April 20, 2011
ďI'm just a fool for April
There's nothing more to say
Long as I can remember
She's led my heart astray
When I was green as willow
She had me ditchin' school
And even then she tricked me
I'm just an April foolĒ
- Hugh Prestwood
I can still remember sitting in class in the sixth grade at Westmoreland Middle School on a beautiful April day watching the clock on the wall nearing 1:00PM. My eyes would go from the budding green trees and blooming dogwoods outside the window, back to the clock, back to the trees. Then, it finally happened. The school intercom let out an annoying tone that was music to my ears.
ďMrs. Hughes?Ē came a voice from the office.
ďYes?Ē the teacher replied.
ďCould you please send David Gnewikow to office, his father is here to check him out.Ē
A big smile spread from ear to ear as I hurriedly packed up my back pack and took off for the principalís office. Dad and I were headed to Buggs Island Lake for two days of bass fishing. I can vividly remember the smell of the water and the trees, the pollen on the water, and the flooded bushes and willows. April was special. As a kid, I didnít fish in the winter or summer very much, mostly just in the spring, and April was that special time of year when it seemed to me like the fish ďwoke up.Ē Iíve since learned that they eat year round, but there was just something so special to me about going fishing with my Dad in April.
Fast forward a few years, I can remember the day it all started to click. About ten years ago, I was fishing a tournament in April on Percy Priest Lake. It was 12:30 and the livewells were empty. We had been beating the banks all day with nothing to show for it but some small non-keepers. I picked up a Carolina rig and started fishing offshore. In the last two hours, we caught enough bass to win the tournament and I learned a valuable lesson. If you arenít catching big fish with what you are doing, do something different! Since then April has been very good to me when in comes to tournament fishing. My birthday is April 12. Since 2002, April 12 has fallen on a Saturday twice. Both times Iíve won a big tournament. Iíve also been fortunate to win a few more in April. Almost all of the April tournaments Iíve won involved catching spawning smallmouth.
April 19th I had a tournament scheduled for Percy Priest Lake. I only live a few miles from there and have a fair amount of experience, especially in April. The full moon was April 18th and the water temperature was 63. Those big brown fish were going to be on bed, and they were going to be mad. I made up my mind to fish nothing but places were smallmouth should spawn and hope to catch five good ones. Since this was a Tuesday tournament, I didnít have time to practice, so at blast off, I just headed to the first likely spot I could think of. Unfortunately, I never got a bite. I fired up the Triton and headed to spot number 2. My partner was throwing a Carolina rig, and I was throwing a ĺ Hoppyís spinnerbait. As soon as we set down on this spot a big fish broke him off and one knocked my spinnerbait sideways. I fired back out there and another one grabbed it. When I set the hook, she didnít move. All I felt was a big slow head shake. The fish made a run the other direction and knew it was a big one. I wasnít sure what to do. I didnít want to play her too easy and let her get me in the rocks on the bottom. At the same time, I didnít want her airborne the whole time. I just kept steady pressure and she eventually tired enough and got close enough to the net that my partner, John, dipped her. It was a beautiful brown fish, about 4.5 pounds. We caught several more that didnít meet the 18 inch size limit. It is pretty painful throwing 3 pounders back, but such is the Tennessee law. By 10:00AM, we had two more nice smallmouth and one keeper largemouth that weighed about two and a half pounds. I knew if we buckled down and hit enough places, we could catch two more big smallies.
For about two hours, I couldnít get another keeper bite. I jumped around to a bunch of really good places with nothing to show for it. About 12:00 noon, I pulled up on a spot that has been really good to me in the past. It was a hump about 9-10í on top. I fished around it, expecting a bite at any moment. Finally, I felt a ďtickĒ and set the hook, I was sure it was a big one, but I just couldnít catch up with her. I reeled as fast as I could trying to catch up with it when finally the fish broke the surface and plopped in the boat. It was about 11 inches long. I tossed that one back and fired another cast. As soon as the bait hit the bottom, the rod loaded again, and I set the hook. It felt like I had a big ole sack of flour, then, she started to pull. This was a bigguní, a giant, a wonít-wind. I donít think I turned the reel handle for about 30 seconds while she just took off for deeper water. I pushed the button on my spool afraid the fish would break me off. My mind was racing. If this wasnít the fish to win the tournament, it was really close. Finally, I gained enough line to get her within net range. It was a five and half pound smallmouth as fat as she could be. John slid the net under her and I breathed a sigh of relief. Not only was that a great way to fill out a limit, but we now had a really good bag and three hours to cull one little one. We eventually got rid of that little largemouth with another 4+ smallmouth. I knew we had about 21 pounds, all smallmouth. I joked with John that he better not catch a seven pound largemouth, because I wasnít going to mess up that beautiful bag of fish with a green one.
The fish weighed just under 21 pounds and we won the tournament by about 2 pounds. What a day! Iíve been fortunate enough to catch a few big bags of smallmouth like that over the past few years. Those days donít come very often for me, and I always look back on them very fondly. There is something about catching those brown fish! We caught about 20-25, but only five that were over 18 inches. The tournament wasnít a big time, big money event, but anytime I can spend an April day catching big ole smallmouth, it is time well spent!
