2012 Bass Pro Shops Southern Open #1 Harris Chain of Lakes - Tavares, FL, Jan 19 - 21, 2012

Harris preparation

Last night, two days before I leave for the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open at Florida’s Harris Chain, the jet stream blasted the Midwest with winter.

It was 18 degrees this morning in southern Ohio with a predicted high of 23. Did I mention through my grumbling that the landscape was transformed into a winter wonderland?

I’m taking the white stuff as an omen. The timing couldn’t be better for heading south.

I am hopelessly unprepared to fish a tournament. I started working on my tackle for the first time last night. What a mess.

How can that be? Don’t writers have oodles of free time to go fishing? I wish that were true. Fact is I spend most days sitting behind a computer pounding on the keys.

There’s also the hunting. More on that distraction later.

Since I’ll be fishing the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Opens as a nonboater, I still have time to pull it together. I thoroughly enjoy fishing the Bassmaster Opens without a boat (especially January tournaments in Florida) but I don’t get as pumped for them as when fishing as a boater.

After all, nonboaters can’t qualify for the Bassmaster Classic as boaters can. And, nonboaters have no control over where they’ll be fishing.

Then again, there is that fully rigged bass boat that goes to whoever wins the nonboater side of the event. That’s more than enough incentive to get my butt in gear.

Common sense tells me to reflect on the mistakes I’ve made in previous Bassmaster Opens so I can fare better in 2012. That sounds good in theory, but I habitually seem to come up short on that common sense thing.

It’s hard to determine what went wrong when you do poorly at a tournament. Even harder is figuring how to graduate from being a donator to an angler that regularly reaps rewards. Who wants to keep making the same boneheaded decisions?

Since I’ve never been to the Harris Chain, I have no personal history to draw from. There was that Open tournament at Okeechobee where I cobbled together a Carolina rigged lizard at the last minute and lost two good fish that would have propelled me to day three.

So, I better have a rod ready with a Carolina rigged lizard.

During last year’s Open tournament at Tohopekaliga, one of my boater partners, North Carolina’s Lee King, showed me how effective a swimming worm can be. Better have one of those, too.

Oh yeah, Gerald Swindle won that tournament with a lipless rattler. Got to have a rod for that.

I fished another Open tournament at Toho a few years back in which my nonboating partner caught four bass behind me on a Zoom Fluke. Better have something along those lines, too.

I also remember fishing Okeechobee with Dean Rojas. When the water temperature climbed to 60 degrees in the afternoon, he mopped up with his Bronzeye Frog.

What about the venerable plastic worm? It would be unthinkable to fish in Florida without that.

How do I prepare to fish these and other lures when, as a nonboater, I’m trying limit my rods. Bear with me while I think out loud.

Of course, I’ll have to bring my Dobyns flippin’ rod in case I draw a boater that’s punching through matted grass. I got this rod last year and matched it with a 5.5-ounce Shimano Core reel. It’s the best rod and reel combo I’ve ever owned.

Rod number two will be a 7-foot medium action baitcasting outfit with 14-pound monofilament for topwater plugs, lipless crankbaits and shallow-running crankers.

A 7-foot medium-heavy action baitcaster with 14-pound fluorocarbon will handle swimming worms, Texas rigged worms, Fluke type baits and sinking worms.

For frogs and toads, I’ve got a 7-foot, 2-inch, All Star ASR Jig/Frog that’ll be rigged with 50- or 65-pound braid.

That leaves room for one more outfit. I’m thinking maybe a 7-foot heavy action baitcaster rigged with 50-pound braid and a 14-pound fluorocarbon leader. That would work for Carolina rigging. I could also cut off the leader and use it with spinnerbaits.

Should I add a spinning outfit for light stuff? I’m thinking no, but I might change my mind after a few days of practice.

As for my hunting distractions, I’ll have to pull tree stands, climbing sticks, safety belts and other bowhunting paraphernalia out of my pickup’s bed to make room for my tournament tackle.

I finally climbed to a tree with my Ferguson longbow in early November. I killed a doe my first night out. I’ve been looking for a good buck ever since, but haven’t seen one.

I’ve been practicing with one of my homemade osage self bows. I’ve gotten proficient enough with it to make a 15- to 20-yard shot on a whitetail. If I find a good buck before the bow season ends, I’ll go after him with this bow. Check out my accompanying photo gallery if you’d like to see me whittling an osage stave into a self bow.

I hunted an Ohio shotgun/muzzleloader deer season with my daughter Valerie last December. I’ve mentioned several times in my blogs that Valerie was in nursing school. She’s now working as a registered nurse. Amazing!

Our hunt lasted little more than an hour. We were sitting next to each other on a wooded hillside overlooking a creek bottom below where deer cross.

About 20 minutes after good shooting light, a 4-point buck silently rounded a brush-covered bend to our left and was less than 20 yards away. We couldn't move.

The buck came within 10 yards of us before heading downhill toward the creek. Valerie took out a piece of the buck's heart with a 12 gauge slug at 35 yards.

The buck dropped within sight, which prompted a big-time celebration. I gave Valerie the traditional blood-cheek smear for her first deer. Her hero shot is in my gallery.

Never forget it.

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