Longtime TBF member Scott Bonnema topped a hard-fishing field of 100 fellow Federation anglers from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa to win the District 9 TBF National Semi-Finals on Minnesota’s Gull Lake Sept. 24-25.
Bonnema, of Zimmerman, Minnesota, is no stranger to Gull Lake, a popular fishery nestled in the Brainerd Lakes region, having won other events there including the TBF Northern Division Championship in 2011.
Still, he was a little nervous when high winds during prefishing challenged anglers to locate the lake’s abundant largemouths. “I found three good areas earlier, but when practice was tough I started getting worried,” he admits.
To make up for it, Bonnema kicked off the competition by focusing on classic Gull Lake structure. “I relied heavily on the LakeMaster map cards in my Humminbird Helix units to highlight key contours I knew from past experience would likely hold bass, such as small points and inside turns in the 10-foot depth range,” he explains.
Bonnema also credits a new high-tech trolling motor for helping keep his boat in striking position when strong winds continued in competition. “I was using one of Minn Kota’s brand-new Ultrex units,” he says. “They’re basically a hybrid that blends the body of a Fortrex with i-Pilot technology, complete with Spot-Lock electronic GPS anchoring.”
A staunch supporter of TBF programs nationwide, Minn Kota offers the new Ultrex in 24-volt, 80-pound thrust and 36-volt, 112-pound thrust options in 45- to 60-inch shaft lengths.
Thanks in part to the new technology, Bonnema opened the Semi-Finals with a banner day. “I probably caught 40 to 50 bass on day one,” he says.
“I would circle around the key areas I had marked, catch a fish, engage the Spot-Lock, tag my fish, get right back up on the front deck and catch another two or three fish off that same clump. The Ultrex is the only thing that would’ve allowed me to do that; without it, I would’ve been blown across the lake. It’s definitely a game-changer!”
Bonnema mainly flipped jigs into patches of cabbage and coontail. He notes that 8-foot- diameter clumps held the best numbers of bigger bass. “I’m not sure why they group up in that stuff, if it’s a comfort thing, warmth or oxygen, but they sure like it,” he says.
He began day one using a ¾-ounce jig on the edge of the vegetation, but switched to a ½-ounce head after being plagued by pike. “I also noticed my co-angler was getting a few more bites throwing a lighter jig that got hung up in the vegetation,” he adds.
Bonnema ended the day with an 18.10-pound limit, and turned in another solid performance on day two to finish the event with 32.53 pounds. Brad Leifermann came in a close second with 31.01. John Fairbanks, Jr. topped the non-boaters with 25.80 pounds.
The District 9 Semi-Finals offered a 118.5 percent payback, with $18,120 in cash and prizes, including $2,500 for the top boater and $1,250 for the top co-angler. Plus, the top boater and co-angler from each state advance to the 2017 TBF National Championship.