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By: Tim Domaille

 

I had a chance to sit down with Minnesota ís own John Stears. John is a very accomplished bass fisherman.  John took second place honors this year in the Minnesota State BASS Tournament. That qualifies John for the 2007 Regional Tournament. John has been a long time tournament fisherman and guide. Johnís accomplishments include winning the Minnesota Bass Federation and the Bass Northern Division Championships. He has also qualified for the BASS Nation finals 9 times.

How did you get started in bass fishing tournaments?
I grew-up in Onalaska , WI and had the Mississippi River in my back yard. As a kid weíd fish for anything we could catch from shore. However, the bass always tweaked my interest. I caught my first 5 pounder at about the age of 10 on a Crazy Crawler and won a weekly fishing contest with it. When I moved to Minnesota everyone was walleye nuts so I joined the crowd. Once I got my first boat I had a neighbor from Missouri who liked to fish bass so I got back into it. On an outing to Lake Zumbro , I met a gentleman named Nick Bowlus. Nick was a member of a local bass club and encouraged me to join. I did it to learn!

What preparations do you make prior to fishing tournaments?
Well I suspect everyone has the same answer, but finding the area holds the fish is the first step. Next is finding the lures/presentations that will trigger a strike and land the most fish. Iím going to use the 2006 Minnesota TOC as an example. I had patterned the fish and knew where they were. I was flipping milfoil and found that lure drop speed made a huge difference. With the right presentation I could fish heavily pressured areas and still catch fish so I was confident and willing to stay the course. Another factor was hooking efficiency. I had three colors of Yum Mega Tubes I was flipping. All were getting bites. However, I was missing hook-ups with the darker colors because the tube wasnít collapsing away from the hook. I donít know is it was the wall thickness or if the plastic was stiffer because of color dye. My choice was to use the lighter color because it was softer and hooking more fish, not some hype about how important color is.

Even the best plans can collapse so I had to have a plan B. The docks were being pounded but they were producing fish. Most guys skip tubes etc., and fish them on the bottom. I found I could catch fish by swimming a jig past the outer posts so that was my fall-back plan. From there itís getting the equipment and the body into tip-top shape. For me that means taking a day off fishing to rest and re-tie etc.

What steps did you take to make Minnesota Bass Federation Championship?
In 1983 when I won the TOC the skill levels were very different. If you had the right spot you could win! I had a friend show me an area that was full of fish and all I had to do was catch them. I wonít claim any expertise in the win.

After winning the Minnesota Bass Federation Championship, how did you prepare for the Bass Northern Division Championship?
We (several of my team mates made the cut) were fortunate the we only had to move from pool 4 to pool 8 in LaCrosse for the regionals. Again, it was all about the spots and not learning how fish move in an area. The tournament was held in July and we practiced hard all June. What we found was wood was the key. There wasnít a tree or stump in pool 8 we didnít hit. Our expectations were high! I suspect most of the river guys reading this will know what happened. The fish moved to the vegetation and we were sunk. Chalk one up to experience.

How did it feel to win the Bass Northern Division Championship?
That was an awesome experience. At that point I matured and knew on a good day, I could compete with the best. There were some of the best Federation anglers there and I out fished them all. Two names that still stick were Art Ferguson and Chip Harrison. Both have made careers as professional fisherman.

What kind of on the water decisions did you have to make in order to be successful in winning?
What won the tournament for me was I was willing to slow down (not my style) and fish deeper than everyone else. I was fishing in a pressured area that held lots of fish. Most of the guyís were fishing the first weed edge which ended at about 12 feet. I found if I backed off to 18 feet I could catch fist between first edge and the coontail growing out deeper. It was slow going but it produced the bigger fish so I stuck it out.

When the fishing pressure and conditions change, what kind of on the water adjustments do you make?
This is where 30 some years of experience pays-off. An example is when a cold front pushes through and the fish turn-off. Most guys slow down. In some situations I find that is the wrong approach. I have found that straining water and picking off the few active fish works well for me. Iíll pick a flat near a row of docks and cover it with a horizontal lure and look for a reaction bite. If you call me a junk fisherman Iíd be honored.

John is also a guide for both Smallmouth and Largemouth Bass on the Mississippi River pools 4-5.