Dusty McGehee: The Best Worst Tournament

Brutal cold, wind, and rain are not conditions I have any experience fishing in.  These are the days that I stay indoors or possibly climb up into a deer stand equipped with windows and a heater.  Unfortunately, this was the weather forecasted for The Crappie Masters National Qualifier on Lake D’Arbonne this past weekend, and the weatherman absolutely nailed it.

As discussed last week, I didn’t have a solid game plan but had a few “secret” spots away from the crowds that produced quality fish.  When I woke up Friday morning and got on the water, each of those spots literally blew out my dreams.

Friday I was going solo, as I thought it would be borderline child abuse to have my son out there for two days of awful weather.  Each of my spots that I had discovered the day before were unfishable.  I just couldn’t control the boat in the wind and the waves were spooking the fish.  Back to square one.

At 9:30 a.m., I am heading back under the Highway 33 bridge when I do a 90 degree turn to my truck.  I am as cold as I can ever recall in my life.  I jump in the truck, crank the heater on high and sit back and pontificate on what I am going to do next.  I have zero fish in the boat and frozen feet; not a good start.

After 30 minutes, the only game plan I had was to get out of the wind.  It was gusting 15-20 mph from the north, so I knew I needed to hug a north bank.  I headed for the closest spot, Eagle Point, where I caught my first four fish.  While I was a bit relieved to catch a fish, all four would’ve been embarrassing to bring to the weigh in.  I fished in there for an hour, and it was like the Dead Sea.   Once again, I was absolutely freezing and questioning my decision to fish the tournament, so I headed back to the truck.

I cranked the heater on full blast and prayed that I would be able to feel my feet once again.  I ate my deer summer sausage/crackers and once again questioned what I was doing.  I answered some “how are you doing?” texts, let my wife know how miserable I was, and hoped someone would tell me to quit and go home.  I’ve literally never felt so much pain in my feet before 

Around 1 p.m., I made the decision to go get seven fish.  I wanted Anders to be able to walk across the stage with me with a limit.  If we were too far out of the game, then we wouldn’t need to fish on day two, but I knew I couldn’t let him down.  I head to Stowe Creek and catch fish No. 5 and No. 6, but they are dinks.  I finally decide to make a move to the place that has been in the back of my mind all day.

At 1:45 p.m., I come into the spot; it is as crowded as I expected… that’s why I didn’t start there.  There is a boat right in front of me and he veers right of the boat run, so I go left.  I dropped the trolling motor and before I am out of the boat run, I spot a big fish in the timber.  I pitch the jig to it, and she hammers it.  BOOM!… I’ve got my seventh fish and it is a 2-pounder.

At this point, I have seven fish, but I only have around 7 pounds… still an embarrassing weight but I got a limit for my boy.  I put my head down and grind out the remaining hour and ended up culling five of the dinks for bigger fish.  At this point, I told everyone that I had a decent bag, and I was going to the weigh in.  Anders meets me in line, and we weigh in 10.58 lbs. 

10.58 lbs was about a pound less than I expected but kept us in the game for the adult/youth division; a title we were defending from 2021.  It was also 10.58 more lbs than I would’ve had at noon when I wanted to quit.  The closest adult/youth team was 0.10 lbs behind us.  The weather prediction was looking even worse for day two.

We woke up to 32 degrees and freezing rain; even worse weather than day one.  It didn’t matter, we were leaders in the clubhouse and had a trophy/check to fish for.  You couldn’t have added another layer of clothes on either of us.  As soon as I get to my starting spot, I see the nearest competitors 50 yards away.  This lit the fire in us, and our mission was clear.

We had two fish in the first hour, and then I line up on a monster fish sitting on top of stump.  I knew this fish could be the difference in the tournament.  We toss the hair jig at her and as it swings over her head, I see her turn and BOOM, she smokes it.  She fought hard and drug me all over the lake, but we got her in the net.  She ended up weighing 2.53 lbs.  I knew we were in the catbird seat at this point, as long as we could get three more decent fish.

We put our heads down and fished harder than ever. Hands and feet were wet and freezing, but we had a goal to accomplish.  With an hour remaining, we had seven, but needed to cull two fish out of the live well that weighed around a pound.  In the last 30 minutes, Anders caught a 1.50 and a 1.40 to give us over a pound boost to the total bag weight.

As we head to the weigh in, freezing rain is pelting us in our face; we are totally miserable but optimistic that we just earned the Adult/Youth title.  As luck would have it, we weighed in 11.52 lbs and won it handily.  The cold, the pain, the rain … it was worth it.  Thank God I didn’t quit when I wanted to on Friday!  The win this weekend, cemented our spot in the National Championship at Grenada this coming September.

Even though Anders didn’t fish with me on day one, he was the one who kept me in it.  I didn’t want to let him down and just wanted seven fish so we could talk to the cameras and take some pictures.  For most of Friday, I didn’t imagine we would be fishing on day two.

So, thank you, Anders. You were with me Friday, even when you weren’t on the boat.  The moral of this story is don’t give up…. don’t ever give up. 

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Dusty McGehee is a native of Downsville and a 2006 graduate of Louisiana Tech University with a bachelors in wildlife conservation. He is currently employed by WestRock and serves as an environmental engineer at the Hodge Mill. Dusty is an avid hunter and crappie fisherman, fishing crappie tournaments with his son when he is not in the woods. He and his wife Rachel have three young outdoorsmen/women: Anders (9), Ridge (7) and Mae (5). If you have a story idea or question about the great outdoors, you can reach Dusty at dusty.mcgehee@westrock.com.


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