You’ve probably figured already that the incompetent in the title is yours truly. This was hammered into my noggin on the two days prior to the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open at Lake Norman.
That’s when I pre-fished with pros Gerald Swindle and Cliff Pirch. The experience was impressive … and demoralizing.
Swindle, of course, is one of the most popular anglers on the Bassmaster Elite Series tour. We can’t get enough of his spontaneous, outrageously comical statements. His mind lives in another dimension.
Arizonan Pirch has established himself as a top-level bass angler in other major tournament circuits. He is fishing the Bassmaster Opens this year in a quest to qualify for the Elite Series.
I met Pirch for the first time Tuesday morning. He is slim, agile, wears a visor and has a short version of Byron Velvick’s haircut. Must be a Western thing. (See Photo Gallery)
I soon found that Pirch is quiet, humble, confident and competent. We fished a slew of docks that day. Pirch’s ability to hit every dock post and skip under any opening beneath a floating dock blew my mind.
It was the most impressive casting performance I’ve ever seen. I don’t believe Pirch made more than a dozen errant casts all day. By errant, I mean a cast that was 2 feet off target.
And it didn’t matter which lure he was casting. He would skip an unweighted sinking worm under one dock, then grab another baitcasting rod and skip a 1-ounce swimbait under the next dock without a hitch.
My eyes popped when he gently skipped the swimbait under a floating dock that had only a 3-inch slit to get under. The swimbait kissed the water lightly and shot far under the dock.
I was mesmerized by the show. Then it dawned on me that Pirch’s superior casting skill was one reason he regularly cashes checks and I don’t. My casting accuracy doesn’t begin to compare with his.
It came as no surprise when Pirch finished in fifth place after the final Lake Norman weigh-in was over.
I’ll be writing a feature on Pirch that will soon be posted on the Bassmaster.com Opens page. You don’t want to miss it.
I fished with “G-Man” Swindle Wednesday. His plan was to look for new stuff and to recheck fish he had already found during his first two practice days.
Why did Swindle recheck his bass? Because he wanted to know how they had changed locations and attitudes from when he had found them. This would help him anticipate what they were likely to do after the tournament started.
I have worked with Swindle many times over the past several years while getting photos and material for my articles. This was the first time I had ever been with him during actual tournament preparation.
It was a real eye-opener.
As always, Swindle was energetic, upbeat and hilarious. I wish every bass fan could fish with him. You’d never forget it.
I glanced at Swindle’s Humminbird GPS map and saw countless blue-dot waypoints. The screen looked like someone had used it for a target at a turkey shoot, and won.
If Swindle had forgotten to fill the tank of his Triton boat that morning, we would have run out of gas. He covered more water by 2 p.m. than I do in three practice days.
We hit so many creeks, points, pockets and docks so fast that I couldn’t keep track of where we’d been. Swindle had no such trouble.
I suspect that Swindle has a photographic memory. Seriously. I was astonished by his ability to remember the subtleties of the many places he revisited.
Several times that day he would see a good bass, either on a bed or cruising. He’d say something like, “I have to remember that the bass is about 40 feet to the right of that laydown.”
“You gonna mark that fish,” I’d say.
“No. I can remember it,” Swindle would reply.
Are you kidding me?
We hit umpteen creeks that morning, passed by countless other laydowns and saw dozens of bass. I would never have been able to return to such a spot without a waypoint.
By this time I was crushed. I don’t have the ability to remember fishing spots the way Swindle does, and my casting ability pales compared to Pirch’s, and to Swindle’s, too, for that matter.
Swindle never stayed long anywhere, nor did he go where there was another boat. One reason for this is that the big, yellow Tundra logo on his wrap is visible from a half mile away.
If Swindle fishes for more than a few minutes in any given spot, other competitors catch onto what he’s doing. It’s a serious handicap that pros like Swindle somehow overcome.
There were notable similarities in how Swindle and Pirch practiced for the Lake Norman event. Both of them spent more time looking for bedding and cruising bass than they did fishing.
Neither angler tried to catch bass. They used swimbaits and other lures that would bring bass up where they could see them and gauge their size.
Pirch caught one keeper spotted bass so I could take a picture of him with it. Swindle never did land a bass.
Another thing that amazed me with Swindle was that he wasn’t concerned about what the bass were biting. He just wanted to know where they were and what they were up to. His lure choices on game day would be determined by the conditions.
Swindle made many good choices during the tournament, as he finished in sixth place.
On my first practice day, Monday, I fished with North Carolina’s Lee King and Jason Rice, two of my housemates. We had rented a house for the week right on the lake with Jarrod Nelson and Jeff Stoner.
Rice was a new and welcome addition to our crew. That is, until he finished in 40th place as a co-angler and was the only angler in our group to earn a check. He may have worn out his welcome.
That day we fished docks and flats and tried a wide variety of lures. We hooked everything that bit and caught a few dozen bass. Eight of them were keepers, including a few beautiful 2 1/2-pound spotted bass.
The most productive lures were Fluke-style baits. I was using Strike King’s Caffeine Shad. It’s the lure that produced all five of the bass I weighed in on the co-angler side.
I was fired up to fish the Caffeine Shad the first tournament day when I was paired with Idaho’s Brandon Palaniuk, who competes on the Elite Series tour.
Palaniuk’s main pattern was drop shotting a tiny wacky rigged worm under the walkways of docks. He caught seven or eight keepers with this tactic.
I picked off my only two keepers of the day by skipping the Caffeine Shad under the walkways behind Palaniuk. As usual, I got stuck on that bait and didn’t take advantage of other opportunities.
While Palaniuk was fishing a walkway, I should have been casting a shaky head worm or some other finesse bait to the deeper posts of the dock. That brain dead move cost me the third keeper bass I needed to finish my limit, which probably would have gotten a small check.
The low point of the day, for me, was the two hours that Palaniuk invested trying to catch a bedding largemouth that he estimated at 5 to 6 pounds. The bass never bit. It would have been a huge game changer for Palaniuk.
On Friday, I drew legendary angler and former Bassmaster Classic champion Tommy Martin of Hemphill, Texas. Martin had weighed in nearly 11 pounds the first day and was sitting pretty in the Top 10.
His pattern was fishing shallow docks and stumps on flats with a 1/2-ounce, full-skirted jig dressed with a plastic craw that had big flapping pincers. He had caught 20 keepers on the bait the first day, mainly spotted bass.
“They want a bait that drops fast,” Martin told me. “You can’t get a bite on a 1/4- or 3/8-ounce jig.”
Martin quickly boated two bass on the jig that morning, which was cold and rainy. Then the wind blew the clouds away and ushered in a blue, cloudless sky and post-front conditions that killed his jig bite.
Martin never caught another keeper bass on a jig. I managed three bass that weighed 5 pounds by split-shotting a Caffeine Shad.
Martin is 71 year olds. You’d never know it. He is in remarkably good shape, and he worked as hard all day as any pro I’ve every fished with. He’s unbelievable.
Martin’s truck and boat wrap display the logo for Seeker Rods, which he claims makes the lightest fiberglass rods you can buy. He let me handle one of them after the tournament was over. Very impressive. Check them out at seekerrods.com.
Speaking of rods, I had a chance to fish two of my new Dobyns rods. Both were 7-foot baitcasters, one in medium-heavy and the other a heavy action.
I don’t know how Gary Dobyns does it, but his rods are superbly castable. Whatever lure I matched with his rods, they performed flawlessly.