TOWER, Minn. — A picky approach and a healthy dose of determination rewarded Pat Schlapper of Eleva, Wis., with a five-bass limit that weighed 19 pounds, 4 ounces and gave him the Day 1 lead at the TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Northern Regional on Minnesota’s Lake Vermilion.
Prior to the event, Schlapper spent 12 days scouting his tournament waters. That effort, he said, enabled him to establish a good, better, best ranking of various bottom habitat.
“I graphed a high percentage of the lake and found some areas that I thought were good,” Schlapper said. “In practice, I caught them on boulders, I caught them on chunk rock; I tried to really figure out multiple different things in case anything changed.
“Sometimes, it’s an isolated patch of rock, sometimes, it’s a boulder, sometimes it’s a certain section of a long reef or point. What I’ve found on this lake is that everything looks good and it takes a lot of time to find the areas where I feel like they live. Everything looks really good, but not everything is good.”
Focusing on the lake’s east side, Schlapper had waypoints in 3 to 25 feet of water. He started on a deeper spot he thought would offer quick results, but the fish were not cooperative.
“I had several different patterns going, and I had to use all of them today,” Schlapper said. “I started deep in an area that I thought was going to be good and actually had a really bad morning.
“About 11 o’clock, I got into one of my other areas that I knew was good. I caught my biggest one — a 4-7 — and then caught a 3 1/2-pounder and another one close to 3 and then I just started rotating through similar spots. About 12:45, I stopped fishing hard, so I could save some stuff.”
Schlapper trusted his day to slower dragging presentations. He mixed it up with drop shots, tubes and a finesse jig with a craw trailer. The latter produced his biggest fish.
“It seems like all they eat up here is crawfish,” Schlapper said of his bait choices. “Every one you catch spits up a bunch of crawfish.”
Schlapper thanked his co-angler, Minnesota’s Adam Edwards, for the encouragement that helped him through the day’s challenging periods.
“It didn’t start coming together for me until about 10:30; that’s when I kinda got on what I thought I needed to be doing for the day,” Schlapper said. “I got stuck in an area of the lake where I thought I was going to get a lot of big fish. For whatever reason, something was off in that section.
“I beat around in there a while and fished probably a dozen spots and only caught small ones, but then I went about 7 to 8 miles to that other section and caught them. My co-angler helped me keep my head in it. I was kind of spinning out, and he kept telling me to keep going.”
Eric Storms of Winner, S.D., is in second place with 18-13. Fishing the lake’s east side, his plan of targeting smallmouth early and then hunting a kicker largemouth worked flawlessly.
“I had my limit of smallmouth in the first 10 minutes,” Storms said. “I pulled up and they were firing. Around 11, I left and went largemouth fishing.”
Storms caught his smallies by fishing a 3-inch green pumpkin tube on a 1/4-ounce head in about 10 feet of water over offshore humps with rock. He targeted largemouth around pencil reeds in 2 feet and caught a 4-12 on a Texas-rigged Lake Fork Craw Tube.
Jeff Napier of Martinsville, Ind., is in third with 18-3. An early morning topwater bite yielded two of his keepers, but when that action subsided, Napier transitioned to a rock-centered strategy.
“I fished the bigger boulders because there’s a ton of crawfish in the lake, and I felt like that was their hideout where they could hang tight,” Napier said. “I used a green pumpkin tube on a 3/16-ounce head, made short casts and popped it to keep it from getting hung up.”
Late in the day, Napier made his final culls while fishing docks. Tubes also worked here.
Storms is in the lead for Big Bass honors with his 4-12.
Bob Vaughn of the Iowa B.A.S.S. Nation team leads the co-angler division with 11-1.
Dan O’Keefe of the Minnesota B.A.S.S. Nation team holds the Big Bass lead among co-anglers with a 5-5.
The Indiana B.A.S.S. Nation leads the team competition with a combined weight of 211-1. The Minnesota B.A.S.S. Nation follows in second with 209-3.
Thursday’s takeoff is scheduled for 6 a.m. CT at Fortune Bay Resort Marina. The weigh-in will be held at the marina at 2 p.m.
The event is being hosted by the Fortune Bay Resort Casino.