Over the past weekend I participated in the 17th Annual Dick Hiley St. Jude Bass Classic on the Mississippi River down in Wabasha. Before I talk about the fishing I want to shine a light on what this tournament does. St. Jude Children’s Hospital is located in Nashville, TN and is primarily run on donations. The average daily running cost of St. Jude’s is around $2 million so any and all donations are welcomed. A fact that continues to baffle me is that when St. Jude’s started in 1962 the survival rate of cancer was 20% and because of many treatments that have been introduced at their hospital the survival rate is now up to 80% today with a goal of 90% in the next decade. I’m extremely pleased to say that at this single fundraiser a group of 134 anglers raised $316,650, so to everyone who was involved I have to say amazing work. This tournament is easily the best ran event I have ever attended and I will be back because of the competition, fishing and most importantly the cause it goes towards.
Now for the fishing! I spent about a week on primarily Pool 4 and Lake Pepin prefishing for this event. I did spend a day down on Pool 5 but with no success to speak of I left it in the dust. A good buddy of mine Chad Smith and I fished the weekend before on Pool 4 with sporadic success. Mainly, we found fish around wood and rocks. These fish weren’t all attached to the structure but you could tell they were heading towards it. My tournament partner Michael Walters made his way down to the river to start fishing on the Monday before and found the same pattern we did. This continued up until the Thursday before the tournament.
On Thursday Michael and I hammered em. I say this with a little hesitation because we didn’t catch 50+ fish like most people would constitute as “hammering em” but we caught multiple good fish in about a dozen spots that all resembled each other. Michael and I would side image a long range of shoreline looking for a subtle change. Fish were concentrated on small flats that came off of a steep bank with a hard bottom. It was essential for it to be nearly 3-4 feet immediately off shore and then stay the same depth for about 30-50 feet off shore. To dissect these areas we found that bluegill patterned squarebills were a great search bait. The Strike King KVD Square Bill 1.5 and LFT Finesse Square Bill produced a great number of our fish. I primarily used my Champion 705CB for this method and it performed amazingly. On Friday Michael and I went up to Lake Pepin to look for similar areas and found similar success in these areas.
Tournament day came on Saturday and the water temps raised from 59-62 to about 64 everywhere. The water on the river had gone up about 10 degrees in a week and needless to say fish were moving A LOT. When we came up to our starting spot we put the trolling motor down and turned our HydroWave on and bait was EVERYWHERE but our bigger fish were nowhere to be found. We were able to catch a limit of fish weighing 14.13 but never got the larger bites we did in practice. On day 2 we ran to our starting spot and found no fish so we decided to run and gun, trying to find large smallmouth somewhere because that was what most of the top teams were weighing in.
We ran all over God’s creation on Pool 4 from the bottom dam all the way up to Red Wing and around 1pm we only had 2 fish to show for it and they were small. We decided to stroll up to one of our spots on Lake Pepin that we’d found in practice where we’d caught one small largemouth and had a pig smallmouth come check out theHydroWave. Instead of fishing close to shore we decided to back off a ways and chuck a Carolina Rig and All Terrain Football Head jig up into the rocks right off shore. If you’re looking for a Carolina Rig/Football Jig rod I highly recommend the Champion 764C, it has a fast, sensitive tip with loads of backbone. We had a few bite up near shore but we started to catch a lot of fish in the 6-8 foot depth range. This is where the hard bottom ended and sand started. None of the fish were of any size but they filled out our limit for Day 2 which weighed in at just under 11lbs. What we figured out was that fish were starting to move up in this area because the water temps had reached 67 towards the end of the day. We almost went back out to fish the same spot after weigh in because we graphed larger fish at about 14-20 feet that were moving in.
Overall, the fishing was great! We hammered fish even though none of them were the right size to win the tournament. I have to say that at no point during this tournament I felt stressed about our weight though. This was a great way to open the year because it’s a competitive tournament with a good payout but if you don’t bring in a big weight, like us, it’s easy to sit back, relax, and catch fish. The fact that we had raised an immense amount of money for St. Jude’s made everything much more relaxed and well worth it. I highly recommend everyone tries to make it down to this tournament at some point in there life and hopefully you’ll come back like we will be next year.