ONALASKA, Wis. – When the going got tougher in Saturday’s second half of the Northern Division final round, Fred Roumbanis stayed as steady as they come by catching his fourth good limit of the week and clinching the first EverStart Series victory of his young career. He caught 10 bass weighing 27 pounds, 2 ounces over the last two days of competition on the Mississippi River and took home $10,000 plus a new Ranger boat for his Pro Division win.
“I can’t believe I just won this,” said Roumbanis, a 26-year-old full-time angler from Auburn, Calif. “That Ranger’s huge. My boat is so falling apart right now.”
All except one of the pros caught limits, but the last day of fishing seemed to be the toughest of the four this week. A thick fog rolled in right at takeoff time, which kept many finalists from running to their holes right away, especially downriver to Pool 9. That combined with high, bluebird skies and calm water later in the day to cool down the hot smallmouth bite seen on the river earlier in the week. Hence, the weights fell off slightly and nobody was able to muster more than 12 pounds of fish.
Roumbanis, however, caught the second-heaviest limit Saturday – 11 pounds, 4 ounces – which just added to his leading weight from Friday and cinched the win.
“Man, I thought I had a tough day,” he said. “I had boats all over my water today. I know I must have fished the biggest community hole in this whole place. There were 10 to 15 boats on it, but the difference was I just fished it a little deeper than everybody else.”
This was a spot-fishing tournament all week long. Roumbanis’ winning spot, he said, was a small lake off the main river channel in Pool 8 about a 25-minute run from the takeoff spot at Clinton Street Landing. He said he found it by looking at a map and seeing something he liked.
“I fish the California Delta, and the spot looked just like area back home called Big Break. So I just stuck with it,” he said. “I was fishing offshore grass. Everyone else in there was fishing shallow in the slop. What I did was key on 3 to 4 feet of water where the grass was just hitting the surface. For me, grass means bass. Every fish I caught, I caught on a snag-proof green frog, just the kind you can buy right in Wal-Mart. It was pretty beat up after this week.”
Roumbanis caught all largemouths Saturday, which was his tendency all week. Being from the Delta, this tournament played right into his hands as the smallmouth bite petered out over the last couple days and the largemouth anglers asserted their dominance.
“I’m not a very good smallmouth fisherman, so, naturally, I went for largemouths,” he said. “I’m an expert at throwing frogs. I make a lot of money throwing frogs.”
However, he almost didn’t make nearly as much money as he did this week. In fact, he was lucky to make the cut. After a solid 14 ½-pound limit on day one, Roumbanis caught 12-15 on day two. By 1 o’clock that day, however, he didn’t have even close to that weight. So he made a last-minute run downriver through the lock and caught his two heaviest fish, pushing his weight to almost 13 pounds. He was fortunate to catch the lock at the right time coming back and returned to weigh-in just under the wire.
“I figured it was either go down there and try or I was going to miss the cut anyway,” he said. “I made it back with just a minute to spare. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for that.”
This is Roumbanis’ second EverStart Series top-10 finish. His first, which comes as no surprise, was in 2003 Western Division competition at the California Delta, where he finished ninth.
Pro Jim Jones of Big Bend, Wis., placed second Friday, and that’s where he stayed when all was said and done Saturday. He caught a limit weighing 10 pounds, 2 ounces but came up short of victory with a final total of 25-7. He earned $10,000.
“The fish just didn’t bite the way they should have. I could see the largemouths swimming around, but they weren’t feeding,” he said. “I caught mostly smallies because I could get those to bite, but they just don’t have any size to them.”
Making a valiant attempt at history, Chris Cox of Appleton, Wis., caught the heaviest limit Saturday and made a push to become the first pro to win back-to-back EverStart tournaments in the same division. However, his 11-pound, 12-ounce limit wasn’t enough to dig him out of the fifth-place hole he was in after Friday. His final weight, 24-13, earned him third place and $8,800.
“When we started off this morning, the fog came in and I didn’t make the long run that I had been,” said Cox, who won the first Northern Division tournament at the Detroit River last month. “I lost a 3-pounder early and I thought, ‘This is going to haunt me.’”
In fact, Cox said he lost two good fish today that might have made a difference. Whether it was 2 ½-pound difference will never be known.
“So close,” he said with a smile.
With first- and third-place finishes under his belt in the first two events, Cox takes a commanding lead in the Northern Division pro standings. He has 398 points.
Jeff Ritter of Prairie du Chien, Wis., also came up short on his bid for the record books. Last year’s Mississippi River EverStart pro winner finished fourth this year with a final weight of 24 pounds, 12 ounces. He earned $7,800.
“I had a lot tougher day today. There was no wind, no current, and the water had dropped. So the conditions were real bad for me,” said Ritter, who caught a limit weighing 10 pounds even Saturday. “But I had a great week, and you can’t ask for anything more.”
Opening-round leader Mike Feldermann finished in the fifth spot in the Pro Division with a final weight of 23 pounds, 12 ounces. He collected $7,300.
“Time was the biggest issue for me all week,” said Feldermann, who made a long run down to the lower end of Pool 9 everyday. “With the fog, I could only fish for a couple hours. But you’ve had a good tournament if you have a good showing and make a good check.”
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 Pro Division finishers at the Mississippi River:
6th: Jim Johnson of La Crosse, Wis., 10 bass, 20-5, $6,300
7th: Clayton Reitz of Morton, Ill., 10 bass, 20-3, $5,300
8th: Randy Wieczorek of Buffalo City, Wis., 10 bass, 19-8, $4,800
9th: Bill Lowen of Cincinnati, 10 bass, 18-13, $4,300
10th: Tom Howland of Riceville, Iowa, 10 bass, 16-2, $3,800
The next EverStart Series event is a Northeast Division contest at the Potomac River near Woodbridge, Va., Aug. 17-20.
The next Northern Division tournament will be the third event of the regular season, held on Lake Michigan at Escanaba, Mich., Aug. 24-27.