July 26, 2010
OK, I know. In May I posted a blog and promised to update it regularly. To all two of my loyal fans (you know who you are), I apologize. This summer has been extremely hectic and finding the time to blog has been difficult. Oh well, enough with the excuses, here is an update on what's been happening on the tournament fishing front.
I won't attempt to capture every moment of every bass tournament I have fished since my last blog. If you look at my tournament results page, you can see how things have gone. Since my last post, I have fished 9 tournaments. I posted one win, one 2nd, one 3rd, one 4th, one 7th, one 8th, one 10th, one 12th, and one 15th. I've almost hit for the cycle. So, all-in-all it's been a pretty good couple months. Unfortunately, I (and everyone else) keep comparing this year to last where during the same time I won 5 tournaments. Last season was just one of those weird times, where everything just lined up perfectly. I've snapped back to reality this year and realized that it's not as easy as I thought.
I don't want to downplay the fishing this year. In the above tournaments I listed, I (or we) have weighed in over 20 pounds five times and several others in the 19 pound range. Most people would be pretty happy with those weights; however, on Kentucky Lake, that just doesn't get it done.
The fishing this year has been completely different than it was last season. Last summer, there were unbelievable numbers of fish in the New Johnsonville area of the lake: big schools of big fish. This year, I have caught very, very few there. The absence of the hydrilla that let those fish grow big and healthy, has dramatically affected the fishing. No doubt, there are still some giants that live on the southern end of Kentucky Lake, but just not in the concentrations they were there last year. I fear that if the grass doesn't come back, it won't be long before the fishing takes a serious turn for the worse.
Rather than recap every day of my tournament fishing this summer, let me limit my story to the Hope Ministries Tournament on June 18th. Jason and I hit the lake early Friday morning to try and find some big bass. We had fished the weekend before and struggled to put together and 18.6 pound limit. We needed to get on some better fish. The morning started out pretty well, with a stop on a new ledge that produced a double. I caught a 3.5 pounder and Jason caught a 5 pound fish. We marked a waypoint and headed off in search of more biguns.
I wish I could tell you that the rest of the day went much the same, but it didn't. We spent the next 10 hours, from about 7 AM til 5 PM, looking for the mother lode. We didn't find it (or at least didn't think we did). In all that time, we found two spots with fish on them. One was a big, big school of little, little bass. We caught about 15 and they were all 13-15 inches long. The other spot we caught two three pounders and left it alone.
Late that afternoon, TVA started really pulling the current. It was one of the most unbelievable few hours I've spent on the water. From 5 PM to 7 PM, it seemed like everywhere we stopped, there were big bass eating. In that short window we caught 7 or 8 bass over 5 pounds, one over 6 and one over 8. It was wild. It's like every bass in the lake turned on at once.
We put the boat on the trailer at 7:30, not sure what to think about our day. Although the last few hours were phenomenal, it wasn't likely that those fish would be grouped up and eating like that on a Saturday morning with little or no current. Nonetheless, we had found some promising places and felt good about our chances for Saturday. The Hope Center tournament had a guaranteed $5000 first place. Both of us knew that it would take 26-28 pounds to win.
Saturday morning started with a radio interview. Mike Bradley from the Doug Outdoors show on 99.7 WTN had arranged to interview Jason and me by phone prior to blast off. We discussed fishing on Kentucky Lake, summertime patterns and the lures we'd be using. After our radio time, we launched the boat and blast off started at 6 AM. We headed north after our number was called, but found a boat on our starting spot, so we headed to spot number two and found it vacant. The fish were there and they were biting. It took no time to fill out a limit and we were culling in a matter of minutes. Unfortunately, most of the fish were under three pounds. After an hour or so, we left with about 14 pounds and headed out in search of bigger bass. Our second stop was better. I caught several 3.5 pound fish that culled some of the smaller ones in the box. After sitting on that spot for 30 minutes and catching a bunch of fish, Jason set the hook on a better fish. He immediately told me this was a good one and I got the net. After some brief acrobatics, I netted a five pounder. This was the kind of fish we needed! We stayed there for a while hoping for more that size, but they never showed up.
We jumped around for the next few hours with little to show for it. Around 1 PM we decided to hit the place we found yesterday where we caught a couple of three pound fish. As soon as we stopped, I caught a 3.5 pounder on my first cast. A couple casts later, I hung my bait up and broke it off. As I was pulling the boat out a little to re-tie, Jason set the hook on a good one. I netted the fish and it looked to be another five pounder. After a quick cull and new bait, I got the boat back into position. A couple casts later, I hung my bait up again on the same brushpile. I broke it off, again, I pulled the boat out, again, and Jason set the hook on a five pounder. Again.
Now we were getting somewhere. I knew we were working on a good limit. We had three fives, a four and a 3.5. Jason quickly caught another 4+ and let me know that all five bass in the livewell belonged to him. He got plenty of enjoyment out of that fact. So, I decided to go big. I dug in the rod box and pulled out my big All Pro rod with a 2 ounce swimbait. On the first cast, a big bass killed it. "Get the net!" I screamed. Meanwhile, Jason set the hook also. I looked out and saw his fish jump. It looked like a 3.5-4 pounder. I was sure mine was much bigger. "Get the net!" I screamed again, "I've got a bigun." He then reached down, grabbed the net, and netted his own fish. I swung mine over the rail. They looked like twins. I weighed both of them. Mine weighed 4-6, his weighed 4-7. I tossed mine back and culled with his. We now had a really good bag of fish. I figured around 23-24 pounds. Both of us knew that one big one would probably seal the deal.
In the next 30 minutes, we caught several more good fish, but none that really helped the cause. Jason was having a ball making fun of me for not having any fish in the livewell, when his pestering was cut short by a hookset that bowed his rod almost at the reel handle. The fish was immediately airborne, and it was a giant! She jumped several times then surged under the boat taking my not-so-weak fishing partner to his knees. It seemed like several minutes before she reappeared and I put the net under her. I didn't know how big the bass was, but it was way bigger than any of the 5 pounders we had in the livewell. We just started laughing. I culled a 4-7 and now we had four five pounders and one giant.
We decided that this spot had given us plenty and that we would try some other places. We had an hour or so to fish still. It's hard to think of places to go when you have to catch a five plus just to help you. We jumped around for the next hour or so, but never culled.