Until next time, keep chunkiní and windiní.
Boat U.S. Angler Pro Staff
April 4, 2011
A Shout-Out to My Boys
One of the coolest things about tournament fishing is the camaraderie that we develop with our fellow anglers. Many of my best friends are my fellow tournament fishermen. On the water, many of us are fierce competitors, but a pretty neat thing happens when tournaments wrap up: itís called respect. Competing in tournaments, even at a weekend level, requires a lot of time, devotion, energy and money. I have the utmost respect and admiration for the guys that work at this sport, put in their time, do things the hard way, find their own fish, and succeed- no shortcuts, just hard work, blood, sweat, and tears. I know how hard that is to do, especially to do it consistently.
This past weekend, I got to see some of my favorite fishermen experience great success, so rather than bore you with the story of the little ones that I caught, let me tell you their story. I fished the BFL at Percy Priest Lake. The lake was fishing extremely tough. I am proud to say I scratched out a limit, but they were all babies. My friend Adam Wagner; however, boated the best bag of the tournament and won it by three pounds. Adam is such an instinctual fisherman. He adapts so well on the water. When his pattern didnít quite work like he thought it should, he started fishing stuff that everyone else on the crowded lake was over-looking. At it paid off to the tune of $5000. He gets no help from anybody, he figures out things on his own and when he gets in the zone, heís almost unstoppable.
A few miles to the northwest on Saturday, the top ten fished the final day of the EverStart Tournament on Kentucky Lake. I had three good friends in the top ten. Iíve known Jeremy Ethridge for 16 years. Heís always been known as a good local fisherman. Jeremy has fished some team trails in the past and won quite a few tournaments. But he has rarely fished any of the pro-am events or what Iíd call ďbig tournaments.Ē He signed up for the EverStart as an unknown, but as the tournament drew to a close Saturday afternoon, everyone stared in amazement as Jeremy had the tournament won before he even weighed-in a bass on Saturday. After dropping consecutive limits of 23-03 and 27-14, the tournament was over before the day started. Other than the obvious financial benefit to Jeremy and his family, the best part of this win is that he did it the right way. He had several friends really catching them in practice telling him what he needed to do, but he went 180 degrees in the opposite direction, figured out something special and milked it to the biggest win of his life.
Finishing in 3rd was Brent Anderson. A couple years ago Brent quit his job and started bass fishing full time. Iíd never have the guts to do something like that. Since that time, he has won a bunch of tournaments, qualified for this yearís All American, finished 2nd at the Weekend Series National Championship, and now a 3rd place finish in an EverStart. Brent was the most consistent of any angler in the tournament weighing in 14 pounds on day 1, and 16 on days 2 and 3. When I talked to him before the tournament, he felt like he wasnít on anything. When I talked to him after day 2, he felt like he was out of fish. Yet, somehow, he just kept catching them. Brent does things his own way. Iíve tried to help him in the past, but in his typical fashion, he ignores my advice and catches them much better than I could have doing what I recommended.
Todd Hollowell finished 6th in the EverStart. Todd is an insurance agent who owns his own business and doesnít get to fish as much as many of the guys out there. Heís a great family man and Christian. I admire him more for that than for his fishing prowess, but he did a spectacular job nonetheless. Team Hollowell also posted a top finish on the co-angler side with Toddís Dad, Terry, finishing third. Terry Hollowell didnít know me from Adam when I showed up at his cabin near Kentucky Lake on the recommendation of Todd and his brother Troy. Not only did he put me up, he drove me all around Paris one late night trying to find a place for me to get something to eat because I was starving and stayed on the lake until all the restaurants were closed. I had only known the guy for five minutes when he volunteered to drive me all over Godís creation. Great job Hollowells!
Iíve been blessed to have had some success in fishing tournaments in the past. To me the most memorable part of that success was not the fish catching, or the trip to the bank, it was the congratulatory calls from good friends whom I greatly respect, it was the high-fives and fist bumps, the emails and texts, and it was the respect that these guys gave me. So this is my shout out to my boys. Iím proud of you and so glad I got to see you succeed. Enjoy every minute of it!
Until next time, keep chunkiní and windiní
March 30, 2011
Guide For Hire
I spent last weekend on my favorite pond, Kentucky Lake. My children went to Washington, D.C. with my Mom and Dad and my wife went for a girlís weekend with some of her photography friends. Shameless plug: www.melaniegphotography.com. Being left all alone, in utter despair and loneliness, what else is a man to do but go fishing. Originally, I hadnít planned on fishing a tournament this weekend, but I knew that I could probably still get a spot in the BFL event out of Kentucky Dam Marina if I really wanted to. After my weekend at Percy Priest last week, I was happy to get back on Kentucky Lake. I did some work Thursday morning, then drove to Paris, TN. The wind was howling out of the North, making for big rollers. Three footers quickly build when the wind is out of the north, pushing against the northbound current out of the south. I decided to take shelter off of the main channel and flip some flooded cover.
