My name is Austin Niggli. I am a sophomore on the McKendree Bass Fishing team. My partner for this tournament was fellow sophomore Brock Wilke. We were excited for this tournament, as we had never fished together, and we were eager to see if we made a good team.
Our latest major tournament this spring was an FLW qualifier at Table Rock Lake in Kimberling City, Missouri on April 9th. This tournament was a standard five bass limit tournament; however, the tournament was only one day long.
Home away from home during the event - Port of Kimberling Resort is a great place to stay.
It’s not all fun and games on the road. Phillip Germagliotti stops to complete some very important homework.
With this tournament being an FLW qualifier, the top ten finishers automatically earn a place in the 2017 FLW National Championship. There are only four chances to qualify for the national championship coming from the Central Division. These include an open at Kentucky-Barkley Lake, and regional tournaments at each of the following: Table Rock Lake, Lake Barkley, and the Mississippi River Prairie Du Chien.
This tournament was also critical in racking up much needed points in the Cabelas School of the Year (SOY) points. Similar to the BASS Angler of the Year (AOY), colleges earn points all year long in various tournaments all over the country. With over 100 boats competing at this regional FLW event, this tournament offered a chance to jump in the rankings.
Since this tournament was only a day long, it meant that it would be a sprint to the finish instead of a marathon. With limited time, we had to cover as much water as possible while still fishing effectively. This meant that we didn’t want to spend a lot of our time running from spot to spot.
Taylor and Brad heading out for a great day on the water.
Loyal supporters help the coach hold the team banner during take-off.
During the first day of practice the wind on the lake was blowing at around 20mph and gusting up to 35mph. The high wind speeds helped us to decide that staying nearby takeoff may be beneficial. Searching for spots nearby the ramp allowed us to begin fishing quickly, and we soon started to develop a pattern that worked well for us.
The water temperature fluctuated between 54-58 degrees depending on the time of day. These temperatures meant that smallmouth bass may begin to spawn, but largemouth bass are likely staging in deeper water and waiting for that last wave of warm weather before moving up to spawn. We decided that we would search for those staging largemouth bass and hope that smallmouth and even spotted bass would be in the same vicinity.
Brock started the first practice day out right by putting us on fish quickly and being able to produce several quality fish. I was unable to hook up with fish using the same method, but by the end of the day I had found a method that worked for me. Overall, by the end of the first practice day my partner and I were feeling confident and felt that we may be able to leave our mark on this tournament.
The second day of practice was very similar to the first in regards to the weather, with just slightly less wind. We started our second practice day confident that a few spots we had found the day before would continue to hold fish so we began to look for new areas with similar structure.
I had found a jig bite that worked well for me during the first day of practice so I began to experiment with other baits. I tried several different baits including shaky head worms and ned rigs in an attempt to pick up a finesse bite. This bite resulted in catching almost exclusively smallmouth and spotted bass during the second day of practice. Smallmouth and spotted bass can exceed the 15 inch limit in place on Table Rock Lake but do not often grow as large as most largemouth bass, which meant that on tournament day I would be throwing a jig.
Finally, after two days of practice, tournament day arrived. Brock and I received take-off number 33, not bad for a tournament with 115 boats registered. We got in the line of boats and prepared for takeoff. As numbers were called, we watched as nearly every boat began to make their way towards the rivers, which made us nervous about staying near the ramp. However, we didn’t stray from our plan. When our number was called we took off for our first spot of the day.
When we arrived at our first spot, the cove was empty. We were happy to see that, and we went straight to work. Within the first five minutes of the tournament, Brock reared back and set into a fish, and the game began. I netted his fish successfully, and it was a keeper largemouth, just what we needed to get us focused and motivated early in the day. After only another five to ten minutes, Brock set into another keeper. This time it was a spotted bass just over the 15 inch limit, but a keeper all the same. By the time we had reached the end of our first bank, Brock had pulled through and caught four fish that all kept.