When we checked in, I figured we had 26 to 26.5. I hoped it would be enough to win. The weigh-in line was long. Everybody caught them today. Rather than leave all those big ones in the bag too long. We waited until the line died down. At that time, 25.5 was leading. I held the bag and Jason pulled them out. These were big, big bass. Several looked to be over five. Then, the big girl came out. "That has got to be a seven pounder," I told him. "We'll see," he said.
As we waited in line, the team right in front of us took the lead with 26.8. I really wasn't sure we had that. We eased them out of the holding tank and into the basket. The scales waivered stopped at 28.28. Wow. I didn't think we had that much. Jason's big fish weighed 7.6.
The scales closed soon after we weighed and we received a lot of congratulatory hand-shakes. We were so fortunate to have caught them on a day with such a good paycheck on the line. I've broken 27 pounds twice before, but never 28. It was an unbelievable day, the likes of which, I'd love to see again. Except of course, maybe next time, I'll get to catch some of those giants!
May 24, 2010-
It's been a year since my last blog. For those of you who are interested, I plan on updating this blog regularly. I used to blog for another website, but that is no more. So... I'll try to keep things updated here.
To catch up a little on what's been happening with me, I'm still working in my audiology practice in Mount Juliet, TN (www.hearnashville.com if you care). I worked several boat shows this winter and got my new Triton in December. I've been fishing a tournament almost every weekend since mid February. I'd love to tell stories of all of the spectacular wins and amazing catches I've had this season, but the truth is: I've been the captain of the Suck Truck.
Of the eight or so tournaments I fished in Feb, March and April, two should have been really good. At Guntersville in February and Center Hill in April, I was on the fish to win and things just didn't go my way. For most of the rest of them, I was pretty clueless. In past years I've won some tournaments in March and quite a few in April, but in general, pre-spawn events stump me. I'll find them one day and they'll be gone the next. Or, like a few events this season, I just never found much of anything. Tournament fishing is quite a mind game. After the year I had last year, I planned on fishing as many events as I could this season and absolutely lighting them up. Unfortunately, the fish had different plans!
So, as the calendar turned to May, I had yet to cash a check in a bass tournament. There was to be a BASS Weekend Series event scheduled for May 1st on Kentucky Lake. In my overly-enthusiastic winter planning, I had set out to fish this event. However, given my terrible performances thus far in the year, I wasn't sure if I wanted to actually do it. The weather on May 1st, was supposed to be horrible, so I told my wife I was going to fish on Friday and see what happens. I'd probably be home Friday night.
I put the boat in bright and early Friday and made up my mind that I would do nothing but flip bushes all day. I am not really a flipper. I love doing it. I'm not horrible at it, but I rarely do it in tournaments. It seems like I'm always out in the middle of the lake looking for schools of fish. But this day, I set in my mind to do nothing else. This should be how the tournament is going to be won. I got lots of bites and had a lot of fun. I think partly because I wasn't really worried about finding fish. If I found them, I'd fish, if not, I'd be dry tomorrow. By about 1:00 PM I'd caught 20 or 30 bass with 10 or so keepers- no giants, but probably about 14 pounds in my best five. This was fun, but not enough to make me want to brave the severe T'storms headed our way tomorrow. About 1:00PM, I made a move to a different area of the lake and started getting better bites. I caught a six and several in the 4.5 range. By 4:00PM, I figured I'd boated about 21 pounds and not set the hook on a number of good bites. I checked the weather and decided to give it a try.
There's something pretty cool about only rigging three flippin sticks. My preparation was short and sweet. After the pre-tournament meeting, I got to bed pretty early. The thunder and lightening awoke me at 2:30. It was shaking the house. I drove to the ramp, met my coangler, and we found a dry boat slip to duck under. It was absolutely pouring. The blast off was delayed from 6:00AM until about 6:45AM. It was still coming down when we took off, but the storms had abated momentarily. I took off on what would normally be about a 15 minute boat ride. It took closer to 30 in the driving rain, but we made it safely to my first stop.
It was so dark and raining so hard, it was really hard to see my line. So, on my third flip of the morning when I just couldn't feel my jig anymore, I set the hook and boated a small keeper- not a bad way to start. I had a limit within about 45 minutes, with a couple of 3.5 pounders. We made a short move to a bank where I had caught a good one yesterday and had several more bites. I fished the whole stretch without a keeper bite. As I made my last pitch and was ready to pull up the trolling motor, my line starting moving off. I set the hook and boated another 3.5 pound fish.
By now, the rain was unbelievable. At times, I could barely see my co-angler on the back deck. The auto-bilge pump was running constantly. The rain let up for about 20 seconds and I grabbed a dry shirt and rain suit #2. As soon as I got it on, the pouring started again.
I didn't cull for several hours. It was hard to concentrate with the horrible weather, but I knew that I was one or two good bites away from having a really good bag. With about an hour to fish, I pulled up on a new stretch of bushes. I was pitching my jig at anything and everything in the water, when I saw a little twig sticking up out from the main line of brush. I flipped my jig to the twig and the line started moving off. I set the hook hard and immediately, my drag started slipping. "That her," I hollered, "get the net!" The fish surged away from the boat and all I could do was hold on. Fortunately, with a flippin stick and 15 feet of 25 pound line the battle didn't last long. My coangler netted her. It was big. I figured about 6. I sat down in the puddled water of the bottom of my Triton and culled a three pounder. I quickly retied, made about two more pitches and the line moved off again. Almost a replay of what happened 5 minutes earlier, when I set the hook that heavy All Pro rod doubled up. "Net! It's another bigun!" Within a few seconds a 5 pounder was securely in the livewell and I culled another 3 pounder. I had gone from 17 pounds to 21 plus in very short order. My heart was pounding. I felt like one more good bite and I could win this thing.
I fished hard for another 45 minutes and figured it best to head back. The rain had let up slightly, so we took off for Paris Landing. Tournament fishing is such a drug. I can't explain the high you get as you head back to weigh-in with a good limit. The anticipation and calculations are intense. I didn't figure I had enough to win, but with as bad as the weather had been today, maybe, just maybe, other people struggled.
