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The Game Plan with Denny Brauer for His Lake Champlain Win in Mid-July

Going for the Win

Click to enlargeEditor’s Note: Last week, Denny Brauer told us how he planned to fish the 2006 CITGO Bass Elite Series’ tournament on Lake Champlain. We talked with Brauer after the first day of practice, and much like a pool shooter who calls a shot, Brauer accurately predicted how he would fish, where he would find the fish, and how he would catch them to win this $100,000 tournament. Four days after we talked to Brauer, he executed the plan he’d laid out for us. Not only did he win the $100,000 first prize, he also passed the $2 million mark in tournament winnings, which moved him into first place as the No. 1 bass angler to win the most money on the Bassmaster circuit. This week, Brauer will take us day-by-day through the tournament and show us how he executed the plan he’d laid out for the tournament won one of the biggest events of his life. We’ll not only see the strategy of a champion, but we’ll also witness the mindset of a winner.

Question: What were you thinking on the morning of the last day of the tournament?
Brauer: There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to catch a limit of bass. But I didn’t know where I would get a 14- or a 25-pound bag. In a tournament, you never know until you catch them how big the bass will be. I felt that I was going to get the quality bites to win the tournament. The question was, could I connect with those bites and put those quality bass in the boat? Remember, every day of the tournament I was catching a good size limit of bass and getting plenty of bites. I knew if I lost this tournament, someone would have to catch more big fish than I was. I also felt like I’d learned my area very well. I understood where the bigger fish were holding, and what effect the wind was having on moving the fish. I felt I knew my area and how to fish it as well as I could possibly know it. I also understood that dead-sticking the jig was the tactic that could win the tournament for me. I felt like I knew where I could find the better bass every hour of the tournament day. I told my son, Chad, and my grandson before I left the room, “I need to catch my biggest stringer of bass today to win.” I felt like I could do that because I wasn’t going to worry about saving bass on that spot. I was through managing my fish so they would hold up throughout every day of the tournament. Today was the day to try to catch every bass in my key spots. I wouldn’t be wasting a lot of time going to my backup areas. I planned to lock-down and only fish the places where I assumed big bass were holding.

Question: What happened the first part of the morning? I’m sure you had a camera boat with you. Did you have any spectator boats?
Brauer: Yes, we had a couple of spectator boats follow us, but it wasn’t an issue.

Question: What happened when you pulled up on your spot the last day?
Brauer: Within 10 minutes, I’d caught my first bass, which weighed 4 pounds, a great way to start the final day of the major event. About 10 minutes later, I caught a second 4 pounder. To catch two 4 pounders in the first 20 minutes of a major tournament gave me a real adrenaline rush. My next fish weighed only 2-1/2-pounds. I decided instead of continuing to pound that spot, I would let it rest for a while. I had another little place that I could go to and catch a couple of keeper bass. I ran to that spot and caught a 2-1/2- and a 2-pounder. It was only 7:30 am. Click to enlarge

Question: Denny, when you decided to let your primary spot rest, were you not concerned that another competitor might come there and start fishing it?
Brauer: As a tournament angler, you’re always concerned that another competitor will come and fish your spot. The only two competitors in my area were Terry Butcher and Tommy Biffle, both my friends. Both these fellas knew where I was fishing and realized I had a chance to win. They had better spots in their minds that they felt they could fish and win also. I wasn’t really concerned about someone fishing my primary spot. Even if somebody did, I felt like I could fish behind another competitor with my dead-sticking-a-jig tactic. From what I’ve learned about my area, I also thought I would catch my bigger fish later in the day.

Question: Did you feel that dead-sticking a jig was a tactic nobody else was using and that it would allow you to fish behind the other competitors and catch the bass they weren’t catching?
Brauer: There were two elements to the tactic I used that worked for me. I was flipping further back into cover than most of the other anglers. I wasn’t worried about other anglers going to my spots and catching fish I wanted to catch. The other reason I was confident was that I had two, 4 pounders in the live well and two, 2 pounders. I know that in many tournaments like this, if you just catch a limit, oftentimes you can win if you’re only 1-1/2-pounds back from first place. When I caught my fifth bass in the first hour, I had about 15 pounds of bass in my live well. I didn’t know at that time, but that limit would have won the tournament. As soon as I caught my limit, I returned to that patch of reeds to try to catch bigger bass. On my next pass down at 50 yards of reeds, I caught a 5 pounder. I culled one of my 2-pound fish. Then I had the 5-pounder, two, 4-pounders, and the 2-1/2-pounder. There was a patch of reeds where I’d lost a big fish earlier that week. I decided to go back to that area and let my primary spot rest again. I went to that other patch of reeds and caught four bass quickly, none of which would have improved my bag weight. I went back to my primary reed patch. On my first pass down that patch of reeds, I caught another 5 pounder. At the end of the reeds, I turned around to make another pass. In less than 10 minutes, I caught another 5 pounder. I caught all my five big fish in my key area. I caught several more 3-1/2-pounders and another 4 pounder that I released because they wouldn’t have helped the total weight of my stringer. I didn’t think anyone was going to beat my catch for the day. Since the lake was starting to get rough, I left my area early, just in case I had any problems on the 40-mile run back to the launch site. I took a slow ride in to keep from beating up my fish and my back.