The lake was above summer pool, so there were lots of bushes and trees to fish. My first stop was an area Iíve never fished before. It looked perfect and there were plenty of shad flicking around. Iíd been pitching my little Hoppyís jig for about 15 minutes when I see my line moving away from a bush. I set the hook and my flippiní stick doubled up. The fish surged away from the bank and pulled hard. With 25 pound line and a big hook, she wasnít going win the battle. I reached down a lipped a fat largemouth. As I pulled her in, I just laughed. Man, I love this lake! The big girl weighed 7-9 on my digital scale. As I eased her back in, I thought to myself, ďThis could be a 30 pound day!Ē Unfortunately, it wasnít. I fished the rest of the afternoon trying to stay out of the wind, and caught several fish in the three pound class, but no more big ones. I guess the bad weather had everyone else at home. I only saw one other bass fisherman all day.
The next morning I met a friend of mine at Paris Landing. Brian and I had been good friends in college, but hadnít seen each other in almost 15 years. Through the miracle of Facebook, we had gotten back in touch with each other and planned to spend the day chasing big bass. I knew the flipping pattern was working, but was afraid with the falling water, that it was on itís way out. So, I spent the morning looking for something else. As we were fishing, Brian told me that he had never caught a smallmouth. I stopped on the first likely-looking smallmouth spot and handed him my Carolina rig rod. On about his third cast he bowed-up on a good one. The fish surfaced and it looked like about a four pound smallmouth. ďDang, Iím good!Ē Much to my dismay, it was actually a five pound largemouth. He was pumped to catch one like that. We took a couple photos and let her go. Very soon thereafter, I caught a three pounder on the same spot.
We tried several other patterns, but couldnít get anything else going. About 1:00 PM, I decided to go back to flippin. Within an hour, I boated a 5.5 and 4 pounder. That did it. I was going to fish the tournament and I was going to spend the day with the big stick in my hand.
Saturday morning was cold and windy, with rain and thunderstorms in the forecast. What a great day for a boat ride! We took off from Kentucky Dam at 6:30 and I headed south. I decided to stop on my ďsmallmouthĒ spot from yesterday. I pulled up made about five casts and set the hook. The fish pulled and felt like a good one. It wasnít a giant, but a 3.5 pounder and a good way to get started. By the time I had that one in the livewell, my co-angler was screaming for the net. He had a big one. She surged under the boat and brought him to his knees. I was ready with the net, and when she came out, I dipped her. It was a fat fish pushing six pounds. Naturally, I wouldíve loved to have had that one, but I hoped there were more like her there. Just like yesterday, it was two fish and we were done. Somehow both days, my non-boater caught the big one.
I headed to my flippin area and within a few minutes had another 3.5 flopping in the bottom of the Triton. Everything was going right on schedule. I didnít get another keeper bite for the next two hours. Meanwhile, my co-angler has caught two four pounders and another keeper, just randomly casting a rattletrap out in the middle. This is the stuff that really gets in your head: here I sit, itís 11:00. I have two bass for 6.5-7 pounds. My co-angler has 4 bass for 16 pounds. For a moment I thought of abandoning my plan, but a couple of quick keepers, put me back on my game. By 12:00 I had a limit. My confidence was restored. I started fishing better, moving slower and hitting targets much more accurately. I just knew I could get two big bites and have a shot and winning this tournament.
For the rest of the afternoon, I fished hard. I caught several more keepers and culled several times. I picked up a couple pounds, but never got that really big bite I needed. Just as it was time to head back north, the wind started howling, waves started crashing and the rain and thunderstorms hit. What a fun way to end a day of fishing. In the wind and rain, it took me about 45 minutes to get back to the marina. We arrived safely; wet, but safe. We were in the first flight, so my 14-13 limit took second place at the time. I knew Iíd fall several spots. My co-anglerís four fish weighed 15-15 and he took the lead. He was thrilled and said he hoped heíd stay in the top five. He really wanted to get a FLW trophy. I told him he was going to win.
I wish I could tell you that I was such a vacuum cleaner on the water that by back-seatersí never win. Truth is, this is the 4th BFL that has been won out of the back of my boat. Iíve also had a weekend series won off my back deck. Actually, I was really happy for him. He was so pumped and was calling everybody he knew to tell them the story. I headed back to Mt. Juliet with a $700 check, I got to spend three days on my favorite pond, and yet another tremendous guide trip for a young man from Illinois. Who knows, maybe a captainís license is in my future. After all, everybody knows, fishing guides make the big bucks!
Until next time, keep chunkiní and windiní.
Boat US ProStaff
March 22, 2011
In the words of Brad Paisley, ďSome mistakes are too much fun to only make once.Ē Whether you are an Elite Series professional or part-timer like myself, tournament bass fishing presents itself with an almost limitless list of variables to content with: wind, sun, clouds, temperature, water clarity, seasonal patterns, lures, rods, reels, boats, electronics, hooks, line, knots and, oh yeah, stupid bass that donít always do what we think they should. Then there are the psychological variables like confidence in an area, confidence in certain techniques, fear of failure, fear of success, and the list goes on. My educational background is in research. Any good scientist controls as many variables as possible to achieve a desired outcome.
