For most of the 84 kayak anglers fishing the Hobie B.O.S. event in La Crosse, WI, the prospect of fast action was never in doubt. With a well-deserved reputation for producing solid catches of chunky bigmouths and bronzebacks, a strong bite and tight finish was clearly anticipated. Still, Old Man River exceeded expectations.
“There were a ton of bass caught and released at this B.O.S. event,” said Tournament Director A.J. McWhorter. “In fact, nearly 1,000 were submitted by our competitors. Even better, a lot of the fish were in the same size class, which made for a really exciting finish. With an hour to go, there was still plenty of opportunity for anglers to climb up the leader board. There really is an amazing fishery here, and Explore La Crosse and the entire community really rolled out the welcome mat.”
When all was said and done, Rus Snyders, 38, of Nashville, Tennesee, had conquered the mighty Mississippi, the bass, and the field with a two-day total of largemouths that tallied 174.50 inches. Alex Steffen, 28, of Monticello, Iowa, finished second with 171.25 inches, and Zach Humphries, of Rothschild, Wisconsin, took the third spot with 168.25 inches of bass. Steffen and Humphries, along with fourth place finisher, Nick Matthews, also qualified for the Hobie Tournament of Champions (TOC) to be held in Knoxville, Tennessee, November 14 – 15. Snyders previously qualified for the TOC by winning the Lake Fork, Tennessee B.O.S. back in February.
For Snyders, this was the second tournament win on this stretch of the Mississippi in two tries. In October of 2019, he finished first out of 73 anglers in the KBF Trail Championship at La Crosse.
“The last time I fished here it was during a fall cold front and the water was both high and chilly,” recalls Snyders. “This event was the exact opposite with low, hot water and plenty of summertime heat. On both of my visits, though, the fish were chewing. There really is an outstanding bass fishery here in La Crosse.”
Despite the contrast in conditions, Snyders chose to work the same stretch of river using the same basic techniques that brought him victory on his prior visit. Most of his fish were caught flipping the outside edges of grassy patches in the early morning using a ½-ounce jig and occasionally mixing in a weedless frog or buzz bait. As the day progressed, he’d slide up into shallower water and work a 1- to 1.5-ounce tungsten jig with a punch skirt, teamed with a Strike King Menace or Reaction Innovations Spicy Beaver trailer.
“I started each day with black/blue early and, as the sun came up, I switched to either green pumpkin or watermelon candy,” reveals Snyders. “I did particularly well punching duck weed. It creates canopies, and the bass were using those for shade and ambushing bluegills once the sun got high in the sky. That area had better than average size fish compared to other stretches of the river. I was only catching 12 to 15 fish a day compared to many anglers who were culling through 30 to 40 fish. A good percentage of mine, however, were in the 18-inch range. That really made a difference with so many people catching 15- to 17-inch fish.”
Steffen’s plan of attack centered on finding cold springs under hydrilla matts, but on day one he found the fish had moved since his practice sessions, which meant he had to go searching. “The same thing happened on day two,” he explains. “So, both mornings I got off to a bit of a slow start before zeroing in on the action. Once I found them, it was game on.”
After finishing in the 20th spot Saturday, investing time to search for more productive waters paid off big for Steffen on Sunday. After having caught only three bass by 11:30 a.m., he drilled bigmouths of 18.25, 18.75 and 19.75 inches over a 15-minute span. “That certainly helped,” he chuckles. “It put me three inches in front of third place and three inches behind first place – but with so many fish being caught, I was pretty nervous once the leader board was turned off for the final hour. Throughout the tournament, I was using a King Daddy Spro on an Abu Garcia® Max Toro setup. That’s basically a musky rig that allows me to more easily wrestle the bass out of mats. Thanks to the my Hobie Pro Angler 14, I was able to get way back into the shallow water, stand up, and fish places some competitors couldn’t reach. I think that really gave me an edge.”
Third-place finisher, Zach Humphries, was fishing the Mississippi River for the first time in this tournament, even though he is a native of Wisconsin. He worked wacky worms and Texas rigs over sand and around tree stumps to pull his limit of bigmouths. “I’m so glad I entered,” he says. “I caught a ton of bass. This really is an amazing fishery. You can bet I’ll be back.”
In another performance of note, ninth-place finisher Joseph Sanderson, 25, of Austin, Texas, decided to enter the Mississippi Hobie B.O.S. event at the last minute. After finding a flight out of The Lone Star State, he arranged to borrow a Hobie Outback with Mirage Drive and Kick-Up Fins from Hi Tempo Snow Sports and Water Sports, a White Bear Lake, Minnesota, Hobie dealer. He then borrowed a fishing rod and took a handful of lures with him on a 16.5-mile float trip on Saturday. On Sunday, he fished only half a day so he could get home in time for work. Amazingly, Sanderson finished ninth!
In terms of payouts, Snyders took home $5,000 for the win, Steffen, who also had the big bass for the tourney at 19.75 inches, totaled $3,036, and Humphries collected $1,500 for his efforts. Sanderson’s ninth-place finish pocketed him $850, more than enough to cover expenses for his day-and-a-half fishing excursion. Over $15,000 was paid out to the top nine competitors.
“The Hobie B.O.S. really is a great tournament series,” says Snyders. “In fact, it’s the best kayak series I’ve ever fished. The staff is terrific, the locations are first rate, and their support of the kayak-fishing community just can’t be beat.”
Steffen agrees. “Hobie always has a great game plan going into these B.O.S. events,” he states, “and I really love how everyone gets along. There’s no drama among the competitors; everyone wants to see you do well. When I came off the water at the end of this tourney, I had nearly 30 texts from other anglers offering congratulations. I can’t think of any other fishing contest where you are going to see so much good will.”