Bassmaster Elite Series
I had a great tournament last week on the St. John's River. I finished 91st out of 108 in the Bassmaster Elite Series. I've said that I enjoy talking about what it's like to compete at the highest level of bass fishing but I've also said that one of my goals in writing is that I'd like to help other anglers, especially young anglers. If I can talk about a struggle that I have in the sport of fishing, maybe the way I discuss that struggle can help other people find their way past the same challenge.
Last week in Florida, I had to take some of my own advice. I've often said that a good day of fishing is not always about how many pounds you bring into the boat. That's not an easy concept to understand. It took me a long, long time to really get it. But I promise you that a successful day of fishing is about a lot more than a big bag and a good finish. It's about how you fish.
Our Elite Series Event on the St. John's River was a perfect example. The first line of this column looks like sarcasm, but it's not. I really had a nice tournament. I found fish better than I ever have in Florida. I made solid decisions. My preparation couldn't have gone better.
Obviously, I had a streak of bad luck getting fish into the boat. In fact, I've never lost so many fish in one tournament. I had 32 pounds hooked on the first day. I don't mean I had a chance to catch them -- I mean they were on the hook. In fact, it was such a good day that I caught a four-pounder and put him back in the water. It was that kind of tournament. In the end though, the weight just was not there.
Let me run through some of the highlights. Most of the field was fishing Lake George. But four of us – myself, Chris Lane, Kevin Short and Brian Snowden – went all the way from Palatka through the full length of Lake George, and down the river another 30 minutes or so. In practice, I had found bedding fish and canals with a million bass. I had the choice of going for the bedders or flipping lily pads.
When the tournament started, my first stop was on a schooling hole that had a million fish, but they evaporated. The second stop was to a bed that had an eight pounder in practice. When I got there all I saw was a one-pounder. But I made several casts to the bed anyway. On about the fourth one, I caught an eight-and-a-half pounder. Right after that, I caught a one-pounder. So right off the bat, I've had the best start I've ever had in the state of Florida. From there, it got a little strange.
There were no more fish at the first stop, so I headed to a canal where I know there are some bucks. When I got to my hole, Brian and Kevin had cleaned them out. I left there and went to a dirty canal where I saw a few in practice. I knew there had been three-pound bedders, so I went to pick them off. When I got to the spot, they were gone. A one-pound buck was in their place. But I looked off to the right of the bed and there's a five-pounder. I start fishing for the five-pounder and get the fish on the line, but when I start reeling her to the boat, she pulls off. That's how my day went from there.
Before the day was over, I had hooked a ten-pounder, a six-pounder, a four-pounder and several other fish that totaled 24.5 pounds. I lost them all. Add 10.5 pounds I had in the boat and that's 32-plus pounds of fish I hooked. Out of those, with just the big fish, I would have had enough to lead the tournament. By the way, that 10-pounder I mentioned just crushed the jig I threw and swam off with it. I actually caught a four-pound buck, but I made the choice to pull that fish out of the live well and put it back in the water, because I didn't want the big female to leave.
I know that seems like a curious strategy to some people. It was certainly a gamble, but it's a gamble that would pay off probably 50 percent of the time. As I've said, I'm going to fish aggressively this season, so I made the move, and I felt pretty good about my chances going into the second day.
I can tell you in a nutshell what happened the second day. I went back to the canal, and they're gone. So I go to flipping lily pads, which felt like the right thing to do. When I start flipping, I run into Chris Lane, and he's covered a lot of territory that I had marked. In fact, he winds up the day with 37 pounds. He's pretty much cleaned it out. That was good fortune for Chris and bad luck for me. I think I just got caught in the merry-go-round behind Chris. I'm in the right spots at the wrong time.
Once or twice a year, you'll recognize that you've got the right stuff, but for one reason or another, you don't get them in the boat. For most of my career, a tournament like that would have eaten me up. But here's the way I'm looking at the event: I think it was the best I've ever fished in Florida, because I found the fish. I used to never find them there, and I've said on record that I hate Florida fishing. Now maybe I don't feel that way.
Believe it or not, it was a confidence booster. The results seemed horrible. But I can honestly say that I could just as easily have been in the Top 10, maybe even won the event. It was so close to a great tournament that I refuse to get down about it. Next up is Table Rock. I'll catch them there.