Steve Lebsack and Blake Lesher recently won a Northwest Bass event at Banks Lake. Conditions were tough as the lake had just recently come off of being iced over. What follows is an interview with the team about their recent win.
Talk a bit about your prefish. How did it go? What was your strategy for your prefish? Looking back, what was the critical part of your prefish? Did you guys fish together, separate?. What role did time of year, and the weather have on your prefish strategy.
Blake and I fished in separate boats, the time of year played a big factor on our prefish strategy as well, a bigger factor was the weather conditions, and the long winter that 2017 turned out to be.
I personally drove the lake twice before the ice had completely left 10 days prior to the pre fish, and just driving the lake ruled out some areas we were going to prefish this year. For example the south end still had ice on it right up to the prefish weekend, with slush in the marina that Friday. So needless to say I never prefished past mid lake, and Blake never prefished past the mile.
When it comes to evaluating our pre fish, if you consider catching fish a success, ours was a giant failure!!!, Blake caught one largemouth and one small mouth. I caught one rainbow trout!!! With that being said we felt our pre fish told us a lot. Usually we are looking for a reaction bite this time of year when trying to catch smallmouth, after forcing this philosophy for hours I changed gears, starting slowing down, and moved out deeper. As I said I did not catch any fish during the pre fish but I started marking fish in a few key areas. I felt like with the added week between prefish, and tournament day that these fish would move shallower and we would be in fine with our reaction bite philosophy.
Blake spent quite of bit of time looking for green, had success in identifying some areas where he literally saw largemouth already moved up, and then catching one, he felt like that bite was just going to get better.
We think a very important part of our pre fish actually, was NOT catching fish, and giving us false markers, or false expectations. We used what we found in the pre fish to put our Plan A together, and had our fall back plan B ready if needed.
But I can honestly say there is no substitute for time on the water.
Anything you care to share about your strategy for the tournament day? Give a recap of how the day went. Did where you thought other boats would be influence your strategy? What were the key decisions and moments?
Yes, other boats effected our strategy we knew fish were being caught at the mile, we also knew if we decided to make that a key area for us during the tournament we would be playing bumper boats and sharing fish. It sounds like that in fact was the case for a majority of the boats (based on dock talk after the tournament) that decided to make that run.
We decided actually to throw a curve to our last 10 years of failures at this particular tournament (we had plenty of history of what to not do, definition of insanity is doing the same thing, and expecting a different result) and decided in fact to start the day fishing for largemouth. We went to an area where Blake had seen largemouth moving up the week before and started there. Almost immediately we realized conditions had changed, and it wasn’t for the better. Water temps dropped as well as water levels a bit, and conditions were just not feeling right. Blake and I recognized this almost immediately, but still decided to give it 30 minutes, ultimatelywe felt our guts were telling us to get out of there, so we abandoned this area, and the decision to go for largemouth.
We then ran to our smallmouth areas, and broke out our reaction baits with high expectations, water clarity, temps all seemed right and we were ready to crush them… well that didn’t go as planned either… wah wah… strike 2. But while trying to get the reaction bite going, Blake noticed that we just marked a fish deeper directly under the boat. So he literally said WHY NOT, picked up a football head walked to the back of the boat dropped it down, and proceeded to catch a 3 lb smallmouth.
The light went off for us, I still tried to force the reaction bite, but when Blake caught a second keeper not 5 casts latter (we culled this fish out) I switched up as well. We fished deep until almost 11:30 catching between 10-12 smallmouth with our best 5 weighing about 14 lbs (best guess, never weighed them). In this process we identified three areas that we were catching our fish in, we may fish 50 yards on each side of these what I would call “position areas” then strap the rods down, and run to the next area on the big motor. Once we identified these areas we just continued to rotate thru them until the wind just got to a point where we couldn’t control the boat the way we wanted too, but more importantly we didn’t have contact with our baits.
At this point we were tired of the wind, and it seemed now or never to go looking for the largemouth bite.
We went to the second area Blake identified largemouth to be moving up in during the prefish, and started fishing for largemouth. This is where we implemented a different philosophy from years past. Blake picked up his big rod, and went to flipping, I usually do the same, as we both love to flip, but I decided to try something different for us, (for one Blake is much better than I am at flipping) and I wanted to cover a different water column. I went to a swim jig, and was fishing submerged underwater points while he was in tight flipping reeds.
Fifteen minutes into this I hooked the 6-08 largemouth, and we were blessed to gether in the boat, after a couple of fist pumps, giving each other knuckles a couple of times, and a brief few minutes of sitting in the boat saying to each other, “THAT JUST HAPPENED” we both felt like we were in trouble. We felt like we missed the memo, and were sure we were way behind.
