Wheaton Warrenville South had quite a ride in this year's state championship. After catching 1 keeper bass in the last 2 state championships combined, I really wanted to try to find some type of pattern for the kids to at least stay competitive. Carlyle can be a demoralizing lake and I saw it on the face of many anglers, as over half the field did not catch a keeper bass day 1. We scouted some "new to me" areas prefishing, and connected with a couple fish in one spot, but otherwise a bust.
We were boat #70 on day 1, not a good draw. Instead of running to our area, we decided to stay close. After about an hour, our stud senior connected with a 2 lber that he literally got right over the side of the boat. It felt very fortunate because we had no previous bites up to then. We bounced around a few areas before settling in the general area we got some previous bites. We soon connected on another 2 lb+ fish and things were looking up. We scooted around some more and tried a bunch of different baits before our senior stuck a 3.75 lber. We were all dancing in the boat like madmen at this point. Unbelievably our senior had broke off what we believed to be the same fish on a custom $120 swimbait about a half hour earlier. He was pretty bummed about it at the time and we never recovered the lure. As we move around we kept getting action from another 3 lb+ fish but could not connect with it. After going back to the area several times, our senior finally got it to go. The fish was very pale and did not fight much, which we did not think much of at the time. We had about an hour and a half to finish our limit, but that ended up being it for the day. As we prepped to make our run back to the weigh in our head coach checked the livewell and unfortunately the last fish we caught was belly up and did not look well. No rhyme or reason as the well was pumping fine and the other fish looked good. We bolted back as fast as we could, but unfortunately it did make it so we had to take the deduction, putting us at just under 11 lbs and 2nd place after day 1.
My mind was scrambling that night as I felt we had squeezed water from a rock day 1, and I had no back up plan. We decided to hope that a few fish replenished in our area and give it a go first thing. The winds were horrible and it was blowing down the pipe at launch time. It was a bone crunching run to our spot, and as I type this my whole body is really feeling it. We even had the front Hummingbird unit completely unscrew from both mount holes during the ride and end up on the front deck. That has never happened before, even on the turbulent waters of Green Bay. We only had one good crack at a keeper fish that morning, but unfortunately after just seeing a big swirl on the strike, the fish was gone. Seeing our hopes of being a trophy team (top 3) fading, we knew we had to make a move. Seeing as how the pool was up about 2 feet we decided to push deep into a cut and see if we could find something that had not been pounded yet. Initially it did not look good, but after an hour or so our senior boated a small 12 inch fish. With our hopes lifted we continued to probe deeper. Our back of the boat freshman got tangled in a bush and I drove into the thicket to help him retrieve it. As we were navigating that, our senior flipped a cast to the side of the boat and struck a solid keeper. Back in the game. As the senior was unhooking his fish, the freshman flips a cast into the same spot and boats another small keeper. Holy shit! From rags to riches. Now we are thinking we are going to get 5 for sure. Unfortunately we pounded the heck out of the area and outside of a couple short strikes, that was it. With about an hour of fishing time left we decided to go back to our main area and see what happens. As we made our way down the bank, low and behold, there is the $120 lost swimbait stuck in some debris about 50 yards from where we lost it. Considering it is a sinking bait, we were shocked it somehow made it near the shore. As we are all laughing, the senior has his bait basically dead sticked. As he goes starts to work the bait....bam.....a solid keeper for fish #4. With 45 minutes left, we knew we were in the hunt and one more fish could put us over the top. The guys pounded the water, but it was not to be. We made the white knuckle ride back to the launch and waited our turn. Being a top 10 team we had to wait till the end to weigh in and ended up being the last of the 75 boats off the lake. We figured we had about 5.5 lbs or so. We were optimistic as the weather had changed to north winds with a good temp drop today, and the fish seemed much less active. As it turns out, many of the top teams blanked. Tuotopolus however weighed 3 fish, including a 5lb 9 that put them at over 19 lbs!. Carlyle had 4 solid fish that put them just over 18 lbs. Our 4 came in at just over 6 lbs putting us at about 17 lbs and solidly securing 3rd place. Fortunately our dead fish penalty made no difference in the standings. It was a little bittersweet to know we were a 2 lb fish away from winning the whole thing, but I felt very fortunate to get what we did.
Hats off to Wheaton Warrenville South Head Coach Craig Lawrence, Senior fisherman Brandon C., and Freshman Nathan V. Also a huge thank you to Nathan's father Pete, who was down there supporting us every step of the way.
With my time as SRO at South ending, there is a good chance this was my last ride running a boat for the program. It will be difficult to try to balance a future with the team between work and family once I am back on patrol. What a ride it has been though for the kids as well as me. 3 time state qualifiers, 2 time sectional champions, conference champions, as well as two Shabbona Open wins in the three years with the program. Seniors such as Brandon, Adam D., and Colin J. led the way and are outstanding anglers who displayed great determination and could flat out load my boat up with fish. I always tried my best to put the kids on the right patterns/locations, but it means nothing if the kids can't execute, and time and time again they came through under inmense pressure. As much as I like to think I have taught them a thing or to about the sport I love, I have learned just as much watching them compete and bring home tons of hardware. Congrats Men, it's been an honor to share my boat with you.