As I pulled up to the dock, my hopes were quickly dashed. The first person I saw was my friend Mike Ward. He was returning his almost 27 pound limit to the release boat. Oh well, at least I don't have to think about it anymore. My fish weighed 22.17 and the big one was 6.7. I ended up in third place and got a good check.
The buzz was going around about all the rain and the flooding. Rumors were that I-40 and I-24 were underwater in places. I couldn't imagine that being true, but after I arrived home that night and turned on the news I was in shock at how bad the flooding was. The next day a lot of Nashville was underwater. 14.5 inches of rain in 48 hours, and me, like an idiot, out fishing in all that. I ended up taking the next week off to help with flood relief. The devastation was unbelievable, but the spirit of the workers and community was unlike anything I have ever experienced. I was, and am, extremely proud to be a Nashvillian.
May 24-28, 2009
I fished a tournament in Nashville on Old Hickory on Saturday, May 23. I practiced all day Friday the 22nd, but to be quite honest, my heart wasn’t in it. I already had all my rods rigged for Kentucky Lake, all my stuff was packed and ready to go. The Old Hickory tournament was just something I had to get out of the way. My tournament partner for Old Hickory, Adam Wagner, was much the same way. He was leaving on Monday for Iowa for his third BFL All American. He couldn’t practice at Old Hickory because he was going to be off all next week. Not to mention, that he had found a good concentration of fish in pre-practice in Iowa and felt really good about his chances.
Adam and I fished somewhat half-heartedly on Saturday. We caught probably 20 keepers, the best five of which weighed in at whopping 8.6 pounds! Both of us are extremely competitive by nature, but we weren’t on anything big, so we just took what the day gave us and left with a good butt-kicking. As we separated our tackle and headed-off in different directions on Saturday afternoon, we both wished each other the best for the up-coming week.
I hate fishing on Sundays. I always reserve Sundays for church and my family. But I was anxious to start practicing for the two tournaments I had this week. I was up at 5:30, getting all my final stuff done. By 7:00 AM, I was packed and ready to go. We had “family church” at home for about an hour, read some stories to the kids, and said a prayer together. I was really going to miss everybody for the next seven days.
It was pouring down rain. Pouring. I left the house about 8:45 and headed north. It poured the whole trip for two and a half hours up to the northern part of Kentucky Lake. My goal for today was to get a feel for what the fish were doing and check about 20 places on the north end of the lake. When I backed the Triton in at about 11:00, there were some guys taking out. They looked at me like I was insane for heading out into this stuff. You could only see about 100 yards due to the heavy downpour. It was raining so hard that I couldn’t go anywhere I really wanted to. I just couldn’t see to run the boat. So, I stopped and hit three spots close to the ramp. I caught a short fish on my second cast of the day. On my next spot there was a school of fish. I caught about ten, with one 3.5 pounder. On my next spot there was a school of fish too. I caught about seven or eight with no keepers. Little did I know that this was going to be a recurring theme for the next couple of days. After a couple hours of Gore-Tex soaking rain and the bilge pumps running constantly, the rain let up a little. It still rained the rest of the day, but it wasn’t that constant, frog-choking rain that was coming down at noon. Unfortunately, soon the wind took the place of the rain and a 20 mph East wind pounded the west side of the lake where I was fishing. I jumped around the rest of the day, found another big school of fish, but only caught a few more keepers. I put the boat on the trailer at 7:45 and hoped I wouldn’t need to come back this far north in the tournament to try and scratch out a few keepers.
By the time I got to the house where I was staying in Paris, it was 9:30. I think I was asleep by 9:37. I slept well and woke up at 4:30 to meet my friend Chad at Paris Landing at 5:30. Chad doesn’t fish tournaments, but likes to go practice with me sometimes. I decided that I was going to spend the day in what I’d call the mid-lake area. This is the area I fish the most, around Paris Landing. Catching fish was easy. I caught a ton and found I don’t know how many schools of fish. Size was the issue. Most of the ones I was catching were 12-13 inches long. Babies! My tournament partner, Jason Sain, called me at 6:45 AM and said he had caught a couple big ones on the south end of the lake. It was my plan to practice that area on Tuesday, so I just kept fishing all my mid-lake spots that usually produce this time of the year. They were producing alright. They were producing schools of tiny bass. The day was spent reeling a crankbait and unhooking little fish. About 2:00 PM Monday, I decided that it was time to make a change. I had been fishing for two days and really hadn’t found one place worth going back to. Things were not looking good. Chad needed to leave soon, so I told him that I was going to check one more place, then I’d take him to his truck, and trailer the boat down south, hoping I might figure something out there.
The last stop proved to be a good one. I stumbled on one of the biggest schools of bass I’ve ever found. We started catching them as soon as we pulled up. There were keepers mixed in with little ones, but we were catching them every cast. I moved the boat 100 yards and we were still catching the every cast. I caught 6-7 keepers including a 4 pounder and Chad caught a good smallmouth. At last, something positive! My confidence was renewed, so I stayed around Paris the rest of the afternoon, fishing until almost dark. I caught plenty more fish, but didn’t really find anything else worth going back to.
If you’ve never thrown a big crankbait all day, you can’t know what it feels like. I’ve now thrown a DD22 for about 20 hours. My left hand is cramping. I can’t straighten out my fingers. My joints are throbbing. I just wanted to put my hand in a cooler full of ice and let it freeze. I popped a couple ibuprofen, grabbed some fast-food, ate it on the way to the house, and after a quick shower, was in bed by 9:30. I set the alarm for 3:30 since I had to drive a good ways to put the boat in the morning. I was meeting another friend of mine, JD Coleman, at New Johnsonville at 5:30. He was driving up from Nashville to fish with me for the day. As soon as I closed my eyes, the alarm went off. I was so tired that I didn’t even know where I was. I stumbled to the bathroom, brushed my teeth, made a cup of coffee and hit the road.
I typed in my destination into Mandy (my pet name for the GPS girl). It’s fun to yell at Mandy while she keeps telling me how to drive. To my surprise, Mandy told me that it would only take about 45 minutes to get to the boat ramp. So, after stopping for gas, ice, and more coffee, I was sitting at the ramp in the dark, a full 45 minutes early. Now, an extra 45 minutes of sleep would’ve been nice, but this gave me time to organize my tackle, spool up some reels so I wouldn’t have to do that later today in a rush to get the pre-tournament meeting, and gather my thoughts. I had just finished organizing everything when JD pulled up. He dropped a few rods and some tackle in the boat and dumped me. By 5:45 AM, we were headed out.
