May 8, 2013
The Monkey on My Back
You hear it every week on the Elite series and the FLW tour. “It’s just so hard to win one of these. You have to take advantage when you get the opportunity.” Although I don’t fish against the level of competition that those guys do, any big tournament that brings out the best bass fishermen on the lake is tough to win. I’ve been very fortunate to have won a few big tournaments. But I haven’t won a larger scale event in several years. As I type out this blog, behind me in my office is a pile of 2nd and 3rd place plaques and trophies. Don’t get me wrong, finishing in the top five is nothing to scoff at, but I badly want to win every event. This past weekend, I knew I had that chance.
Saturday, May 4th was the second event of the Kentucky Division of the BassMaster Weekend Series. I finished (you guessed it) 3rd in the first tournament. I got one day of practice last Friday to try and figure out the winning pattern. I backed the Triton into Kentucky Lake on Friday morning in a 20 mph south wind with the lake 4 feet above summer pool. The high water made for perfect conditions for flipping flooded cover. I love to flip and there was no end to the places to do it. I heard from several friends that the flipping bite was red-hot so I idled out of the marina with two big sticks on the front deck. My preconceived notion of what to do started to fall apart when two hours later, I had only gotten one bite and it was a 2.5 pounder. On a whim, I decided to try an off-shore ledge where the fish tend to get later in the year. To my shock, I caught a three pounder on the first cast. “That was a fluke,” I thought as I fired another cast. On the next cast, the rod loaded up again. This time, I could barely move it. I marked a waypoint on my Humminbird and looked up to see two four pounders clinging to the crankbait. “What are these fish doing here? This is a June pattern.”
Just to make sure, I fired one more cast and caught another four plus. I looked at my map and started trying to find some similar ledges. On the next couple stops, I didn’t catch any, so I began to wonder if that one school was a fluke. Then I found another school, and another and another. By noon, I felt like I had plenty of places to fish and had boated a 20 pound limit. I decided to pick up the flipping stick again.
The wind was howling and it was hard to get the bait where it needed to be. I fished a 300 yard stretch of prime bushes and had three bites. All good fish. I next stopped in pocket and caught two six pounders before I decided that I had caught enough. I cut my hook off and flipped for another hour without a bite and the put the boat on the trailer. I had two patterns that were working and had boated 25 pounds of bass. My tackle selection for Saturday was going to be pretty simple: two flippin’ sticks, two cranking rods. I headed to the pre-tournament meeting then off to my friends Brian and Mary Brown’s house for some sleep.
We were boat 19 and the rain was coming down heavily when we took off. I made a short run to my first spot where I had seen those bigger fish on a crankbait the day before. My blood was pumping pretty strong as I got on my waypoint and made “the cast.” Nothing. I was sure that there was a good school of fish here, so I kept adjusting my boat position, casting angle, everything I could think of, but I couldn’t get a bite. Disappointment was starting to set in. I was sure that I could catch 18 pounds here. Just as I was about ready to pull up the trolling motor and head up the lake, I made a very long cast, turned the reel handle about three times, and the bait just stopped. “Got him…. Biggun!” The six pound largemouth tried to get out of the water, but her belly made it difficult. I reeled and prayed that big fish to the net, dropped her in the box, jumped back on the front deck and fired another cast. Same result. This one was about 4.5 and by the time I had the hooks out, my co-angler had a big one on. The school was ignited and it was on! Within ten minutes, I had 22 pounds swimming in the starboard livewell. I looked at the clock. It was 6:56 AM. I hit my other schooling spots and caught fish after fish. I managed to culled once for about a pound and threw back my only fish under four pounds.
Now I had a serious decision to make. I wanted to win badly and I knew that I was in position to do it I just needed to make the right moves. I have been so close, so many times over the past few years only to wind up a couple of pounds or a couple of ounces short. I knew I could keep catching them on a crankbait, but I also knew that I had the opportunity to slam the door shut if I could catch a couple of giants flipping. I picked up the 8’ All Pro and went to the bank. I didn’t get very many bites, but I did get a few good ones. I upgraded a couple of times, but didn’t catch that 6 pounder I was looking for. As the day dragged on, I figured that I had about 23-24 pounds, a great day by almost any measure, but not enough. I knew I needed at least one more really big bite.
We fired up the Triton and headed back to one of my schooling spots. As soon as the boat was in position, the bite was back on! They were smashing the crankbait every cast and many of them were 3-4 pounds. Fortunately, four pounders didn’t help at this point. After catching about 10 fish, I figured I wasn’t going to upgrade. Then she bit. I immediately knew that this fish was different. It stopped the crankbait and pulled drag for 10 seconds. I couldn’t move it, all I could do was hold on. I tried to keep her from jumping, but I immediately saw a huge smallmouth three feet in the air. My heart stopped when I thought she came off on the first jump, but she was just running straight at the boat. It was a heart-pounding battle filled with acrobatics and my praying that she would just get in the net. Finally, she did. The thing was huge. I knew at that point, it could be over. I culled a four something largemouth and put that big brown fish in the box. My nerves were a wreck. It took me several minutes to calm down after the show that fish had just put on.
I had about an hour left to fish and the calculator in my head was clicking like mad. I knew I had more than 24 pounds. I might have 25 pounds. I doubted that I had much more than that. I knew that I had two six pounders and three that were over four. As I headed back to Moor’s Resort, I had that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Did I have enough? Was I finally going to get this monkey off my back and win one again? As I floated around waiting to trailer the boat, I heard that there had been a 25 pound bag weighed in. I was deflated. I doubted I had that much. At very best, in my estimation, I had 25.5 and I heard that the lead was at 25.6. The seconds dragged on as I waited for the trailer, then waited for a bag. Exhausted from the waiting, I finally loaded the big girls into the bag. It was a heck of a sack of fish. I hated to come so close and still come up short. When my turn finally arrived I eased my bag into the bump tank. When the water cleared there were five giants in the tank. It was a beautiful sight. They bagged them up, I climbed on stage, and set them on the scale . After a few nervous seconds, the weight locked in at 26.03. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Although there were still several anglers coming behind me, I felt pretty sure it was done, and it was.
If you’ve read my blog in the past, you know how much I stress decision making, both in practice and in on tournament day. To win, you must make the right choices based on all the information available. My timing had been perfect. My execution had been perfect. My decisions had been spot on. This was not the Bassmaster’s Classic, but I won a tough event against some great fishermen, caught 100s of bass and finally got that monkey off my back.
Until next time,
Keep chunkin’ and windin’
BoatUS Angler ProStaff
February 11, 2013
Turn the Page
Here I am
On the road again
There I am
Up on the stage
Here I go
Playin' star again
There I go
Turn the page
The holidays, the Super Bowl, and Groundhog Day are all in the rearview mirror. If you are anything like me, you’ve had your fill of gloves and heavy coats. I’m already looking forward to flip-flops, shorts and a little vitamin-D therapy. It’s time to turn the page from winter to spring. OK, so maybe I’m getting a few weeks ahead of myself, but it won’t be long before the grass starts growing, the dogwoods are blooming, and the bass are shallow and hungry.
Late winter and early spring can be a challenging time to consistently find tournament bass. The fish seem to be on the move a lot and sometimes hard to pin down. They can be here today, gone tomorrow. On the other hand, early spring fishing is the time that one of my favorite lures, the jerkbait, really shines. I have had some tremendous days on a jerkbait in February and March. Let’s talk about a few keys to jerkbait success.
I used to believe that a good jerkbait rod was all about being able to cast the bait well. That is until I saw first hand on a February day what a difference the rod action can make in the catching. I was fishing a tournament on Lake Guntersville with my friend Adam Wagner. Adam and I were fishing the same jerkbait in 39-42 degree water. In places, we were literally casting the jerkbait up to the ice line coming off the bank and twitching it back to the boat. Adam caught seven or eight good bass on a jerkbait, while I had to resort to a jig just to help the team out. I couldn’t get a bite on it. Too late, I figured out what I was doing wrong (other than lacking skill). Adam was using a rod with a very light or soft tip. When he twitched the jerkbait it barely moved. I was using a heavier rod and moving the bait way too much in the frigid water. After that trip I switched to a rod with a softer tip and found the bites much easier to come by.
