Before we get to the Michigan Bass Nation State Championship details I'm sure some of you have been very anxious for some salmon news. I'll tell you it has been an incredibly disappointing season in Muskegon. Some fish have been skirting through, but no one has been marking them. I have had a buddy up here on vacation fishing every day for the last two weeks and the only salmon he has seen caught was the one he did. However, there are a bunch of them in the river and who knows what is left to come. Thanks to my buddy Shane I was able to have one fun day in Grand Haven when it was stacked with coho's and a few kings. Unfortunately, they were gone two days later when I took my dad and brother there. It was a fun adventure though since neither of them had ever been on the river before.
I also got to switch things up and do some waterfowling. Fortunately, I did not have a tournament on the Saturday of the youth hunt so Trevor, Hutch, and I went again! No mosquitoes this year since it was in the 40's and it was going to be a great morning for duck hunting. Not only was Trevor excited but so was the Hutch man. I haven't gotten a ton of time to work with the dog since Mabel joined the family this summer (everything has been chaos), so I was curious how ready he would be. It took about two seconds for Hutch to put camo, decoys, and early morning together. He was ready to get in the truck and go. I was impressed with his focus right off the get go, there is no doubt he has matured some. I didn't have to round him up for shooting time, he was right by my side and focused on the skies. Things started off slow, but Trevor picked away at them getting his limit of three wood ducks and a mallard. We did have a four pack of teal in the decoys that would have filled his limit, but they were so close together there was no way for him to take a shot and not hit every bird. Frustrating since he has never gotten to shoot a teal before but he showed great patience in waiting for the right shot or you simply don't shoot (and you definitely don't skybust like a clown). It was a great morning and we were off the water at 9am with Trevor's four birds and a retriever that performed perfectly!
Now let's get to the state championship, I couldn't pass this one up since it was on my home waters. I had a bunch of down time that I could have been practicing, but instead I spent all that time on salmon like I do every year. I don't really know Muskegon Lake at all during early fall since I never bass fish it. I knew it was going to be tough and I knew those young of year shad were really going to be a factor in finding the bass. I also had work trips to Lake Huron and Saginaw Bay to deal with but I got out for a little time on both Muskegon and White Lakes. Normally I wouldn't have bothered with White but the forecast looked decent for running at the beginning of the week. Unfortunately, that deteriorated as the week went on and it ended up being bumpy out there during the tournament. I could catch them pretty easily up there though. Not big bags but 12-13lbs wasn't going to be a big deal with a good potential for a lot more. I also had a potential to get on them good in Muskegon, but if I didn't get them early I could be in trouble. My game plan was to give Muskegon two hours on Friday and then run to White if the weather was still favorable.
But first we had the banquet which was interesting to say the least. One of the hot topics was the drowned river mouth drop shot rule. Dealing with that rule is one of the more frustrating things about tournament fishing in west Michigan. Some tournaments simply don't care (just don't get a ticket), which is fine with me. Everyone can drop shot, everyone is happy as it's a great tool for catching fish. Other tournaments for instance like D&R specifically state that the drop shot is illegal EVERY MORNING at a lakeshore tournament meeting. Also no big deal, because no one can drop shot right? Shaun and I cut our drop shots and power shots off and block them out of our minds. However, from what I've seen and heard not all of our competitors are playing by the same rules. That's pretty disappointing to me since it's an absolute competitive advantage against guys who are. So I was grateful for Michigan Bass Nation for taking a strict stance on that.