I had never fished this area of the lake before, with the exception of frog fishing in the fall. Jason told me the type of stuff he was fishing and where he had already been. I was trying to not get on his stuff and also not to duplicate what he had already practiced. I ran about ten miles and sat the boat down on a river ledge. I’m not even sure why I pulled up there (other than some divine intervention) except that I had caught fish on a frog in that area last fall. On my second cast of the morning, as I was reeling my crankbait along, a fish knocked slack in my line. I reeled a few more times and the same thing happened again, only this time, she was stuck. The fish jumped immediately and it was bigger than anything I had caught in the past 2 days, on the second cast! Before I had that one unhooked, JD says, “Uh, maybe I shouldn’t make another cast.” I looked back and he is boating a three and a half pounder. I was pumped. Finally some good fish, and it only took 3 casts to find them! I kicked the trolling motor on high and pulled away from those fish. I moved about 100 yards up the ledge and within a couple minutes, we were catching them again: 3 pounder, 3 pounder, 2. 5 pounder. This was ridiculously easy. We moved away from those fish and didn’t catch one for about 200 yards, then JD’s rod loaded. He looked at me and said, “Uh oh.” A giant, hump-backed bass jumped and the crankbait was so deep that we couldn’t see it anymore. When he boated the fish, I just started laughing. This was it. This was what I had been looking for. The fish was about 6 pounds and had the crankbait choked. That’s when you know you are onto something.
Jason called me at about 6:30. I told him we had already boated about 20 pounds. This was crazy. It was like that all day long. Almost everywhere I pulled up, we caught them. Some were little, but many were good 3.5-5 pound bass. Also, everywhere I pulled up, JD was catching the big ones. We were throwing the same bait, but his was a different color. They wanted his bait, bad. About 11:00, while he was throwing a jig, I eased back, picked up his rod, cut off that crankbait, and tied it on my rod. I immediately started catching better fish and they all had the bait swallowed. This was it. I had the bait. I had the area. I had the pattern. It was just a matter now of finding the concentrations of better fish. With about two hours to go before we need to put the boats on the trailer on go to the pre-tournament meeting, I pulled up on a new ledge. The wind and the current were pushing us really fast and I just let the boat roll through there with the wind. In about 20 minutes, I caught 4 fish in the 3.5-4 pound range over an area about a half a mile long. These weren’t giants, but this little twenty-minute pass proved to be gold over the next four days.
It was about 2:30. I told JD that I was done. He fished another spot while I rigged all my rods, put new line on those that needed it, and gave my newly-stolen crankbait some well-deserved new hooks. That bait had stuck about 22-23 pounds of fish today. I knew if I could do that for the next couple of days, I’d be really close to where I needed to be. We met back at the ramp and JD headed back to Nashville. I left my boat at a friend’s house and rode with Jason to Paris for the pre-tournament meeting. He caught a big sack today, but said that the big fish were scattered. I was pumped, I knew both of us were around the right kind of fish to do very well and with a little help from above, one of us should have a good shot at winning.
Jason and I had agreed last summer, after we both qualified for the Triton Gold Elite Tournament, that we would work together, and split our winnings. First place was $40,000. I called him last week prior to starting practice to make sure he still wanted to do it. We’ve been friends for 16 years. If we were going to do this, I didn’t want there to be any doubt in either of our minds that this was the right thing to do. He agreed that he was in, so as we practiced, we talked constantly on the cell phones about what the fish were doing, what we were catching and our strategy for the tournament. As we drove to Paris we talked about strategy for tomorrow and both of us were cautiously optimistic.
The pre-tournament meeting took about an hour. Several of our friends had qualified and we all had to bring an observer so we had a big group. As they briefed us on the rules, the tournament directors explained that the field would be cut after tomorrow’s weigh-in from 81 to 25 boats. The observers who came with the top 25 would be observers on the 2nd day as well. Cheryl Turner had agreed to sign-up with me as an observer. Cheryl is a great lady and she and her husband, Wayne, were fishing the owner’s tournament on Friday and Saturday. I was tired and lost in thought and Cheryl asked me, “Are you OK?” I smiled and said yes. She said, “You look worried. Are you catching them?” I looked at her, smiled, and nodded. “I’m just tired. You know you are going to have to observe both days don’t you?” She knew then that I was fine. The folks at Triton served us a delicious buffet (or maybe I was just so hungry that it seemed delicious). We got our pairings, met with our observers, and took off.
I was staying with Jason at his house, about an hour away. It seemed like it took forever to get there. In fact, it was about 9:30 when we pulled in. Thank the Lord I had already rigged all my tackle. My wife Melanie called me. She said that Millie, my eight year old was crying and crying because she had to go to bed without talking to her Daddy. I had no cell signal for the last hour. I was crushed. Melanie asked, “Can you call her before school tomorrow?” I knew at that time I’d already be fishing in the tournament, but I promised to try. I got a shower and got in bed by 10:15. The alarm was set for 2:50AM.
I was exhausted when the alarm went off. This was the start of my sixth day straight on the water. I was about 15 minutes later leaving Jason’s house than I meant to be, so I told him I was going to go ahead. He said he was just about 10 minutes behind me. I thought it wise to make up a little time on the way to Paris, so I got a little heavy-footed. The bright flash of blue lights put a quick stop to that. I figured that since it was 3:30 in the morning, I was pulling a bass boat, sober, and very kind, maybe the trooper would show me some kindness. He was kind, but still wrote me $204.00 ticket. I think I was more frustrated with being another 15 minutes behind. I hate being late. I knew that I would be 30 minutes late meeting my observer. Fortunately, I knew I’d still get to the blast-off in plenty of time and I got him on his cell phone and let him know.
The rest of the trip to the ramp, I spent clearing my head of speeding tickets, lost sleep, and negative thoughts. I prayed for wisdom and strength and actually felt really good by the time we got the boat in the water. I was boat #37 and had about a 25 mile boat ride ahead of me. Jason and I chatted as we waited for the prayer and our numbers to be called.
