WABASHA, Minn. — A couple of days ago, longtime friend Mike Wirth and I were walking around the shoreline of the Wabasha Marina looking for bass beds.
It’s that time of year when largemouth and smallmouth bass clear out a small area for spawning purposes, often in water shallow enough to see from above. We spotted a couple of beds during our quick tour, including one where several male smallmouth bass were on patrol.
That triggered a memory Mike has cherished for the last six or seven years.
The occasion was the annual Dick Hiley St. Jude Bass Classic bass fishing tournament that usually takes place this time of year, but has been postponed to Sept. 11-13 because of the pandemic. It’s a charity-driven, two-day tournament where professional and amateur anglers get together along with a few celebrities such as Minnesota Vikings and Minnesota Twins players to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
A few years ago, legendary angler Jay Yelas made an appearance. He’s one of the most accomplished bass fishermen in history with a Bassmasters Classic title and somewhere around $2.5 million in career earnings. He also has won Bassmaster and FLW Tour Angler of the Year titles.
Foremost, Yelas was there to help raise money. As it turned out, he also put on a private seminar on how to catch bedded bass for Waterloo’s Wirth and Mike Smith of Cedar Falls, who are themselves avid and excellent bass anglers.
“Mike (Smith) and I were on a little landing at the marina drinking coffee and watching a male and a female about 3 pounds or so on a bed,” Wirth said. “Yelas comes into the marina and spots the bed right below us and we start talking and he says, ‘That’s a good one.’
“So Jay flips a baby craw Texas rig into the bed and both fish scatter. Then they come right back and he makes another pitch and gets the same result. We’re talking he whole time and we ask him why the craw? He says he’d rather use a tube, but he didn’t have any in the boat. We get a big chuckle out of that and ask if he needs to borrow any, which gets a big laugh out of him.”
After a couple of casts, Yelas told Smith and Wirth he would catch that bass.
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“We were carrying on a conversation as he’s fishing, but it was like he was sitting up there drinking coffee with us,” Wirth said. “Anyway, a few casts later the female stops moving off the bed, but she shows no interest in his craw. The next couple of casts, Jay hits the fish with his sinker and actually is missing the bed. We ask what’s up with that and Jay says, ‘They don’t like to get hit in the tail.”
That’s what Yelas did for the next few minutes, whacking the bass 10 or 12 times.
“After that, Jay says, ‘She is getting mad and is gonna bite.’ About two casts later, he brings that craw over its back and the fish just explodes on it and misses. He looks up at us and says, ‘Did you see that?’ Before we could even answer he fired another cast over its tail, the fish attacked it and Jay caught her.
“It was so impressive to have him explain his thought process and what he was doing. Obviously, his mechanics were incredible, but his demeanor and wanting to teach us is what stands out in my mind.”
It was one of those special days on the river that last a lifetime. Yelas caught his limit of nice bass, a boatload of money was raised and two Iowa guys enjoyed a personal demonstration of how to catch a bass from her bed. Two days later, Wirth put that lesson to use and provoked his own bedded bass into attacking a lure out of anger.