Pat Schlapper has caught bigger bags of smallmouth than the one he weighed on the final day of the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship at Pickwick Lake last week. On those previous occasions, though, the stakes weren't nearly as high."Days like that usually happen in practice or when you're out fun-fishing - not when there's so much on the line in a tournament," said the 38-year-old resident of Wisconsin, who weighed a 23-03 stringer on day 3 to win the event by 8 1/2 pounds with a 51-10 total. "It was kind of crazy the way it all happened."
He earned a berth in the 2020 Bassmaster Classic and an invitation to compete on the 2021 Elite Series, which he will accept. He would've had another shot at the Elite Series bid early next month in the final Eastern Open at Lay Lake (he's 3rd in that division's points standings), but got it out of the way early.Plus, he now gets $16,000 in paid entry fees for next year, plus free use of a boat provided by B.A.S.S. It's the first step in validating his decision to quit his full-time job as the fishing department manager at Scheel's in Eau Claire, Wis. to pursue a pro angling career."It all still really hasn't settled in," he said. "Next year is going to be a big adjustment."
Left No Doubt:
Schlepper weighed 14-11 in the opening round and followed that up with 13-12 to climb to 2nd place with one day remaining. He trailed Louisiana's Blake Sylvester, the leader after each of the first 2 days, by 6 ounces.He'd employed a two-faceted approach on days 1 and 2 - current-related smallmouths migrating toward the dam in the mornings and rocky banks and small points away from the current for largemouths from midday on. He used swimbaits to entice the former and a jerkbait for the latter."On the third day I was thinking about making the Classic and I told myself I felt good about my largemouth area - I could get in there and run around and whatever looked right, I'd pull up and fish," he said. "But I was also in position to win, so I decided I'd fish for smallmouth until 10 o'clock and it was either going to happen or it wasn't. It worked out that I really caught them."He had no use for the green fish that day - he had almost 21 pounds worth of smallmouths by 9:30 a.m. He began the morning by catching a trio of 2-pounders from his usual starting spot, then moved to another locale nearby.
"I didn't look at the current numbers for that day, but it seemed like it was a lot heavier than it had been on the other days," he said. "I went about 100 yards above it and started drifting back and I caught a small non-keeper, so I put in a waypoint."The best I could tell, it was just a gravel point that created enough of an eddy that they could tuck in there and be somewhat out of the current, but still close enough to feed. When I finished the drift I went back up to where I caught the little one and figured out that there was a real subtle current seam. It took 5 minutes to find the cast I needed to make - I could only get one or two casts every drift."The bite shut off after a couple of hours of steady action, but he returned in the afternoon and picked up two more that were between 4 1/2 and 5 pounds. He returned to the launch 45 minutes ahead of his check-in time.
Schlapper said he'd encountered some similar scenarios on the Mississippi River in his home region, but never in current that heavy. The fish were sitting in about 6 feet of water.
Four of his weigh-in fish (he caught about 30 total) on the final day came after he switched from a 1/2- to a 3/4-ounce swimbait head. He makes all of his own heads.
He caught two quality largemouths on day 1 from a barge tie-up pillar that he'd found a group of spotted bass on during practice. He took three largemouths to the scale on day 2.
Swimbait gear: 7'6" medium-heavy St. Croix Legend Extreme rod, Daiwa Tatula SV casting reel (7.3:1 ratio), 20-pound Sunline Shooter fluorocarbon line, 1/2- or 3/4-ounce homemade swimbait head, 3.8-inch paddletail swimbait (various models in shad colors).
"I used a bunch of different swimbaits," he said. "I like Scottsboro Tackle swimbaits, but in that current, those and the Basstrix baits kind of rolled up on their sides. The Keitech or Big Bite baits didn't roll as much."
Jerkbait gear: 6'8" medium-action St. Croix Legend Tournament rod, Abu Garcia Revo Premier casting reel (6.4:1 ratio), 10-pound Sunline Super FC Sniper fluorocarbon line, Megabass Vision 110+1 (Table Rock shad for cloudy skies or Tennessee shad for sunny conditions).