The ride was smooth. It took about 25 minutes. As we approached the spot where JD and I started yesterday morning, I was full of anticipation. I rounded a corner about a mile away and could see no boats. I eased off the throttle and pulled in about 100 yards south of my waypoint. I took out one rod and made my first cast. It took about 5 cranks of the handle before a bass grabbed it. I hate catching one on the first cast. It’s usually bad luck. The fish was small, so I tossed it back and fished up to my waypoint. As soon as the boat was in the right position, it was on. I can’t even remember how many I caught because it happened so fast. It was every cast and they were all good ones. In a matter of minutes I was culling and knew I had about 18 pounds. I turned the boat and made a cast at a slightly different angle across the spot and my rod loaded. “Bigun!” The fish jumped several times and the crankbait was no where to be seen. When my observer netted the fish, she was already bleeding. She had swallowed it and the treble hooks got her gills. I tried as gently as possible to unhook her without doing any further damage. I used some Rejuvenate in the livewell along with some ice and put some directly on the injured area. I hate killing fish, but this tournament had a one-pound dead fish penalty. Thus, if this fish dies, the 5 pounder becomes only a 4 pounder. Unfortunately, it was only a matter of minutes and she expired. That really bugged me, but it was only 6:30 and I had all day to catch four more big ones.
At 6:35 I called Millie. I told Melanie that I was already smacking them. I caught a 4 pounder while I was on the phone with Millie. It was absolutely insane. I culled a few more times and probably bumped my way up to about 19 pounds. Then, I lost a good one around 4.5. On the next cast, I lost another one about 4 and that shut them down. I’ve found that losing fish in a school like that will make them quit biting. It sure did this time. I was happy nonetheless to have what I caught. I fished down this ledge and caught quite a few more fish, but none that helped me significantly. It was now about 8:30 and I needed to move on. I hit my next spot and caught a ton of fish. At times, it was every cast for 15 minutes. Every now and then, I’d catch one that would help me. By 9:30, I had a 5 pound fish, two four pounders and two 3.5s. Unfortunately, since the 5 pounder was no longer swimming, it was the equivalent of a four pounder. I jumped around on the areas I had found yesterday and caught fish everywhere, but by 12:30 I hadn’t culled in several hours. I decided to pull back up on the ledge I had started on, but for some reason, I pulled in about 400 yards from where I started the morning. On the first cast, a fish grabbed my bait. It was about a 3 pounder. It jumped twice, and came off. I made another cast with the same result, about a 3 pounder, jumped off. These fish wouldn’t help the cause anyway, but it really bugged me that they were coming off. I made another cast and stuck another 3 pounder. This one jumped three times, but stayed pegged. My observer asked if I needed the net. I said, “No, this one won’t help.” But when it jumped again, it looked much bigger. This fish was easily 4.5. I hollered for the net and quickly the fish was in the boat. I culled a 3.5 and picked up another pound. I made another cast, another fish, another 4.5 pounder in the net. I culled again and picked up another pound. In a matter of 2 casts, I went from a 20-21 pound bag to a 23 pound bag. I was excited, nervous, and felt sick all at the same time. This is why I fish tournaments.
While I was culling, some interested “observers” had moved in on me. They were throwing pretty close to where I was catching these fish. I caught a few more, but nothing bigger than 4 pounds, which is what I would need to help me at this point. I stayed on that spot until the other boat moved off. At this point, I started to think about heading back. I had a good bag. My goal for the day was 23 pounds. I had two hours, but my starting battery was getting weak from running the livewell pumps full-blast all day. I ran up and hit another ledge and caught several more bass, including one almost four pounds, right in front of a local boat. Knowing I was fishing the Triton Gold tournament, they looked at that fish and said, “That one will help won’t it?” I looked at it, smiled at them, and let her go. “Nope.”
I decided to head back to Paris rather than risk any problems with my batteries. I hit about 4 or 5 places on the way, hoping for a 6 pounder to really bump me up, but it wasn’t to be. I checked in at 2:50 with a good bag. I knew it probably wasn’t enough for the lead, especially with a dead fish, but I hoped I had put myself in a position to vie for the win tomorrow.
There were quite a few good limits. 22 pounds was leading when I walked across the stage. My limit weighed 23.10. The small crowd on hand applauded. Of course, they didn’t realize that I was going to be docked 1 pound off that total. By the time the weigh-in was over, I sat in fifth place with 22.10. There was one 23+ pound bag, four 22 pound bags, and several in the 21 pound range. Jason had 21.76 and was in sixth, right behind me. Those that didn’t make the top 25 got their checks, and those of us that did, stayed around to be paired with our day 2 observers. I was paired with a seemingly quiet young lady from Minnesota named Mary. We agreed on a meeting place and time and I was off to find a bed.
After the weigh-in, Adam called from Iowa. He was noticeably on-edge. Today had been their one and only practice day for the All-American on the Mississippi. He told me he expected to get a total of about 1 hour and 12 minutes of fishing time on his spot three pools up. However, he said he got 7 good bites today in that short window. He was obviously excited and nervous. I knew he would win. I told him about my day and we wished each other luck for the next day’s fishing.
Since I had not slept much last night, and got a speeding ticket on the way this morning, I told Jason that I was going to crash with a Jerry Strain who had an empty bed at the Fish Tales Lodge only about a mile from the ramp. Since I only used one rod all day, I didn’t have much work to do that night. Some new hooks for my favorite crankbait and some new line for my crankin’ rod, a quick bite to eat, and off to bed. By now, my little stolen crankbait has probably caught 200 bass and 23 pounds two days in a row.
I fell asleep quickly, but woke up at 2:30. I didn’t need to be up until 4:15 and I really needed the rest, but my brain wouldn’t let me sleep. I knew I had a good shot at winning this thing. I just needed everything to go my way- no mistakes. I got some ice, and coffee at the local store and met Mary at the ramp. She was quiet. I was a little worried about taking “a girl” on a long, bumpy boat ride, so I warned her that we were going about 25 miles. She put on her rain suit and thanked me for the warning. I took of 5th with Jason right behind me. We ran side by side the whole way, even though his boat is about 4 mph faster than mine. That meant a lot to me. We were in this thing together and I had such a great feeling running down the lake, my best friend by my side, going fishing for $40,000. This was going to be a great day. Jason peeled off to stop at his first hole. We pumped our fists in the air wishing each other a 25 pound day.
