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Many anglers dream is to one day reach the pinnacle of all bass tournaments, the Bassmasters Classic. Fishing for your local bass club and qualifying through the Federation has made it possible for local, weekend anglers to make this dream possible.
This year Terry Fitzpatrick of Waukon, Iowa and member of the Upper Mississippi Bassmasters was the highest finisher for the Northern Division at the Federation Championship last November, which sent him to the Red River in Louisiana two weeks ago.
Terry, the lead fishing associate at Cabelas in Prairie Du Chien not only made it to the Classic, he showed the world that he could hang with big boys of the Elite Series. On Day 1, Terry brought in 18 lb. to put him in the top ten. Over the next two days, he got to experience the thrills and frustrations of professional bass fishing. In the end, Fitzpatrick weighed 39 lb. 15 oz. over the three days to have him end up in 17th place.
To prepare for the Classic, Terry headed down to the Red River in November for six days to get his first look at it. “When I first got down there I just looked at my map and looked for potential areas and then just ran the river to get an idea of where everything was” said Terry.
The two pools that would play a role for all anglers in this event were pool 4 and 5. Terry upon his trip in November felt like pool 4 fit more to his style of fishing and closely resembled the waters of the Upper Mississippi. The first official day of practice Terry fished pool 5, but knew quickly that pool 4 is where he would spend the rest of his practice time and all three days of the tournament.
Nerves, being anxious are things that an angler should be feeling at a tournament like this and Terry was no different. “Take off I was really nervous, but as soon as I got to my area and made that first cast, I was calm. It really surprised me that I was that calm.”
Terry fished a backwater bayou that was loaded with flooded timber, but it was the floating horizontal logs, which seemed to hold the bass. “I feel I set myself apart from other anglers finding an area that was very hard to access and that there was a deep water trough that ran through the area. This allowed for the fish to replenish themselves throughout the tournament.”
By taking his time and using a push-pole, Terry fished the same area for all three days and had it himself the whole time! On day one, a ¼ oz. Terminator spinnerbait in white/silver with a double willow blade combination got him the 18 lb. bag. This was the same spinnerbait that Terry used at the Federation Championship. “I chose this spinnerbait, because I feel that smaller blades on it matched the size of the shad.”
Fishing against the high caliber anglers at the Classic, definitely makes an angler think outside the box and do whatever it takes to compete. That is what Terry did, by slow rolling a spinnerbait, to the point that it was barely moving. “This was the slowest I have ever fished a spinnerbait in my life, the presentation was very close to swimming a jig.”
Following his day 1 success Terry went back to his honey hole, but something was off. Terry wasn’t sure if the fished had moved deep, but he knew he wanted to make the cut so he stuck with his spinnerbait to put together a five fish limit. “I did go check out two other areas I had found, but it was late in the day and other anglers were in there and I didn’t want to move in on them.”
The spinnerbait bite again seemed to be off on day 3 for Fitzpatrick who made a switch to flipping a small Yamamoto Flap N Hog on a 3/8 oz. weight. Immediately things clicked and Terry put together a nice limit to move him up to 17th. Terry said the one thing he would’ve changed is flipped the small plastic on day 2. Terry also told me that a few fish did wrap him around the laydowns and got away including a 6 pounder.
Besides fishing the biggest tournament of his career and one that many of us dream to fish, Terry loved that ten members of his family were there to cheer him on and offer their support. “It was cool being around all the guys, I talked a lot with Wolak, Martens and Van Dam, they treated me like I was one of them and that I had known them for years. I would’ve never dreamed that Kevin Van Dam would be sitting in my boat interviewing me!”
Terry credits his dad and brother Brian in helping him become the angler he is today. Through his countless days fishing the Mississippi Terry has developed his strengths to fishing jigs and spinnerbaits, but he feels his biggest strength is patience. An area that Terry would like to improve upon is finesse fishing, but he said he loves doing it. He also credits his wife Beth on being so supportive. “She wants me to go out on the water, fish and just have fun. There is no pressure to cash a check.”
As a young tournament angler myself I was just absorbing all of Terry’s information like a sponge and he had some great advice to anglers who want to make it to big-time, as well as just becoming a better angler. “Spending time on the water is key and not just fishing on the nice days, you’ve got to fish when the conditions are poor, because that is when you’ll learn a lot. Patience is something I didn’t have when I started out tournament fishing, but as I’ve gotten older, I am more patient. I’m able to concentrate on one area and since I’ve been calm, I’ve lost fewer of my big fish.”
Following a tournament like this and doing well, the thought crosses an anglers mind about fishing as professional. Terry plans on fishing local events and the Federation this year, while he finishes out his softball coaching career at his daughter’s school. Then in 2010 his plan is to fish one of the BASS Open Series for three years, “at that point you really can tell how you stake up against these guys” said Terry.
You can hear more of Terry’s stories and learn a wealth of information on largemouth and smallmouth bass fishing in the spring by stopping by the Cabelas in Prairie Du Chien. The seminar dates and times are listed below and are located in the fishing department.
Saturday, March 7 at 2:00 p.m.
Terry would like to thank his sponsors: Cabelas, Triton, MotorGuide, RV Machining, Lowrance and the Iowa Bass Federation. “Their support and backing has been tremendous and I appreciate it very much.”
Terry thank you again for taking the time to time talk with me and congratulations on your success!