Question: Denny, when did you feel like you won the tournament?Click to enlarge
Brauer: I really felt like I had the tournament won after I caught two 4 pounders in the first 30 minutes of the last day of the tournament. I felt like I’d caught enough 3- to 3-1/2-pound bass off this spot. If I could just put three of those 3 pounders in the boat, I would have a good chance to win. When I caught that first 5-pound fish, I felt like I was home-free. When I caught the second 5-pounder, I decided that anyone who could beat me would need a monster stringer. When I caught that last 5 pounder, I realized that someone might catch five, 5-pounders out of Lake Champlain in a day, but the odds would really be against them. That would be such an outrageous stringer that I really felt like I had it won with the bass I had.

Question: What time did you catch your last 5-pounder?
Brauer: It was probably 12:00 noon.

Question: When you started the run to the launch site, were you worried about your boat breaking down and your fish dying?
Brauer: That’s always on every angler’s mind when you have a large stringer of bass in your boat. Any little noise in the engine or boat becomes a point of concern. That’s the reason I left early. I didn’t want to take any chance of being late for the weigh-in. Normally, I’ll stay in a spot and try to catch every ounce of bass possible before I leave to weigh in. I felt that my chances of a storm blowing in, having boat problems or having some type of unforeseen tragedy between my fishing spot and the takeout point were much greater than my ability to improve my stringer by a few ounces.

Question: What was your final weight on the last day?
Brauer: I had 23 pounds and 4 ounces for five fish on that last day of the tournament, which is a huge stringer for fishing up north.

Question: Denny, what does this win mean to you personally?
Brauer: This win really means a lot. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve won a major tournament. Winning a tournament gets harder every year. Physically, the older you get, the more fatigued you get during a tournament, especially when you’re fishing tournaments back-to-back. When you go to an area like Lake Champlain where you can practice for 15 hours, you can get physically whipped. I think this win means an awful lot to my sponsors, and it adds credibility to my resume when I win a tournament. All my tournament wins are special. Someone asked me yesterday if this was my biggest win. I’ll have to say that my Bassmaster’s Classic win was the biggest I ever had, however, this Lake Champlain win was still very special.

Question: What does it mean to you to climb back to the leader board in all-time money winnings on the Bassmaster’s Click to enlargeCircuit?
Brauer: That title really means a lot. That’s a very-special honor that only one person can have. A good friend of mine, Larry Nixon, held that title for years. I took it over from him. That made the title even more special. Then another friend, Kevin VanDam, took that title from me. I felt it was really neat that an angler as classy as Kevin could hold that title, and I knew he wouldn’t give it up easily. Kevin’s a great competitor, he fishes hard, and he earned that title. I’m not through fishing yet. I’m 57-years old, and I think I have some fishing left in me.

Question: What did Kevin VanDam say to you when he realized you’d taken the title of all-time money winner?
Brauer: Kevin came up and congratulated me. I wouldn’t have expected anything less from him. Kevin and I are really-good friends. We both have mutual respect for the other’s ability. For several years, I had almost a $300,000 to $400,000 lead. To see Kevin overtake that lead and win the title was really neat. I think the competition between Kevin and me for this title will be a lot of fun. I hope this turns out to be a personal volleyball game between the two of us. There’s no doubt in my mind that eventually Kevin will take this title and hold it for many years. Kevin has many more years to participate in this sport than I do, and he’s a great fisherman. I know it’s just a matter of time before Kevin takes the title of top-money winner and holds it for many years. So, I plan to have some fun with the title as long as I have it.

Question: How long can you continue to compete, Denny?
Brauer: I really don’t know. I’m still having fun competing in bass tournaments. I think my body, more than my mind, will tell me when it’s time to give it up. I realize that there are other things to do in life besides fish for bass. My wife has things she wants to do in her life. For many years, my career has been the focus of our family. Before long, it’s going to be time for her career to be the focus. Also, my life needs to be about my grandkids and other things. I really don’t know when I’ll give up tournament bass fishing. It could be several years away, or, it could be only one or two years away. I know I’ve had a great ride, a wonderful career and a great profession.

Check back each day this week for more about "The Game Plan with Denny Brauer for His Lake Champlain Win in Mid-July"

Day 1: The Game Plan for the Tournament and Brauer’s Quest to Fight Back
Day 2: Honey Hole on the First Day
Day 3: How Brauer Fished the Second Day of the Tournament
Day 4: Brauer Reveals a New Tournament-Winning Strategy
Day 5: Going for the Win


Entry 363, Day 5