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The Perfect Tournament

The Perfect Tournament

Fred Wall

 
Fishing

A popular movie came out that was about two weather systems that came together, then ran head on into another that caused what was called "the perfect storm." As anglers, we seek the "perfect weekend." Some of us wait all our lives and may never have the opportunity to fish when the "perfect conditions" all come together.
   But for two anglers who fished the April High Plains region of the Honey Hole Top 40 team tournaments at Alan Henry, that's exactly what happened. Mother Nature handed them an opportunity to achieve something that had never happened in Honey Hole history. They caught a big bass that went into the TP&W Budweiser Share-Lunker program during tournament hours.
   Before I go any farther I want to talk about these two guy's fishing abilities. Terry Dale Gilmore is a motel manager who resides in Childress, Texas. Mike Heckathorn, known to most of us as Freckles, is a long-haul trucker who resides in Quanah, Texas. They have fished the High Plains region since it began and have been among the top teams every year. They were regional champions in 2000 and finished second in the region last year by two points. These are two excellent fishermen that have spent lots of time together in a boat. This event reflects that.
   For starters, the fish wouldn't fit in their dip net. Freckles had to lip her to get her in the boat. This fish was a team effort.
   As director of the region, I want to take at least a little credit for the second "perfect condition" in this event. When I started as the new director my goal was to put together a schedule that would provide the best possible fishing dates on the limited number of lakes available in our area to fish. Unlike some of the more fortunate regions with plentiful waters, our fishermen travel from New Mexico, the Texas Panhandle, and as far away as the Denver, Colorado area to fish - literally from the bottom of Texas to the top. Our schedule starts on Amistad at Del Rio and goes north to two lakes in the eastern edge of New Mexico, then finishes the year at Amistad. I even studied the moon phases in planning my schedule. The Farmers Almanac and my personal experiences all say the four days on either side of the new or full moon are the best times to fish. I had fished Alan Henry in 2001, during April in a tournament and had caught a 9.83-pound bass that didn't even get honorable mention in an event - much less a big bass check. So for our schedule, I picked April 14 which was two days after the new moon.
   The next perfect condition that helped this event was water temperature. The weekend before our event temperatures had ranged from 54 to 58 degrees, with the warmest areas being the stained water on the south end of the lake. I felt like all Henry needed was about four or five warm days and a dose of that good old west Texas wind to be just about right. The week prior to the 14th, the area had high temperatures in the 80's all week and enough wind to warm the water up to 63 degrees in the morning and 66 to 68 in the afternoon.
   The last variable in this situation is the lake where everything came together. Alan Henry is located about 14 miles east of Justiceburg, Texas and about 18 miles south of Post. It was built by the Brazos River Authority and the City of Lubbock in 1993 as a flood control lake controlled by the City of Lubbock for water supply. It was originally stocked with pure Florida bass in 1993. The lake is currently at 2206 elevation and has about 2,100 surface acres. It is a typical Brazos River lake, a long, winding, deep-canyon lake with about 60 miles of shoreline. Alan Henry became an 18-inch slot lake when it opened and remains so today with a five-bass per day limit. The cover consists of flooded mesquite, cedars, and various other hardwoods that were left in place when it was built. To my knowledge the only aquatic vegetation in the lake is a small amount of coontail.
   Our tournament stats even made the TP&W newsletter the week after the event. It's one heck of a lake. And the fact that it is probably one of the top fisheries in Texas should be a point of pride for our local inland fisheries office (as well as west Texas anglers). Thanks Charlie, we appreciate your efforts.
   Saturday (pre-fish) started out cloudy with a cool north wind blowing about 10 to 15 mph. There had been a very strong line of thunderstorms pass across the northern Panhandle. There was lots of hail and strong winds. The clouds soon burned off though and Saturday afternoon turned out nice. I have a $10.00 per team big bass side pot on Saturday for those who can't help but set the hook on pre-fish day. Cal Williams of Hereford, Texas brought in a nice 8.72-pound bass only to be topped later by Matt Hinton of Pampa with a 9.36. I felt like we were going to have a good event seeing what they caught during pre-fish.