I didn't draw a co angler for day 1, which was good because I took about 20 rods out to have at my disposal and really had no clue what I was going to do. I was one of the last boats out and due to blast off at 8am. It was going to be a pretty late start for my bite, but I also knew if I found them I would likely get to start on them the next morning since I would be one of the first out. Things didn't start out well, I had one half interested blow up on a topwater and that was it. Punting and running to White was really starting to cross my mind because I knew I could get them up there. I was throwing a squarebill in an area where I had caught some in practice, when my dreams came true. I saw one eat a shad on the surface! I threw in there hooked up right away and lost it. Threw right back in and caught number one. I grabbed the topwater rod next and immediately a big one missed it, then a big one ate it! Heartbreakingly it broke off for some crazy reason, I did get my bait back though. I grabbed the next topwater rod and lost another good one right away. I'm literally watching my opportunity turning into a disaster. I've got rods everywhere, broken off stuff, and one or two fish in the livewell with the bites to have a good limit. I try not to get to worked up though and went to work on them. I dropped the Talons, pulled up the trolling motor, and had the best hour of tournament fishing I've ever had on Muskegon Lake. I'm not sure how many I caught but it was a bunch and I wasn't going to lay off on them because likely the shad would be in another place tomorrow. I think my best stretch was 7 or 8 casts in a row with keepers. Cast, cull, repeat, and the couple boats that came by were very respectful which was much appreciated. After the flurry, I only had one over 4, I really needed one or 2 of those big ones on topwater. I wasn't going to run to White at this point, so I had a whole day to learn. I saved a bunch of places I thought I could catch a fish off of for the next day and kept learning about these smallmouth. I culled one more time throughout the day and found one more school at the end of the day. They were biting as fast as I could catch them but I only had 10 minutes to fish for them. Anyway it was a great option for the next day.
I was pleasantly surprised with my weight of 14.91 and was sitting in 6th place going into day two. I was also going to be boat number 5 out the next day, so I would get my choice of spots hopefully. I definitely considered starting on the 2nd school, but I knew if there were still some fish around in the place from day one I would make the team in 20 minutes. It was also a much smaller area, so if they were there I wouldn't be guessing on the sweet spot. I couldn't ignore that so I headed right for it. I could see the shad were still there so I was hopeful. Right away I missed a big fish and my co angler Duane Michaels caught a keeper. Then we struggled with short bites and fish missing the bait for awhile. I was about ready to leave when we both caught keepers, I was relieved to at least have one swimming in the well. There were a bunch of boats around the other area I really wanted to fish so we checked a bunch of other good water nearby. More short fish and a few short bites were my story. I did have one other big fish miss the bait, but it was pretty uneventful for awhile. I could never really fish the next area I was counting on due to another boat camping on it. We did get to poke around the outskirts of it though. I ended up catching another keeper and my co angler caught a giant 4.91 smallie (ended up being co angler big bass). I did talk to the other boat at the end of the day and they got a few fish and lost a bunch. I'm confident we could have done fairly well in that area with what we were throwing. Definitely made the wrong decision by not being the first boat there. At this point I should have put all the smallmouth stuff away and just went shallow. Those couple warm nights had definitely started moving fish back up. I mixed in some shallow stuff, with some deep stuff, and some more smallmouth stuff. I never even went to my good shallow stuff since it wasn't on in practice, but I did hit a couple other areas and had a 4lber come off and a 2lber miss the bait completely. I stumbled into another 4lber (which I landed) with a half hour to go and a lot of good stuff to flip. I would have bet money I would fill out my limit on that stretch but the only other fish it produced was another 13.5 incher.
It definitely sucks and it's embarrassing dropping the ball on my home water like that. Regardless of execution, timing, or whatever else goes on I should absolutely be bringing a five bass limit to the scales on that body of water, even if it is a tough bite. I haven't seen the standings yet but I missed the team by somewhere between 1 and 2lbs. I guess it saved me the long drive to Toledo Bend Reservoir this spring. Congrats to my buddy Shaun Ford who made the team in 6th place though and also my co angler Duane for his big bass win in the co angler division. I also want to give a shout out to my buds Dave and Kyle for all the smallmouth knowledge they've shared with me the last couple years. Without some of their smallmouth techniques I wouldn't have had nearly as good of a day 1 for sure (or maybe even attempt to fish for smallies).
The D&R Classic on Cadillac/Mitchell and a fun tournament on the Portage Chain are the only things I'm planning on fishing the rest of the year. I may actually do some fall fun fishing this year since I'm confident the dog has this waterfowl game down. I'm also really craving some cast after cast action again after the way day one went. Anyway, hopefully this last, and biggest, tournament of the season will actually go according to plan. It has absolutely been a tough year for me and I would really like to win something big. Check back for the full report on that in a couple weeks!