Since we had done so well on our first stretch of bank, we decided to start over and hit the same water over again. By this time a couple of other tournament boats had made their way into the same area, and we didn’t want to leave any fish behind. On the third cast in to our second pass at the bank, my jig got smashed! I set into the fish and held on as it ran from the bank straight to the back of the boat. This fish was not cooperating and getting it in the net was proving to be a difficult task. However, after regaining control and bringing the fish to the edge of the boat, my partner was able to net it successfully.
At this point Brock and I were all high fives and smiles because we had gotten ourselves a limit. This is not always the easiest accomplishment, and it meant a great deal to us because it meant we had a chance. What got us even more excited was the fact that we had our limit by 8:30 am, just two hours into the tournament, and all of our fish came from our first spot.
Having a limit so early into the day gave us an opportunity to go out and search for larger fish so that we could cull our smallest, near two and a quarter pounds. We were happy with the fish we had but were nowhere near confident that we would take home a prize or even qualify, so we never let up. We continued to fish strong and hard throughout the day and visited spots that had produced large fish during practice, but they came up empty on tournament day. The only fish we seemed to find as the day went on were short of the size limit, and they never helped us improve upon our initial limit.
We ended the tournament with the same five fish we had caught in our first spot of the day nearly six hours earlier. This was very nerve wracking since we were never able to cull our smallest fish at just over two pounds, and we thought we would be out of the cut for sure. As we walked onto the weigh-in stage, I placed our bag of fish on the scale and started to hope. We had guessed that our fish might have weighed around thirteen pounds, and we were pleasantly surprised when our official weight of 14 pounds and 9 ounces put us well into the top ten so far!
However, having an early take-off number comes with some drawbacks, one of which is being in an early flight. This early flight meant that we had to wait patiently as more and more boats came up to weigh their fish. Another McKendree boat, Austin Chapman and Reece Ellerbusch, came to the scales while we were waiting and weighed in a great bag of fish for 15 pounds 3 ounces and was put in the running as well.
Finally, the last call to weigh fish was made, and the weights were set in stone. We now anxiously awaited them to call out the winners of the tournament, as well as the top ten teams who qualified for the FLW National Championship. Western Illinois University was able to take home first place with a whopping 16 pounds 14 ounces with Northern Illinois in a close second with 16 pounds 11 ounces.
While McKendree was not able to bring home first place, we still had an extremely successful tournament. Austin and Reece claimed 5th place while Brock and I placed in 7th. With two boats finishing in the top ten we earned two guaranteed spots to fish in the 2017 FLW national Championship!
Reece Ellerbusch and Austin Chapman with 4 of their 5 fish in their 5th place sack!
Brock Wilke, Austin Niggli, Reece Ellerbusch, and Austin Chapman pose with the trophies that signify their bid to the 2017 FLW National Championship!
This successful finish also netted McKendree enough SOY points to jump into 4th place in the nation and just 34 points out of the lead. This is the first time that our school has been in the top five in the SOY standings, and it’s a testament to the teamwork we’ve shown this season as points have come from different anglers in different tourneys.
Top teams right now in the Cabela’s SOY standings are:
1) University of Alabama (Tuscaloosa, AL)
2) Mississippi State University (Starkville, MS)
3) Bryan College (Dayton, TN)
4) McKendree University (Lebanon, IL)
5) University of North Alabama (Florence, AL)
6) Murray State University (Murray, KY)
7) Bethel University (McKenzie, TN)
8) Georgia College (Milledgeville, GA)
9) University of Dubuque (Dubuque, IA)
10) University of Louisiana - Monroe (Monroe, LA)
McKendree is holding its own against some true powerhouses in the college fishing world! The University of North Alabama has won SOY the past two years, with Murray State, Bethel, and Alabama always being in the hunt.
Our team’s next outing will be at the University of Wisconsin’s College Shootout on Lake Wisconsin in Lodi, WI on April 16 & 17.