By Todd Ceisner
Prior to last week, all Jacob Powroznik knew about Lake Pokegama was what he’d seen of it during a Major League Fishing Summit Cup that aired earlier this year.
“People had told me it was good and that we’d catch a lot of fish,” the Hayward, Va., native said after his victory in the Bassmaster Elite Series Classic Bracket. “In the back of my mind, I figured it’d be a place where if I wasn’t catching them, I needed to be doing something else.”
The Classic Bracket wasn’t Powroznik’s preferred method of qualifying for the 2018 Bassmaster Classic, but it turned out to be his last-ditch lifeline as he entered the event as the 8th seed on the heels of a 43rd-place showing at the 50-man Angler of the Year Championship at Mille Lac Lake. He said it was a challenge getting himself refocused for the match fishing format of the Classic Bracket after failing four spots in the points standings at Mille Lacs.
“I drove up (to Pokegama) Monday morning after leaving Mille Lacs at 4 a.m.,” he said. “The closer I got, I started talking to myself. I said, ‘This is your last chance so you better get it done or forget about it.’ I’d made up my mind that I was going to leave it all on that lake no matter what happened.”
With wins over top seed Steve Kennedy, Dave Lefebre and Ish Monroe, Powroznik salvaged his year, which failed to meet the high standard he’d set for himself over his first three seasons on the Elite Series.
Pokegama offered up a variety of options for the eight competitors, but conditions greatly dictated what strategies could be productive. Boat docks and pencil reeds were a go-to for largemouth while sand bars and steep drops seemed to harbor the smallmouth.
Powroznik sampled it all over the course of four days, punctuating his win over Monroe in the finals with a 4-pound, 3-ounce smallmouth that ate a dropshot in roughly 18 feet of water. Over the course of 18 hours on the water, Poworznik tallied 55-06 for 20 keepers, which works out to an average of a 2 3/4-pounder caught each hour of competition.
Here are some additional details about how Powroznik punched his Classic ticket.
Powroznik started his practice session – the competitors had to be off the water by 4 p.m. Monday – checking out the upper reaches of the fishable water at Pokegama, not far from where the lake connects to the Missisippi River.
“I caught some fish up there and there were more with it each time I reeled one in,” he said. “I skipped a few docks and got bites on every dock so I knew I could go back to that.”
The rest of the time he spent scanning with his electronics in hopes of finding a few offshore places he could target for smallmouth when the conditions were conducive. The skies were bright on Monday and a few of the anglers felt the smallmouth could carry them in the early rounds.
“Every place I pulled up and made a cast on, I got a bite so I figured I’d go back and figure it out during the tournament,” Powroznik added.
He said Pokegama was a fairly easy body of water to dissect. At 6,600 acres, it was considerably smaller than Mille Lacs.
“There wasn’t much for them to live on – they were either in the grass, on docks or on points,” he said. “It was a shallow water shootout until (Friday).”
> Quarterfinals: Powroznik (10, 26-05) def. Steve Kennedy (6, 14-02)
> Semifinals: Powroznik (5, 13-06) def. Dave Lefebre (5, 12-07)
> Finals: Powroznik (5, 16-11) def. Ish Monroe (5, 14-08)
Against Kennedy, Powroznik fell behind early during the first half of their match on Tuesday, but eventually overcame a 7-02 deficit and took the lead for good with a 2-13 largemouth caught just before 10:30 a.m.
He focused on docks in the morning, skipping a wacky-rigged worm alongside boat lifts and under platforms and walkways. Once he caught his first keeper, it took him an hour to finish his limit.
“After that, I went practicing and found more areas with docks that had fish,” he said. “Steve came out firing with that 4-pounder and caught another one. I hadn’t even had a bite yet.
“I went fishing around to get a feel for it. I think the deal that killed him was catching the big one right off the bat. That played out. This lake was not about that. You could catch two or three and then you had to leave.”
Powroznik competed in the Classic Bracket last year, but the pressure on him then wasn’t close to what it was last week. In 2016, he’d basically secured a Classic berth via the points by the time the Classic Bracket came around on the schedule so he didn’t necessarily go all out. This year, fishing against the clock was a real eye-opener for him.
