Hard lessons learned at KBI

The 27th-annual Kenora Bass International went down as one of the best ever this past weekend on Lake of the Woods.
Some 140 teams participated in this year’s event—the highest number in several years.
The weather also was great throughout the event and by the time things were said and done, a bunch of big bass were brought to the scales.
Before the tournament, I had predicted that largemouth bass would play a big role in determining the outcome. And in the end, they did, as eventual winners Jamie Bruce and Bryan Gustafson were able to put a few big largemouths in the boat over the course of the three days that sealed the victory.
On Day 2 of the three-day tournament (Friday), the duo set the new one-day tournament weight record with a catch of 20.69 pounds—a five-fish limit that included two monster five-pound plus largemouths.
The most important fish they caught during the event, though, was a third five-pound largemouth on Day 3 to go along with four medium-sized smallmouths.
That fish was the kicker they needed to hold off former tournament champs Oliver and Jason Gibbons of Morson.
One thing that did surprise me was that very few largemouths actually were weighed in over the course of this event, much fewer than in years past. The traditional areas where most of the fish are caught–Sioux Narrows and Clearwater Bay—did not produce very well at all (for largemouths, at least).
My best guess is that the high water has these fish spread out much more than they normally would be. The weeds have not grown up as good as they normally do, either, so there aren’t as many nice lines and clumps to really concentrate the fish.
The reason we fish for largemouths in these Lake of the Woods tournaments is for the opportunity to catch these big fish. That’s because even though smallmouth bass are much more plentiful throughout the lake, they do not get as big.
For Chris Savage and me, it was our 15th year fishing the KBI together. We’ve had some good finishes over the years, including a couple of wins and three second places—and largemouths played a role in all of those events for us.
This year, we had a pretty good start to the tournament and landed in second place after Day 1. We then held on to second heading into the final day on Saturday.
We fished a new part of the lake this year that we had not fished before and, though the fishing was not easy by any means, we were able to scrape up enough fish to give us a chance to win heading into the final day, which is all we can ask for.
On Day 3, we decided we had enough history in the western part of the lake to try and make a run at winning the tournament by fishing a lot of our old spots that have produced for us over the years.
It was a big mistake and for the second-straight year, we totally bombed on Day 3—bringing in five smallmouths that weighed just 11 pounds. We ended up finishing 19th overall.
My wife, August, and her cousin, Tara Savage, also beat us on Day 3, for the second year in a row, so she has bragging rights around our house for another year!
After the tournament was over on Saturday, quite a few people asked what we were thinking by abandoning the game plan that had us in second place headed into the final day.
We had a three-pound deficit to overcome because of the 20-pound bag that Bryan and Jamie had caught on Day 2, so we felt like if we caught 16 pounds again doing what we were doing, it would probably not be enough to win.
We figured if we could catch some big largemouths in places that have been good to us in the past, that was out best chance at an 18-pound plus catch.
We were fishing to win and for the second year in a row, it burned us.
However, we’re already looking forward to next year and will be back with a new game plan to try to win this tournament. It’s a prestigious event and one that means a lot to many of the anglers who participate in it year after year.
It truly is a world-class bass tournament.
Many thanks to all of the volunteers who work hard to make this event happen every year. It really is appreciated by all of the anglers!