I prefer fluorocarbon line, especially early in the spring. It seems to let the jerkbait get down an extra foot or so which helps with bringing up those deeper fish. 10 pound fluorocarbon gets the call unless I am fishing around a lot of grass or structure, in which case I’ll use 12 pound test.
Location, Think Verticle -
I wish it were as easy as simply defining the exact type of spot to look for, but if you’ve fished very much, you know that sometimes bass don’t read the textbook like they are supposed to. In general, in late winter and early spring you need to think vertical. I don’t mean that you have to fish sheer bluff walls to catch bass. Although bluffs can be very good, what I mean by vertical are areas where bass can move up and down in the water column over a fairly short distance: steep channel banks, points with sharp drop-offs, shallow flats very close to deep water and ledges. Some of the best vertical places are going to be very close to spawning areas.
Speed and Water Temperature-
The general rule of thumb here is the colder the water, the less the lure should move. I usually try to establish a jerk, pause, or jerk, jerk, pause rhythm. Once I’ve gotten a bite or two, the fish can usually tell me if I am going too slow or too fast. If the bite comes on a long pause, I’ll slow down. If it comes as the bait is moving, I might speed up. The key is to experiment until you figure out something that seems to trigger a bite. As spring progresses and the water warms, I progressively start moving my baits faster. I have seen April days when I couldn’t move a jerkbait fast enough.
If you’ve spent the winter in the house, the deer stand, or the duck blind, it’s time to get ready for spring. Oil up your reels and break out the jerkbait box. Pretty soon I’ll be on the road again, up on the stage, dropping bags full of big jerkbait bass on the scales. It’s time to turn the page!
Until next time,
Keep chunkin’ and windin’
Boat US ANGLER Pro-Staff
October 2, 2012
For those who suffer through my blog regularly, you know I am a pretty intense weekend tournament fisherman. I compete in 25+ events a year and fish two divisions of the Bassmaster Weekend Series. I chose the weekend series because it lines up well with my sponsors, the schedules are good and the events are run incredibly well. The WE series consists of five tournaments. Four one-day events, and a two-day divisional championship worth double points. With four events completed in the TN Central and in the Kentucky Divisions, I was sitting in first place in points in TN Central and second in Kentucky.
Although I wouldn't call this year a huge success, I have been pretty consistent. With eight WE series events in the books, I had weighed in 40 out of a possible 40 bass and had a 2nd, 3rd, two 4th, and several other top ten finishes. I know most people would call that a good year. It hasn’t exactly been easy. Several tournaments, I felt like I was on absolutely nothing after practice, but made good decisions on tournament day and put together some solid limits. I had one practice in March on KY Lake, where I caught one keeper all day and another that I didn't get to practice for at all. Please don't read this as bragging because it's all about to come to a crashing halt.
A couple weeks ago, I fished the Weekend Series divisional final Old Hickory near my home in Mt. Juliet, TN. Old Hickory is a very popular tournament destination. Why? I have no idea. Old Hickory has hosted several top-level professional tournaments in the past few years including the Women’s professional tour, the FLW tour, and the BassMaster Elite Series. If you look at professional angler's profiles, many of them, list their "Least Favorite Lake" as Old Hickory. The lake has a strong reputation for being tough, especially in the fall. That being said, I have a pretty respectable history on Old Stingy. I've won several events and have quite a few top fives and top tens. I’ve fished many tournaments in September and October there and understand that it's strictly a game of making the right choices and adapting on the water. A couple years ago I fished a two-day event there, caught a decent limit the first day on a Carolina rig and returned the second day to find that pattern completely dead. I ended up catching another limit the next day: one a c-rig, one on a frog, one on a jig, one a crankbait, and one on a spinnerbait. My point is that to do well on this lake, you have to be flexible and smart.
I got a day on the water the weekend before the tournament. It took me a while, but I figured out two ways that I could catch keepers. I had about 12-13 pounds that day, which is a fairly good bag for Old Hickory in September. I practiced again the Thursday prior to the event, ran different water and had about 5 keeper bites. I was not terribly confident, but just somehow knew that since I had figured them out all year, I would just keep an open mind and figure something out in the tournament. I was pretty sure that I could scratch out a limit both days. My main goal was to win the points championship for the division. I was leading the points by a small margin, but figured if I could finish in the top ten, no one could beat me.
I've decided not to try and relive the pain of that weekend by sharing every detail, so here's the short version: Nothing I did worked. My decisions were off and I never got that feeling that I was doing the right thing. For two days, I made every adjustment I could think of to land on that “Aha” moment where it starts clicking. It never clicked. I weighed just three fish for 4 pounds on day one and two of those came on the dreaded shakey-head in the last 30 minutes. The next day, I completely changed my approach, fished new water, and had an empty livewell thirty minutes before weigh-in. I did manage two keepers in the last few minutes to avoid a zero for the day. My stellar performance put me in 20th place and I fell to second in the points.
My point with this blog is not to gripe about being a terrible fisherman or to make excuses. The point is that tournament fishing is all about decision-making. It's not a secret fishing spot. It's not a secret lure. It's not about installing the latest deluxe electronics. Those are all helpful tools, but winners win based on the decisions they make. The difference in 20th place and 10th place or 7th place and 22nd place is often about learning to make the right choices based on the conditions and what the lake is telling you that day. The better we get at decision making, the better we do. Unfortunately, there will always be a few days like my little Old Hickory adventure.
Until next time,
Keep chunkin' and windin'
Boat US ANGLER Pro-Staff
August 2, 2012
Fishin’ in an Sauna: How to keep your fish and yourself alive in oppressive heat.
June 29, 2012 was the hottest day in recorded history in most parts of Tennessee. The official temperature reached 109 degrees, although I heard reports anywhere from 105-115 degrees. When I backed the Triton down the ramp at 5:00 AM it was a cool 75 degrees. That didn’t last long. It was in the triple digits by 10 AM and just got hotter all day. What’s worse, was there was not a puff of wind all afternoon. I took out about 4 PM after a toasty 11 hour day on the water and headed for the pre-tournament meeting.
Being outside for 11 hours under these conditions should not be entered into lightly. My phone was alarming all day with excessive heat warnings stating to stay inside. Yet, we crazy bass fishermen often still venture out in it. The right choices can make an extremely hot day on the water bearable, the wrong ones, can be deadly. I fish a lot of tournaments with air and water temperatures above 90 degrees. I feel like I have a system that works well for keeping me cool and healthy, and keeping my bass happy and alive.
Keeping yourself cool:
Tip #1- Dress for success:
A few years ago I was watching the Elite Series on TV and saw Shaw Grigsby covered head to toe, facemask and all, to protect himself from the sun. At the time, I thought it was a little over-kill, but I’ve come to understand that not only does covering your skin protect you from sunburn, it is actually much cooler.
I’ve always been a long-sleeve guy in summer tournaments. It keeps me from getting sunburned, it keeps me cool, it also keeps me from having to continuously apply sunscreen. I have several very lightweight, breathable, long-sleeve shirts with an SPF 50 rating. Last year I bought a “buff” for my neck and face. It’s a little goofy-looking and takes a some getting used to, but at the end of a long day on the water, I’m not red-faced, I’m not hot, and I’m actually cooler during the day. I recently took the plunge and bought some sun gloves as well. The main reason I did that was so that I wouldn’t have to keep putting sunscreen on my hands. I love the gloves! All you have to do is get them wet and they keep your hands feeling very cool. After a day of fishing, they are a little stinky with fish slime, but that is a minor problem and usually a good sign too. A good wide-brimmed hat is also a good idea. Although if you wear the buff, you are keeping the sun off your face and neck.
Tip #2- Hydrate, then hydrate some more:
A couple years ago I fished an August tournament on Kentucky Lake. The temp was in the mid 80s at take-off and around 100 by weigh-in time. The humidity was 192%. When I picked up my co-angler that morning he got into the boat with two 1-liter Mountain Dews. This could be not good. I didn’t think too much about it, because I had about 25 water bottles, so I could share some with him. About 12:30, he sat down and said, “I don’t feel too good.” He was red all over and said he felt sick. “How much water have you had today?” I asked. His response was none, just two Mountain Dews. That was a recipe for disaster. I offered to take him to the dock, but he said he would be OK. I made him drink several water bottles to cool his body down.