Most of my friends would classify me as having OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), especially when it comes to tournament fishing. My tackle, my boat, my rods, my hooks, are all extremely well organized and maintained. At times, Iíve probably been too concerned with little details that cost me time and money, but Iíve always felt that I was stacking the odds in my favor to succeed. This little self-portrait brings me to the story of this past weekendís adventure.
March 19th was the first Weekend Series event of the TN Central season on Percy Priest Lake. I live in Mt. Juliet, TN, a Nashville suburb, that sits about four miles from Percy Priest. Iíve spent many, many days on this lake and have a fairly respectable tournament record there. March on Priest can be feast or famine and the bass have this strange tendency to swim around a lot. You can find them one day and they will disappear the next. I got on the lake for a couple hours on Thursday morning just to run around a little bit, check water temperature and clarity and get a feel for things. The water was in the low 50ís, but we were on the front end of a major warming trend. I fished a few places and only caught a couple of dinks before I had to head to the office.
Friday I hit the water at daylight and fished until 5:30. The only things I really figured out was that the lake was fishing very tough and despite the water warming into the 60ís, the fish were not in their normal shallow patterns. I never caught a keeper all day long. At 5:30 I put the Triton on the trailer, checked-in with Randy Sullivan, the WE Series director, and spent about 30 minutes working on my tackle. Normally, Iíd put in more time, but for a couple of reasons, I curbed my OCD tendencies. First, I was starving, and we were sitting right next to Hoppyís restaurant. The sooner I got done, the sooner I could eat. Second, I wasnít on anything. I hated to change line on 15 reels not even sure exactly what Iíd do the next day. I really wasnít that worried about it. To do well at Priest, you really have to fish by the seat of your pants anyway. I just retied about 12 rods with what I thought Iíd try on Saturday and called it at night.
I used to get really hyped up before tournaments. I donít know if Iím getting older or have just done it 10,000 times, but I donít get the pre-tournament jitters like I used to. At the same time, a victory in this event would be worth more than $10,000 with my Triton contingency bonuses, so it was worth some serious attention. At blast off, I stopped at the first likely-looking bank and started fishing. After 30 minutes of cranking down a really good bank without a bite, I headed down lake. Dock talk was that the big smallmouth were biting, so I went to the area of the lake that in my opinion is best for big smalljawls in March. I had cranked a stretch of rocks for about 300 yards when my co-angler set the hook on a fish that he said felt pretty good before it pulled off on his jig. I turned the boat around, grabbed my jig rod and decided to work back through the area. On about my third cast a big smallmouth rocked the jig and ran straight at me. I set the hook, had her for a second, then she pulled off. I looked at my co-angler and said, ďThat was a big one!Ē No sooner than I got the words out of my mouth, that mean girl turned around grabbed my jig again and tried to take my rod away from me. I set the hook again and got her this time. She ran toward the boat so fast I was winding as fast as I could turn the handle to try to keep up with her. She surged under the boat and when she came back out, my co-angler slid the net under her. The fish was a beautiful 4.5 smallmouth. I dropped her in the box and jumped back on the trolling motor.
I looked at my line and my jig. The OCD voice in my head told me to sit down and retie. This spot was so rocky that the jig was hung up about every other pull and Iíd have to pop it loose. I felt the line and decided Iíd retie in a minute. I did. Only it was to tie on a new jig after another 4 pound smallmouth broke me off heading the other direction. When she hit, she was going full speed away from the boat. That speed along with my adrenaline proved too much for my beat-up knot and the line snapped. I immediately knew that I had screwed up big time. That was a variable I could have controlled but didnít. Within ten minutes, I had a 3.5 and a 2.5 in the livewell with the big one. Then, it went dead: no more bites. I fished around the rest of the day and managed one more small keeper. With four fish in the box and as tough as it had been, I knew that my mental lapse was going to cost me big-time.
My fish ended up weighing 11.75. It took 14.30 to win. You can do the math, but my calculations have that mistake costing me about $8500. I am rarely one to whine about the one that got away. Fish come off, it just happens. If I do everything right and fish comes off, I really donít let it bother me. This one still stings. Had I done what I knew was the right thing and smart thing, Iíd be blogging about my first win of the 2011 season and my $10,000 payday. On the bright side, the year really is off to a great start. Iíve banked over $1000 in each of my first two tournaments and Iíve been making good on-the-water decisions. I hope that will keep up and maybe Iíll be a little more OCD next weekend. Shameless plug: it looks like this will be two weeks in a row winning the Boat US Angler Weigh-to-Win contingency (www.boatusfishing.com). If you havenít signed up, you better do it. Itís the smartest $38 dollars a tournament fisherman can spend (except maybe on some new fishing line).
Until next time, keep chunkiní and windiní (and retying).
