By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor

You can have a bad day and still finish among the top 5 at some venues the pro tours visit. The Mississippi River out of La Crosse, Wis. is not one of those.

The river is home to lots of bass – both largemouths and smallmouths – and a high percentage of them weigh 2 pounds and some change. A smattering will exceed 3 pounds, with fish weighing 4-plus very hard to come by.

Relatively speaking, it's easy for tour-level anglers to catch a limit of 2 1/2-pounders and incredibly difficult to compile a sack full of 4s. Thus, overcoming a sub-par day is a tall order.

Winner Bryan Schmitt's weights were consistent across the four days of the event, and the same was true for the competitors who stacked up directly behind him. Of the 16 bags weighed by the 2nd- through 5th-place finishes, 12 of them registered between 14 and 15 pounds. Only one weighed less than 14.

The anglers who compiled those stringers went about their business in a variety of ways. Following are some of the details.

2nd: Joshua Weaver

> Day 1: 5, 15-09
> Day 2: 5, 14-07
> Day 3: 5, 14-03
> Day 4: 5, 14-08
> Total = 20, 58-11

Joshua Weaver caught every fish he weighed off the same wing dam. He had company on it for part of day 2, but otherwise didn't have to share it with anybody.

"It was about a 100-yard stretch and I was only able to fish about 60 percent of it until (day 4), when the water rose up. I only fished the down-current side – I tried the top side a few times just to let the bottom side rest, but all I caught were a couple of small ones. I don't even know if I caught a keeper on that side."

He had a terrible practice, catching just 11 keepers over the course of three days. On day 1 of competition he was fishing around an island and caught one off a small rock jetty (he'd been encouraged to try that type of cover by roommate Buddy Gross), so he zoomed out on his Lowrance unit and discovered the wing dam less than a mile away.

He estimated that 17 of his weigh-in fish were enticed by a Zoom Z-Craw Jr. on a swing-head jig. The other three bit a wacky-rigged Senko during slow-action periods.

> Swing-head gear: 7'6" medium-heavy Berkley E-Motion rod, Shimano Curado casting reel (7:1 ratio), unnamed 20-pound fluorocarbon line, 1/2-ounce homemade jig, Zoom Z-Craw Jr. (blueberry).

> Wacky-rig gear: 7' medium-action Berkley Series One spinning rod, Shimano Stradic CI4+ spinning reel, unnamed 15-pound braid (main line), unnamed 10-pound fluorocarbon leader (10'), 2/0 Gamakatsu Aaron Martens TGW Drop Shot hook, 5" Yamamoto Senko (black/blue).

Main factor in his success – "(Gross) telling me about getting bit on wing dams throwing a swing-head. I didn't have anything going, so I decided that's what I'd do. I thought it was my best chance of doing well."

Photo: FLW

Andy Morgan's two-pool approach resulted in yet another high finish.

3rd: Andy Morgan

> Day 1: 5, 16-11
> Day 2: 5, 14-09
> Day 3: 5, 14-12
> Day 4: 5, 14-10
> Total = 20, 58-10

Andy Morgan also relied on a Zoom Z-Craw, but employed it on a flipping set-up. It produced all 20 of the fish he took to the scale.

"I was flipping woody-type stuff and most of them were standing trees," he said. "Most of the fish were about 18 inches deep. They were spawning, but I couldn't see them due to the mud."

He had backwater locales on both pools 8 and 9 and utilized both each day. He deemed them equal at the outset of the tournament, but began to spend more and more time in 9 as the event progressed.

"I think 9 was the more active pool – they were biting better in there. The biggest thing was it fit my style better. I'm a little more efficient flipping and pitching than some people are."

He conserved one backwater area that featured scattered willows and had to resort to it at mid-morning on the final day.

> Flipping gear: 7'6" medium-heavy iRod Genesis II Andy’s Light Flipping/Junk casting rod, unnamed casting reel (7.5:1 ratio), 16-pound Gamma fluorocarbon line, unnamed 5/16-ounce weight, 5/0 Owner Jungle Hook, Zoom Z-Craw (green-pumpkin/blue).

Main factor in his success – "I fished pretty fast, and that's a style I'm very comfortable with."

