Wilson Burton, who calls himself “a river boy,” certainly proved that last week on the Mississippi River and qualified for the Phoenix Bass Fishing League All-American championship.
The Findlay bass angler had a five-bass limit each day in the regional out of La Crosse, Wisconsin, and wound up second in the pro standings. Burton led the standings after the second day, but was edged out during the final day when only 12 anglers fished. He wound up with 15 bass that weighed 49 pounds, 4 ounces. Cade Laufenberg of Onalaska, Wisconsin, finished first with 15 fish that weighed 50 pounds, 1 ounce.
“I had a blast. My goal was to hit the top six and qualify for the All-American,” he said. “My hands are all cut up sore and are still hurting from handling so many fish. But I had a good time. And second is not too bad when you make the All-American.”
He will fish that national tournament June 3-5, 2021, on Douglas Lake located in the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg, Tennessee, area.
Burton called on some of his fishing experience on the James River in Virginia. He used dark colored baits and basically caught all his fish only using two lures — a black and blue Chatterbait and a black and chrome Strike King Squarebill KVD 1.5 crankbait.
“Basically I used only two poles and two baits,” he said.
Burton was surprised that he would follow boats in which pros were throwing spinnerbaits or flipping plastics or worms.
“The crazy thing is that I was following people down bank and getting fish,” he said.
Then there were times when he would simply run and gun.
“My co-anglers must have thought I was nuts. I would stop in an area, make about four casts and then pick up the trolling motor and move even if I caught a fish. I told them it was probably the only fish there,” Burton said.
Wind and the weather played a huge part in the tourney. The wind blew 50 mph out of the north at times. It also snowed and sleeted. But anglers caught fish.
On day 1, Burton stayed off the main river and remained around the ramp area. He said he must have caught 26 keepers that day. His first day weight was 15 pounds, 9 ounces. On the second day he fished near a spillway and caught 17 pounds, 3 ounces and held the lead with 32 pounds, 12 ounces going into the final day. The top 12 anglers qualified to fish the final day. He caught the least fish on the third day, but it was a good limit that weighed 16 pounds, 8 ounces.
Thinking ahead to next year, Burton said the trip to Douglas from Findlay is only a little over six hours. He figures he can try and fish there a few weeks before the tourney and has lofty goals.
“My goal was to make it to the All-American. Those goals were lower. I’m going with higher goals and want to win so I can fish the Forest Wood Cup,” he said.
Burton wasn’t the only Lima area angler catching limits in Wisconsin. Veteran Dick Shaffer of Rockford qualified to fish on the final day and placed 10th.
“I fished clean the entire tournament and never lost a fish so I can’t ask for more than that. I just needed another four-pounder,” he said.
He caught most of his fish slow rolling a white or black spinnerbait around docks and wood while fishing one of the river’s back waters.
Shaffer caught a limit that weighed 13 pounds, 13 ounces on the first day. His limit the second day weighed 15 pounds, 14 ounces which put him ninth heading into the final day. On the last day he caught another limit that weighed 13 pounds, 5 ounces which gave him a three-day total of 43 pounds.
While Burton and Shaffer and numerous anglers were finding fish on the Mississippi, the catch was difficult on Lake Cherokee for two-time All-American qualifier Kyle Weisenburger and five other Buckeye Division anglers.
“It was super tough fishing,” Weisenburger said. “They were super tough to find and catch. So very few bites, it was hard to put a pattern together. The fish have been very pressured, and they are in the fall transition with water temps dropping. Some guys actually stumbled upon schools of fish but they didn’t want to cooperate.”
Another big bite would have sent him into the top 12 to fish the final day.
Weisenburger caught one keeper on the opening day and was sitting in 103rd place with a 2-pounder. After being fogged in for 1 1/2 hours on day 2, he slowed down his fishing and chose “very small areas looking for smallmouths.” He found two key stretches and was able to put together a limit.
His limit the second day weighed 11 pounds, 10 ounces, which gave him a total of 13 pounds, 11 ounces and an 18th place finish.
Three other Lima area bassers competed in the pro division. Jay Ellis of Celina wound up with four fish during two days that weighed 7 pounds, 14 ounces and finished 46th. John Barnett of Huntsville had four fish which weighed 6 pounds, 4 ounces and finished 62nd. Craig Burwell of North Baltimore found some schools of smallmouth, but could not catch any keepers in two days.
Al Smith is a freelance outdoor writer. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @alsmithFL