“That clock is a killer by the way,” he said. “It was stressful. How I thought about it was if the clock is eating at me and I’m leading I can only imagine what it’s doing to the other guy.”
He carried nearly a 2-pound lead into the second half of his match against Kennedy on Wednesday afternoon. Powroznik had tallied 12-11 before Kennedy caught a keeper and he cruised to a 12-pound victory.
“Those were really important days,” he said.
He fell behind early in his semifinal match against Lefebre, too, but with six hours to fish, he didn’t feel rushed to make up the deficit in one or two casts. Still, there was no avoiding the reality of having to make up a 5-pound gap in order to advance. He was the last one among of the four semifinalists to catch a keeper, but the first one to cull.
“Falling behind, that lit a fire in me,” he said. “That’s what drives us. We’re adrenaline junkies. It’s amazing how momentum is in this sport.”
By the time both anglers had a limit, Powroznik had pulled ahead 13-01 to 10-11 with his key fish being a 3-04 largemouth yanked from under a dock.
Powroznik said his electronics were key to identifying stretches of docks that could be productive.
“There were fish on every dock but if you looked at where I fished, very seldom was I around docks with grass,” he said. “It had to be rocky and sandy. The Navionics chip is so good that I could go to places I hadn’t been before and know I’d get a bite.”
Against Monroe, he started on the same area he’d started on the first three days, up north near the boundary line, except this time, he had a different bait tied on. He’d used a jerkbait, a dropshot and wacky rig previously, but in the final, he started with a swimbait and caught keeper largemouth on his first two casts, setting the tone for the match.
“It was one of those long bars that dropped off to 15 to 20 (feet),” he said. “The grass would stop around 16 feet. Every spot I had, that’s where the largemouth and smallmouth were.”
He had a limit on his scoresheet before Monroe had a keeper and by the time he shifted his focus to smallmouth, he already had three 3-plus pound largemouth to his credit. He’d caught three such fish over the first three days.
At 11:17 a.m., he connected with the 4-03 kicker smallmouth on a wacky-rigged worm fished on a dropshot. About 25 minutes later, he added a 3-pounder to cull up to a tournament-high 16-11.
Winning Gear Notes
> Dock skipping gear: 6’10” medium-heavy Quantum Prism spinning rod, Quantum Energy PT spinning reel, 10-pound Hi-Seas fluorocarbon line, V&M Baits Chop Stick (green-pumpkin and green-pumpkin magic), 4” unnamed soft plastic stickbait.
> On fishing docks at Pokegama, Powroznik said, “I’d fish down both sides and skip underneath. The water was so clear you could actually get them to come out and get it.”
> Dropshot gear: 7’4” medium-action Quantum Tour KVD spinning rod, Quantum Vapor spinning reel (6.3:1 ratio), 10-pound Hi-Seas Grand Slam braided line, 10-pound Hi-Seas fluorocarbon line (leader), unnamed hand-poured worm.
> Frog gear: 7’6” heavy-action Quantum Tour PT casting rod, Quantum Smoke casting reel (8.1:1 ratio), 50-pound Hi-Seas Grand Slam braided line, Livingston Lures Freddy B frog.
> Jig gear: Same rod as frog, same reel as frog, 25-pound Hi-Seas fluorocarbon line, 1/2-oz. V&M Adrenaline Pacemaker flipping jig (green-pumpkin purple haze), unnamed craw trailers (green-pumpkin).
> He used a 4-inch unnamed paddle tail swimbait on the final day rigged on a 1/4-oz. V&M Baits Locked Down swimbait head (white).
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in his success – “Keeping a positive attitude throughout the whole deal. This tournament was more a mental game than a fishing tournament. There were eight of us in it and any one of us could’ve won. I’m just thankful it was me.”
> Performance edge – “My Lowrance electronics and Navionics maps were key and so were my Costa sunglasses. Being able to see under those docks in those darkest spots even with the sun shining. It was like it was lit up under there telling me to throw here. I also have to credit Ranger and Mercury and Quicksilver. Everything worked flawlessly all year. Lastly, Power-Poles were a big factor in this event. Those docks were shallow and when the wind was blowing, I could ease up and pole down and be quiet.”
Much of the tackle referenced above is available at the BassFan Store. To browse the selection, click here.