   On Sunday at 5:00 a.m. I had set up for late entries in Grubbs Bait and Grill, the store on the left just before you enter the gate to the lake. Terry Dale and Freckles came in for a couple of Grubbs breakfast burritos. They spoke, but as usual Terry Dale had on his tournament face and that left only Freckles to answer me when I asked if they had found fish on Saturday. He said he thought they would do okay. Big understatement.
   The sun came up and Sunday morning could not have been more perfect. There was little or no wind, a few high clouds and a steady barometer. At 1:30 p.m. I had set up for weigh-in at the big drain area beside the ramps, close to the water. I had checked the scales, etc. and was doing my weigh-in slips and tournament checks when I notice Terry Dale and Freckles idling in. Terry Dale says, "We've got a good one, but I'm worried about her because we've got four other fish with her and I don't want anything to happen to her." I told them to bring her in and I'd weigh her where we could get her back in the water. They nosed the boat up close and Terry Dale brought her out. We put her in a bag and on my scales she weighed 13.48. I told them I thought she'd go into the Share-Lunker program. We got her back in the livewell and turned on all the water and aeration possible. I walked half way up the hill where the Garza County deputy sat to ask him if he could radio the game warden and tell him we had a fish at the ramp that would go into the program.
   As anyone would be, Terry Dale was excited and a nervous wreck. He was sitting on the livewell lid. I said, "Let's get the other four fish out of the livewell and weigh them so they aren't using up her oxygen." They bagged them up and we weighed all four fish, then weighed the smallest fish in case they wanted to go back out and cull the smallest one. The tournament hadn't ended yet. Counting the big one, they had 31.99 pounds and their smallest fish was a long, skinny 3.8-pounder.
   With the big bass safely placed in an empty minnow tank at Grubbs place, Terry Dale and Freckles idled back out to cull their 3.8. And cull it they did. They came to weigh-in 45 minutes later with a 6.76 to replace the small one and give them a total weight of 34.95 pounds.
   Another fact that caused this to be the perfect weekend is where it all took place. They told me they found all their fish on Saturday in the Rock Creek area of the lake. This area is above the launch ramp. It had water temperatures that had been in the low 60's for at least two days. Terry told me they located more fish there on Sunday than they had on Saturday. The fish didn't seem to have actually built any beds, but appeared committed to the area. This happened to be a short transition time at the end of pre-spawn. The two largest fish were visible, they were in about four or five feet of water. The choice of baits was a centipede-type lure and a 5-inch medium red shad Mad Man craw. The big fish came on the Mad Man craw. Terry said they showed her the centipede and she showed no reaction to it. He pitched the Mad Man craw past the brush pile she was in and when she saw the craw, she picked it up and he set the hook.
   Terry says the fish was behind some large standing timber, which she had to be maneuvered around. She was too big for the net they had in the boat, so Freckles had to lift her. All things considered to this point luck is definitely in the boat for these guys that day.
   I want to make special mention of another fisherman, who also had an excellent Sunday. Cal Williams of Hereford had a fish on Sunday that weighed 12.33 pounds that is only .67 pound away from being a second lunker that could have gone into the program. Under ordinary circumstances it should easily have taken first place big bass. But this weekend was anything except ordinary.
   Mother Nature and "fate" played a hand in all the conditions that came together to form a perfect weekend and it resulted in more than one excellent catch.
   "This was a once-in-a-lifetime fish and tournament. Freckles and I found those fish on Saturday, but we had no idea they were so large. On Sunday when we went into the neck where they were, there were more in the area than we had seen the day before. When Freckles got her in the boat, we just sat and looked at each other. We were speechless. Finally, reality set in. We weighed her and got her back into the livewell quickly.
   "We would like to say thanks to Fred Wall, Grubbs Store, and the Garza County Deputy who gave me a ride to Grubbs and got in contact with the game warden. As far as I am concerned it took all of us to make this event happen. So thanks to all of you, to Mad Man Lures, and to Dianne Wall Insurance Agency for her sponsorship of the tournament," said Gilmore.
   So the final analysis is that to have a perfect weekend takes perfect weather and water conditions, the perfect date to hold an event, perfect lure choices, perfect selection of area to fish and more than likely a whole lot more than just luck.

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