Performance edge – "Probably the rod – I only lost two bass in four days. I didn't lose many and that was kind of a surprise for what I was doing."

Photo: FLW

Todd Auten opted to spend the entire event in Pool 8.

4th: Todd Auten

> Day 1: 5, 16-11
> Day 2: 5, 13-01
> Day 3: 5, 14-02
> Day 4: 5, 14-02
> Total = 20, 58-00

Todd Auten ran a pattern that was very similar to Morgan's – he focused on fish that were spawning around trees.

"In practice I fished with my hook cut off and I got bites around four or five trees in one area," he said. "When I came back during the tournament, they were on the same trees.

"I had one other deal where I was catching some around shore grass of some type – I don't know the name of it, but it was real tall. There was some current coming through and the grass was a little ambush point for them."

He spent the entire event in Pool 8. He weighed the lightest bag caught by a top-5 finisher on day 2, but that was offset by his big stringer on day 1.

A bladed jig was his most productive offering. He also caught some quality fish on an out-of-production Zoom Z-Nail soft stickbait and one good one on a spinnerbait.

> Bladed jig gear: 7' medium-heavy Limit Fishing rod, Daiwa Tatula casting reel (6.3:1 ratio), 20-pound Sunline Super FC Sniper fluorocarbon line, custom-made 1/2-ounce bladed jig (black/blue), Zoom Z-Craw Jr. trailer (black/blue sapphire).

> Stickbait gear: 7' medium-action Limit Fishing rod, same reel, 14-pound Gamma monofilament line, unnamed 5/0 hook, Zoom Z-Nail (junebug).

> His spinnerbait was a half-ounce Zorro (white) with double willow-leaf blades.

Main factor in his success – "I think one big thing was deciding to stay in Pool 8. I'd never been there before and I didn't think I had time to go looking around in all three pools."

Performance edge – "My Garmin electronics. With the satellite photos they've got on there, I could overlay the contour lines, and that picture they used showed the grass on the flats and the channel running through the flats. I could run my boat in the channel and not have to worry about hitting anything."

Photo: FLW

Larry Nixon was surprised that he had his best area to himself.

5th: Larry Nixon

> Day 1: 5, 14-11
> Day 2: 5, 14-01
> Day 3: 5, 14-00
> Day 4: 5, 14-13
> Total = 20, 57-09

Larry Nixon had difficulty getting through a lock in an event about 15 years ago and swore he'd never attempt to pass through another one. He broke that vow after finding a wad of fish on one practice day in Pool 9.

"I just had to make sure I left myself lots of time," he said.

His main area was a locale that consisted of a combination of wood and rock. He was very surprised that he had it to himself.

"It was such an obvious place. I was boat (No. 43) on the first day and I couldn't believe it when everybody just kept blowing right by it – nobody even tried to fish it."

The fish there were almost entirely largemouths during practice, but they were supplanted by smallmouths as the tournament wore on – he caught all bronzebacks on days 3 and 4.

He flipped up some of his fish, used finesse tactics to entice others and caught a few on a spinnerbait.

> Flipping gear: 7'4" Dobyns Champion Extreme rod, Bass Pro Shops Johnny Morris Signature Series casting reel (6.4:1 ratio), 18-pound Sunline Super FC Sniper fluorocarbon line, unnamed 1/4-ounce slip-sinker (pegged), 4/0 Gamakatsu EWG hook, Yamamoto Flappin' Hawg (black/blue flake).

> Finesse gear: 7'2" Dobyns Champion spinning rod, unnamed spinning reel, 20-pound Sunline braid (main line), 12-pound Sunline Super FC Sniper fluorocarbon leader (6'), 1/16-ounce Hayabusa Brush Easy jighead, 3" Yamamoto Senko (General's melon).

> The spinnerbait he threw was a 1/2-ounce War Eagle (blue herring).

Main factor in his success – "Nobody else found those same fish."

Performance edge – "My Evinrude G2 did a great job for me – I was running about 50 miles and I only burned one gallon of oil the whole tournament. Also, the Lowrance (depthfinder) was very important for running the river."

Much of the tackle referenced above is available at the BassFan Store. To browse the selection, click here..