wednesday fishing deeper in the mid-lake area, mostly with the shakey-head, dropshot and jigs. I also went back to the shallow willows for a few hours to experiment with a few different baits, and I got quality bites on everything I fished.
I didn't even throw my favorite Tru-Tungsten jig, designed by Jason Quinn, in practice, because I only had 2 of them left going into the tournament. (I'd forgotten to order more of them before I left.)
None of the local tackle shops had the jigs in stock, so I decided to go straight to the source and tracked down Jason Quinn. He's just an awesome guy. He gave me eight new jigs to use and wouldn't take any money for them. As it turned out, I put them to good use.
> Day 1: 3, 7-14 (11th)
Since I covered some of the details of the first 2 tournament days in my daily Big Sticks reports, I'll just reiterate some of the high points here.
Fishing with Mike Reynolds, we found ourselves around some pretty active fish all day long. He started out fishing main-lake points and some docks with a Reaction Innovations Vixen topwater.
He got some decent bites on it, but lost a few fish. It started out very difficult for me to fish behind him, because he was really fishing the edges of steep points, bluff ends and docks - just not something you can duplicate from the back of the boat.
I tried to fish around this stuff as best I could, mainly with a shakey-head worm, but I just couldn't buy a bite.
We finally pulled up on one point where he had a couple of bites, and at this point I had started experimenting – trying to find something I could fish more efficiently behind him. I started throwing a jerkbait and caught two short fish really quick on it.
While we were moving around – chasing the schoolers – we realized that they were relating to a shallow hump that was about 75 yards off the end of the bluff. It quickly became obvious that there were about a bazillion fish in this area, and we decided to stay there the rest of the day.
I experimented with a lot of different baits, trying to find something that could catch the fish while they weren't up chasing bait.
I finally went to the box and dug out my confidence bait - the Tru-Tungsten jig. I started getting bit pretty good. I ended up catching a few nice keepers and a kicker fish around 4 pounds, and a bunch of shorts as well.
The jig was definitely the strongest deal going at that point. Reynolds starting throwing a finesse jig, but absolutely could not get bit on it. My jig was definitely the key.
I was a little disappointed when I weighed my fish for 7-14. I thought I might have had well over 8 pounds. But I did what I wanted to do, which was to stay in striking distance. I was 11th.
Photo: ESPN Outdoors
Koester said it was agonizing being on the hot seat, but as soon as he won, it felt surreal.
> Day 2: 3, 8-07
> Total = 6, 16-05 (5th)
Steve Daniel was my partner for the day, and he hardly put down his jerkbait all day long. We were moving a little too fast most of the day to fish the jig right, and even when we slowed down I wasn't able to get a bite on it.
I spent most of the day fishing a shaky-head worm, and it produced for me. I caught a small keeper early, then later a nice 4-pounder and finished out my limit with a nice 3-pound fish off a dock.
My 4-pounder came off a specific spot off of some bridge riprap. Daniel had caught a 3-pounder there first thing in the morning, and the day before he and his partner had caught several big fish there.
After I caught my 4-pounder, we weren't getting bit there anymore. We left the spot to run back and fish an area in a little creek just beyond the bridge for about 30 minutes.
When we turned around to run back, we saw Mike Iaconelli and his armada of spectator boats parked exactly on the spot. Apparently Ike got to whacking them, too - we could hear him screaming from a quarter-mile away when he caught a big one. He culled his entire weight at the spot.
We were a little disappointed to have missed the timing on that bite, but that's the way it goes. It would end up working out pretty well for me, anyway.
My limit was 8-07 for the day, which pushed me up into 5th place.
At this point I knew I'd enter day 3 in a position to go for the win.
When they announced the random pro/co-angler pairings for the Top 50 fishing the third day, I got a nice surprise. I was paired with none other than Ike. I knew how he was fishing and I knew the quality of fish living on the bridge spot where we'd seen him.
I knew, without a doubt, that I had the draw to win the whole thing.
> Day 3: 3, 10-01
> Total = 9, 26-06 (1st)
Sure enough, Ike and I ran straight to the bridge spot first thing in the morning, and I went to work.
With co-angler weights stacked so tight, I knew a guy would have to distinguish himself with some big fish to walk away with the win, so that's what I fished for.
Ike was throwing a shakey-head worm anyway, so I went to work with the jig again. He caught several keepers fairly quickly with the shakey-head and I think he had three fish before I had a bite.
But once I got my first bite on the jig, I knew it was game-time. I caught a small keeper on the jig, and then a few minutes later followed up with a solid 2 1/2-pounder.
Not long after that, on the same spot, I got another bite - when I set the hook I knew it was the fish I was looking for. She came up and I saw her, and I knew the tournament would hinge on whether or not I could land this fish.