Boat US ProStaff
March 14, 2011
Days that donít start with ďTournamentĒ
My fishing partner, Jason Sain, and I have a lot of stupid inside jokes. Weíve been friends and fishing partners for so long, that I think we could communicate for days only using the word ďDudeĒ with various inflections. When we fish team tournaments, we usually practice in separate boats and call each other regularly throughout the day to see how the other is doing, and hopefully help put a pattern together. One Friday last May, Jason and I were practicing for Saturday tournament when I called him to see how he was catching them. He said, ďDude, this is a day that doesnít start with ĎTournament.íĒ He had boated about 26 pounds and it was only 11 AM. Since then, we have a running joke about catching big ones on days that donít start with tournament.
This past Friday I got back on the water for only the second time this year. I was planning on fishing the BASS Weekend Series tournament on Kentucky Lake. Work has been busy, so I only had one day to try to figure them out. I put in about 6:30 with a good friend of mine and we headed south on Kentucky Lake. We have gotten quite a lot of rain lately, so the water was stained and on the rise. I was truly excited just to be out there fishing. We jumped around a little trying a few different patterns, checking water color and temperature and trying to find the mother lode. I really wanted to flip flooded bushes, but given that the water had just got up, I wasnít sure if the fish would be there yet. We caught about six or seven in the morning doing various things, but we didnít find a strong pattern.
About noon, we pulled up on a stretch of bushes I wanted to flip. I missed a fish, then Bill missed one, so I was beginning to be somewhat optimistic that they might be pulling up. I pitched my jig up to a buck bush and slowly worked it back to the boat. As I was dragging the jig, it just got a little heavy and started moving off slowly to the left. Wanting to see what type of quality was in the area, I set the hook. The fish was moving fast and felt like a good one. I saw her flash and told Bill that it looked like a five or six pounder. Then, she jumped. ďGood grief,Ē I screamed, ďitís a giant!Ē Bill saw her too and asked if I needed help. Of course, I didnít have a net in the boat since it was a practice day, so I told him Iíd get her. I almost got my paws on her giant jaw, when she surged back under the Triton. When she came back out, I could see how enormous the bass was. Fortunately, she opened her mouth and I put a vice-grip hold on her lip and wrestled her over the side.
The bass was about 22 inches long and about 22 inches around. It was ginormous, a gigantalasaurus, a pig, a toad! I put her on my digital scales and she weighed between 10-8 and 10-9. My biggest bass to date had been a nine pounder I caught last summer on a day that didnít start with, well, you get the picture. Bill and I stared in awe at this beautiful fish. I put her in the livewell so that we could get our cameras ready. Bill took about 15 pictures before I watched her swim away. It was such a thrill to catch the bass of my lifetime with a good friend and on my favorite lake. At the same time, I couldnít help but think what a fish like that would mean in a tournament. It doesnít take long to get to 25 or 30 pounds when you have a ten pound kicker. Within a few minutes, I had sent a picture message to all my fishing buddies and spent most of the rest of the afternoon returning text messages. Of course, I still had a tournament to think about. One big bass does not a pattern make. I fished the rest of that area thoroughly and had two more bites. I decided that I would spend much of my day here tomorrow.
After a long brisk boat ride Saturday morning, I went back through the area where I had caught the big one yesterday. Unfortunately, I never had a bite. I ended up jumping around and scrounging up a respectable limit. But it wasnít the dream bag I was hoping might happen. As I headed back Kentucky Dam, I was hopeful that I had enough to get a check. In case you havenít noticed, fueling up a bass boat is starting to get a little expensive and a 180 mile round trip will put a dent in a fishermanís gas fund. My limit weighed 15.61 and I was a little surprised to end up in second place. I guess it was pretty tough on everyone. My limit was good for a nice check and the Boat US Weigh-To-Win contingency bonus (check it out at www.boatusfishing.com). On the two hour drive home, I felt pretty proud of how I had finished, but couldnít help but think what couldíve been if Iíd have caught that big girl on a day that started with ďTournament.Ē
Until next time, keep chunkiní and windiní.
Boat US ProStaff
March 1, 2011
(For those of you who have been reading my blogs here, I am now blogging at www.boatus.com/angler. Here is a copy of my first blog post on the Boat US site.)
Before I begin charming all of you readers with my eloquent prose and insightful thoughts of the world of competitive bass fishing, I guess Iíd better introduce myself. My name is David, and Iím a wannabe. Whatís a wannabe? You know those guys that follow the pros around like little puppies with autograph pens and shirts covered with patches?
OK, so Iím not really that bad. Truthfully, Iím a weekend tournament fisherman with a passion for competition. I religiously follow the Elite Series and FLW tour and have a number of friends that fish both. But when comes right down to it, I donít seek to be a touring pro. Iím happy as a wannabe. Iím probably like many of you out there. I live for the thrill of competition, the amazing rush of finding the mother lode in practice, the pre-blast-off jitters, and that sick feeling you get racing back to weigh-in with the winning fish in the box. I fish 20-30 local and regional tournaments every year and have been fortunate to do pretty well on that level. On the other hand, Iím a father, a husband, and a business owner. Iím pretty satisfied being a tournament fisherman on the weekends and family man and business man during the week. I guess you could say Iím happy being a wannabe. I am blessed to have an enviable portfolio of sponsors, including Boat US. While visiting with some of the Boat US staff this past weekend at the classic, I volunteered my limited writing skills to do this blog. I hope that what I have to say will resound with some of you wannabeís like me.
