My name is Brock Wilke. I am a junior on the McKendree bass fishing team. This past week we took two boats to the Bassmaster Wildcard Tournament on Lake Murray in Oklahoma. Taylor Schmitt and Jordan Ledbetter were in one boat, and my partner JT Russell and myself were in the other. JT and I were excited about fishing together. We have fished together in the past and have done really well. We were confident in our chances of qualifying for the Bassmaster Championship which will be held on Green River Lake in Kentucky.
We left Monday, June 6 and trekked over 520 miles to our destination, taking us a solid 10 hours of driving. We arrived at our cabins and immediately parked our boats and prepared for our first day of practice on a lake that none of us had seen before. Doing a little research on Murray, we found that it was a pretty clear lake with plenty of smallmouth. We learned that the smallmouth were generally pretty small, within the 2 pound range, and the largemouth had the potential to be big as we heard of 9 pound+ bass being caught consistently. We came to the conclusion that targeting largemouth was definitely the way to win this tournament.
When they said Lake Murray State Park had nice little cabins in the woods, they weren’t kidding.
Locals said the tournament would be won with 15 pounds a day over three days, and 10-12 pounds a day would put you within the cut. We decided to target largemouth first, and we pulled up to a nice looking flooded bank. We noticed how high the water actually was due to the flooding.
I pulled out a frog and began working it around the flooded bushes, reeds, and grass. With not even a swirl on some really good looking cover, I decided to flip a ½ oz. Texas rig. About the 10th pitch in, I caught a solid 2 ½ pound largemouth.
We ran to the far end of the lake into some more colored water, and I proceded to catch three more bass in the 2 ½ to 3 pound range. We had confidence that we could flip up a decent limit in the morning and maybe luck into a kicker as the day went on.
Next, we decided to try our luck out deep. As we idled into a big cove, I turned my side imaging on and saw a nice looking rocky point underwater. It topped off at about 8 or 9 feet on top and 16-18 feet on the sides. I immediately tied on a wobble jig, and on my first cast hooked up on a solid fish that I ended up losing halfway back to the boat. We then caught 6 or 8 more smallmouth in the 2 pound range in no time at all. They bit our drop shots and jigs every other cast. We quickly realized that we could potentially have a gold mine on this ledge and thought we could easily fill our limit at any time, even in the 95 degree heat. We fished the rest of the day with mixed results and our best 5 would’ve went 12-13 pounds we thought, definitely a decent first day of practice.
As we idled back into the marina, we passed the ramp and instead went all the way to the back to see what it would hold. We started to fish a small point. All of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye, I see JT cast and see his rod splash into the water. We were only in 10 feet of water, and my first instinct was to pick up my 6XD and try to catch it. Of course, it was hung on my boat carpet, and it took me 10 seconds to unsnag it. Before we knew it, it was gone. We casted for that rod for an hour before we called for help. Ultimately, we tried snagging it with big treble hooks attached with big weights, big crankbaits and we even tried diving for it with no luck. Luckily, Taylor had an extra rod to use, but that still didn’t take the sting away from throwing $200 into the water.
The boys diving for a lost rod and reel.
The next day we decided to try our luck on the other end of the lake. We targeted shallow largemouth first thing, thinking that the shallow bite would be best in the low light and cooler conditions opposed to the scorching heat. As we made our way to the back, JT got the bite we were looking for. As he twitched his frog around some weeds, an enormous mouth came out of the water and completely missed his frog. As he paused it, the big largemouth swiped at it again. JT estimated the fish to be 6-8 pounds and the biggest blowup he’s ever seen. We left the area hoping to come back the next morning and catch the behemoth. The rest of the day we looked at other areas that related to our pattern. We even cooled off in the lake to try and make the heat slightly more manageable.
That night we went through the meeting and learned we were boat 75 of 80 boats. Because we were one of the last to take off, we had concerns about who would be in our area the first morning.
Beautiful sunrise takeoff on Lake Murray on Day 1.
Takeoff the next morning was long. We got there an hour early to avoid the disaster of trying to fit 80 boats onto 2 small ramps in a parking lot that holds 50 boats at max. We were basically the last boat to take off, and we ran all the way to the other side of the lake where we thought we could catch our kicker. We were the first boat in our cove and had no luck… not only enticing our big fish to bite, but no fish at all.
We ran around to different shallow areas with not even a nibble. We never lost confidence and headed to a deep roadbed we had found when idling. Of course on one of my first casts, I set the hook only to have it broken off on a two pounder. We tried all of our areas only to come up with two very small fish that weighed about a pound a piece. Ultimately we ended up filling our limit.
We were the last team to weigh in, and our five weighed in at a whopping five pounds…easily the smallest five fish limit I have ever seen. These were definitely not the kind of fish we caught in practice, but oh well, that’s why they call it fishing and not catching. First place was 17-10 with second coming in right behind at 17 pounds. We were a long ways out of the top 20 cut which was 12 pounds, and we thought we needed at least 18 pounds to think about fishing on Saturday.
The team enjoys a round of miniature golf after day one.
Brock relaxing after a round of golf.
We were one of the first boats to take off in the morning and thought we could have more of an advantage due to our increased morning fishing time. We learned that most boats caught fish shallow all day which frustrated us because we abandoned the shallow areas too quickly. We decided to stick to the shallow pattern all day and try to get a couple big largemouth to bite. We pulled into the same area we started in on Day 1.
I had a small one nip my buzzbait and a second one, a 3 pounder, took a swirl at it. With this newfound confidence, I began chucking my buzzbait and occasionally pausing it in hopes of catching a follower. Then it happened, a 4 pounder completely came out of the water and destroyed my buzzbait, trailer hook and all. I set the hook, and I cranked it over the weed bed and into the net. Talk about a good start. We kept fishing, and I caught a 2 ½ pounder on a chatterbait.
We moved to a totally new area, and JT caught a keeper on a spinnerbait. Right as he unhooked it, I watched as a huge mouth destroyed my chatterbait. I set the hook and JT netted it right at the boat. It weighed easily 3 pounds. We started the morning great. All we had to do was replace our small ones with 3 pounders, and we had a chance.
We had more chances to fill our limit but it was not in the cards. We had fish get off right at the boat, and we lost a good fish on a frog. We turned in our 4 fish for 10 pounds 5 oz. We had the chance for a better bag, but we could not capitalize on our opportunities.
Brock Wilke and JT Russell with some nice fish on day 2.
We finished the tournament with a dismal place in the 50s, but at least we moved up from our Day 1 finish. Some things we learned were to always keep an open mind, just because it was hot doesn’t mean the shallow fish would not bite. We learned that teams caught shallow fish all day long. Also when the water is noticeably high and in the bushes, to fish the bushes, even in a generally deep and clear lake like Murray.
Team members Jordan Ledbetter and Taylor Schmitt ended up finishing 43rd. They too moved up from their Day 1 finish.
Jordan Ledbetter with a great smalllie.
This Wildcard Tourney was the last tourney to count for the ACA School of the Year race this season. Fortunately, our McKendree team had enough of a lead over those teams behind us, and we remained in 5th place overall for the season!
A favorite pastime with the McK Bass team… some whiffleball on the road. Coach pitches 18 innings strikes out 31.
No “dinger” this time! Strike three…Brock fans on a riser.