Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Welcome to the big show
By Rob Russow
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Hometown: Waukon, Iowa
Occupation: Cabela's fishing/fly-fishing lead
Distance from Shreveport: 998 miles
Strengths: Shallow water with jigs and spinnerbaits
Weaknesses: Dropshots, finesse fishing
Fitzpatrick, a river rat from Iowa, cut his teeth fishing the Mississippi River near Waukon and has found a comfortable parallel during practice.
"To me, the Red River fishes a lot like the Mississippi River, except for the standing timber," Fitzpatrick said. "If the water goes from low to high and muddy, I think I would be very comfortable. That is a situation I've been in quite a bit and I think I could look at a map and figure them out in a decent amount of time."
Despite the similarities between the two rivers, Fitzpatrick did note that the Red has abundant standing timber that could make navigation and adapting to changing conditions more difficult.
Fitzpatrick often fished team tournament with brother Brian, but in 2007 decided to try the Federation Nation for the first time. He got involved through Cabela's, where they organized a team. Fitzpatrick qualified for the state team on his first try.
The Federation Nation Championship in November was a trying affair, but Fitzpatrick endured the brutal conditions and stuck to something he had found back in October while prefishing. He methodically fished a 100-yard stretch of a steep bank on the main lake with a spinnerbait. His 5 pounds, 13 ounces was tops in the Northern division to earn a spot in the Classic.
The bigger story for Fitzpatrick is not just qualifying for the Classic, but the fact that he did it less than a year after recovering from a triple bypass surgery.
He was just out of surgery when he fished poorly at the 2008 Divisional tournament, missing a chance to qualify for next year's Classic through the Federation Nation, but he is optimistic that in 2010 he will be fishing the Opens to try to make a run at becoming a professional angler.
Right now, Fitzpatrick isn't in any hurry to pursue the Elite Series because his daughter is still in high school, but it is something that he is slowly working toward.
A big part of his future as a professional angler depends on a decent finish at the Classic, and he has taken that in stride, preparing diligently. Fitzpatrick said he was comfortable with what he found in practice.
"I was fishing pools 5 and 4, crankbaiting, spinnerbaiting and throwing a jig," Fitzpatrick said. "I feel comfortable because it is so similar to what I'm used to fishing. The water was 59 degrees when I was there and I would guess when we start practice, it will be in the high 40s to low 50s.
"I know a lot of the guys are saying it will break all the records, and even though I think some of those guys know the river system a lot better than I do, they are still counting pretty high on their weights. I think 60-70 pounds for three days will be pretty hard to get."
For Fitzpatrick, the biggest key is the water temperature, and he hopes it warms a bit.
"When the surface temperature comes up, the fish will relate to shallower cover and it should push more fish in to the zone that I'm more comfortable fishing," Fitzpatrick said.
Regardless, he has been preparing for anything the river throws at him and is following the river levels and studying articles.
To try to stay relaxed, Fitzpatrick has stayed involved with his daughter playing basketball as well as partaking in the excellent pheasant hunting Iowa has to offer.
Even with the distractions, Fitzpatrick has still found time to spend preparing his gear and equipment for the tournament.
"We have horses and all my tackle is in there with them in the cold," Fitzpatrick said. "I've spent the last three weeks getting my rods, reels and tackle organized. I like to be really organized so I don't waste any time looking around for something I cant find."
His dedication should get him far — he has been practicing casting with a spinnerbait in his backyard in 3-5 feet of snow in preparation of the biggest tournament of his life.
Hometown: Corvallis, Mont.
Occupation: Research scientist
Distance from Shreveport: 1,989 miles
Strengths: Fishing slow, flipping and pitching
Weaknesses: Power fishing, covering water
Don't be too quick to dismiss the angler from Montana. Evans is actually a southern transplant, moving from Dallas to Corvallis a number of years ago.
"I would say, coming from Montana, if I hadn't lived in Dallas for a number of years, I think I would be lost," Evans said. "The waters down there are completely different from up here, but having some of that southern river experience that, combined with a really good pre-fish, I feel confident that I will be able to do well."
He has experience on the Mississippi River near Memphis and the Arkansas River, places he fished occasionally when he lived in Texas.
The move to Montana offered a big change in strategy, from a shallow, pitching and flipping approach to more of a finesse approach, but he was pleasantly surprised to discover some incredible trophy smallmouth waters only a moderate drive from his house.
While he doubts the skills he honed in Montana will play much of a role in the Classic, they were an essential part of his road to qualifying.
That process started in 2007, fishing qualifiers for the Montana BASS Federation Nation. After three, he managed to qualify as a boater for the state team. Then in 2008, on Idaho's Lake Coeur d'Alene, Evans came in first on the Montana state team (fourth overall), and it was on to the Federation Nation Championship, his third in the past five years.
Despite the rough conditions, he managed to boat three fish over the weather-shortened two tournament days. His 6 pounds, 9 ounces was good enough to put him in third place overall, and atop the Western Division.
"The fishing was very rough there in Kansas," Evans said. "The prefishing I did before the off-limits was key, and I found a pattern fishing Yamamoto hula grubs on a football head targeting rock ledges in 3-6 feet of water."
Like most other Classic qualifiers, he spent some time on the Red before the off-limits learning how to run and checking out areas where he figures the fish will be staging at the end of February.
"River levels and water clarity can fluctuate greatly," Evans said. "My preference would be to see the river in really good shape to spread out the anglers fishing a lot of different areas, vs. a high, muddy river where the majority of the anglers are clustered in small spots."
Even in the short time he was there, Evans said he found some key areas and was able to learn them well enough that he has a high level of confidence going into the tournament.
His confidence comes from his ability to fish slow and really break apart a small area, an ability that should come into play at the Red River.
"I tend to find an area that I like and concentrate in that area and adapt to conditions in that area over the course of the tournament," Evans said. "This plays to my advantage down there. Because of the difficulty with navigation, there won't be a lot of running from spot to spot."
Evans' said he feels comfortable that he can find two or three areas during next week's practice, and then manage them over the three days of the tournament.
Even though the Classic is still a few weeks away, like most other contenders, it is always on his mind.
"I actually shipped my tackle down there on Monday, so I had to have everything ready to go," said Evans. "I worked with sponsors to make sure I had everything ready to go and I've been watching water levels and local weather patterns."
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