I started right where I started yesterday. I asked Mary if she was comfortable netting my fish. She was very much so. I eased up to “the spot” with great anticipation for a repeat of yesterday morning’s flurry. I quickly stuck a fish, but it was a little one. Then another, then another, but they were all small. I even measured one. I didn’t do that all day yesterday. The fish just barely measured 15”. I told Mary that if I needed that one I wasn’t going to be anywhere close, but put it in the livewell nonetheless. I sat on that spot for about 30 minutes and just didn’t catch any keepers. I was disappointed, but by no means was I out of it. The big fish just weren’t up and biting. I fished down the ledge to a spot that had held a big school of fish on the day before. I made several casts with nothing to show for it. I told Mary, “If there aren’t fish on this spot, I’m in trouble.” No sooner than I got those words out of my mouth, a fish smacked my crankbait. I pulled back and felt a big head shake. “Get the net, this is a good one!” The fish jumped. It was a five pounder and the crankbait was swallowed. Mary slid the net under the fish and I nervously got the pliers. I had to get this hook out without hurting the fish because I knew I couldn’t afford another one pound penalty. Five pounders were just too valuable. I got the hook out with what appeared to be minimal damage and slid her into the livewell. That was only my second keeper an hour into the morning, but I knew it was the kind I needed. “Four to go,” I announced and made another cast. I stayed on that ledge for another 30 minutes, but that was it on my best place. I was extremely surprised that I hadn’t caught but one good fish.
I was concerned, but not distraught. I made a move about 7:45 to a secondary spot. The day before I had caught several 3-3.5 pound fish on this ledge. At the time, they didn’t help me, but with only two in the box, a three pounder would be a welcome sight. I eased up to my waypoint and the fish were there, every cast. Most of them were little but after catching about 15, I had a limit with maybe one 3 pounder in the mix. I caught them almost every cast for another 30 minutes. Every now and then I’d cull by a few ounces. I looked a Mary and said words that I never thought I’d utter, “I am so tired of catching fish!” My hand was so tired from holding the reel and fighting bass, that when I got a little one on, I would switch hands with the rod and reel backward with my left hand, just to give my hands a break. After 45 minutes of catching small fish, I told Mary that we had to go, that there just weren’t any big ones here. With that said, my rod loaded and I felt a big, slow shake. “This could be a good one.” The fish jumped and I could see it was a five pounder. After some acrobatics, I soon had the fish in the net. I culled a 2.5 and jumped back up in hopes that her sister was up there. A fish smashed my bait at the end of my next cast, but didn’t hook up. A few seconds later, the fish knocked my bait sideways, but didn’t hook up. Again, as the crankbait neared the boat, the fish smashed it. This time, I stuck her. It was another good one, about 4 pounds. Mary did a great net job and the fish was safely in the livewell. Once again, I had jumped from about 15 pounds to 18 pounds in very short order. I sat on that spot for another 20-30 minutes until I got sick of reeling in those little ones.
I pulled up my buoy and eased up to my next waypoint. Once again, it was on- every cast. I probably caught another 25 bass. I managed to catch a 3.5 off this spot so I now had about 20 pounds with two 5s, a four, and two 3.5s. By this point in the day, it was about 11:30. I had probably caught close to 100 bass. I knew I needed three more 5 pound bites to win, so I headed back to my starting spot. I hoped that those big ones had moved up. As soon as I pulled up and dropped the trolling motor. I told Mary that it didn’t look good. There were no bait fish, no bass, no nothing on the graph, it was blank. All of the big fish I had been catching had been biting on the end of my cast, so when my first cast made it 2/3 of the way back with nothing, I was already thinking about the next cast. What happened next burned an image in my head that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. About 20 feet from the boat, my bait stopped and started pulling. Hard. I hollered for the net and saw and absolutely giant bass about 15 feet from the boat with my crankbait stuck right in her side. My mind raced. As the fish came past the trolling motor I couldn’t tell how big it was. It was between seven and nine pounds. Way bigger than anything I had caught all week. She headed for deep water and I tried to get my sore thumb on the button to release the spool. Just as I got my thumb on the bar, the fish surged, the drag slipped, and she came unbuttoned. Mary was standing beside me with the net and I just dropped my head. That whole episode only took about 6 seconds. I knew that fish would’ve won the tournament for me. At the same time, I knew it was 10 to 1 that I’d lose it as soon as I saw how it was hooked.
I tried to stay upbeat. Afterall, it was only noon. I had 3 hours to fish and there were some big fish around. But I kept replaying the picture of that giant bass with my crankbait stuck in her belly pulling off. I made about 100 more casts on the sweet spot and never got a bite. I decided to turn the boat around and fish down the ledge. As I was fishing, I asked Mary to “check on the girls” in the livewell. She looked in and said “Oh, no.” My heart sank. She said one of them doesn’t look good. I ran back to check on it and sure enough, one of the five pounders was starting to lay on her side. This was the one I had so cautiously removed the deeply-swallow crankbait from early this morning. I couldn’t afford to lose another pound. My emotions for the last fifteen minutes had been on an absolute roller-coaster ride. I knew what I needed to do, I needed to cull that fish.
I was trying to keep as positive as I could. I told Mary about how awesome this crankbait had been. By this time, that bait had caught probably 300 bass. In my warped little mind, she was starting to have a personality. She definitely had an attitude. She didn’t like big bass. She was trying to kill everyone she could get her little hooks in. “She needs a name,” I told Mary, “something mean.” We tossed around names for while, but none really struck me. Then it hit me, “Buffy,” “Buffy, The Giant Killer.” That was it. Her name was Buffy. “Come on Buffy!” I yelled as I kept an eye on the clock.
Within minutes, the graph absolutely lit up with fish and bait. They were starting to move up on my spot. I told Mary, “There they are. I haven’t seen them like that all day.” Before I finished my sentence, a five pounder crushed Buffy and was immediately airborne. “Please Lord, let this fish stay on. Pleeeaaase!” The bass jumped about 847 times but finally made it to the net. I culled a 3.5 with a 5 pounder. Now I had about 22, but one that might not make it. I fished there for a while hoping that there was a school of big ones, but if they were there, I couldn’t make them bite. I fished down the ledge another 300 yards then sat down and idled back to the sweet spot where I had lost the eight pounder about an hour earlier.