They call it the Silly Season: the fall and winter months prior to start of the tournament season. Professional anglers and wannabeís alike spend their days acquiring and working with sponsors. January kicks off the boat show season. In addition to my regular 40 hours a week in my office, Iíve spent 12 days thus far in 2011 working boat shows, doing seminars, and attending pro-staff meetings. I just got back from the BassMasterís Classic in New Orleans, where I spent the week working for Royal Purple and American Bass Anglers. Iíve done lots of boat and outdoors shows, but the Classic puts them all to shame. Everything thatís ever been made to trick a bass, reel a bass, hook a bass, see a bass, attract a bass, get you to a bass, hold you near a bass, or make you look like you can catch a bass is somewhere in the Classic Expo. Iíve spent enough time around this industry to not be too star struck, but I will say that from my little spot at the Royal Purple booth, I saw Forrest Wood, Earl Bentz, Hank Parker, Roland Martin, Fish Fishburne, Bill Dance and a host of Elite Series and FLW Tour anglers. The Classic is the place to be if you love competitive bass fishing.
The side of professional bass fishing that we wannabes sometimes donít see is all the work that goes into the business side of the sport. Most every fisherman thatís dropped his $15 in the Tuesday night fruit jar tournament has dreamed of dropping a sack of toads on the Classic scales. How many of those same guys have had dreams of standing on the concrete floor at the Classic Expo for 30 hours on a February weekend? Iíve gotten a few envious glances at the boat ramp pulling in with my new Triton, but Iíll bet those same guys wouldnít envy the hours of laying carpet at boat shows and hauling boats back and forth to and from the dealer. Sure itís great to have new dye-sublimated jersey covered with logos of industry leaders, but they all come with obligations. Professional anglers and wannabes do a lot behind the scenes to make this business tick. Please donít hear these thoughts as griping. Iím not. I had a ball at the Classic and I love hanging out at boat and outdoors shows talking about my passion. I just want to share another side of the competitive fishing industry with many who may not see it everyday.
OK, Iíll stop with my ranting for now. Iíve got one more show this weekend and then, Iím going fishing. My tournament season gets fired up in three weeks on Kentucky Lake. Iíll keep you updated in my blogs. I appreciate Boat US for giving me the opportunity to share. Until next time, keep chunkiní and windiní.
Boat US Pro-Staff
November 7, 2010
Well I just got back from the National Championship on Guntersville. I'll save that story for another blog. I've been extremely busy (who hasn't?) since I last posted. My plans to post a new blog and finish telling the story of the Lay Lake regional were interrupted by one of those 2 AM phone calls we all dread. My 92 year old grandmother, Frances Snipes, died on October 21st. It's hard to explain how a 92 year old grandmother dying can be such a shock, but MawMaw was every bit as sharp, wity, and devilishly clever as she had ever been. She still drove her own car, paid her own bills, and facebooked every day. She fell, suffered a skull fracture and died soon thereafter. She loved to give me a well-deserved hard time everytime we talked or I came to visit. I miss her deeply.
Since the bank of MawMaw was the only place that would offer me any credit to buy my first bass boat, I feel it only fitting that I include her in my blog. Although she harrassed me regularly about my fishing, she loved to see me do well.
Saturday, October 16th was the start of the 2nd and final day of the Weekend Series Regional on Lay Lake. Sitting uncomfortably in 50th place, I knew I needed a better day. We started with a 1.5 hour fog delay. As we finally took off, I hoped that I had not hurt my flippin fish too badly by catching 20 keepers yesterday. The weather today was supposed to be sunny with calm winds. Being in the last flight, my weigh-in time was 4:00PM. I held out hope that my schoolers, that were a no-show for the past two days, would show up in those last couple of hours.
After a brisk run down lake, I arrived at my flippin area to another dense bank of fog. I stopped on the first likely-looking bank knowing that I didn't want to have to idle for another 15 minutes. Since I was in the last flight, I figured it was fairly likely that another boat was fishing this bank in front of me. Fortunately, I couldn't see them, so I just dropped the trolling motor and made my first pitch. The bait never hit the bottom. It fell about 2 feet and the line jumped and started easing off to the left. I set the hook and flopped a 2 pound Coosa spot in the bottom of the boat. My co-angler looked at me with his mouth open. He hadn't even gotten a rod out yet.
In the dense fog, they were biting. In a matter of minutes, I boated another keeper flippin and one on a spook. As the fog started to lift I saw another boat fishing ahead of me about 100 yards. I hated fishing right behind somebody. I told my co-angler that we were going to fish another 50 yards and head further up the creek. No sooner than I got those words out, I felt that familiar "tick" and a steady pull. I set back on the fish and a strange thing happened. It pulled back. After a short battle, I boated my best fish of the tournament a 3+ pound largemouth for my fourth fish. Very little time passed before I boated another small keeper for #5. I had only been fishing about an hour. Number 6 was another 2 pounder, so by 9 AM I had more weight than I had on day one. I figured I had enough to make the top 50.
