That's it the last major tournament for me in 2018 is in the books. It was definitely a memorable adventure to Houghton Lake and a place I would like to go back to someday. Everyone was faced with challenging conditions up there, as we faced a 30 degree temperature drop on tournament morning. It was a refreshing taste of fall, but I don't think it helped the bite any. Congrats to the winners for figuring out the right bites in a brutal tournament like this!
I knew right from the get go I was going to have my work cut out for me. My only experience on the lake was an NBAA classic in the spring a decade or more ago. I knew what I was doing then wouldn't play and I didn't make it up there to pre practice. That ended up being a really poor decision because we were faced with sustained 30 mph winds on our official practice day. Houghton is big, open, and there is nowhere to hide. I didn't get really anything out of practice, I found a few things I was looking for but never got bit off them. My short day produced 1 walleye, 1 pike, and 1 largemouth. Shaun had something come up so I was going it alone in the tournament. There was no doubt I had my work cut out for me.
There had been several fall classics from other circuits up there the last few years. Results from those pointed to smallmouth being the deal. So that's what I was going to do. I was boat 27 and just decided to pick an area and start fishing. Nothing was happening at first, 0 bites, 0 activity, just dead all around. I was watching my Humminbird MEGA side imaging on my front SOLIX 10 looking for any signs of shell beds while I covered water. About 45 minutes in I noticed I was seeing some shells on the graph. 2 casts later and we had some life when a smallmouth absolutely crushed my tube. Unfortunately after a short fight that one pulled off. A couple casts later and boom another one smokes it, which I also lost. I picked up a ned rig next fired out there and caught a keeper. The Minn Kota Talons were down at this point and I was literally watching the smallmouth swim by on my side imaging. I pitched a tube at one of those fish and caught it giving me keeper number 2. I added some more shorts and more lost fish, they were eating it and just coming at me so fast. I was overwhelmed at all the smallies I could see swimming by! The next fish was one of the right ones, I would estimate around 4lbs. I had it all the way to the boat and it dove under twice and I had it coming up again. I was going to flip him this time since I was using 15lb P-Line Tactical and a Dobyns 735 baitcaster. Unfortunately he decided to run under the boat one more time and pulled off. That was a heartbreak and it also shut down the school. I definitely had the bites to have an ok limit but I also had the whole day left and a lot of water to look at. I think I went back to 2 places I had seen the day before and I just ran new water all day long. Unfortunately I never came across the right stuff for either largemouth or smallmouth.
To the losers bracket I went, not really the way I wanted to defend the classic. Regardless I still had a shot at a good check and I knew if I could get to those smallmouth in the morning I could do well. I just had to capitalize on everything this time. I also got a tip from Dave and Kyle about a largemouth bite that saved their day one. I was definitely excited to get day 2 underway.
Despite blasting off way back in the pack on day 2 I got to fish the shell bed again. I dropped the Talons down just short of it and first cast on it with a tube just got smashed. Unfortunately after a solid hookset that one came off after a couple seconds. My third cast I got crushed again and had no hope of keeping up with that fish despite having it on for a while. I was squandering opportunities again! I grabbed a menace grub next and decided to keep it moving hoping they would not be able to push it forward as much. 2nd cast with that I caught one but he was just hooked in the lips so I figured that wasn't the deal. I grabbed a darter next and put another fish in the boat right away. They kind of calmed down on that section of the shell bed so I pulled up the Talons and moved a bit. Instantly getting bit again and losing that one right at the boat. A cast back to the same spot produced one just under 3lbs so I was feeling good about that. This was all in the span of about 15 to 20 minutes. They were just up their feeding and I was screwing it up by losing them, so frustrating! I will be prepared with the proper tackle adjustments next time and I've got no one to blame for that but myself. One thing that was cool about seeing them on the SI was I could see what direction they were going. Saturday they all swam one direction and Sunday it was the exact opposite. Despite my best efforts I could never relocate them after they got off the shell bed to feed. I added one more keeper on a squarebill shortly after and felt really good about getting a limit and culling a bunch with largemouth. I did almost lose that squarebill fish though, I flipped it in the boat and grabbed the line to unhook it. As soon as I did that it came off, hit the carpet, and bounced toward the water. I reacted fast and pinned it against the top cap of the boat, he was so close to freedom. It was just a squeaker but it helped give me some confidence.
Time to do some largemouth fishing now and it didn't take long to get that going. Bites weren't hard to come by but quality was, I caught a bunch of shorts, pike, and walleye. But never handled another keeper, I did see a decent one follow one of the pike I had hooked up. I saw where he swam back down to and tried to coax a bite out of that area for around 20 more minutes however it only gave up another pike. I was definitely discouraged at the end of the day but not all was lost. I thought the whole shell bed deal was really cool and unique. I'd like to have the time to drive around with graphs/FishSens SondeCAM and really learn some stuff about the lake. I also regret not putting the time into trying to find some offshore largemouth. The stars just didn't align in this one no matter how hard I tried.
I do want to give a shout out to all the guys who helped out/offered to help out launching and retrieving my boat. There were some unique challenges with the lake being 2 feet low and everyone launching in that little lagoon. That all went a lot smoother than everyone anticipated luckily. Regardless of the crappy fishing I did have a blast up there. We rented all the cabins at The Crest Resort and if you end up on Houghton for a fishing trip I would definitely recommend staying there.
I've definitely got a lot of thoughts about this season but I will save that for when it is totally over. I've still got the annual November portage chain tournament left. Until then it is time to think about hunting. I've got my treestand up despite the most mosquitoes I've ever seen. I did not get any bug spray on my ear and they tore it up so bad while I was hanging the stand it itched for 2 days. I am definitely looking forward to October first. I also was able to take my buddy Trevor out for the youth hunt. It was a blast as birds were flying and decoying well. He ended up with 3 wood ducks, a mallard, and a goose in a short amount of time. I know for a fact Hutch loved it, I am really looking forward to season 3 with him!
I also want to give a shout out to my brother in law Josh. We all got some tough news a couple weeks ago with a stage 4 cancer diagnosis. However he is going to battle and overcome it. He is also going to blog about his journey and inspire others. If you get a chance please check it out at https://mypersonal359.wordpress.com/ and send some prayers Josh's way.
That's all I've got for now, be prepared for a wide range of fall activities in the next one.