Black Bass World Championships Portugal 2016
The Protea Team selected to represent South Africa at the Black Bass World Championships in Portugal had high aspirations and was willing to put in whatever effort was required in terms of time and money. The team consisted of captain Pierre van der Merwe, Justy Varkevisser, August Lignau, Charlton Hewitt, Richard Eldridge, I and we had two managers, Mike Milligan and Hennie du Preez.
The venue for the World Champs was the massive Alqueva Dam in Portugal. It is the largest man made dam in the whole of Europe and too big for anyone to ever discover all its secrets. Pierre, Justy, Hennie, Mike and I took a week of to go prefish. We felt that without this on a venue like Alqueva we could not be competitive. The pre-fish in itself was very challenging. Mike arranged boat hire through the official channels but when we arrived the company from who we hired the boats insisted that we cannot get the boats without a Portuguese skipper. This meant that we had to pre-fish with a local guy sitting on the boat watching our every move.
The bass in Alqueva are also different to our bass. I spent my first day scanning for offshore honey holes and found some really nice stuff that I would get very excited about, but when we fished it we could only catch zander. We later realised that bass is not the top predator in Alqueva and the top spots are mostly occupied by predators with sharp teeth. There is also a bait fish that was introduced to Alqueva called the common bleak. This is an open water schooling fish and the preferred food source for bass in Alqueva. All of this meant that the bass are all roaming fish swimming after baitfish and any area where we found them today did not necessarily work tomorrow or even an hour from now. We identified that in the main dam section wind direction plaid a major role as the wind positions the baitfish. We did well targeting windblown points and banks. We also found that when we moved into creeks where we found baitfish, the
bass where hanging out on grass edges if deep water was close by. The best way to target these fish was to move fast and use reaction baits like lipless cranks and spinner baits. After returning home from the pre-fish we learned that one of our skippers was actually the captain of the Portuguese team. So much for having anything for ourselves. But excitement build as we prepared everything including taking our own electronics. Hennie and Justy made it possible for us so that each boat run a Lowrance HDS-12 unit with the maps we build plus a Humminbird360 on the front of the boat. Without an electronic map it is not possible to navigate on Alqueva. It is just too big.
Finally, the time came and the eight of us were on our way to the World Champs. This was one of my life ambitions as South Africa did not participate in World Champ events when I did art lure. We arrived a couple of days early to get everything sorted and build team spirit. The first two nonfishing days we had three meetings a day under captain Pierre and we couldn’t wait to get on the water. On the practice days we discovered that the main dam points and banks were common areas frequented by many boats and they didn’t seem to hold the right size fish. But the fish were still in the creeks as before and the still ate the spinnerbait.
Our plan was very simple - put the trolling motor on maximum; grab a spinnerbait rod, target grass banks with deep water close by and cover as much water as possible. None of the other teams were covering water at the speed we did and because the fish were roaming this gave us a distinct advantage. Unfortunately, we all still had Portuguese skippers on our boats.
Day one finally arrived and our 25-minute run with our 17 foot Triton and 115 horse power outboard to where we wanted to start felt like forever. I was fishing
with Charlton, Justy with Richy and Piere with August. We used Whatsup for communication but also has satellite phone for an emergency. Things started slow on our boat and we struggled to get going. We were probably making between fifty and a hundred cast for one bite with the spinnerbait but it was the only way we could target better fish. Late morning Charlton landed three 1kg plus fish in half an hour and we were looking good. After weigh-in Mike went to the captains meeting and the rest of us went to a restaurant for dinner. Mike sent us the scores via Whats-up from the meeting. We were leading after day one. South Africa and Portugal had the same points but SA had higher weight and therefore leading. Suddenly we all realised we could actually win this thing! Our boat weighed the second biggest bag for the day.
Day two was not kind to us. We followed the same tactics and had our chances but things didn’t go our way. Justy lost a big fish with the spinnerbait breaking in half; Charlton had a 2kg fish throwing the spinnerbait on the second jump and I lost a 1kg fish towards the end of the day. After the points were tallied we were seven points behind Portugal. The rest of the countries were way behind so our silver was secured but we had to put in a humongous effort to catch Portugal.
On the last day, Pierre and August put together a big bag but our other two boats just didn’t run into the big fish we required. My boat’s skipper also shared one of our spots where we left some fish behind and I was highly upset to find the captain of Portugal on the spot when we arrived. Portugal also adapted our game plan for the last day. I think it is a big feather in our cap that the locals that fish that dam more than a hundred times a year had to change to our pattern to try and stay ahead. I was quite disappointed when we came of the water but was soon notified by my team mates that it was going to be very close.
At the last weigh-in things ended up so close that we could not foresee who was going to win until the officials did all their final calculations. Portugal won by only two points! We had the biggest overall weight; we won two out of the three days but still came second. South Africa won the last day by five points and was terribly disappointed. Make no mistake; we are very happy winning silver at the World Champs but it was just to close. All the odds were against us and the home team had a huge advantage but we came within two points of being World Champions. Damn!
It is an experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life and one that I can recommend for any bass angler that ever gets the opportunity.
SA BASS and our readers congratulate our Protea Team on their almost first place – but still you did us proud. Well done! – Ed.
The author with a nice size keeper
O so close!
Justy Varkevisser showing what a high speed spinnerbait can do around grass banks
The South African team ready for action