The next hour and a half was probably the most dramatic time I’ve ever spent in a bass boat. Within just a few casts, Buffy smacked the biggest fish of the day. It was 5.5 at least. Of course it jumped 7 times, but Buffy held on. As the fish got next to the boat, there was another, bigger one with it, trying to the bait away from the one I had hooked. Mary netted it and I was elated! I culled my last fish under 4 pounds. I now had 4 five pounders and 4 pounder. But one of the fives was still not looking good. If that fish died, I knew it would cost me the tournament. I quickly caught a 4.25 pounder. Now I had a huge decision to make. If I culled the 5 pounder, I was going to lose 0.75 pounds. However, if I throw back this 4.25 pound fish and the 5 pounder dies, then I just lost 0.25. I sat there for what seemed like forever thinking and calculating. I finally reached in, grabbed the 5 pound fish, threw it back and replaced it with a 4.25. I knew I had already boated the fish in the boat to win $40,000. I just hoped I didn’t just toss that big check back into Kentucky Lake. In the next few minutes I hooked and lost two more 5 pound bass. I didn’t know whether to scream or cry or quit. I told Mary that the winning fish were right in front of me. All I had to do was put them in the boat and it was over.
Years of tournament fishing memories were racing through my head. I opened the rod locker and pulled out a Carolina rig. I hadn’t thrown this set up at all in the tournament or practice, but I just knew that if I could catch one or two of these big ones, it would all be over. I knew that I wouldn’t lose them on a Carolina rig. I caught a couple little ones as I eased the boat back up to the sweet spot. As soon as I got the boat back in position. I got the bite. The fish pulled slow and steady away. I knew this was a big one. I swept the rod and felt a terrible snap. The leader broke. “AHHHHH! What else can go wrong?” I re-rigged and eased back into position, within a few minutes, I had another bite, another good fish. I set the hook and stuck it. It was a good one and Mary was ready with the net. The fish jumped. It wasn’t a five pounder, but I knew it would help. She netted it and I breathed a sigh of relief, until I looked at the fish. The hook was stuck right in the tongue and into a gill. I weighed the fish and it weighed 4.5, a good 0.5 bigger than my smallest fish. But the fish was bleeding, badly. I sat there and held the fish in the water and thought and calculated and calculated and calculated. After about 30 seconds of sitting motionless, I released my grip and watched the four and a half pounder swim away. I knew had I culled a four pounder and that fish expired, I would have lost 0.5. Good grief, why is this so stressful? I looked up and said, “Lord, please!!” Mary could feel my tension. She calmly looked at me and said, “Maybe He just wants you to be patient.”
I fished for another 30 minutes before it was time to go. I caught several more good fish, but never culled. I was completely spent when I pulled up the trolling motor. Jason and I had agreed to meet to run back together, just in case either of us had boat problems. I knew I had a great bag, but I couldn’t help but think of what might have been. We left enough time to take it easy on the run back to Paris. We ran about 50 mph. After about 20 minutes, I motioned to Jason to slow down. I wanted to refill the livewells in case they had lost any water and check on my fish. He asked if I had a good bag. I nodded. “Twenty-three?” he said. “I’ve got more than that. I think I’ve got twenty-four.” He was pumped. He said he had about 20 or 21. Once the livewells were full again, we took off and continued at a moderate clip back to the ramp. Numbers were whirling through my mind the whole time. What if those three aren’t really all over five? I know I have two that are little better than four. I could only have twenty-three. What if I have twenty-five? Nah, no way. Twenty-three, that’s what I have, twenty-three. The wind was blowing pretty good out of the south, so before we crossed Big Sandy, I motioned to Jason to stop one more time and check on the girls. I told him. “I’ve only got twenty-three. I recalculated, I don’t have twenty-four.” Jason’s observer looked at him and said, “Don’t stop again. He’ll only have nineteen by the time we get in.” We got back with about 12 minutes to spare. Part of me wanted to make a few more casts, but I knew that the smart thing to do was to check in. We did. It was over. I had done what I could do. Now it was just a waiting game.
We got the boats on the trailers and the usual buzz went through the parking lot. I knew that three of the four guys in front of me said that they had under 20 pounds. If they were telling the truth, I had them beat. I also knew that it was going to be very difficult, not impossible, but difficult, for someone to come from behind and beat me. They would have to have 25 pounds on the second day, which certainly is not out of the realm of possibility, but I doubted it would happen. For about 20 minutes, I thought that I had a chance.
When we got back to the convention center, we all lined-up and waited some more. The buzz kept continued; unfortunately, it was bad news for me. Rogne Brown, who won this tournament last year with 49 pounds over two days, said he had twenty-four. I knew it was over. He was about 0.3 ahead of me after my penalty yesterday, meaning IF he really had only 24 on the dot, I would have to have 24.4 to win. I knew I didn’t have that. If he said he had twenty-four, he probably had twenty-five, there was just no way.
Melanie called, I told her I was going to lose by about 0.2 pounds, but that I’d call her when the weigh-in was over. We waited in the boat lot for about 30 minutes, telling lies, fish stories, etc. I was pretty disheveled the whole time. I paced back and forth. I wanted to look in the livewells, but I was afraid if I did, they would be smaller than I thought they were. Finally, they started taking fish up. Golf carts came by to pick us up with our fish in the bag. I didn’t want to go first, but I didn’t want to go last either. About half way through, Rogne got a bag and sacked his fish. Jason and I stood by his boat and watched. They all looked like five pounders to me. We congratulated him on a great bag and I told Jason I was done. “Those aren’t all five pounders, dude. He doesn’t have twenty-four.” David Wright and Jeff Coble who were standing at Jeff’s boat also came up and said that they didn’t think that was twenty-four. There was a glimmer of hope.
I had seen enough. The next time the golf-cart came by, I was ready. Jason stood by and watched while Mary and her husband, Brian, held the bag. I went in after them. I started on the small side. I pulled out two fish, both were over four, but not close to five, and dropped them in the bag. I opened the other side. The first one I pulled out was a really good one. It looked to be well over five. I thought to myself that that one must have been the biggest one. The next one was just as big. So was the third one. Jason looked at me and said, “Heck of a sack, Bubba.” I knew it was going to be close.
