By Todd Ceisner
Jeff Kriet had a flipping rod in his hand and was working his way down a defined line of pondweed and flooded bushes somewhere in Pool 8 of the upper Mississippi River. He had a 1-ounce weight pegged ahead of a Big Bite Baits Yo Mama. Every once in a while, he’d pick up a hollow-body frog and twitch that through similar cover.
He was clearly in bass fishing mode, but as those who know Kriet can attest, it doesn’t take much to get the Elite Series angler from Ardmore, Okla., distracted.
Just the mere mention of saltwater can lead to countless tangents and stories of offshore trips in the Gulf of Mexico in pursuit of blue marlin or tuna or grouper or whatever happens to be biting at the time. It’s something that was instilled in him at a young age since his grandparents had a condo in Rockport, Texas. That’s where Kriet got hooked on fishing for redfish and sea trout.
“They’d get tired of me wanting to fish so they’d send me off on a party boat,” he said. “That’s my happy place. It’s hard to be in a bad mood out there.”
If bass fishing is Kriet’s primary job, saltwater fishing is his passion. He’s not alone in the fraternity of bass pros who head out to sea to unwind and recharge.
“I’m just fascinated by the sea,” he added.
So much so that over the past year, he partnered with friend Jeff Welch, one of the guys behind the Bass Champs tournament trail in Texas, to custom-build a 37-foot Freeman catamaran for use in offshore tournaments in the Gulf. The boat, which is powered by four 300-horsepower Yamaha outboards, dwarfs his previous saltwater boat – a 32-foot Contender with twin 300s.
“The Contender was a great boat, but I’d always wanted to run further,” he said. “With the Freeman, we built it exactly how we wanted it. It’s a big boat that holds a lot of fuel.”
Only so many Freemans are built in a year so it was a bit of process to make it a reality. He started looking for boats to replace his Contender. He considered other brands and had initially crossed Freeman off his list.
The new boat Kriet partnered with friend Jeff Welch on is a 37-foot Freeman rigged with four 300-horsepower Yamaha outboards.
“It’s a catamaran,” he said. “I’ve never been a fan of them, but I’d spent a lot of time in a bunch of different boats.”
Eventually, he flew to Charleston, S.C., where Freeman is headquartered and did a test ride.
“I gave them a deposit right then,” he said. “It’s a really big boat. It has a big cockpit unlike most center consoles.”
When it came time to start building Kriet’s new boat, which is based in Port O'Connor, Texas, he said others further down the wait list were willing to pay him and Welch more than what the boat was going to cost just to move up to their spot on the list. The boat took six months to build from start to finish, but Kriet didn’t get to enjoy it until there was a lull in the Elite Series season in July. His first trip was a tuna outing.
“It was an all-nighter, which is a great time to break in your engines,” he joked. “It’s taken some adjusting. It’s different than a mono hull boat, but I’m figuring out the quirks of it.”
Kriet and Welch selected a fitting theme with the boat’s graphics as it’s wrapped with the Bass Anglers for Saltwater Conservation logo, a nod to the online advocacy system that allows anglers (salt and fresh) to engage with legislators about issues concerning saltwater fishing and access.
Below is video of dolphins cruising alongside Kriet's new saltwater boat.
Marlin Or Bust
Kriet doesn’t mind catching anything that swims, especially in saltwater, because “whatever it is, it’s going to be big and fight like heck.”
His favorite fish to target, though, is marlin.
“Because when you’re fishing,” he says, “it’s pretty much the king out there.”
But the pursuit comes with long spells of inactivity as he and his crew await the right fish to engage.
“It can be hours and hours of boredom and then hours of complete chaos,” he said. “You will fish for so long without a bite, then when it happens, as many as I’ve seen caught every time we hook one, I’m blown away.”
The process is unlike anything he follows while bass fishing.
“We set the graphs down to 300 feet and look for bait balls,” he explained. “Then you’ll see some kind of big fish that’s got them crowded up. You may do circles over that marlin for 5 hours and then finally he decides to bite. It’s just like bass fishing in that they’re real spurty. It’s like a tree with a 5-pounder on it. I’ll flip it and not catch it and then a guy goes there later in the day and the fish decides to eat. It’s the same thing with marlins.”
Same Concepts Apply
Kriet said there’s very little difference in how he prepares for a bass fishing tournament and an offshore saltwater tournament that sometimes requires running a few hundred miles out into the Gulf.
Kriet says some of the same principles that apply to bass fishing also apply to offshore fishing in the Gulf, like finding the right mix of conditions around a piece of structure, like an oil rig.
There’s a stress component to both pursuits, but in the Gulf he’s more concerned with weather rather than say, water clarity or falling or rising water.
“The difference is they’re big money,” he said, referring to saltwater tournaments. “Each tournament I might have $20,000 invested. The difference is you’ve got a crew to bounce decisions off of. When it’s good, it’s good to be together. When it stinks, it’s hard. As a captain, the stress I feel is making sure everyone is safe.”
He typically has a crew of five on board during an offshore tournament and they’re all seasoned anglers.
“Most of the guys I fish with are all pretty good bass fishermen and there’s a reason for that,” he said. “A bass fisherman is usually a good fisherman in general.”
Rather than study Google Maps or waypoints and pattern information from previous tournaments like he would for an Elite Series event, Kriet looks at similar data like currents, chlorophyll levels and water temperatures for the area he plans to fish in the Gulf.
“I pay for a service that compiles satellite imagery and it’s not a lot different than how we look at maps before a (bass) tournament,” he said. “The Gulf is huge so what we look at is altimetry, core feel, temperatures and currents. If we’re staying within a 200-mile square, I’ll look at all of those conditions and if there’s good altimetry, good chlorophyll and a temperature break, you need to find those components near something, either by a drop or an oil rig, any structure at all.
“It’s like bass fishing, but instead of fishing a drop from 18 to 25 feet, you’re fishing a drop that goes from 3,000 to 5,000 feet. Even color selections follow the same concepts as bass. It’s all the same. I guess that’s why I like it – fishing’s fishing.”
While many of his pro bass brethren are preparing to spend hours upon hours in the coming weeks and months nestled in tree stands during deer season, Kriet is ready to point his Freeman south and see what’s out there.
“I used to bow-hunt,” he said. “I’ve always have had deer leases, but now I’m to the point where the saltwater is my woods. I don’t want to go sit in a tree by myself. I would rather grab some guys and head out. It’s good any time we can get out. It’s like smallmouth fishing on (Lake) Erie – if I can get out there, we’re going to catch ‘em.”