When I started this column, the Lake Seminole Elite tournament had just ended (though I'm fishing at Table Rock now), and for me it was truly a bittersweet "respectable" first event of the 2014 Elite season. While I am overjoyed to see my very dear friend of over 20 years (and former tour roommate) Brett Hite win this first event of the season, I now reflect on my poor decisions and lack of execution which cost me a legitimate chance of hanging in there with my buddy B-Hite throughout our four days of competition.
I opted out of beating myself up during practice, going so far as to not launch on Monday, but rather work on tackle, visit the service yard to see my tournament support friends, have a late lunch and just take it easy! I did go out on a foggy Tuesday to poke around, make a few casts and catch a few good fish. (One spot produced three good fish in three casts! A return trip an hour later —to see what was so special about that spot —yielded a seven pounder on my first cast!)
As the Seminole event started, I came to realize just how much "dust" had accumulated —not on my rods, reels and tackle, but on my tournament mind and mechanical skills.
On the first two days I found myself hooking and subsequently losing pivotal big fish — not playing them correctly and rushing the battle once hooked.
One key battle haunts me more than the rest. It happened on Day 2. I had four bass for about 18 pounds in the well when I hooked my biggest bass of the day and tried to force her through a formidable stump field.
Having hooked the beast on my primary bait for the tournament (a Livingston DM-14 Crankbait in spring craw red), I felt the fish and the bait hang in the stump. But rather than instinctively slack-line the fish to allow her to pull herself and the bait off the stump, I hung on in horror as she started churning and pulling below the surface, eventually straightening two of the three hooks on one treble to win her freedom.
It was just plain stupid on my part, and it was just one of several of the very, very, very big fifth fish I lost on Day 2.
I ended the day with four bass and 17-4.
I started Day 3 in 21st place, and I woke up sick at my performance to that point.
Even now, several questions are haunting me.
Why did I not slow down and fish a Tightlines UV-Power Worm or UV-Hog through the same areas where the Livingston crankbait had been so successful?
Why (as Ish Monroe asked me on the water the day before) was I not rotating different colored crankbaits through that same area — especially when the fish started short-striking and slapping at the red DM-14? I should have changed to a chartreuse/white "Citrus Sparkle" or a chartreuse "Tiger-Spots" in the same model. I could have given them a completely different look for a pass or two through those key areas.
Why (as Rick Clunn asked me on the bank at the ramp during our hour-long fog delay) had I not worked on varying my retrieve more, giving the fish a different look at the same bait in those fish holding areas?
Hello? Byron? Welcome back to the Elite Series! Now get with the program!
Day 3 found me working out a few of the bugs, posting 24-6 for a five-bass limit and moving into ninth, but I still lost too many big fish. I should have been closer to 30 pounds with what I had on.
And Day 4 was a disaster!
The day was shortened by an approaching storm with some high winds. I got to my key area to find the water muddy and blown out early. I made a good adjustment and went to a main lake pocket, but lost two more big fish. One of them was so large she didn't budge when I set the hook. My Marshal asked if it was a snag. Then she surged and pulled free.
When the wind changed direction, I returned to my key area with an hour left to fish and found the water clearing. My first fish of the short day was a solid six pounder. Then, with time ticking away, I decided to see what else was in the area, pulled out of my sweet spot pocket, and it happened again.
I started getting bit on almost every stump I threw my crankbait near!
First, I caught a three. Then I lost one between four and five pounds. A couple of stumps later I lost another big one.
Then ... time's up! The short day is over.
These stumps —these "new" stumps that I hadn't fished in three days —were just trolling motor distance from my primary area, but I hadn't fished them until late on the final day.
Another lesson learned ... or relearned.
The end came too soon, and I had to leave my little piece of Seminole heaven (or hell, depending on how you look at things).
Why had I not covered that whole area in the three and a half days leading up to that moment?
Clunn once told me that you can fish a perfect tournament and still not win if you executed to your very best for those days you were competing. When that happens, you hold your head high knowing you were the best you could be.
Or you could have an event like I did at Seminole and feel sick about the could-a, would-a, should-a, might-a beens.