By Nick Simonson
Despite the cold weather season descending on North Dakota in earnest this week, the Badlands Bass Bandits are looking to keep the open water action rolling with the organization’s new winter tournament series which kicked off in December and will run through March on Nelson Lake near Center, N.D. The impoundment, formed by the installation of the Minnkota Power Plant which utilizes the water for cooling purposes, stays open all year with winter temperatures frequently in the sixties, and with the reservoir’s warmth boasts a largemouth bass population that grows and forages year round, providing excellent angling opportunities for die-hard anglers.
The first tournament held on Dec. 9, 2020 showcased 13 teams and pleasant air temperatures in the fifties and stable weather helped anglers find fish on a lake wide bite. While these conditions aren’t expected to stick around for the next three events slated for Jan. 9, Feb. 6 and Mar. 6, Badlands Bass Bandits president Paul Reinbold is counting on the opportunities to draw the organization’s members out for some great fishing and attract new anglers with the series designed to keep people on the water.
“It’s our first year of trying it; we’ve got a lot of anglers who hate to see the season end,” Reinbold states as to the impetus behind the Badlands Bass Bandits’ Ice Series winter events, “we’ve got this great resource here in the state with a great fishery where the lake’s open all year round because of the coal power plant,” he continues.
Unlike most tournaments that end with a weigh-in occurring at the landing amongst a gathering of anglers, the Ice Series will build on a socially-distanced competition format utilizing a smartphone application which was used by the Badlands Bass Bandits during the summer and the first peaks of Covid-19 in North Dakota. Via the FishDonkey app, the organization coordinates on-the-water registrations of caught fish, and instead of a total weight, the longest fish in an angler’s daily creel are used to determine rankings for the event. With a quick photo of a bass on the measuring board, anglers can upload the information for the tournament director to review along with a time and date stamp to ensure a healthy release of the fish while complying with social distancing guidelines.
“It was very user-friendly, very easy; it provided us with a way to have our events without having close contact with people,” Reinbold explains of the FishDonkey application and the organization’s shift in launching and loading, continuing, “with the tournament app, we can actually set the start time and end time, so people are able to unload their boats at any time of the day they wanted to and fish whenever they wanted to, it’s just that the fish length only counted from this time period to that time period.”
That application has helped with registration and conducting of the group’s first Ice Series event and will continue to do so throughout the winter. Additionally, it will keep crowding at the lake’s primary boat launch to a minimum and allow for more flexibility in what can be challenging conditions. While Nelson Lake’s bass do bite year-round in the warmer waters, the cold air can provide additional challenges for anglers. With a little adjustment, according to Reinbold, anglers can still find their quarry and have a successful outing in the middle of winter, whether recreationally fishing the state’s premier largemouth bass lake, or participating in an event.
“Obviously, dress warm; if you’re cold you’re just not going to be able to compete very well because your mind isn’t in the game,” Reinbold recommends, “one trick for ice on the guides is – and that’s happened – the nice thing is the water is warm, just stick your rod in the water for maybe five seconds, you have to do that quite often,” he suggests along with using monofilament or fluorocarbon to prevent experiencing line freeze which occurs more frequently with braided super lines, and utilizing spinning reels to minimize spool seizure.
Tanner Mallums took top honors at the Dec. 9 event with five bass totaling 81.75 inches in length, and the biggest fish was a 19-inch largemouth bass caught by Alex Martel. For complete results on the first of the Ice Series events and to learn more about the organization and upcoming competitions including the group’s warm-water tournament trail in 2021 visit badlandsbassbandits.com.
Featured Photo: The healthy largemouth bass of Lake Nelson are the target for the Badlands Bass Bandits’ new Ice Series winter schedule of fishing events. Utilizing a smartphone app, the outings are socially distanced and facilitate catch and release, while tracking angler success in the chilly conditions. Simonson Photo.