Time to put our heads down, and grind, almost immediately Blake had a fish take his flipping tube but when he set the hook nothing? Strange. Don’t know why the fish wasn’t there, just a weird bite? I then had another fish eat my swim jig but it felt like he never committed I just felt him load up then unload then load up then unload the last time it loaded I set the hook and rolled him but he never had it. So keep grinding… probably 30 minutes after the big fish was landed we had a solid take, set the hook, the line screamed, Blake went for the net, she made a solid run, and then was gone! Heartbreak! It felt like I just cost us the tourney.
As quick as the largemouth bite started it seemed to end for us. We never touched a fish again fishing for largemouth, although we spent the rest of the day trying. It seemed like there was a 30 minute window where we had a bite going on.
The day went actually surprisingly smooth, we had a plan A, when plan A seemed to not be working we went to plan B, (this is where the prefish paid off, and believing that fish we were marking were actually bass or at least some of them.
The biggest key we feel was having an open mind, paying attention to our surroundings, and what the fish were telling us. Blake identified that fish on the graph out deeper, and caught it, that really helped us change gears.
We stayed diligent, and grinded out our fish. We were fishing in a way we do not like to fish (deep) but in a way that we are very successful at, and that is GRINDING. When the bite seems to be tough we seem to do better, when it is a slug fest, run and gun style of tournament we seem to struggle a bit.
Two keys for us was to fish deeper, and making the decision to go fish for largemouth when we did.
Any special baits or other equipment that played a key role?
First we need to thank (Mic Blaine of Pure Fishing), (Definitely Jake Boomer owner of ALPHA ANGLER RODS, Abu Garcia, Berkley Trilene, and Fenwick Rods (world class model).
I think a big key though was being willing to fish out of our comfort zone, to fish different baits, in different water columns.
Looking back, what do you feel were some of the key influences (other anglers, ideas, situations) that contributed to the win?
For us like we said at the awards it is important to compete, yes we are hope to win,but we are also here to catch up with great friends, enjoy what the day gives us, and whatever happens, happens at the end of the day. We feel our maturity ( I am sure there will be a debate about that) as a team has helped us put tournament bass fishing, and the challenges it gives us on a daily basis into perspective. I feel humbled being able to compete in a great circuit like Northwest Bass. To compete against the great anglers that make up this circuit, and are also some of our best friends. This doesn’t happen without the support of Nixon’s Marine, Jeff, Kathy, Willie,Chase, and the whole Nixon’s Staff, and especially our families (i.e. our wives,and children putting up with our obsession to catch little green, and brown fish, it is a SICKNESS.)
We want to be sure to congratulate all the teams that did well, as this was not an easy tournament or at least we didn’t think so.
With that being said, what we feel as a team (I have one of the best teammates in Blake as well as one of my best friends) that is helping us be more successful as a team, is being willing to get out of our comfort zone, to fish new areas, and new baits with an open mind.
Huge influence in my fishing career was my grandfather – Ray Lebsack Sr.
Game Over Angling gave me some ideas, and a place to start when it came to my approach with some of the bait selections we used at this tournament.
Even though you won, what did you learn? Knowing what you know now, are there things you think you guys could have done better or executed better?
Well after 10 years of failing at this tournament we definitely went in with a different mind set, and started looking outside “OUR “ box. We learned that just because you don’t catch fish in a pre fish doesn’t mean you had a bad pre fish, or your are not progressing as an angler or a team.
We learned to trust your gut, to read conditions, and don’t be afraid to change, don’t try to force a technique that isn’t working. CHANGE CHANGE CHANGE!!!
We feel as a team, as anglers we are growing, we have good continuity in the boat,and trust in each other with game time decisions on the water, we don’t second guess each other, we have matured as a team I guess you could say. I personally feel we are getting better at not over reacting to negativity that the day can throw at you during the prefish and the tournament, we try not to worry about things beyond our control, and always try to stay positive.
With that being said we feel we learned something else on Banks this year, we caught our fish deep, and slow, talking to other people some that did very well, they caught there fish on nothing but reaction. This lake I feel fishes different depending on where you are fishing on the lake???
We know generators running at 3 am make it hard to sleep, and M.L likes Bush Light tall boys.
Good conversation, with good friends until midnight makes 4;30 come awful early!!! No regrets would do it all over again.
We owe Jason Bryan, Jake Boomer, Ben Schilling and Mike Chandler dinner before Moses!!!!