When it is excessively hot, you must keep yourself hydrated. Don’t wait until you are thirsty. My rule is that I drink a bottle of water every time I start the big motor. If I move 10 or 15 times during the day, that keeps me plenty hydrated. Drinking water quenches your thirst, but it also cools the body. Sodas and energy drinks are a bad idea in oppressive heat, they just dehydrate you more. I’m not a Gatorade guy. There is so much sugar in most sports drinks that they make me feel sick. However, sports drinks do provide hydration and electrolytes that help the body stand extreme heat.
I often get some strange looks idling in at weigh-in time. Usually the guys that are making fun of my goofy mask and gloves are red-faced, sun-burnt, have been drinking Dr. Pepper all day. I feel fresh. They look like they’ve been smashed by a beat truck.
Keeping your Bass Alive in the heat:
Tip #1- Oxygen is key.
Why do fish have trouble in hot livewell? Lack of Oxygen. The hotter the water, the less oxygen in the livewell. There are several aftermarket systems that add oxygen to livewells. The most popular is probably the Oxygenator. This system claims to create pure oxygen in the water. The negative to the oxygenator is that there are reports that it can create toxins when livewell additives are used, especially those with salt. I am not a chemist, so I won’t enter that argument. I do know that makers of the Oxygenator don’t recommend using chemicals other than their own with their system. I use a T&H Pro Air system. While this is not a pure oxygen system like some others, it constantly infuses air into the livewell via air stones. I’m sure the T&H system is not producing as much pure oxygen as some systems, but I don’t worry about poisoning my fish if I add livewell chemicals or salt.
Tip #2- Keep the temperature under control.
There are arguments both ways on the use of ice in livewells. I’m not going to present data from a number of scientific experiments, but I will say what works for me. I use ice in moderation. Too much ice will affect the bass adversely. I add a big hand full or a chunk off an ice block about every hour. As a general rule of thumb, I don’t want the water to feel cold, but I don’t want it to feel like bath water. I carry a soft-sided cooler full of ice. If time allows, I’ll freeze lake water in gallon zip lock bags to take along. That can be challenging when you don’t have access to a freezer, so if I must I’ll use standard ice bags.
Tip #3- Keep them upright.
When you look in the livewell and see fish on their side, it is usually an air-bladder problem. Especially when you use ice to cool the livewell, I have found that fish tend to float more. Learn how to “fizz!” There are a couple different methods and if you do an online search, you will see demonstrations. I use a needle in the fish’s throat. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s hard to miss. I have had people tell me, “But I caught these 8’ deep, I don’t know why they are on their side.” I’ve had to fizz fish I caught 5’ deep before. Something about changing temperature affects the air bladder. If they are on their side, I have found no way to fix it other than releasing air from the bladder.
I have not weighed in a dead fish in three years (and yes, for you smart &%$’s, I have weighed in some live ones), since I started using this system. I’m not saying it is right for everyone, but it works very well for me.
If you venture out in the heat the rest of the summer. I hope some of these tips will be useful. Maybe this blog will help save a bass or two, or perhaps even a bass fisherman.
Until next time,
Keep chunkin’ and windin’
Boat US Angler ProStaff
A Balancing Act
“So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life's a Great Balancing Act.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.”
-Dr. Seuss, Oh The Places You’ll Go
Time. It has been a very precious commodity for me over the past few weeks. Whether your passion is (like mine) tournament fishing, or some other outlet, managing a job, a family, and serious pastime is no small endeavor. I have fished seven tournaments in the last seven weeks. That in and of itself is not too big of a feat, but I simply can’t make myself just show up on derby day. I’ve been trying to get in a day of practice prior to each event. You can do the math. That’s a lot of time-on-the-water for a guy who owns a business and has a family. Here’s my normal weekly schedule: 8-9 hour days at the office Monday-Thursday, Friday morning, up at 2:45AM, drive to Kentucky Lake, fish for 14 hours, sleep a few hours, fish a tournament on Saturday, drive home. I do take Sunday’s off for church and family time. In fact, I am extremely protective of my Sundays.
There have been several Thursdays for the past few weeks that I have actually been dreading going fishing the next day. Did I just say that? By the time I back the Triton in at 5:30 on Friday morning, the dread is gone, but the balancing act sometimes gets out of whack. I’m not intending this blog to be a “Woe is me” soliloquy, but I know that many of my weekend warrior readers out there know exactly where I am coming from.
On to the catchin! There is no way I can succinctly summarize my last month of tournament fishing in a single post, so I just share a few stories. My summertime fishing is primarily on Kentucky Lake. I have a fair amount of history and better-than-average track record in the summer. Those who know me, know that the summer of 2009 was a once-in-a-lifetime “in the zone” period. In a 7 week period, I won five tournaments and finished third and fourth in the other two. The worst tournament day I had was 20 pounds, the best was 27.5. All of those fish were where they were because of grass, hydrilla to be exact. For the last two years, the grass has been essentially non-existent, but now it is coming back. The spring/summer drought, low water, and low current have the hydrilla in KY Lake growing like crazy. Now tournament fishermen are faced with a dilemma. Fish shallow in the grass and hope for a few big bites, or chase deep schools and try to win the numbers game. I’ve been playing the schooling game for the last four weeks with mixed results.
My partner Jason Sain and I fished a tournament out of Paris Landing on May 26th. I had found several schools of fish on Friday, but never caught a fish over 3.5 pounds. Jason and I weeded through probably 150 bass and 100 keepers to get to a 17.5 pound limit. We finished 6th. The next week Jason and I fished the Triton Owner’s tournament out of Paris. Once again, bites were plentiful in practice, with little to no quality. On day one, we sacked 19 pounds, on the strength of a 6.25 pound kicker. I shouldn’t complain about 19 pounds, but we had two 2.5 pound bass in the bag. If we could have culled with a couple of average 3 pounders we would have been in the top 5 out of 330 boats. The next day was extremely tough on us. The bass seemed to have simply disappeared from where they had been. At 2:00 PM, we had four small keepers as we pulled up on a deep ledge. We managed about 10 keepers in the last hour and culled up to a 14.7 limit. Our poor limit dropped us from 9th place to 21st in the final standings. 21st out of 300+ boats is not too bad, but certainly not what we had hoped for.
After taking a couple days off for the Triton Tournament, it was back to work on Monday to a packed schedule. I crammed six days worth of work into four and was up at 2:30 on Friday morning to drive back to Kentucky Lake. I decided to spend half a day fishing grass to try and figure out how to catch them, but I just couldn’t make it happen. After about 7 hours if picking grass off my lure, I headed out in search of some new deep fish. I found a couple of schools with small fish, but nothing to get too excited about. Saturday, I fished with my friend Brent Anderson in the Hulmes Sporting Goods Tournament out of Paris. Brent is a great fisherman and has been on lots of schooling fish. We fished about 15 places, mostly Brent’s, and ended up with 20 pounds and a third place finish.
I drove home Saturday night, spent Sunday at church and recuperating, and after a few hours in the office on Monday morning, I was back on my way to KY Lake. (Are you beginning to see a trend here?) I think my truck can find her way there on autopilot. A friend of mine asked me to fish the Homebuilder’s Association tournament on Tuesday. Now this sounds like easy money: 30-40 boats, Tuesday tournament, but truth be known, many of the same guys that win the big tournaments fish this event. It’s no cakewalk. John and I started our day Tuesday morning fishing grass. We boated a quick limit with one good fish around 4.5. Then we headed out for the schoolers. The first spot we stopped was loaded! We caught fish every cast for about 30 minutes and culled up to about 19-20 pounds. Most of the fish were in the 3 pound range, but there were a few 4 pounders mixed in. With close to 20 pounds in the box, I decided to spend the rest of the day fishing big-fish holes- places where we weren’t going to catch numbers, but might get a big bite. I ended up catching a 6.52 on my Hoppy’s jig late in the afternoon that culled a three pounder. Our limit weighed 23.12 and we won by a slim 0.07 pound margin.
