August 22, 2009 by Gary Mortenson
FORT MADISON, Iowa - Heading into the Stren Series finals on the Mississippi River, neither the weather nor the stiff competition could knock Dick Shaffer from his perch atop the leaderboard. For two straight days, Shaffer proved to be the man to beat. And guess what? Today was no different.
While the majority of the top 10 pros struggled once again to bring quality limits to the scales, Shaffer blew away the competition when it mattered most in the finals - boating a 9-pound, 3-ounce limit to boost his three-day total to 27 pounds, 10 ounces. As a result, Shaffer cruised to a tournament title, walking away with over $15,000 in cash as well as a brand-new, fully rigged Ranger boat worth an estimated $40,000.
"It's great," said Shaffer of his 5-pound, 4-ounce margin of victory. "I've led these types of events plenty of times before, but not on the final day. I just wanted to come here, cash a check and get some points. So, to get a win feels great."
Ironically enough, Shaffer said the key to the entire tournament happened in the moments shortly before day-one takeoff.
"I actually came within three seconds of going the wrong direction on the first day of the tournament," said Shaffer. "I was going to head in an entirely different direction, but the wind was blowing so hard that I changed my mind. Honestly, within 30 seconds of calling my boat number on that first day, I made the decision to head in a different direction. And that decision won me the tournament."
Shaffer, a resident of Rockford, Ohio, said he had found his general fishing area at a previous tournament, but that the exact spot he fished all week materialized only during some practice forays.
"I found the area in practice, but the water was too low to get into," he said. "Basically it was a little shallow slough, and I fished there every day. I probably wore the bark off all of those seven logs in that spot this week."
Keying on timber with a combination of Zoom Speed Craws, jigs and spinnerbaits, Shaffer managed to haul out bass after bass on his key spot. However, heading into the finals, Shaffer admitted that he thought there weren't many fish left to catch - if any.
"I was worried that, if the water dropped too low, I'd have a hard time getting into that area," he said. "But I was determined to get in there no matter what today. And I was really surprised that there were still some big fish left. The fish in that area were all resident fish, so I knew that new fish wouldn't be coming in to replenish the area. I'm still surprised there were as many fish in there as there were."
Upon arriving at his spot, he knew within minutes that he might be in store for victory.
"I got bit on that Speed Craw in about the first 10 casts, and I decided I wasn't going to put that rod down all day," he said. "Heading back to weigh-in (with a 4-pound lead from the previous day), I knew I was in pretty good shape. I figured if somebody caught more than me, they would really deserve to win."
In the end, nobody really came close to Shaffer's totals.
"It's a great feeling to get this win," he said. "I just had a great week."
Hometown favorite nabs runner-up position
Crowd favorite Chad Kerr of Burlington, Iowa, proved to be as consistent as Shaffer, finishing in second place overall in each of the three days of the Mississippi River tournament.
"It's been a great week," said Kerr, who boated a total catch of 22 pounds, 6 ounces to win over $6,000 in prize money. "I gave it all I had, and I really didn't expect to be in the top 10 this week. So it's been a good tournament."
Amazingly enough, Kerr only decided to fish the event at the very last minute. In addition, he was so confident that he wouldn't be in any position to qualify for the top 10 that he didn't ask his boss if he could take Saturday off from work.
"I really had to do some serious calling yesterday so I could get off work today," said Kerr.
Not surprisingly, Kerr said that the conditions made fishing extraordinarily difficult all week.
"I've run around this river for three straight days like a chicken with its head cut off," said Kerr. "The conditions changed so much that I really had to throw a little bit of everything. I wound up doing a lot of junk-fishing. So I'm pretty happy with the way everything turned out."
Kerr said he used a combination of Lucky Craft crankbaits, River Killer spinnerbaits, tubes and flipping techniques to land the majority of his catch.
Stetich cements third-place status ... again
For three straight days, Shaffer and Kerr finished in first and second places, respectively. Apparently not wanting to be left out in the consistency category, Michael Stetich of Omaha, Neb., managed his third straight third-place finish in the standings as well - completing a statistical anomaly that might never again be duplicated in the history of FLW Outdoors.
However, statistics are one thing, but making the top-10 cut in one of the most difficult tournaments of the year is quite another.
"It's been a good year so far," said Stetich. "I just wanted to come here and catch a couple of fish for points. But it wound up being a lot better than that."
Stetich, whose primary fishing strategy was to cover as much water as possible, said he targeted bass with a 3/8-ounce Dirty Bait Company swim jig in a black-and-blue color, coupled with a Senko trailer.
"This whole week I had the trolling motor down and covered as much water as possible," said Stetich, who walked away with over $5,000 in prize money. "It was a tough tournament. But it was a good experience overall."
Stetich ultimately boated a total catch of 18 pounds, 9 ounces.
Fryrear nets fourth place
On the strength of a total catch of 18 pounds, 2 ounces, Steve Fryrear of Stronghurst, Ill., finished the Mississippi River event in fourth place, winning $4,400 in the process.
"It's been a long, hard week, and I feel pretty beat up right now," said Fryrear. "But it was an awesome week as well. I never dreamed I'd get this far."
Jenkel grabs fifth place overall
Derek "Duke" Jenkel of Pinckneyville, Ill., recorded a successful top-five finish after recording a total catch of 17 pounds, 12 ounces worth over $3,700.
"I'm as fine as a frog's hair split three ways," said Jenkel of his performance. "We've had a lot of fun this week. And when you're fishing (in the finals) on Saturday, it doesn't get any better than that."
Jenkel said that he landed the majority of his catch fishing a Lucky Craft crankbait.
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top 10 Stren Series pro finalists:
6th: Chris Aswegan of Lisbon, Iowa, 17-5
7th: Todd Schmitz of Goshen, Ind., 16-7
8th: George Jeane Jr. of Evans, La., 14-9
9th: John McGinnis of Clarkson, Ky., 12-9
10th: Lloyd Pickett Jr. of Bartlett, Tenn., 11-8
Stren Series Central Division action resumes Oct. 1-3 at Lake of the Ozarks, scheduled to take place at Osage Beach, Mo.