Blackfish tournament highlights the diversity of modern bass-fishing techniques

I was the master of ceremonies at the first-ever Blackfish Invitational Bass Tournament on Lake Minnetonka on Monday, July 30. It was a picture-perfect day for the anglers, and most of the 68-boat field weighed a limit of five bass.

Flashback to more than 20 years ago when I received a call from the editor of a popular national bass publication. The magazine wanted to profile the top 10 bass lakes in the country, and they asked me to write up Lake Minnetonka as one of the 10. Since then the lake has only improved.

I have covered and been directly involved in bass tournaments on Lake Minnetonka for 35 years. If there is one constant to this lake, it is the diversity of where the bass swim and what they strike.

Most lakes lend themselves to a specific pattern. I recall many tournaments on lakes throughout the Upper Midwest where the majority of the competitors relied on a specific technique in certain areas and depth ranges. It might be a jig-worm combination on the well-defined weedlines, or a weedless jig pitched into the heavier vegetation at the mid-depth levels. On Minnetonka, everything works.

As anglers arrived on stage to watch their fish being weighed, I queried them on the techniques that worked for them. Some used a jig-worm, a popular tactic. Yet there were anglers who caught big fish throwing chatter baits in extremely shallow water. Others touted the drop-shot setup as their big-fish getter.

It wasn’t just the shallows and the deep water that produced big weights. Anglers moved a lot, using that trusty hit-and-run method to cover as much water as possible. I laughed when anglers said, “Tough day. We only caught a couple dozen bass, and they were all only 3-pounders.” Can you imagine the average angler saying that was a tough day? I’d love to spend a day on the water and catch two dozen 3-pound bass.

But that is the attitude of competitive anglers. They want to catch big fish. If they are going to make it to the top of the leaderboard and win $10,000, it’ll take some big fish.

The winners of the tournament were Brad Leuthner of Independence and John Figi of Bloomington, who weighed in 20.63 pounds of bass, and Leuthner also caught the big fish of the event, a 5.73-pounder.

While everyone else was using their tried-and-true methods on the weedlines and in the heavy cover, Leuthner and Figi keyed on the rocks in water over 20 feet deep. According to Leuthner, “The water is so clear on Minnetonka these days you’ll find coontail in the rocks in 25 feet of water.”

This was not always the case on this 14,000-acre water body. The zebra mussels infestation was discovered there in 2010, and they have proliferated. Their ability to increase water clarity is well documented and obvious on Minnetonka.

Leuthner said that all the bigger fish they caught were hooked on a jig that he created himself that he has been experimenting with for the past few years. It’s a heavy lure that consists of a ¾-ounce jighead and a hair-tied body.  According to Leuthner, “This lure has all the right characteristics to let me work it real slow across the bottom in that deep water.”

After the tournament award ceremony, I sat with a group of anglers at Lord Fletcher’s, where the event was headquartered, discussing the reason anglers who win Lake Minnetonka tournaments always seem to employ something totally different from others. That was again the case Monday.

Jim Bebo quickly chimed in, “A lot of these bass on Minnetonka have been caught a few times, and they know what to bite on and what to leave alone.” Bebo and his partner, Brandon Pahl, took third in the event, and Pahl added, “We’ve seen lures and techniques do well and then the fish get used to seeing that presentation and you have to try something else. But there is a time when it comes full circle and certain lure options get good again.”

The lesson from hanging out at tournaments and listening to what these tournament anglers have to say is that you can figure out quickly what works on a particular body of water and incorporate the techniques and patterns into your game plan.

The next time I’m on ’Tonka, I know if I want to catch a lot of bass I can work a deep weed edge where the bottom tapers quickly, using a 1/4-ounce jig and a 7-inch plastic worm to catch some 2- and even some 3-pounders. If I want bigger fish I should switch to a bigger jig, go deeper and work it slower.  If I want to get good with drop-shots, I should have some success during a tough bite. I saw the results of all these techniques working in the big baskets of fish at the weigh-in scales.

Allow me to toss out a well-deserved “great job” to Mark Schutz from Full Throttle Fishing, who handled all the tournament logistics. His coordination was impeccable, and he kept the fish well-oxygenated through the process, getting the bass back into the water quickly, and his support staff kept it all moving gracefully. This made my job of keeping the conversation going on stage with the anglers easy. I had a great time. And I once again learned a lot about a bass fishing resource that just keeps improving.

For results from the tournament, click here.

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