It was great to get a win, but I paid for it at work Wednesday and Thursday with jam packed days. I’ll try to keep things balanced for the rest of the month. At the end of June, the fishing schedule slows down a little.
Until next time,
Keep chunkin’ and windin’,
Boat US Angler Pro Staff
May 7, 2012
Rubbin’ Salt and Racing the Clock
Ah, springtime... The grass turns green, the flowers bloom, the birds sing, and the bass move shallow. Stupid shallow bass.
Although I’ve caught tons of fish this spring, my fishing account doesn’t show it. I’ve fished tournaments almost every week since the first of March and have been ridiculously consistent, consistently just out of the money. I’ve weighed limits. I’ve culled. I’ve caught a bunch of fish. But it seemed like every Saturday afternoon, I’d be standing around when the checks were being passed out only to find that I just missed the cut.
Last Saturday, I fished a tournament on my “home” lake, Percy Priest. I have home lake in quotes because it is the closest to my house. However, I only fish Priest a couple times a year. I took the day Friday to practice and had a great day, boating 18 pounds and getting several more good bites. For the first time this spring, I felt like I had a shot at winning. The fish were mostly post-spawn and starting to move out. I had a little offshore spot where I had caught a big smallmouth and had several more good bites, so I decided to start there. It wasn’t to be on that spot on Saturday, in fact, I hit it three times during the day only to catch one 15-inch line-burner. The fishing was much tougher for me on Saturday and ended up with an 11 pound limit that slid me into the last check spot. I left for the short drive home, disappointed that I didn’t do better, but pleased to at least have a trip to the bank on the agenda for Monday. To rub salt in my wounds, I took my son out on Priest on Sunday afternoon crappie fishing. We went to the same spot I had fished three times on Saturday during the tournament. I caught 10 big crappie, 2 keeper largemouth, and a 4.5 pound smallmouth on a crappie jig with four pound test line. That fish would’ve made me $800 had she bit yesterday. Guess I should’ve been using a crappie jig.
For guys like me that have a full-time job, balancing fishing and business is a struggle. I am so competitive that it kills me to not be in contention every event. At the same time, I can’t afford to be away from my office two or three days a week to practice. This past weekend, I had a tournament on Lake Barkley. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t even need to practice. The water would be in the buck bushes, the fish would be feeding and I’d have three flippin’ sticks on the deck all day. This year’s drought conditions along with the extremely warm spring we’ve had made for anything but normal circumstances. I decided to bite the bullet and practice for two days, something I haven’t done all year. I arrived at Lake Barkley at 5:45 AM on Thursday and fished until dark. In my little 14 hour day I scratched up a good limit, but the bigger bites were hard to come by. The good thing is that I was catching them the way I like to fish: sitting way off-shore, winding a big crankbait. Keepers were not a problem. I found several schools of fish, but most of them were small. Friday was much the same, only without the big bites. I found another school or two and had a few three pound bites but nothing big. I knew I could catch 12-15 pounds, but needed something good to happen to get me up there where I needed to be.
We blast off at 6:15 Saturday morning in scattered storms. I headed about 25 miles south and started off on a topwater spot. I boated several fish, with two keepers. My next stop was an every-cast school. I caught them for about 15 minutes until the school scattered. I left there about 8:30 with a 12 pound limit in the box. On my next stop, the light-bulb went off. It was a place I had a few bites in practice and I caught a 3 pounder and 4 pounder on back-to-back casts with my crankbait. Once that happened, I figured out the type of places I needed to be on. It took until about 12:30 for me to find the right spot, but when I did, it was lights-out. Both my co-angler and I blasted the three to four pounders for an hour and culled up to good bags. I knew I had a good limit, but probably not enough to win. I figured he probably had enough to win the non-boater side. I fished until the very last minute hoping for one big bite to seal the deal. When I went to pull the trolling motor up for the last time, it was 20 minutes until we were due in. I figured it would take 16 to get back. I grabbed the cord and pulled and the motor wouldn’t come up. I pulled some more, nothing. Uh oh. Somehow the pin had gotten wedged and wouldn’t release. I got under it, I pulled from different angles…. Nothing! After about four minutes of wrestling, standing, jumping, it finally popped and the motor came up. Now I was in a time crunch. I ran back, threw on my lifejacket and hit the start button. Nothing. The battery had run down sitting in the same spot running the livewells on full blast for the last two hours. No problem, I have a built in jumper system. I ran back, flipped the switch, ran back up, hit start, Nothing! I checked my kill switch. I checked my connections. Nothing seemed wrong, yet the motor wouldn’t start.
Panic started to set in. I started doing the math in my head…even if it started now, we probably wouldn’t make it back in time. I knew I was close to winning, I thought my co-angler had it. If the motor doesn’t start in the next 30 seconds, we are done. I flipped my breaker switch back and forth, hit the start button and she roared to life. I hammered the hotfoot and told my co-angler to hang on. I stretched out that Triton for a white-knuckled, wide-open ride back to the Barkley State Park. As we rounded the last turn, I loosened my grip on the wheel slightly and stopped gritting my teeth. We were going to make it. I slowed her down and came off pad with one minute to spare at the no-wake zone. Nothing like a little drama.
My limit weighed 19.13 and I finished second. My co-angler also finished in second place. I would have love to have won, but catching them was a blast. After a Triton Gold bonus and the Boat US Weigh-to-Win bonus, I’ll clear a little over $2000. I sure am glad the fish are finally getting out where they belong and that my Triton is fast!Until next time,
Keep chunkin’ and windin’,
Boat US Angler Pro-Staff
April 9, 2012
Medicine Head, Global Warming and Unlucky 13
For all three of my loyal followers, I apologize that it's been a few months since I updated my blog. My Audiology business has been very busy this spring and I've been fishing tournaments every weekend. Last week I flew to Boston for a business meeting. During the two hour flight from Chicago to Boston, I was sandwiched between a hairy-armed, armrest hog, and a man having a coughing fit. It was not a fun two hours. I tried to hold my breath, but I just couldn't make it the whole flight. To make things worse, my flight back from Boston was delayed two hours, I missed my connection, and didn't make it home for my tournament on Saturday. On Sunday afternoon the coughing started. Monday I felt bad all day at work and by Tuesday morning, I had a 104 degree fever. The good news is I feel a little better today and have some time to catch up on my blog, the bad news is I'm not sure if I can write an intelligent sentence through the cold medicine-induced fog in my head.
This weather is just stupid. In Tennessee it's the first week of April, the dogwoods have already bloomed, I have had to mow my grass 29 times, and the water temperature in our lakes is in the 70's. I pride myself on keeping pretty good fishing records with time of year, stage of the spawn, water temp, etc., so that I can have a clue before I head to the lake. I can just throw the 'ole log book out the window this year (or flip ahead a month). What has been happening the last two weeks is a month ahead of an average year. Normally, we see the bass spawning in mid-late April to early May. This year, the spawn started in mid March. Not that I am complaining about the weather. I love wearing flip-flops and shorts, but I just can't help but wonder what is going to happen in the next month. As long as I have been fishing in Tennessee, I've never seen things happen this early. Will the fish be in a summertime pattern by the end of April this year? Will there be an extended post-spawn funk? Who knows, maybe this will play right into my hands. I love off-shore structure fishing. Maybe we'll have six months of ledge fishing this year. That's one of the things I love about this sport. As soon as we think we have it all figured out, everything changes.
In 2011, my tournament season started off pretty strong. I cashed a check in my first five events and had a first, second, and third place in those first five tournaments. In a time of year where I usually struggle, I was pleased with a solid start to the year. 2012, not so much. I've fished four tournaments and have 14th, 18th, 10th, and 19th place finishes to boast about. What's strange is I feel like I am fishing well. I am catching them every week, I just can't find the better fish. It's starting to be a running joke at every tournament. Before the tournament starts, you can go ahead and write 13 pounds 6 ounces by my name. OK, I know what you are thinking, "Go look for bigger fish dummy. If you are catching little ones, you need to do something different."
If you know me at all you know that my one goal for every tournament I enter, is to win. I'm not a limit guy. I want to win. Especially with all the bonus money available now, winning is my only goal. I practice looking for winning fish.
