The thing you always know about the ones that got away is that they're either really big or happen in a really big tournament. The one that haunts me was both.
It happened at the 2004 Bassmaster Classic on North Carolina's Lake Wylie. It was the first day of the tournament, and I was struggling with about an hour to go.
I decided to pick up my flipping stick and go work some laydowns I had found. There was one big laydown in the area that I wanted to pick apart. I started with a tube and pretty quickly found the sweet spot that held some fish.
Once I found the right spot, I pitched the tube in there and caught three nice fish in about five minutes. My day was looking up. I had gone from practically nothing to the beginning of a pretty nice sack in no time.
After catching three on the tube, I decided to switch to a jig and see if there might be a better fish in there that would respond to a bait with a bigger profile. I pitched into the sweet spot with the jig and immediately hooked a really good bass.
When she jumped out of the branches, I got a good look at her. She was at least 6 pounds and exactly the kind of fish I needed to anchor my catch and put me up among the early leaders. I also noticed that the jig was deep in her mouth, which is usually a good sign.
I fought her for a little while longer and eased her over the boat where I could lip her. But just as I was reaching down to put my thumb in her mouth and lift her into the boat, the jig popped out. She couldn't have been more than a foot or so away from my hand.
Of course, you know what happened next. Everything seemed to go in slow motion as the fish swam away and I made one last mad lunge for her. All I got was wet.
And if that wasn't frustrating enough — and I certainly thought it was — I made another pitch with the same jig into the same spot and hooked a 3-pounder. That fish got off, too.
So, instead of leading the first round of the Bassmaster Classic, I'm back in the pack thinking about what might have been. I wound up finishing 13th.