I flipped until about noon. I caught 5 or 6 more keepers, but none that helped more than a couple of ounces. Now it was decision time. I knew my schoolers wouldn't be up yet, so I headed to the back of Spring creek where I had caught a few small keepers in practice. As I approached the area, there was an older lady sitting in a swing by her dock. This lady loved to talk! She kept fussing at me and telling me where to fish and where they lived. I asked her, "Are there any big ones that live around your dock?" She replied that there were, but she would tell me where. She said that the last tournament guy she had told took her pet and never brought her back. "I promise, Ma'am, I'll bring her back," I explained. "That's what the last guy said!" she replied. We went on and on for the 45 minutes I fished by her dock. Every now and then, I'd catch one and she'd cheer me on. I did cull once for about a half a pound.
It was getting close to 2 PM. It was time to hope and pray that those big spots were moving in on my spot down lake. When I pulled up, there was very little activity. I sat for about 30 minutes looking for the fish on the graph and hoping to see some surfacing. I had dropped a jigging spoon on a fish I saw on the graph, when one errupted on some shad about 20 yards from the boat. I reeled my spoon up like mad, made a cast, and hopped it one time. The fish got it. It was not a giant, but a 2 pounder. It helped the cause.
It was 3PM. They needed to start doing something! I finally spotted the big bass herding the shad off a point. I put the trolling motor on high and headed that way, knowing they'd be long gone by the time I got there. As I neared where they had come up before, they surfaced right at the back of the boat. I turned, fired a cast with my spoon and it only fell about 1 foot and the line went slack. I set the hook and quickly had another 2+ spot on board. I knew that I had the time to catch a big sack if they would just stay up. They wouldn't. I did catch my second best fish of the day on the spoon in about 25 feet of water with about 10 minutes left to fish. I knew I had over 11 pounds. Plenty enough to make the top 50 and hopefully enough to get a check. I reluctantly fastened all my gear and headed for weigh-in.
My fish weighed 11.58. It was one of the top 5 bags of the day. I ended up in ninth place. I'd have loved to have done better, but given my 50th place start. I was very pleased with 9th place. A good check always makes the ride home a little more fun. More importantly, I had qualified for the National Championship in two weeks on Lake Guntersville. With my Triton, Mercury and Motorguide bonuses, a win would mean $205,000. The top fifty would get a very healthy check. I was cautiously optimistic about my chances.
October 19, 2010
It seems to always happen to me. When I'm not really "on" fish, I get an early boat number. However, when I've got that killer spot loaded with giants, I'm boat 499. Figures. I was none too excited about drawing boat 9, until I really started to think about it. Being in the first flight on day 1 meant that I would be in the last flight on day two. There were several reasons this would be a good thing. First off, you don't want to be in the last flight on the first day of a tournament, for the simple reason that you have to wait hours and hours to weigh-in. By the second day, lots of people just don't weigh-in or hit the road early if they aren't in contention. More importantly, I would rather weigh-in early on day 1 with the very windy conditions and get to fish until 4:00PM on Saturday when in was supposed to be sunny and calm. If ever I was going to see my big schooling Coosa's, it was going to be late in the day on a slick and sunny afternoon. So, I had to survive the first day and hope to knock it of the park on day 2. Better yet, why not knock it out both days?
We took off from Beeswax Creek right on time at 7:00AM. I headed down lake through some minor fog. As I approached the area I had decided to start, the fog was unnavigable. All I could do was get next to the bank and idle. After about 10 minutes of idling, I decided to just shut it down and start fishing. I hadn't fished this bank in practice but it was the same type of structure I had planned on starting on. Much to my surprise, the fish were biting and lots of them. I had a quick limit in about an hour, although several of them barely met the 12 limit.
For the next 3 hours, I just kept the trolling motor in the water and fished. I culled about 15 times, many for just ounces. By noon, I had a whopping 8 pounds and decided it was time to go check my schoolers. They, of course, were a no show, so I hit another area and caught a couple more small keepers. At 1:30 I went back to the schoolers and parked. I figured that if I were going to make a big jump it was going to have to be fishing for bigger fish. I knew that if these girls showed, I could cull everything I had in the boat in no time. I tried topwater, dropshotting, flutter spoons, jigging spoons, swimbaits, shakey-heads, deep crankbaits, medium crankbaits and spinnerbaits. The casual observer would have thought I was fishing a spider rig for crappie there were so many rods going so many directions. In the midst of all my bait switching, my co-angler throws a rattletrap out into 30 feet of water and catches a 3.5 pound spot. I spent the next hour and half trying to catch another one like that, but it never happened.
As I ran back up the lake to the weigh-in, I really wasn't too disappointed. I knew that those schoolers were never a really good bet. After the practice I had, I was pretty happy to have a limit. I weighed-in and had 8.35. I figured that would put me somewhere in the mid 30's. I later found out I was sitting on the cut spot for the national at 50th place. That news disturbed me some. I wasn't sure how bad I had hurt the fish on my main pattern and doubted my schooling fish would ever show again. I knew I had to catch at least another 8 pounds to make the trip to Guntersville and getting a check seemed like quite a stretch.
