John's Journal...

Mark Menendez – Winning $100,000 in an Aluminum Boat at Bassmaster’s Lake Dardanelle Tournament

The Physical Fight for the $100,000 at Lake Dardanelle

Click to enlargeEditor’s Note: The third day of competition at Lake Dardanelle was cancelled because of wind and rain. Therefore, instead of cutting the field to 50, the field was cut to the final 12. The last day of the competition would be with the final 12, and Mark Menendez, made the top-12 cut and the opportunity to fish for $100,000.

Question: On the last day of competition, what did you think would happen?
Menendez: I was really relieved because now instead of competing against 50-other anglers, I’d be competing against 12. I already had won one of the biggest gambles of my life, which was to take an aluminum boat, the G3, to fish in a Bassmaster Elite Series tournament. Win, lose or draw, I was going to fish the final event, and I’d have a top-12 finish. To make it into the Bassmaster Classic each year, you had to rack-up top-12 finishes. So as far as I was concerned, I already had won the gamble. I took the aluminum boat, I was going to finish in the top 12, and I would take home at least $11,000. Then I got to thinking, there’s a big gap in the amount of money you receive between second and third place. The second place angler, Cliff Place, only was 13 ounces behind me.  So I felt like it was a two-horse race between the two of us. I thought there would be a shootout between Cliff and me for first place. Click to enlarge

I was feeling really good on the final day, but then I started looking around, while I was tied-up on the dock. I couldn’t see the lake from the inside of the riprap wall at the boat dock. I looked out from the riprap wall and saw a black line that indicated the water had dropped at least a foot since the previous day. I knew where most of the other contestants were fishing, which were flats with lily pads, and I knew those bass would leave when the water fell, and they would be harder to catch. So I was feeling really good about my chances to win.

But what I didn’t count on was because the water had come down, I had to get over two rocky wing dams, and then go through a culvert full of rocks to reach my primary area. When I reached the first wing dam and saw those rocks above the water, I said, “Uh-oh, Mark, You’re in trouble.”  I started to go over the wing dam, and the boat almost got hung on the rocks. I made it to the next wing dam and got stuck and said to myself, “Mark, you’re going to have a hard time getting to the place you want to fish.” I made the second wing dam and headed for the culvert. When I got to the culvert, I saw rocks sticking out of the water that I had never seen previously. So I knew I was in for a battle to try and get me and that aluminum boat through that culvert and over those rocks. I actually had to lean over the side of the boat, pick-up rocks and throw them out of the way, then go to the other side of the boat, pick up rocks and throw them out of the way to get through the culvert. Click to enlarge

Finally, I cranked the big, 90-horsepower motor up and ran the boat as far up on the rocks as I could get it. Then I used a push pole to push the boat through the culvert and over the rocks. When I finally got that boat through that culvert and reached the area I wanted to fish, I felt like I’d won the tournament by just getting the boat through the culvert. I thought I should have won an award just for getting to the region I wanted to fish. I was feeling pretty good, until I turned my depth finder on and checked the water temperature, which had dropped 14 degrees in 2 days. The water temperature had been 65 degrees on the second day of competition, the third day was cancelled, and now the water temperature was 51 degrees. So instead of using the 4-1/2-inch Coffee Tube, I scaled back to a 3-1/2-inch KVD Black Neon Tube and used all the other equipment I had before with the Coffee Tube earlier in the competition. The other adjustment I made was I put a big rattle in that tube, so the bass could hear the bait and hone-in on it. I really think that rattle made a difference. The first piece of brush I pitched the tube to, I caught a 14-1/2-inch-long bass. After that, I calmed down, because I realized the fish were going to bite that day.

Next I found one log in the deepest part of the lake, which was only about 24-inches deep, and I made 25 pitches to that log without getting a bite. But on the 26th pitch to that log when my line felt heavy, I set the hook to catch my biggest fish of the day, a 4-1/2-pounder. On the next log, I caught a 3 pounder pretty quickly. By 9:00 am, I had two bass, but the weather was still pretty cold. I knew the water would warm-up by the afternoon, but I would have to leave earlier to get through the culvert and make it back in time for the weigh-in. I went up my primary bank and lost three consecutive bass. However, at noon I finally caught a 3 pounder. So, I had three bass that weighed right at 10 pounds. I finally caught two more bass for a total of 14 pounds or so. Click to enlargeBut then on the way to the culvert, I caught a 3-1/2-pounder and culled a 2-1/2-pounder.  I caught a few more small fish and lost a good bass before I decided I should leave.

I went to the weigh-in knowing I had fished as well as I could have that day. I was able to get through the culvert and over the two wing dams faster than I thought I could. When I arrived at the weigh-in, I had about 30 minutes left to fish. I noticed there was a culvert on the left-hand bank, and I felt that since the water had dropped, I might be able to catch a bass fishing the mouth of that culvert. On my first cast with the KVD Black Neon Tube, I caught a 3-1/2-pounder, which enabled me to cull another 2-1/2-pounder. Now all the fish in my live well were all at least 3-1/2-pounds each, and I had one fish around 4 pounds. I looked back at that culvert and thought, ‘That’s a good place to run a crankbait.’  I tied-on a Strike King Series 3 crankbait, made five casts and caught five keepers – although none of them were big enough to help my total weight. I was running in doing the math, and I knew Kevin VanDam would need 22 or 23 pounds to beat me and that Cliff Pace would have to have at least 17 pounds to beat me. So I felt like I would at least be in the top three.

Cliff had had a pretty-rough day and didn’t catch many fish, but when I talked to Kevin before we weighed-in, he thought he had 22 or 23 pounds. I looked at him and said, “Kevin, I’ve had a tough week, don’t kid with me.” Kevin laughed at me and said, “No, really, I only have about 18 pounds.” But when he weighed-in, Kevin had about 20 pounds but still not enough to overtake the lead. I was the last guy to weigh-in, and I won by 2 pounds. I was excited about winning, but I was just as excited knowing that Strike King had three of its pros in the top five – Kevin VanDam, Denny Brauer and me. We all want to win, but all of us on the Strike King team pulled for each other, too.

Tomorrow: Looking Back at the Lake Dardanelle Tournament

Check back each day this week for more about "Mark Menendez – Winning $100,000 in an Aluminum Boat at Bassmaster’s Lake Dardanelle Tournament"

Day 1: The Game Plan for Bass Fishing Lake Dardanelle
Day 2: The First Day of Competition at Lake Dardanelle
Day 3: Second Day of Competition at Lake Dardanelle
Day 4: The Physical Fight for the $100,000 at Lake Dardanelle
Day 5: Looking Back at the Lake Dardanelle Tournament


Entry 503, Day 4