By the time I got to the bump tank, someone (I can’t remember who it was now) came out and told me that Rogne’s fish weighed 23 something. My optimism bumped up just slightly. When they emptied the big girls into the tank, several people gathered around and oooohed and aaahhhed. That’s a great feeling, I don’t care how many times you’ve done it. They sacked them up and I walked into the convention center. The place was absolutely packed. There were 333 boats in the Triton Owners tournament and the mandatory pre-tournament meeting was immediately following our weigh-in. I’m sure that there were 500-600 people in the room. I walked up to the stage and handed my black bag to Larry Braynt, the tournament Director. Byron Velvick was emcee. Larry announced that I needed 23.82 to take the lead. I was struggling to read the scale around Larry. It hit 23 something then I saw 24. The numbers bounced around a little, but stayed over 24. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Larry called the weight, “24.12, 24.12.” I took a seat in the “hot seat” on the front of the boat just off stage.
I just sat there while everyone stared at me. I could see a lot of my friends in the front of the auditorium. They were smiling and giving me thumbs-up. I figured that there were still about 15-20 guys to weigh-in. Probably five more came through, weighed-in and left. I looked to my right and Jason was standing in the doorway with his black bag. He’s all smiles. As they announced his name, he came by me and gave me a fist bump. I was so pumped, but I figured it would still be a while before it was over. Tracy Townsend called me up to the stage and announced that Jason was the last man to weigh-in.
Tracy told the story of how Jason and I were best friends and had been college roommates and fishing partners for 11 years. He said that one of us was about to be the Triton Gold Elite Champion. We both knew who it was going to be, but I don’t know if I was happier or Jason. They weighed his bag in at 21 something and announced that I was the winner! It couldn’t have been more perfect. We didn’t plan it that way, that was just the way the cards fell. It was so awesome for the two of us to be standing on that stage together after everything we’d been through together. We started fishing tournaments together in 1998 out of my Dad’s old 1979 Ranger boat with 1979 Johnson Seahorse. We knew nothing about fishing bass tournaments. Since that time, we had done well together and individually. Between the two of us, we had won 3 boats, a truck, been to 3 All Americans, 1 BASS Weekend Series National Championship and won quite a few tournaments. This was an awesome moment for both of us.
They handed me the giant check and trophy and took some pictures. I tried to smile, but was so in shock that a smile was difficult. After I got off stage, everything was kind of a blur. There were a lot of sincere congratulations from some great people and great friends. I tried to call Melanie, but she was coaching soccer. I texted her and called about four times. When I finally got her about 20 minutes later, I said, “Did you get my text?” She said she didn’t. I said, “I won.” She screamed. That was beautiful.
The rest of the evening was spent mostly on the cell phone, returning text messages, and talking to everyone. I had heard that Adam had caught 15 pounds and was leading the All American. I called him to tell him about my win. He was absolutely pumped for me, but I could tell that he was completely focused on his task at hand.
We had to fish tomorrow, and I was so looking forward to fishing with Jason. The pressure was off. We were just going fishing. We had accomplished what we set out to do last June when we knew both of us had qualified. I won one the biggest paydays of my career. I had my two best weights on Kentucky Lake on back-to-back days. It was an incredible day and an incredible feeling, one I hope I never forget.
After things calmed down, Jason and I stopped and got a bite to eat. We talked about the week and what we would do the next two days. Although I would love to go through every detail, of what transpired on May 29th and 30th, here is the cliff-notes version. By 10:30 on Friday, we only had about 16 pounds and had fished all of both of our places where we caught them in the Gold Tournament. We were a little disappointed, but who could be upset after the last two days? I told Jason that we could try another spot I found in practice, but hadn’t hit yet. As I pulled up to the waypoint, my boat began to shake violently. I had lost a blade on my prop and didn’t have a spare. Jason got on the cell phone and started calling friends for help. By the time our spare prop arrived in about an hour, we had culled everything we had and were sitting there grinning with about 25 pounds.
They actually weighed 24.46 and we were in sixth place after the first day. I was getting texts constantly asking about our day and telling about the All American. It seemed that Adam had caught 9 pounds and was now leading the All American by about six pounds with one day to fish. I knew he’d do it. When I finally talked to him about 8:00 that night, I could tell the nerves were still there, but the confidence was beginning to show even more. He had told me from the time he qualified that he was going there to win. He really was.
As I drove to Paris Landing the next morning, I had total peace. We were going to have another great day. I knew it. There was going to be a 100+ boat tournament out of the area we were fishing, but that didn’t bother me one bit. I just knew we could catch them. We ran straight back to the “break-down spot” the next morning and quickly boated two 5 pounders. I felt like we were taking up right where we had left off. Unfortunately, though, the rest of the day was pretty slow. We caught several fish and had a few good ones but it was nothing at all like what it had been the past three days. There were boats everywhere, no current, and the fish had been pounded for a week. We left for Paris with about 21 pounds. We both knew that it wasn’t enough to win. We left time to hit a couple of places around Paris before we had to be in. There were boats on every place we wanted to stop (yet another instance of divine intervention). I told Jason to pull in on a ledge in Big Sandy. We hadn’t fished it since last year. I pulled out a spoon, which I hadn’t thrown at all in the tournament, and with 15 minutes to go, caught a six pounder. I culled a 3.75, and we once again, had a 24 pound bag. When the dust settled, we won the Triton Owner’s Tournament by two pounds. We were pretty popular at the weigh-in, although I’m quite sure there were some folks who were not too happy with us.
I had to take a polygraph, which is always a good thing after a weigh-in. I was dying to hear about the All American. I think I was more worried about that than I was whether we’d win or not. JD was watching the weigh-in on his computer texting me minute-by-minute updates. When it was over, my phone went crazy with texts and calls. Adam won by almost 10 pounds-blew them away- and was standing on stage with a $120,000 check. I yelled louder when I heard that than I did when we won.
After it was all over and we were back at our trucks sorting out rods and tackle, Jason and I were all grins. This day, this week, had been so good, I almost felt guilty. I looked and Jason and said, “You know, in about twenty years, we be talking about today and saying, ‘Those were the good ‘ole days.’”
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