My name is Reece Ellerbusch. I am a senior, and I have been a member of the McKendree Bass Fishing team since its inaugural season in 2013.
Last week, the McKendree Bass Fishing team took on a field of 26 boats at our 3rd annual spring invitational. The past two years we have hosted this tournament on Carlyle Lake. In hopes of finding a better bite than Carlyle usually puts out, we moved over to Vandalia this year. We were all very excited as this lake is known to produce some good bags of fish this time of year.
This time I partnered up with JT Russell. This was the first tournament that he and I fished together as a team. Even though we had a slow start to the day, the final hour made for a tournament that neither of us will ever forget!
To our surprise, and the surprise of many of the locals, the lake remained unusually muddy for this time of year. Fishing had proven to be tough as there were two local tournaments the weekends prior to ours with the total number of fish weighed totaling only 4 lbs. Despite our excitement earlier in the season, we began to wonder what tournament day would hold.
Following our strong finishes at Wisconsin just two weeks before, McKendree was solidly in second place in the School of the Year Race and just 27 points out of first. We knew going into our invitational that it would be possible for us to make a strong charge at the lead in the Cabela’s School of the Year Race.
As we came closer to tournament day, the weather forecast called for conditions that would likely make the already stingy lake even stingier. The weatherman was calling for a cool, cloudy, and rainy day, but we kept our hopes up that he would be wrong.
A wet start to the day.
As I hooked the boat up early Saturday morning, Mother Nature showed that she was going to prove the weatherman’s predictions to be true. The temperature was cool, and the rain was coming down strong and steady for the entire drive to the ramp. We arrived to Coach Rinderer who, as usual, was raring to get the tournament started.
It may have been a “great day for ducks” but even this hen mallard is showing what she thinks of it!
The boats continued to roll in and totaled up to 26 boats from a total of 10 different Universities. With only 26 boats we knew that it wouldn’t be possible for us to take over that first place spot in the National Rankings, but if we managed to pull out a win, we would be able to close the gap down to only a single point. Being able to close that gap between us and first would make it that much easier for us to take the lead at our next tournament.
JT drew for us Saturday morning, and we were set to take off as boat number 14. Though not as high as I would have liked, I was glad not to have been dead last. As we idled out to the no wake buoys, I gave JT the old “lets go get ‘em fist bump” and off we went for our first spot. It was a place I had high hopes of getting a couple quick bites as this was a place that had often produced for me before. It was raining pretty hard when we got to the dock I wanted start on, and the water was super muddy. JT and I both picked up a jig and went to work. We fished for about 30 min in the first area but had no luck. We turned and headed down the bank back out towards the main lake to another area that I had hopes to catch our first keeper.
Brock Meigs and Austin Niggli battling the elements.
After fishing the bank for nearly an hour, we had only a couple of bites, but neither of us were certain would have been of the bass species. We decided to hop across the lake and start down a long stretch of bank thinking that if we covered enough water we might manage to pick up our first keeper. It didn’t take too long before JT set the hook. To our surprise, this time there was actually a bass on the end of his line. We got it in the net and had our first keeper. Thinking we might have been on to something, we continued down the bank fishing every inch of it for the next couple of hours. To our surprise, though, we did not catch another keeper.
About 1 o’clock we cranked up the motor and ran around to hit a couple other spots that we thought might have a fish or two on it. However, like almost every other spot we had fished that day, we couldn’t find a fish. With time winding down, we tried to come up with an idea of how to salvage our day.
A few minutes before 2 o’clock, we pulled up on a stretch of docks that looked like the perfect spot to catch a bass. A couple of docks in, JT set the hook again, and this time it was a solid fish. I grabbed the net and ran to the back of the boat to catch the fish in midair as he jumped a good 2ft out of the water. About 15 minutes later, we came up to a dock, and I skipped my jig under it. As I picked up my line, it was quickly swimming back to the boat. I swung and the fight was on. JT dropped his rod and went for the net. To both of our surprise, he had dropped his rod into the lake! Now that’s some dedication to getting the fish in the boat! We boated the fish, another solid keeper, and we then quickly proceeded to fish for JT’s rod. We finally got it back in the boat.
At about 2:30, we cranked up the motor again and made a run back to where we had started. We pulled into a long cove that was no wake and went all the way to the back of it. We knew we would have only a few minutes to fish. At 2:37 we stopped to idle, and at 2:41 we pulled up to the dock that we had wanted to fish. At 2:43 I felt a bite and set the hook, hooking into what was our biggest fish of the day. It seemed as though JT could read my mind as the second I set the hook he was behind me with the net ready. As it turns out he saw me lean forward to set the hook and knew I was about to have one! At 2:48, we picked up the trolling motor and headed back for weigh-in getting there just in time to check in at 2:58.
From the talk of other competitors, we began to think that those key fish we caught in the last hour might prove to be what we needed to be in contention for the win. We weighed our four fish in for a total of 9.30 lbs and took the lead. As the next few boats weighed in, we were able to hang on. As the last boat came up to the tank, we saw that they had a limit of five fish and possibly had more weight than we had. Murray State’s limit weighed 10.33 lbs, bumping us to second place where we stayed. It was definitely frustrating knowing that if we had caught any other keeper that day we would have won, but what can you do. Given what we had at 2 o’clock that day, we were very happy with our finish and the valuable points that we gained in the national rankings.
Reece and JT with their 2nd Place stringer!
We also had other McKendree boats weigh solid fish that day, and one of them took 6th place with a bag just north of 5lbs. Though conditions proved to be tough, all teams fished hard and several good bags of fish were weighed in. We gained 25 points for the tournament and climbed up to within 2pts of the team leading in the School of the Year Race.
Our weigh-in was amazing. We had over 100 spectators to cheer us on! No matter where we travel, we find ourselves with a support group that is like none other. Following the tournament we had parents who prepared fish, ribs, hot dogs and brats, snacks, etc. for all anglers and parents to enjoy! And, of course, we had plenty of Ski and other products from our sponsor, Excel Bottling. As always, the food was delicious, and I do not believe that any parent, fan, or competitor left hungry that day!
Bob Schmitt was busy all day at the fish fryer.
Birthday boy Curtis Lilly
McKendree will travel to Lake Barkley in Kentucky on May 14 for their Central Division FLW Tourney. The tourney will provide a chance for McKendree to have more boats earn a bid for the FLW National Championship to be held next spring.
In addition, it gives us a chance to earn more SOY points, as the team currently in 1st place won’t be in attendance since it’s out of their region. With a talented Murray State team breathing down our necks in 3rd place, and the next big tourney sitting in their back yard on Barkley, this is setting up to be a big showdown!
Bearcat seniors in their last “home” tourney, Derrik Starrett, Reece Ellerbush, Jordan Ledbetter, and John Murphy.
The entire 2016 bearcats fishing team