Gut Check On Riffe

There was a 19-way tie for fourth place at a bass tournament on Riffe Lake yesterday — 19 of 23 anglers came in with zero smallies or largies.

But at least one boat figured out what to do in the upper Cowlitz River reservoir’s 43-degree waters: Trap ’em.

That according to my friend Chris Spencer of Longview.

I’ve written about him here and in the magazine in the past. You may recall his antics as the springer angler on the shore at Drano Lake stabbing his baitcaster reel to death, and his attempts to catch walleye during a heckuva coho run a couple falls ago.

Last year Spencer wasn’t doing so good on the springer front, so he said to hell with it. Hung up his salmon gear, picked up his bass stuff.

Pretty soon he’d joined a bass club and was raving about everything he was learning. Just last month he fished a tournament all the way down in Florence, Oregon.

In typical Spencerian fashion, that trip was a massive clunterfunkle from the get go, but the kid’s resilient, and so on Sunday, he found himself driving up to Riffe through mixed rain and snow for the 7 a.m. blast-off of the Mt. St. Helens Bassmasters’ fourth tourney of the year.

Launching was the easy part. The catching was a different story.

Spencer and partner tried “virtually everything in my bag of tricks fishing from 10 feet of water to 50 feet (but) was unable to put the puzzle together.”

Something in his gut was telling him to try cranks and big white spinnerbaits, but instead they stuck with dragging drop shots and Carolina rigs around creek beds near spawning flats — areas you might find staging bass.

So did most other teams, but not the winners.

“First place went to two young kids who fished crawdad-red Rat-L-Traps (lipless cranks) between 4 and 8 feet of water.  They landed 22 smallmouth, culled I don’t know how many times, but ended up with a five-fish bag weighing just under 15 pounds,” Spencer reports. “That is an impressive bag for ideal conditions — it’s a freaking awesome bag for today. They puzzled it right and the fish were suspended, not on the bottom.”

Second place went to an angler who brought in three largemouth weighing a total of 7 pounds, “all caught on a white 1/2-ounce spinnerbait that he tossed into the mouth of creeks.”

At least one bass was caught on bottom, a 1-pound, 7-ouncer good for third place, reports Spencer.

“Today I learned that my gut feeling along with all the homework and reading I do comes into play in figuring out the puzzle.  I’m actually feeling very good about the day … Now not only do I know the lake a lot better, I know a few more patterns that will work in ‘cold’ conditions despite what most people take for the gospel.  Crankbaits and spinnerbaits catch fish in cold water,” he says.

Keep at it, Spencer, you’re on your way.

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