She never had a chance - the hook on the Tru-Tungsten jig had her stuck for good. Ike took one look at the fish and said it was a 7-pounder, so naturally I knew she was probably around 5 pounds.
That fish got Ike throwing the jig as well - he kind of took over the spot at that point and fished it very slowly and methodically, but he just couldn't get the jig bite going the way I did. The fish didn't bite much after that point, and we ended up running some of his other water.
I had my three-fish limit by 7:30, including one giant and one good one. I knew I needed to cull that small keeper to really put the pressure on the rest of the co-angler field. If I could replace it with a quality fish, I knew I'd be tough to beat.
On one on point in particular, I was working my jig all the way back to the boat, trying to fish it a little deeper than Ike was fishing. Sure enough, my line jumped and I stuck a nice fish around 3 pounds to cull the small keeper.
That's when I knew I had a real chance to win.
I kept fishing the rest of the day, but also gave Ike as much space as I could. I knew it would be tough to cull any of the good fish I had at that point.
I caught several more really nice keepers that wouldn't help me. I stuck a nice fish that was suspended off of some steel dock pilings when I just flipped my jig in there as we were going by. The fish got me hung up about 3 feet deep - you could see the fish down there hung around something on the pole.
Ike quickly backed the boat up. It took a minute, but the fish stayed on and he went in shoulder-deep and got it for me. It turned out to be a fat spotted bass, but it wouldn't help me.
Regardless, it was a really nice gesture on his part and I really appreciated that he went in after my fish like that.
Later on I managed to make a shortstop catch on a keeper that flew off his bait as he swung it into the boat and tried to skip off the back deck. I pounced on it like a great blue heron. I figured we were even after that.
Koester credited the Tru-Tungsten jig for his win – it got him the big bites he needed.
The rest of the day seemed to drag on - it was the first time I've ever wanted a tournament to end early. I had enough weight to be really nervous if I started thinking about it, but I actually managed to stay pretty cool.
We made it in for check-in with about 40 seconds to spare - I was scared to death on the way back in, but it was a huge sigh of relief when we came off pad.
I figured I had right around 10 pounds, maybe a little more, and I knew it would be strong. When I hit the weigh-in stage I looked at the screen and I think my jaw dropped.
The co-angler currently in the hot seat had exactly 10 pounds on me. I didn't expect this - we weighed in the first flight, and I thought I'd be the leader for sure. I needed 10-01 to take the lead. My bag hit the scale, and that's exactly what I had. I took the lead by exactly 1 ounce.
I got to sit in the hot seat while the next 45 or so co-anglers weighed in. It was simply agonizing. I probably still didn't have it as bad as my wife. She was listening to the weigh-in on Julia Kennedy's cell phone, and I'm certain she was at home about to have a heart attack.
When I saw the last guy walk to the scales, with a bag obviously well short of overtaking me, it just felt surreal.
My honest reaction was wanting to drop to my knees and just lay there for a minute, but that would have been a pretty lame show for the awesome weigh-in crowd.
They handed me a beautiful trophy, and I tried to thank some people while I had the chance. My mind was pretty numb at this point, so I hope I at least managed to thank my wife and kids, Steve and Julia Kennedy and Jason Quinn.
I had a brief, lucid moment and remembered one thing I knew I wanted to say, and that was to thank Trip Weldon and whoever else at BASS was involved in the decision to get rid of the shared-weight format and go back to a true competitive co-angler format.
They deserve credit for realizing that the experiment with shared weight was a mistake, and they fixed it.
This win feels like it's been a long time in coming, and that makes it that much sweeter to finally get it. My cell phone spent the rest of the night ringing, and I didn't mind answering it one bit.
Winning Gear Notes
> Jig gear: 7' heavy-action G. Loomis MBR844C rod, Shimano Curado SF casting reel, 20-pound P-line fluorocarbon, 3/8-and 1/2-ounce Tru-Tungsten jig (green pumpkin, green-pumpkin/watermelon), NetBait Paca Chunk trailer (green -pumpkin).
> Jigworm gear: 7' medium-heavy Bass Pro Shops Pro Qualifier spinning rod, Shimano Stradic 2500 spinning reel, 8-pound P-line fluorocarbon, 1/8-ounce Reaction Innovations Screwed-Up jighead, Berkley Gulp! Shaky Worm (green-pumpkin).
> Topwater gear: 7' medium-heavy Bass Pro Shops Crankin' Stick, 10-pound P-line CXX, Reaction Innovations Vixen (shad color).
> Main factor in his success – "The confidence in throwing that big jig and not sticking with the jigworm or dropshot or other traditional co-angler techniques. I needed big bites with the three-fish limit, so I kept that jig in my hand most of the time."