The first tournament I fished on KY Lake this spring I didn't find anything good in practice, so I spent my whole tournament day fishing new water trying to find a school of big ones. I'll bet I pulled up that Motorguide 100 times. I caught lots of fish, probably had 15 keepers, but ended the day with 13 pounds. Next, it was off to Center Hill Lake. I practiced on Friday and could catch fish, but once again, no big ones. Game day, I once again pretty well scrapped practice, caught plenty of fish, didn't lose any, and weighed in 13 pounds. The next week it was back to KY Lake. I was so psyched to find those big fish on Friday. My first bite was a 4.5 pounder, finally! I found some pretty good bedding fish and a pattern where I got 4 big bites. I didn't set the hook on any of them. That night when my head hit the pillow, I felt pretty confident that I could break out of the 13 pound slump. I fished hard on Saturday. I fished clean. I didn't lose any fish. I just never got a single good bite. I culled several times and ended the day with (do I even need to say it?) 13 pounds.
Between missing my flight last week and being sick this week, I'm gonna take a couple weeks off from the tournament scene. Who knows, maybe this medicine I'm on will also cure my 13 pound disease!
Until next time,
Keep chunkin' and windin',
BoatUS ANGLER ProStaff
January 6, 2012
A New Year, A New Plan
OK, so it’s the fifth day of January, 2012. If you are like most people, you’ve probably made a few New Year’s Resolutions: lose a few pounds, exercise more, spend more time with family, or start a new business venture. Perhaps you have others that are important to you in the New Year.
Do you ever make Fishing New Year’s Resolutions? I’ve been fishing tournaments pretty seriously for about ten years now. If you’ve read some of my previous blogs, you know I don’t take myself too seriously, or claim to be able to take down KVD any time, any where. But, I have been fortunate over my time in the local and regional tournament game to have posted a respectable resume’ and to have won a few events. I attribute a lot of my modest success, not to a secret technique, or special “honey hole,” but to self-assessment, planning, and goal setting.
About ten years ago, I came across this mail-order newsletter-thingy on the internet. This system guaranteed better fishing results, more sponsors, and improved strategy, etc. To be honest, I don’t even remember what it was called and they never said who wrote it- some guy named “Patrick” signed each newsletter. Anyway, I was a sucker and paid the $150 bucks or so for 24 issues of this newsletter, and while I’ll admit some of it was kind of hokey, there were some pretty strong sports psychology-based ideas about goals, planning and visualization. Being relatively new to tournament fishing, extremely competitive by nature, and completely engrossed with wanting to be a successful tournament angler, I soaked in all of the information and advice from this somewhat mysterious source. One of the primary points made in these articles was to assess where you are, know where you want to be, and establish very specific steps that need to be taken toward achieving your goals.
Most any motivational speaker worth his salt will tell you that the best way to not accomplish your goals is to plan insufficiently or as I have heard it said, “Aim at nothing, and you’ll hit it every time.” So, armed with my $150 motivational bass tournament newsletters and my burning desire to be successful in the tournament world, I started making a very specific, written list of my goals and steps to accomplishing them. Here I sit some nine or ten years later, and I can tell you that I have accomplished and exceeded most of them.
My point with this is, if 2012 is the year that you want to break out of the pack in your bass club or in your division of the BFL or Weekend Series, or in the EvertStarts or Opens, or even at the very highest levels of the sport, you’d be best to set some goals and then map out a path to achieving them and I don’t mean saying “I’m gonna catch em better this year.” Let’s walk through a few examples. Let’s say your goal is to win the angler of the year at whatever level you fish. Write down, “In the next __ years I will be angler of the year in the _____ division/circuit.” Ok, so we have a written goal, what next? How are you going to get there? Be as detailed as possible in establishing a plan. You might have 5 steps, you might have 500 steps. As we think about writing out steps to achieving a goal, a very important consideration is self-assessment. What do you need to improve to reach your goal?
I started the self-assessment process by writing out a list of strengths and weaknesses, as many as I could possibly come up with (the list of weakness was much longer!). For example, I consider myself to be pretty good at ledge fishing, finding fish using my electronics, and adapting to new water. I am terrible at sight-fishing, patterning pre-spawn fish, and having the patience for finesse fishing. Obviously, my original list was much, much longer, including lakes that gave me fits and other techniques I needed to improve. Then, I systematically tried to address areas in which I was weak in my plan. I decided that I would spend two days in the spring, not in a tournament, doing nothing but sight fishing. I looked at lakes on which I had poor performance in the past and how I had attacked them, and decided to change my approach completely. I spent some time in the winter fishing a shakeyhead in 40+ feet of water. While these attempts to improve didn’t suddenly make me a bed fishing or finesse guru, they most definitely added tools to my arsenal that I now have the confidence to use, and have used effectively in tournaments many times since.
Another goal-setting tip is to take baby steps. I won’t discourage anyone from setting the goal of winning the Bassmaster’s Classic, but if that’s your goal, you had better make some logical steps to get there. What are you going to do today that will help you make it being Classic Champ? Tomorrow? Next Week? Step one might be, “I am going to read one ‘how to’ article everyday.” Step two might be, “I am going to attend a seminar on using my electronics.” Step three could be, “Next week I am going to spend one day fishing in cold water to better understand winter bass patterns.” I could go on and on, but I hope my point comes across here. Any goal or resolution you make for yourself will be extremely difficult to accomplish if you don’t have a very specific plan to accomplish it. As time goes on, some things get checked off the list and the plan gets revised, so do our goals.
So, make some New Year’s Resolutions that will improve your fishing this year. Write them down. Read them everyday. Assess what you need to improve, and list some logical achievable steps that will ultimately get you where you really want to be.
Until next time, keep chunkin’ and windin’,
Boat US Angler Pro-Staff
October 28, 2011
Drivin and Cryin
If you’ve seriously fished bass tournaments very long, you’ve undoubtedly been faced with this dilemma: stay close and maximize your time with a lure in the water, or make the long run and sacrifice precious time for a limited amount of potentially more productive fishing. Those who know me, know that I’m not afraid of making the run. I regularly fish Kentucky Lake where there are 100+ miles of productive water. Last week I was faced with just such a decision. I fished the southeastern regional for the BASS Weekend Series. The tournament was to launch out of KY Dam Marina on the extreme northern end of the lake. A couple of years ago, I made many long runs from the north end of the lake to the south because all of the tournaments were won south of Paris, TN. This year has been a little different. The grass that used to hold the giant bass down south is no more, so winning areas have been a little more diverse this year. However, in the fall, the Paris to New Johnsonville stretch of the TN River is well known for producing winning stringers. The week prior to our tournament, a tournament out of the North end of the lake took about 15 pounds a day to win, while a tournament on the south end took over 20 pounds/ day to win. Those results told me that, if I wanted to have a chance to win, I needed to focus my time down south.
Normally for a regional championship, I like to practice for 3 days. That gives me time to hopefully find a primary and a back-up pattern. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, my work schedule has been extremely busy lately, so I only got a day and a half to practice. I put the Triton in at the New Johnsonville ramp on Wednesday afternoon. I only got to fish about 4 hours, but in that time, I boated a strong 17 pound limit and saw another couple of big fish. In my mind, that meant I needed to make the run. I stayed with a friend in Waverly who fished with me on Thursday. As we were getting ready early Thursday morning, he dropped a bomb. “Have you seen the forecast for tomorrow? It’s supposed to blow 25+.” Great, I thought, a 90 mile boat ride in 20+ mph winds. Armed with that knowledge, I spent a few hours fishing on the south end of the lake, then I trailered my boat up north about 10 AM and tried to find something that would work if I couldn’t make the long run.
As time for the pre-tournament meeting approached on Thursday night, I still wasn’t sure what to do. All of my big bites had been on topwater, so even if I could make it, I wasn’t sure I could catch them. I guess I’m just too competitive, because I just couldn’t make myself try to limp-by a catch a few small fish on Day 1. I decided that I was going for it.
