A First Time

This is a short article on my experience in a first time tournament. I thank Dean, Stony, Dana, Chris, and Cooch for their help and guidance and all the fellow nuts for their support. This contains my experience of the weekend and several tips for those who have yet to fish one. I am far from an expert in the field but thought some folks who have yet to try one might like an overview.

Friday night.
Tony, Dean and I are guests at the Best Western in Antioch. Tony and I are early and he spent the afternoon explaining to me how everything works with these hook tournaments. Dean arrives just after dark. We get the boat parked and Dean is already installing a new "speed prop". We wrap the boat up and head for dinner. After dinner Dean and I talk strategies for Saturday and he shows us some neat ways of enhancing pork trailers for better action and scent absorbing. We now have a game plan for pre-fish and I feel pretty comfortable with my assignment.

Saturday morning.
I want to make sure that I am up early so I can help get things ready. I step outside for a smoke and meet Chris, Tony's partner. He is a little early so we hit the Dennys across the street for a quick bite. After breakfast I walk back to Deans boat where he already has it opened up and is storing his gear. Oops. A quick jog to my room for my gear and we are ready to head out.

The Hook.
The Hook Line and Sinker is a very nice marina it has a store that carries lots of tackle, Cameron rods {plug for those two} ;) hehe and some snacks for lunch. After we sign up for the tournament we launch the bass cat and I am ready for my first rocket ride.

My explanation of pre-fishing might be a little off because this was my first time so be nice. Pre-fishing is not just going out and catching fish there is an art to it. You want to cover as much water as you can and what I would call dismiss the bad water. This is hard in the Delta because tides change every 6 hours and has a huge impact on what the fish are doing. The trick is not only to locate "active water" but also to try and determine what, when and why the fish are there. If you find a fish you put to memory the time, location, bait, and tide/structure the fish was in and move out. Working this all day you can get an idea of what the fish are holding to during different conditions. Now lots of these "delta rats" fish the Delta every other day and have a pretty darn good idea as to what the fish are doing. For the limited Delta anglers like me, we must start from the beginning and try and find fish and dismiss the inactive water. Remember that there are also neutral, active and inactive fish so try the whole spectrum of reaction baits.

The fog.
The fog kept the Bass cat pretty mellow for the first couple of hours but once she burned off Dean lit a fire under her and we were heading south pucker factor 10. For those of you who haven't had a ride in a big bass boat some things you need to know. 1. They are so fast they are scary at first. I admit I was holding onto the "Oh sh*t rope" for everything I was worth for the first 10 minutes. Remember these boats are built to go fast and when paired with a great pilot you are in no danger. It does take a little while to get used to the speed and boat reaction but try and relax and watch the water for wakes so you don't get caught off guard. 2. I am no meteorologist but a cool morning with a 75+ mph wind chill equals painfully cold. Dress warm and in several layers you can always peel clothes later. No matter how tuff you are eye protection is mandatory. At these speeds you can barley open your eyes and without protection your eyes would follow your head by 3 feet. (Makes for a funny picture) hehe. Gloves, full face mask and goggles paired with a wind resistant jacket are necessary. 3. Stow your gear, all of it. Trust me you don't want to be bothered with trying to save something when its heading out the back you'll have other things on your mind.

The fishing.
Although I have never fished at this level I felt that I could contribute to the team if I was given some direction on what was expected. Dean was fantastic at sharing information and kept me posted on what our objective was at every location. Actually Dean and I talked most of the day. As a first timer I would recommend asking questions if you are in doubt and try to stay focused at the task at hand. Work the area as efficient as you can. This is a team event so make sure your not throwing the same bait as your partner. Your looking to cover water as efficiently as possible. If your partner is looking for active fish you should be looking for neutral or inactive fish. In other words work the water as a team and if your in doubt on what to do just ask. Also its important to give your partner an overview of your abilities so that they don't expect you to fish something you are not comfortable with. I have trouble flipping and made sure Dean knew this. We adjusted by him doing most of the flipping while I fished something I was more comfortable with. Dean was an omnipotent teacher and all I had to do was ask. Take advantage of your partners knowledge!

Saturday night.
Okay we believe we have a pattern and are ready for the big day. We button up the bass cat make for a tackle shop to resupply with our confidence baits grab a quick bite and talk strategies while we re-rig our rods. I am a little nervous about the next morning actually I am excited as hell and have a hard time finding sleep. I must have nodded off eventually because the 3:30 alarm found me sound asleep.

The BIG day.
Here we are at the hook and I must say I am a little overwhelmed. There are bass boats everywhere and it looks to be a pretty good turnout. After a NCBF good morning which included a photo op. for Stony and a hug from SSC we went to sign in. We were number 6 out of 65 on the sign-up sheet and would need to wait to see what flight we were in and what our blastoff number was. We launched the bass cat in some pretty heavy fog and found ourselves floating in the marina with 65 other boats awaiting first light. Here Dean and I just talked about our pre-fishing and Dean just let me take in the sights. At a little past first light the flights and blastoff were called, we were in the 3rd and final flight 6th boat to blast off right behind Tony and Chris. After the rules and official time were announced we received the first flight call. The sounds of 65 boats fired up at 7:00 in the morning was awesome. First flight gone, second flight gone, and here we go! The fog is real thick and keeps us pretty close to the hook which is good I am excited as hell and Dean must have noticed because he kept talking to me and helped me get mentally ready and my feet back on the ground. The fog finally burns off enough for our run to our first spot. The bad news is a cold front has moved in. This turns out to be bad news for allot of us. This changes everything we learned yesterday under "bluebird skies" during prefish. We stick to our game plan rather than guessing on what the front will do to the fish and hope the sun will finally come out. The bite was very tuff but we did manage to stick a few fish. The sun never did really make it for us and our fish had moved off. I think several of us had the same problem.

The Squall.
Oblivious me with 20 minutes before we needed to be heading back Dean made me aware of a heavy Squall moving in on us. Well I thought to myself this could make for a bumpy ride. We decide its better to be safe then sorry and since our live wells are pretty empty that we would be better off getting back near the break. As the ride back progresses it looks like we are going to make it back dry. One last rip up the San Joaquin and were home free. NOT. A thick cell right over the break whipped up the wind and water and a cold downpour soaked us. The last few minutes of the ride was a real kidney buster ;). It was fun though and I was smiling from ear to ear. The rain felt like hail it was hitting us so hard. We made a grand entrance into the hook pulled the bass cat out of the water and made for the weigh in.

The weigh in.
These are pretty simple and real fun. One team member hauls the fish up to the scales where they identify their boat number and have the fish checked and weighed. They have a P.A. system so if you want to say a few words its no problem. I saw allot of nice fish and met allot of great people. During the weigh in the Hook feeds you and now is a great chance to meet new friends and talk about the day.

Wow there were allot of NCBF members here I think I met at least 20 of them and everyone was great. I made allot of new friends and finally got to put faces to the names. I hope to see you all soon.

Saying Goodbye.
Well this was the hardest part for me. All the great people who I had met over the weekend. The excitement of the whole event. The very generous offer to be invited to participate, and appreciation I felt towards my partner and his efforts to make me feel welcome on his boat and share his knowledge hit me all at once. Yes folks I had to quickly shake hands and offer thanks. Turn my back and walk away.