2011 Bass Pro Shops Southern Open #1 Kissimmee Chain of Lakes - Kissimmee, FL, Jan 20 - 22, 2011

Big fish = big tackle

Bassmaster Elite Series pro Charlie Hartley

The Toho tournament wasn't great, but it wasn't bad either. I finished the first day in 55th place but moved up to 17th place at the end of the second day. If I can continue to improve like that all year, I'll be in great shape this summer.

I learned a valuable lesson last week, too. If you're going to fish for giant bass, you'd better bring along giant tackle. I didn't on the first day, and it cost me. I'm not going to say I lost a couple of big ones, because it doesn't matter. Besides, it'll sound like I'm whining. Everybody loses fish. I will repeat, however — giant bass require giant tackle.

The 10 pound, 10 ounce bass I weighed in on Friday — my biggest ever in tournament competition — is a really good example of what I'm talking about.

I was fishing an area where I could catch a small limit in about 45 minutes early in the morning. That's what I need to get my confidence up to go giant bass hunting. That's exactly how it happened on Friday. I caught a small limit and went after a big one.

My best spot was a clump of five lily pads, all together in a bunch. They looked like they came from a flower shop. I pitched into the center of that clump at least 20 times. As I made what I thought was my last pitch, I saw the water boil. I pitched again. In a short second the battle was on, and was it ever crazy.

In an instant the water exploded and the pads pulled together. Then, all of a sudden and without warning, my line went limp. I thought she'd broke me off. But when I looked closer I realized that the lily pad stems had been cut by my line. That's what caused the slack.

I reeled like crazy to pick up the slack in my line. Finally, I made contact with her. Then she swam under my boat, pulling drag all the way. I could see my 15-pound-test Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon line bent across my rub rail.

Why — or how — the line didn't break, I'll never know. Trilene fluorocarbon is tough stuff, but everything has its limits. Nevertheless, it held and my biggest tournament bass was history.

I think I'll save a piece of that line, and the Venom Salty Slingipede she bit, for my trophy wall at home. And next time I'll upgrade my tackle to something more suitable for the size bass I'm chasing. That'll make my fishing a lot less nerve-racking.

Next time we'll talk about pre-fishing the St. Johns River and how much Florida bass fishing has improved in recent years. It really is extraordinary.

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