When I walked out of the house on Friday morning, the wind was steadily rocking the trees. This was going to be interesting. I met my co-angler and we headed south at about 7:15. The ride was actually pretty smooth. The wind was at about 10 mph out of the west. I managed to stay out of it for most of the 1 hour ride. Arriving at my first stop, I had to shed a few of the layers with which I had bundled-up prior to the long run. By the time I got ready to fish, a school erupted about 50 yards from the boat. I fired a perfect cast with my spook and had a bass crush it within a few feet. I had a keeper on board in less than 2 minutes. Unfortunately, they didn’t appear again. I didn’t get a bite in my next five stops. When you make that long run and know you have to turn around to run back at 1:30, the pressure starts to mount quickly. At 11:00AM, I still had just that one fish. I stopped on a place I had caught a five pounder in practice. As I eased the boat into position, I made the same cast I had made to catch the big one just two days earlier. I walked the spook across the water and it disappeared in a loud explosion. “Biggun!” I grunted, just knowing this was a five pounder. My co-angler quickly netted the fish. It was a three pounder. Not as big as I had hoped, but a good one nonetheless. Within a few minutes, I had another three pounder and a keeper aboard. I spent another 45 minutes trying to get the big ones going, but it just didn’t happen. I made three more stops before it was time to head back, catching about 4 more keepers. I just never got that big bite. At 2:00PM, I strapped everything down, bundled up, and headed out for the long bumpy ride back to Kentucky Dam Marina. The wind was now howling and the ride was not a smooth one. Fortunately, the wind stayed out of the west, so the run was manageable.
After an hour and a half of boat driving, we arrived safely at the check-in with about five minutes to spare. I ended up with 12.98 and to my shock I was in 6th place after all the fish were weighed. Although I didn’t know if I could catch a big bag on Saturday, I felt that I had no choice but to make the long run again.
The weather on Saturday was much like Friday, only the wind laid down to only 15 mph instead of 25. The lake was smooth for the long run southward and I stretched out the 21 HP at 73 mph most of the way. I made it to the first stop in 51 minutes today and quickly boated two keepers on my spook. I eased down the bar hoping to hit the mother lode. I made a cast and was actually looking the other way, when I heard a massive crash. I turned to see my bait gone in what looked like a giant whirlpool. I couldn’t feel anything so I figured the fish missed it, but I quickly realized that the bass was running right at me. I finally caught up with it and after a short battle a 3+ pound bass was in the net. I was sure it was bigger than that when it hit, but sometimes those fish just get mad and fool you. I was confident that it was just a matter of time before I got a truly big fish to bite my bait. I had caught 3 over 4 in just a few hours on Wednesday, so surely I could get a couple of those bites today.
A limit came easier today, but the fish were smaller. Other than that one three pounder, they were all just keepers. I caught and culled, and caught and culled, but just never got that bite. My co-angler caught two over three pounds on one of my spots while I caught two two-pounders. It just wasn’t meant to be. The wind was up to around 15 when I disgustedly gave up on my fish and headed back north. I left time to hit a couple places for a few minutes along the way. After a 30 minute run, I stopped on a point where big smallmouth live this time of year. My co-angler tossed his spook up there and had a big brown fish crush it twice and but didn’t hook up. The second bite fouled his line in the hooks. “My bait is fouled-up!” he said. “Can I please throw on him?” I pleaded. He agreed and I walked my spook across the turbulence left behind his bait. I watched a 4 pound smallmouth kill my bait and take off. My drag sang. “Got ‘em. Big Smallmouth!” I hollered. But no sooner than I had her stuck, she came off. That one hurt. It would have bumped me up about two pounds.
We gave them about 10 more minutes, but had to head back. As I passed under the 68/80 bridge, I checked my watch. I had about 20 minutes to make the 15 minute run back to the Dam. I stopped on a point and told myself I could make three casts. It only took one. A good fish ate my spook and after a brief battle was in the net. It was no giant, but the biggest fish of the day. I only had time to quickly cull and put the Triton back on pad. We checked-in at Kentucky Dam Marina with about 3 minutes to spare. I sincerely thanked God for safety in the almost 400 miles I had traveled in my bass boat in the last couple days. My Mercury performed flawlessly as did all of my equipment. When you take the risk of making those types of runs, everything has to work perfectly. It did. The only thing that didn’t go as planned was the big bites. I ended day two with 13+ pounds for a 26 pound total. I finished the day in 6th place and managed a good payday. I needed most of it just to pay for the gas! Looking back, I might have been able to do just as well staying close to the launch, but I truly felt that I had a shot at winning making that long run. It has worked for me before, unfortunately, this one wasn’t meant to be. I was a little disappointed in my finish, but I know that there were about 140 people that would’ve gladly taken my place. Had I played it safe and not made the run, I have no doubt that I would have been pondering “what if?”
That pretty much wraps up my tournament season. I had a blast watching them come get a topwater, and I know that the fuel companies were glad I choose to make the long run.
Until next time, keep chunkin’ and windin’.
August 29, 2011
A few years back, when I was really getting into tournament fishing, a trout fisherman friend of mine was constantly on my case. He’d come in to work showing pictures of some nice rainbow or brown trout he had caught over the weekend. I’d always reply with, “That’s great. How much money did you win for catching that one?” He’d always reply, “David, when your hobby becomes your occupation, you are conflicted. Pretty soon it’s not going to be fun anymore.”
I’ve certainly never reached the point that I didn’t enjoy fishing, but I can certainly say that over the last few months, it’s felt more like a job. In the “real world,” I am an audiologist. I own a business and see patients daily. I am the only hearing doc in the house, so I see all the patients, pay all the bills, and do everything it takes to keep a business going. Fortunately, my business has been extremely busy for the last few months. Not only have I had more patients and more work, but I’ve also purchased a piece of property and we are remodeling to relocate my office. Trying to keep all of these balls in the air and still be competitive in fishing tournaments has been no small task. Normally, I plan, plot, tie, retie and study prior to a fishing tournament. I’ve always been very big on preparation. However, over the last month or so, fishing has been on the back-burner. OK, enough with the excuses for not updating my blog more regularly. I just wanted to my four fans (you know who you are) to know that I haven’t been just sitting around pouting about not winning tournaments.
The last week in July, I fished a Weekend Series event on Lake Barkley. I’ve spent many, many hot summer days on Lake Barkley. In fact, Barkley is where I first learned to ledge fish. A friend of mine named Mickey Noel introduced me to ledge fishing on Barkley and I’ve never been the same since. I don’t know whether to thank Mickey, or to smack him next time I see him. The past few years, Barkley’s sister, Kentucky Lake, has absolutely been on fire, so I haven’t spent much time on the smaller lake recently. Due to my work schedule, I could only manage one practice day. Trying to practice Kentucky Lake and Barkley in one day is like trying to ride all the rides at Disney World in a half day, it’s just not doable. Rumor was that the fish were really schooled and biting on Kentucky Lake, so I decided to practice on Kentucky. I launched at daylight and started looking for schools. I’ve reached the point where I don’t fish until I see them on my Humminbird, and it took an hour or two to find a school. Unfortunately, they were 2-2.5 pounders. I idled around for another hour and found another school… same size. By 12:00PM, I’d located 5 schools of fish, but had only caught about 12-13 pounds. I wrestled with what to do. I certainly didn’t want to burn 50 gallons of gas running to KY Lake to catch 13 pounds, so I decided to trailer to Barkley and spend the rest of the afternoon.
I put in on Barkley around 1:00PM, so I had about 5 hours to figure out 40 miles of lake. No problem (please note the sarcasm in my typing). I hit a few familiar old ledges without a bite. Then I stopped on a main river ledge and picked up a crankbait. I immediately started catching fish. Everywhere I stopped on the main river, I caught them. Again, I was plagued with little ones. Many were keepers, but none over three pounds. By 2:30, I knew I could catch 12 pounds or so cranking the main river, so I headed off in search of better fish. It took a while, but around 5 PM, I pulled into an area and caught a 3 and a 4.5, then found a school with some 2.5-3 pounders. That did it for me, I’d spend most of my day in this spot and perhaps back it up with the river channel fish.
