Without a good finish all year, it would make it tough. With endless amounts of great water and lily pads for as far as you could see, I liked the way it was setting up.
I had found a great frog bite. There were schools of bass in small sections of the pads. You could fish for 500 yards without a bite, then have five or six blow-ups in as many casts and then nothing again.
I was excited to get out there. I’ve been lucky enough to have some frog lessons off one of the best frog fisherman I know — Fred Roumbanis.
I roomed with and worked with Gene Eisman over that week. We had a few other bites going and we were keyed in on some fish that were showing up on the dam by swimming a worm.
On that first morning, I was running my Skeeter/Yamaha at 70 mph up to my first frog spot, only to realize the wind had changed direction and had blown out all my good water. And with overcast conditions, the frog was out.
This had happened to me all year and I wasn’t able to adjust fast enough.
But not this time.
I put everything I had learned into play and fished the conditions, constantly thinking what the fish were doing, watching the wind and clouds and making continual changes.
I caught my bag on four different techniques for just less than 10 pounds, which had me sitting in 24th and well within reach of making my first ever final-day cut.
On the second day, I started on the dam where I caught my two best fish the day before, swimming a worm. I caught my five quickly and started to make small upgrades throughout the day.
It was around 11 o’clock and as the wind started to drop, the sun came out and it got hot and muggy. This was the most critical decision I made over the tournament. I was getting lots of bites on the dam and I’ve always gone by the motto, “Don’t leave fish to find fish,” but I wasn’t getting the big bites I needed to make the 12 cut and things were setting up for the frog bite I’d found to fire up.
The jackets went on and soon enough I was dropping off-pad and gliding into the lily field.
For the next two hours, I barely moved the boat and upgraded every fish I had in the livewell until I had almost 12 pounds and I was on my way back to check in.
I wasn’t sure it was enough to make the cut, and a gut-wrenching wait at the weigh-in continued until the last angler weighed in and I was sitting in ninth. Taking in that I had finally made a final-day cut after three years of near misses was the greatest day of my fishing career — and maybe my life.
Being at the third-day briefing was surreal, standing beside some of the legends of the sport: Keith Combs, Cliff Crochet, Steven Browning, Justin Lucas, Randall Tharp. What a rush to be fishing against these guys.
Day Three kicked off, and the conditions had changed again. The bite on the wall was on fire. I had my five by 8:30 a.m. and made a big upgrade at 9 a.m. with a solid 4-pounder. I had my first spectator boat on the final day. They were following our every move.
I had met the spectators at our hotel. After hearing my story, they cancelled their flights back to Minnesota so they could come on the water and cheer us on. It was awesome.
Every fish I caught resulted in loud cheers and yells like I’d just won the Classic. It was one of the funniest and coolest experiences I’ve ever had. The atmosphere was nothing like I’d felt before and I was having fun, which resulted in positive things happening all day.