Tournament Day

It’s two AM as my alarm clock blares, waking me from a sound sleep. Tournament morning has finally arrived! I hop out of bed and as quickly as I can, throw on my warm AFTCO gear. I know this tournament is going to be a cold one, and I want to be prepared.

Thirty minutes later I am headed out the door and driving on the highway towards Long Lake, which is near Spokane, WA. It is a very cold and rainy Sunday morning in November as I haul my Ranger to the lake.

I have arrived at the lake an hour earlier than anyone else and the rain is stopping now, but the chill remains. I proceed to launch my boat in the early morning darkness, tying it up to the dock. Time to wait for blast off!

While waiting for the tournament to begin I got all of my rods out the lockers and retied the knots on my baits. As I was finishing up this task, other anglers started to arrive. I helped several other guys launch their boats and then finished my preparation, putting the finishing touches on my boat and equipment before first light. As soon as it was considered safe light, we launched.

My first stop was on a forty-five-degree bank with scattered grass and rock. The water temperature was in the low fifties, but I knew the fish should still be active. I positioned my boat in twenty to twenty-five feet of water and I was casting a Spro McStick jerkabit up into five-feet of water. I worked the bait back to my boat at a fourty-five degree angle. After ten minutes of fishing the bank without success I moved further down the lake to a shallow flat that tapered off into deep water.

It was mainly rock with little patches of grass mixed in. I was covering the flat in seven-feet of water with the crawdad colored Spro Aruku Shad 75 lipless crankbait. It was tied onto my 7′ MH Crankbait rod, and being cast into the water effortlessly with the Lews 5.4:1 Tournament Pro reel spooled with sixteen-pound Sunline Super FC Sniper line.

After only a few minutes of fishing the flat I had a vicious strike. As soon as I felt the fish I knew it was a keeper. The bass didn’t jump at all, and it just rolled to the surface of the water. One glance proved it to be a largemouth. After what seemed like an eternity I was able to get the fish into my Bass Pro Shops landing net. I turned the live wells on and placed the fish in the water, excited and believing the fish to be a toad. I thought the she weighed around four or five-pounds. Boy, was I wrong! The fish ended up weighing 6.75-pounds.

As I continued fishing down the lake I stopped and fished a small subtle point and caught a smallmouth that was, unfortunately not a keeper. I got this smallmouth on a V&M Shakey Shad fished on a 6’8″ M drop-shot rod, Lews 300 series High Speed Speed Spining reel spooled with 12-pound Sunline SX1 braid and a 8′ leader of 8-pound Sunline Super FC Sniper line.

After spending a couple of minutes fishing the point I fired up the engine and I had the Ranger screaming down the lake to my next spot.

I pulled up on a small gravel bank with a point that extended into deeper water. I threw the Shakey Shad around without any luck. Continuing down the lake I stopped on a shallow weed flat and burned the Aruku Shad over the grass. After fishing the flat for fifteen minutes without a bite, I continued down the lake making my way to a spot near the dam. This stop was on a shallow rocky flat that dropped off into 30-feet of water. I continued fishing the Shakey Shad around the drop off without success. Moving even closer to the dam, I stopped on a very steep rocky bluff wall and fished the Shakey Shad in 30-feet of water without a bite.

I then moved down the lake to another rocky bluff and fished the drop-shot in 30-60-feet of water. As I worked the Shakey Shad down the bluff wall I got a bite as the bait came to 60 feet of water from a non-keeper smallmouth.

I then proceeded to catch non-keeper smallmouth bass on consecutive casts for the next fifteen minutes!

I thought to myself, there had to be at least one 12″ smallmouth down there. Finally, after going through an entire bag of V&M Shakey Shads I was able to catch a smallmouth, which was barely 12″. I had to measure the fish three times on my Bass Pro Shops measuring board to make sure that it wasn’t too short!

I had lost count of the non-keeper smallmouth I had caught on the bluff wall, so I moved back up the lake to a shallow rocky point. I fished this point for a little over ten minutes, with no signs of a bite. Glancing at my watch I knew it was getting close to one pm. Weigh in was at three. Only two hours left. I was starting to feel the pressure!

I turned the Ranger north towards a shallow grass flat and continued to fish the Shakey Shad in 17 feet of water without a bite. As the day progressed with, still, no signs of a bite I continued moving back up the lake towards the ramp. I stopped on one of the rocky ledges I had fished earlier that morning. After only a few minutes I caught a fourteen-inch smallmouth. Ten minutes later I continued on my trajectory up the lake, wanting to fish spots closer to the ramp. I stopped on all of the previous spots I had hit at the tournament start, sadly all of which were without success. Still I continued up the lake, and ended up catching another non-keeper smallmouth. Moving even closer to the launch site I pulled up on a spot and tried the Shakey Shad in 10-feet of water on a rocky bank without any action. I then moved to a shallow grass flat and fished the Aruku Shad and the McStick in 8-feet of water before heading into the weigh in at 3 pm.

To recap it was quite the tough day of fishing for this angler. I ended up weighing in three keeper fish for just under 9lbs. I placed 9th out of 22 anglers. The winning bag was 5 smallmouth for 14lbs. My largemouth, that I had believed to be only four or five pounds weighed in at 6.75 for big fish of the tournament! I was able to take home a check! That fish was the biggest largemouth I have ever caught in Washington state, and the biggest fish I have ever weighed in, in a tournament, period. I was stoked!

Next season is right around the corner and I can’t wait to get things started in the spring of 2015. For now the Ranger is winterized and patiently waiting for it’s next adventure.

“Do Whatever It takes”

Nik Autrey

2012 B.A.S.S Jr. World Champion, 4 Time Washington State Jr. Champion

"I grew up fishing with my grandpa in Port Angeles, Washington and by the age of 8 I knew making a career in this industry was what I wanted to do with my life. I have 11 years of tournament bass fishing experience and have had the privilege of fishing all over the country. I have fished in tourname...