If you’ve ever been to Tennessee or Kentucky in late July, you know what it feels like. The air temperature is 97 and the humidity is 197%. Saturday was hot, humid and still. At blast off, I headed up the lake to the area I had found yesterday afternoon. I started on the schooling spot, but the fish weren’t there. I caught one small keeper. I made a quick move to a long creek channel ledge. In the next 45 minutes, I boated three more small keepers. As I was working on my limit fish, I tossed my football jig to the top of the ledge and worked it back slowly. A bass hit it so hard that it knocked slack in my line. I reeled up, set the hook, and missed it. Disgusted, I fired back at the same spot and had another hit, I set the hook on what I expected to be a big one, but it turned out to be just another keeper. About two casts, later, as the jig fell off the ledge, I felt it load up and start moving. I set the hook, only this time it didn’t move. “This IS a big one!” I shouted to my co-angler. I caught a glimpse of her and it looked like a four pounder. The fish surged under the boat as and pulled drag. When she came back out, she tried to jump and my co-angler slid the net under her. The fish was much bigger than I first thought. I didn’t think it was 6 pounds, but definitely over five. I looked at my watch, 7:30 AM. I had all day to get three or four more bites like that one and I could win this thing.
Within a few minutes, I had fish grab my jig on the end of my cast. It wasn’t big, but did cull. The next cast, another, the next cast another. I picked up my crankbait and got the school firing. It was happening every cast as fast as I could get one in the boat, cull a smaller one, and make another cast. The fish weren’t big, but they were a better class of fish than the ones I had. I just hoped that there would be a big one lost in the middle of them. I picked the jig back up and it loaded up as soon as it hit the bottom. I set the hook and immediately knew that this one was different. The fish started taking drag immediately. I knew it was another big one, in fact, this one was pulling harder than the five pounder I just caught. My mind was racing. “If I could boat this one, I’d be at 17 pounds at 8:00AM.” The fish pulled and pulled. It started to come up and jump, but I kept the rod tip deep so she couldn’t. I still hadn’t seen the fish when it surged under the boat pulling more drag. The bass flashed out from under the boat and into the net. My shoulders slumped. It was a 2.5 pounder hooked in the back. It must have been spitting out the jig just as I set the hook. I felt so deflated. I had already done the math and counted that one as a five pounder.
I caught fish all day long. It was actually a pretty relaxed day. I didn’t run far. I had a limit in the first hour and culled all day long. Unfortunately, I never got another big bite. My limit weighed 16.28 pounds and I finished the day in third place. It was good for a nice check and I claimed the points lead in the Kentucky Division. I really enjoyed getting back on Lake Barkley. It’s a beautiful place with lots of bass and it’s where I first got really fired up about bass fishing. I’ve got a couple more tournaments coming up in August. I’ll try to keep everyone updated.
Until next time, keep chunkin’ and windin’.
Boat US Angler ProStaff
June 28, 2011
The Streets I Used to Own
“I used to rule the world,
Seas would rise when I gave the word.
Now in the morning, I sleep alone.
Sweep the streets I used to own.
I used to roll the dice,
Feel the fear in my enemy’s eyes.
Listen as the crowd would sing,
Well the old king is dead, long live the king.
One minute I held the keys,
Next the walls were closed on me
And I discovered that my castle stands
Upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand.”
- Coldplay, Viva La Vida
OK, so I wasn’t really ever king, but if you’ve ever been at the top of your game and in the zone, then fallen to less than that, you can probably identify with the words of this song. There was a magical time a couple of years ago, when I felt like I could win every time I backed my boat in at Kentucky Lake. I was continually finding the right places, the right fish, and had the confidence that I could win every week. As my mother would always quote me, “Let he who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall.” –1 Corinthians 10:12.
I’ve had a really good spring tournament season. In a time of year when I’ve struggled in the past, I’ve made good decisions and finished in the money all but one time out of nine events through the first of May. But, I always look forward to June. I usually fish a tournament every weekend of June on Kentucky Lake. The fish are off-shore, schooled-up and biting, and I’ve been fortunate to have done pretty well in the past finding the right fish. Unfortunately, this June has been one of those “1st Corinthians” wake-up calls.
My last blog was about the Triton Owner’s Tournament at the first of June. We faired well, finishing 7th out of 320, but I guess I set pretty high goals for myself and wasn’t really satisfied with 7th. The next weekend, Jason and I fished in the Strike King Tournament out of Pebble Isle. This was just one of those days where everything went wrong. I had found some pretty good fish in practice, but the day started with a mechanical problem that made us have to swap boats. Fortunately, that only cost us about 1 hour of fishing time. After transferring almost everything we needed into a loaner boat, we headed off to catch a big sack. We arrived on my first school and could see the fish on the graph but couldn’t get them to bite. It took about 20 minutes to figure out how to trigger them, but when we did it was on! We boated several pretty good fish and got the school firing on every cast. Unfortunately, lost 4 and 6 pounders on back-to-back casts shut them down. I lost another big one on a swimbait later in the day that could have moved us well up the leaderboard. The one thing I forgot in the boat transfer was my needle, so we had two dead fish that would’ve been fine had been able to fizz them. We ended the day with 18.9 and finished in 15th place. I guess all-in-all we survived some bad luck with a decent finish, but it was certainly one of those “What could have been?” days.
There’s no rest for the weary. I headed back to Kentucky Lake on the following Tuesday for a Homebuilder’s Association tournament. Since my Triton was in the shop, we were forced to “slum it” in a junky 2011 Z520 Ranger. Thanks to my friend Pat Hatcliff for the loaner! Fishing a tournament on Tuesday is a much different animal. The lake wasn’t crowded. I could fish every place I wanted to, when I wanted to. We caught a quick limit that morning on a spot close to the take-off. Around mid-morning, I hit a river ledge “sweet spot” without a bite. Just as I was pulling up the trolling motor to head down the lake, my partner John saw what looked like bass chasing shad. I eased over to them and could immediately see them on the Humminbird. I backed off and fired a cast. The rod loaded up with a big one. She pulled drag and I had to do my best Mike Iaconelli to hurdle the console to keep her from getting the prop. She finally tired enough for John to net the 5.5 pounder. I dropped that one in the livewell and fired another cast. I turned the handle about 4 times and the rod loaded again. I looked at John on told him that we were about to win this tournament. In ten minutes, we had about 21 pounds and just as quickly as they had turned on, they scattered. We spent the rest of the day hunting for more big ones. We culled three times and ended up with almost 24 pounds. Unfortunately, that wasn’t quite enough as it took 25 to win.
I wish that I could tell you that the last two weeks went like that Tuesday did. That couldn’t be further from the truth. We’ve had really strange weather for June. Normally, the water would be in the high 80s to 90 degrees, but it’s in the upper 70s and low 80s. It rains everyday and the sun just can’t seem to break through. This has put the bass in less-than-predictable places, at least for me. On the 18th we could only muster 11 pounds. The weather included 30+ mph winds out of the South, then North, the West, then East, then back to the North, then back to the East again, along with constant thunder and lightening and 4 foot waves. It only took 13 to get a check, 13 pounds to get a check on KY Lake in the summertime is crazy. Last year we fished the same tournament and it took 20 just to get a check. This past weekend, I fished with my friend Adam Wagner. We probably caught 130+ bass in the tournament, but only managed a measly 15 pound limit. We did get a check, albeit a small one.
I’m not going to play the blame game here. No matter the weather, water temp, wind current, moon phase, lucky underwear, or any thing else we blame for not catching them, someone always wins. I’ve yet to be in a tournament that someone didn’t win. I’m going to have to step up my fish-finding and figure out how to boat some of those giants it takes to win tournaments. Otherwise, I’ll be left sweeping the streets I used to own.
Until next time, keep chunkin’ and windin’
Boat US Angler Pro-Staff
June 7, 2011
Some Like it Hot
Last Friday and Saturday, I fished in what has for the last few years been the official summer kick-off for me, the Triton Owner’s Tournament. This is the fourth year in a row that the event has been held on Kentucky Lake the week of Memorial Day. My partner, Jason Sain and I have been fortunate to do well in this tournament in the past. We won it two years ago and finished 12th last year. I spent two days in the 96 degree heat practicing for the tournament.