October 16, 2010
I love to read stories from the tournament trail. I read BassFan almost everyday and I read BassMaster and FLW Magazine (usually in the throne room at home). Tales of big catches, last minute heroics, and huge laminated checks. What most of these stories fail to elaborate on, is the amount of seat time, staring out the windshield of a truck, these guys go through.
I'm no stranger to pulling a bass boat. I drive 2.5 hours to Kentucky Lake and home pretty much every weekend from May til the end of July. However, pros spent countless hours driving from Texas to South Carolina to Florida to New York. I got a little taste of that in the last couple weeks. I qualified for the BASS Weekend Series Regional on Lay Lake. I decided to take a "day trip" scounting the lake prior to practice. A friend of mine and fellow competitor in the regional, Jerry Strain, agreed to ride with me. We left on Saturday morning, Oct 10, at 2:45 AM and arrived at Beeswax launch at 6:45. The goal of the day was mainly to learn the water, see what it had to offer and maybe make a few casts. I had never seen Lay Lake before. It was beautiful! Several types of aquatic grass: coontail, willow grass and alligator grass, standing timber, docks, steep bluff banks on the lower end, and ledges. Lots of great habitat. We spent the day cruising around the lake, caught a few bass, but mainly just looked at everything. Around 4:00 PM, I put the Triton back on the trailer and drove home. I spent 9 hours driving in the truck and 9 hours on the water. That made for a pretty long day.
I spent Sunday at church and watching the Titans beat the Cowboys, worked Monday til 4:00, then got back in the Chevy and headed back to Lay Lake, stopping in Birmingham for the night.
I was on the water at daybreak Tuesday and spent the day trying to unlock the patterns on Lay. My main goal was to make the top 50 and move on to the national championship on Guntersville next month. At the end of a 12 hour day on Tuesday, I had boated a grand total of one bass. I had a few others on, but nothing much to speak of. The only thing I felt like I figured out was that I couldn't catch them in the bank grass and that I couldn't catch them on ledges. Oh well, at least that eliminated some water.
Wednesday started out foggy. I had seen some big fish erupting in some standing timber the day before, so I spent about 4 hours trying make that happen. It didn't. I had one giant explosion on a spook, but no other bites. So, I headed to the lower end of the lake to look at some different stuff. I spent some time flipping steeper banks with brush, overhangs, and rock and had a few bites. As I was making my way down one of those banks, I heard a terrible commotion behind me. I looked to see shad running for their lives in every direction with big bass close on their tails. I picked up my spook and caught several 2.5 to 3 pound Coosa Spots. In a matter of a few minutes, I boated five fish that were pushing 15 pounds. This both excited me and worried me. I knew 14-15 pounds a day would win the tournament. I also knew that schooling fish cannot be counted on. It was 3:00PM. I'd probably have to weigh-in at 3:00 so who knows if I'd ever see these fish again. I spent the rest of the day looking for more schoolers, but never found anymore.
Thursday was my final practice day prior to the start of the event. I decided to spend the day trying to find another pattern near my schooling spot. I checked the schooling spot four times and although I could see the shad on my graph, I never saw a bass. About 2:00 PM I pulled up to a bank and starting flipping. Within the next hour I caught three and had several more bites. I decided to quit fishing and start looking for more places like this. I found about a mile stretch of bank that looked exactly the same, so I decided that this is where I would start in the morning. I ended up being boat #9 and in the first flight. This would prove to be a key to what was about to unfold for the next two tournament days.
October 11, 2010
So much for regularly updating my blog! I'd make some good excuses, but nobody likes to hear other people whine about how busy their lives are. Truthfully, work has been very busy for the last couple of weeks. That is a total answer to prayer and I won't complain about being busy.
Despite putting in some hours at Advanced Hearing Solutions, I've somehow still managed to fish some tournaments. I fished two tournaments at Old Hickory and finished just out of the money in both. I also fished two tournaments on Guntersville with the same result. I did partner with my friend Adam Wagner to finish fifth in a two-day event on Dale Hollow in September. Although the fishing was tough, that has got to be one of the most beautiful lakes around.
The next weekend, I was sitting near the ramp at Guntersville waiting for Adam to meet me to fish a tournament, when I got a text that he had been in a head-on crash on the way to the lake. Thank God he was relatively OK. Hurt, but OK. He told me to go catch them, but honestly, it was pretty hard to fish thinking about how bad it could have been. The other driver was killed. Not to be morbid, but after Adam's wreck and the recent boat wreck during the BFL regional on Barkley that claimed the life of a fisherman, I've been keenly aware of how short and precious life can be. After a lot of time contemplating life for the last few weeks, I can give this bit of advice: Don't take time with people you care about for granted. You can never be too careful. Jesus Saves.
I'll keep this one short and to the point, and very soon I'll fill you in on my regional on Lay Lake in Alabama.
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