Let me start by saying what an awesome year it's been. We have two great champions this year: Chris Lane at the Bassmaster Classic and Brent Chapman for the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year. My family is close with both of their families, and we are very happy for them. They are both great anglers and great guys. Good for them and their families!
As for my season, I think I learned some lessons this year. That's the great thing about fishing; we learn something on every trip. Being able to decipher what we learned and utilize it moving forward is how we become better anglers. I hope I can help some of you learn from the lessons that I learned this year on tour.
It's no secret that I got off to a slow start in Florida. I caught a lot of fish, just the wrong ones. I had stretches that were really good, but they were really crowded and I didn't have anything else that was dependable. At Okeechobee, there were as many as 15 boats in the area I fished most. At the St. John's River, there were quite a few boats around as well. I really didn't know where to go. Every spot I went to had boats everywhere and everyone was catching them. The lesson I learned in Florida is that sometimes you can catch them, but other people are going to catch them better. I really needed to have more spots figured out and spots other people didn't find. This lesson ended up helping me later in the season.
The Bull Shoals event was a tough one for me to swallow. I had found two really good spots in practice. One was a deep structure spot that held some solid fish; the other was a large school of smallmouths that I knew I could rely on for a quick limit. I didn't know it at the time, but the whole tournament came down to one decision I made the morning of the first day.
I made the safer decision to go to the smallmouth school and get a limit before heading to the main spot. The smallmouth weren't the same. They moved, and although I got a limit, it wasn't enough to have a chance to win. By the time I got to the second spot, Brandon Palaniuk was already there. The spot wasn't big enough for two anglers to fish. Although I fished it for a few minutes, I left it to Palaniuk. He went on to win the event, mostly from that spot. The lesson I learned was that you never know what decision is going to be the game changing decision. Trust your instincts. One decision cost me a good finish and possibly a shot to win.
Douglas Lake was the turning point for the season. I pre-practiced for this event, which helped. I was doing some long lining, but I wasn't going as far as some people. I would cast a deep diving crankbait as far as I could then move another 50 to 100 feet and get the right angle on the spot. Some people were loading their spools with light line and emptying their whole reel before they started the retrieve. Both ways seemed to work pretty well. I mixed in a flutter spoon to land a few big fish, too.
The event was a lot of fun. I caught almost 25 pounds in a day, and catching crankbait fish makes for fun fishing. The lesson I learned was that knowledge of the lake makes a difference. I don't get much if any information about most of lakes we visit. Having that experience on the lake before the cutoff was a big help.
At Toledo Bend I found some really good schools of fish. Come tournament time, my best school of fish was loaded with anglers. I was sharing water with Terry Scroggins Jeff Kriet and Ott DeFoe. Even so, I had a good shot at doing well. Unfortunately, I didn't execute. I lost some big fish. One was at least an eight pounder, maybe more. I actually fell into the water during the excitement of attempting to get a hold of that fish. Two casts later I had a four pounder on, and it came unbuttoned as well. I had the fish on to make the cut at this event, and overall I was making good decisions and starting to feel good.
I could tell I was back to fishing well. I didn't really get to fish my best stuff during the event because every time I went there someone was fishing it. The lesson I learned came not only from this event, but from the Florida events and the Bull Shoals event as well. Simply put, when you have 97 or 99 or 100 of the best anglers in the world on a lake it's tough to find something nobody else does. That's the way it goes. Next week, I'll tell you how this lesson has already helped me.
Thank you to everyone who voted me into Toyota Trucks All-Star week. I appreciate it.