You have to approach a tournament like this a little bit differently than an average weekend event. With 310+ boats, not to mention all of the other tournaments on the lake, you have to look for stuff that is less obvious and find lots of fish. If you don’t, you’ll just spend the day mad because you can’t get on any of your best places. On Wednesday, I found 10 schools of bass. Some of them were on more obvious places than others, but I found several that I doubted anybody else would find. On Thursday, Jason joined me and we tried to expand on what I found Wednesday. Unfortunately, we didn’t find much.
We started on the south end of the lake where we have been very successful in the past; however, after three or four hours without a bite, we were heading back to Paris. I was cruising along about 4000 RPMs when I heard an awful noise. The lower unit went out and we were dead in the water. Fortunately, with a couple of phone calls, I found someone close that could come tow us in. (Thank you Randy Sullivan!) Using the trolling motor, we got on the closest ledge and I started trolling a crankbait behind the boat. To my surprise, I caught a bass within just a few minutes. We turned the boat around and started firing casts back at that spot and it was loaded! We caught fish on every cast for about 10 minutes, until Jason caught a 4 pounder. At that point we decided to leave these fish alone. After a trip to the Mercury trailer, I had a new lower unit in less than fifteen minutes. It was amazing. We spent the rest of the afternoon hunting for big fish, and found one more promising spot.
We were boat 231, and took off at about 6:45 on Friday morning. My first two schools had boats on them of course. So, we stopped at a place where I had caught a good one in practice. Within a couple of casts, Jason bowed up on a four pounder and the day was off and running. That was the only fish we caught there, so we headed to my next stop. I could see from a distance that there was nobody on it. I was really excited to fish this place. On Wednesday, it had been every cast with several doubles before I left them alone. As soon as we pulled up to the waypoint, the catching began. Every cast, both Jason and I had one on for about 20-30 minutes. We probably caught 5 doubles (two fish on the same crankbait), including twice with 4+ pounders. We caught and culled and caught and culled. Eventually the school broke up and we left with about 19 or 20 pounds. The rest of the day was fairly uneventful. We caught several more fish, but never got on another school. All of the rest of the fish we had found either had boats on them, or were gone. We culled a few times during the day for a couple of ounces. With about 20 minutes to fish, we stopped on a spot near Paris Landing. Jason set the hook on a fish with a worm and sounded kind of surprised when he said “This kind of feels like a good one.” The fish was over five pounds and dramatically helped our cause. We left with 22.46 and ended up in 6th place after day one.
Both Jason and I knew that we would have to do something different on Saturday if we wanted to have a chance to win. I figured it would take somewhere in the neighborhood of 43-45 pounds to win, meaning we would need 22-23 pounds to have a shot. I doubted our places from the day before would produce that kind of weight so we decided to start on our school from the day before and play it by ear from there. After a 15 minute run, I was relieved to see nobody on the ledge. We pulled up and made three or four casts as I moved the boat into position. On about the fifth cast, I was right on where the school had been the day before. As my crankbait made it almost back to the boat, I told Jason that this was not a good sign. No sooner than I got those words out of my mouth, the rod loaded with a good fish right under the boat. Jason got the net and she jumped once. It was a 4+ pound bass and she was skin-hooked with the back treble. I eased her within about ten feet of the boat before she surged and pulled loose. That was not the start to the day I was hoping for. The bass were still there, but evidently, we had educated them the day before. We probably caught twenty, including a five pounder Jason caught, before they packed up and headed for who knows where. For the rest of the day, we struggled. We hit three or four places from Friday, but those fish had packed their bags as well.
Jason and I have been fished together for thirteen years. We have been fortunate to win quite a few tournaments, and both of us are extremely competitive by nature. We made the decision that rather than sit around and hope for a bite, we were going to try to find a school of big ones and have a shot at winning. We spent the whole rest of the day looking for fish in new water, but unfortunately, never found them. We weighed-in a somewhat disappointing 16 pounds and fell to seventh place. It took 52 pounds to win the tournament, which is a testament to the great fishery and the caliber of fishermen in the event. I guess I’m somewhat glad we didn’t catch 25 pounds on Saturday, because it would have been very disappointing to come in thinking we would win, and still finish 4th.
All in all, I am thankful that we had a great four days of fishing. Caught 100’s of bass and survived the 96-98 degree temperatures. Hopefully this is the start to a great summer of ledge fishing. I’m looking forward to it!
Until next time, keep chunkin’ and windin’.
Boat US Angler ProStaff
May 10, 2011
Water Water Everywhere
In light of the horrible flooding and devastating tornados that ravaged much of the country, I am almost hesitant to talk about fishing. My heart and prayers go out to all of those who have been affected. People in my area of the world around Middle Tennessee were not spared damage, but the destruction was not nearly as bad as it was in other places. The biggest effect we saw was rain, and lots of it!
Water levels rose to record levels in most of the lakes I fish. Even higher than during last years “1000 year flood” of Nashville. The difference was that this year, there was so much rain downstream that releasing water from the Tennessee and Cumberland River systems would have been dangerous for those downstream. So, the Corps of Engineers plugged the dams and backed up the lakes. Kentucky Lake crested around 373’ above sea level, which is 14 feet above summer pool. Other area lakes reached 12-13 feet above normal pool. Although this certainly affected the fishing, it was really interesting for me to see the big picture of how our river and lake systems could be used to control flooding. Had they been dumping the Tennessee River into the Ohio, the downstream flooding could’ve been much worse. It even led me to give my children a boring lecture on the way home from church about the creation of the TVA and its purposes for job creation, flood control, and recreation.
I had a tournament scheduled on April 30th, but due to the inaccessible boat ramps, it was cancelled. I expected the same thing the following week, May 7, on Kentucky Lake, but to my surprise, after consulting with the Corps of Engineers and the local marinas, the tournament director, Randy Sullivan, called to let me know that it was still a go. I had really been looking forward to this event because under normal circumstances, it would have been a great flippin’ tournament. However, with the edge of the bushes now in 13-14 feet of water, I had to adjust my strategy. Fortunately, I fished an event on Kentucky Lake under similar conditions several years ago. My partner and I did very well throwing crankbaits around the original bank line on the north end of the lake. I headed out early Friday morning with that as my main game plan, with one slight adjustment. I was going to fish the southern end of the lake.
In the past 3-4 years, most tournament have been won from the Paris area south. So, naturally, I figured I’d fish that pattern down south and do well. Friday’s practice produced plenty of bites, but nothing over three pounds. I also caught a few fish in places where I could actually get on the bank (back yards, steep banks, etc.). As I headed for the pre-tournament meeting that night, I was really not sure what I needed to do. I hated to run 150 miles to catch two pounders, but I was also unsure about fishing all new water on a tournament day. I was the last boat out Saturday morning and rather than make a long run, I stopped at a marina close to the take off.
I’m sure my co-angler thought I was clueless (he wasn’t far off if he did). I started out throwing a jig and crankbait around some riprap, then I fished some boat slips, then I flipped down a grassy bank. Just as I was about to pull up the trolling motor, to head south, my line jumped, I set the hook, and quickly boated a 5+ pound largemouth. Now what do I do? I fished some more similar looking banks to no avail. So, being the brilliant fishing mind that I am, I fired up the Mercury and ran 50 miles. To keep this blog a little less boring, by the end of the day, I had burned 53 of the 54 gallons in my tank and boated four more keepers. I caught one a Carolina rig, one on a football jig, one on a deep-diving crankbait, and one more flipping. I spent my day jumping around from spot to spot and pattern to pattern. My limit weighed 14.66 and I did manage to scratch out the 9th place check. While I wasn’t too disappointed in that finish, when I figured out what happened during the day, it made me sick to my stomach.
Several of the top finishers absolutely smashed them on a crankbait. Just like I had planned to do, only they fished the north end of the lake, just like I had done several years ago. Some of the same places I had fished in the last flood event were probably loaded. Instead, I choose to burn as much $4.00/gal fuel as I possibly could to catch a small limit. Tournament bass fishing is a game of constant learning, data gathering and decision making. Hopefully, next time, I’ll do a better job of using my past experiences to help me make the right decisions!
Until next time, keep chunkin’ and windin’.
Boat US Angler Pro-Staff
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