The Douglas Lake Challenge was one of the most frustrating events in my entire fishing life. I can’t ever remember feeling like I did coming off the water every afternoon.
My practice went fairly well, or at least I thought so at the time. I found some fish shallow and some fish deep. My shallow fish weren’t real big but I figured if I could get five of them in the boat quick I could move out deeper and work on my bigger ones. Truthfully, I felt really good when the tournament started.
All went well, at first. I caught my little keepers and headed towards my deep fish. I was excited. My deep fish weren’t in the community holes most of the guys were fishing. Mine were off by themselves — three spots full of big, tournament winning, bass. I couldn’t see another boat, and that’s a rarity in the Elite Series.
When I got to my first spot I found them immediately. They were all over my electronics. I dropped a big, heavy jig down on them. Nothing. I fished a weighted swimbait. Nothing. I tried a jigging spoon. Nothing. I even bounced some of my finesse stuff in front of them. Nothing.
They just wouldn’t bite. Before the first day was over I think I put almost every lure I own in the water trying to catch them. I’ve never experienced anything like it. They were there. I could see them plain as day. But I couldn’t get even one of them to bite. And it never got any better. I finished 67.
I say almost because the one thing I didn’t try was a crankbait. It wasn’t that I didn’t think one might work. I did. It was that I had no confidence that I could get one down below 20 feet and my bass were between 25 and 30 feet deep.
I’m 40-years-old and have been fishing professionally since way back when. I’d never heard of strolling. OK, some guys talked about it being used on Lake Fork or whatever but not in a serious tournament context, and certainly not with the big motor running, backing up, stripping all the line off your spool. I had no idea.
So here are the two lessons we should all learn from my mistakes at Douglas Lake.
First, and most important, you can find all the fish in the lake but if you don’t show them the right bait, and present it in the right way, you’ll never catch them. Some fish are very finicky about how they react. Forget that and you’ll end up like I did — frustrated and half mad.
Second, pay attention to what the other guys are doing and learn every technique you can. I’m not saying you should always copy the other guys but I am saying you should have a sense of what they’re doing. If I’d known they were strolling with their outboard I might have figured out that I could do it and get my crankbait down where it needed to be.