From disaster to Top 12

DALLAS — I’m back in Dallas recovering from what was, by far, one of the harshest, most brutal fishing tournaments I’ve ever experienced at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open presented by Allstate on Lake Amistad. See a video of my experience there.

Amistad just isn’t herself at the moment and a 30-foot rise in water level from last year and some of the coldest temperatures on record for the tournament only made things a lot worse.

I hit Lake Amistad at daylight on the Saturday before the tournament and ran some of the areas where my good mate and rod sponsor Ian Miller and I caught some fish on our trip last year. After a few hours of no bites I put my Skeeter/Yamaha on pad and kept my eyes glued to my sounder searching for some hidden dropoffs or creeks that didn’t show up as well on the Navionics.

After an hour or so, I came across a 15-foot flat that then dropped down into a 30-foot creek bed then back up to 15 feet. It was a prime winter staging area for these Florida-strain bass. I positioned my Skeeter and made a cast with a Hog Farmer multi-rig lure up the middle of the creek bed. It hit the bottom and I made a short sharp rip with my Millerod ‘Rig Freak’ and went into a slow roll.

Then the rod was nearly torn from my hands.

Amistad giant

I knew it was a big fish, so I kept my rod low and was trying to not let a nearby boat see that I had a fish on. I pulled my trolling motor up and strapped my rods down while fighting the fish. I could feel her slowly rising to the surface and out of nowhere I saw this giant mouth thrashing on top.

It was the biggest bass I had ever seen in my life.

I sat down in the driver’s seat, cranked my motor over like I was going to leave, grabbed her by the jaw and slid her over the side.

As she lay on the seat beside me I couldn’t believe the size of the bass. I wanted to get some photos so I put her in the livewell and called my good mate Josh Douglas and asked if he would come take a few pictures for me.

It was recommended I get it officially weighed because she looked more than 12 pounds, so I took her up to the Texas Parks and Wildlife center, and she went 10.20.

This was my first-ever 10-pounder and the biggest to be weighed on Lake Amistad for more than six months.

Even though it cut into my practice time, I didn’t care. It was an amazing experience and a fish of a lifetime, one I’ll never forget.

Practice patterns

The following four days, I had an up-and-down practice. Some days I would find fish and the next I wouldn’t have a bite. The weather was relentless, sitting at 29 degrees (or -3 Celsius) and winds up to 35 mph. It was nothing short of brutal.

I fished hard all week, and each morning I would try to be the first on the ramp and last off. I could never beat Edwin Evers, though. He was there after dark every day.

I have been working hard on my fitness at Crossfit and eating well every day and it 100 percent helped me throughout this tournament. I haven’t needed an energy drink since I started eating right and staying fit. I can go hard all day rig my boat and tackle at night, sleep well and be ready before day light the next morning to be back at them again.

Frozen Open

Tournament morning approached, and we realized we hadn’t seen the worst of the weather. The temperature dropped to well below freezing with a solid 10-mph wind.

I’d never felt anything like it.

I had the best cold-weather gear I could afford and had on just about every piece of clothing possible. I had hand warmers, feet warmers, neck gator, beanie and had two sets of gloves on, and it was just bearable.

Just.

I ran to my first spot and started to throw the Hog Farmer multi rig on a 30-foot drop. After five minutes, my reels were becoming hard to wind when I realized my entire rod was covered in ice and my reel got jammed so tight with ice that it wouldn’t let the levelwind come all the way across. Every five minutes, I had to chip the ice from my reels and clean out every guide on the rod.

I didn’t realize how tough the fishing had gotten and I tried to run all over my areas to put a limit together and didn’t really slow down. My biggest mistake was not giving my 10-pounder spot enough time. My co-angler caught a 5-pounder there dragging a drop shot while he sat on the seat, in a ball, shivering.

He looked in trouble so I gave him some of my feet and hand warmers to try get his body temp back up.

Day One disaster

I weighed two fish for the day and sat in 78th after the first day.

I am a positive person and try not to let things get me down for too long, but after the work and conditions I had endured that week, the fact that it didn’t pay off was heartbreaking.

I have a lot of support and got some great messages overnight. I was ready to make a comeback even though I had never made a second-day comeback in my three years here.

Second time lucky

The next day I went straight to my 10-pound spot. This time the wind had picked up and created some current over the dropoff. My plan was to drop shot all day to try to put a limit together and save the points for the Central Opens, but the conditions were right for the multi-rig, so I picked it up and caught a 3-pounder on my fifth cast.

I decided then that I wasn’t going to leave this area all day. I was going to go for a big limit. I knew I wasn’t going to get many bites, but I ground out five fish all day — with a 5-pounder to anchor the bag and my final fish a solid 4.

I ended up weighing in the third-biggest bag of the day (15-6) and made a jump from 78th to the Top 12 cut in 11th place.

It was an amazing feeling to make such a comeback after being down by so far. I knew I had a lot of people watching the live weigh-in from back home in Australia and it was great to give them something to cheer about. I got an overwhelming response from it. It makes me want to push so hard and be the best I can be.

Day Three highs

The third day was a blast.

I was on such a high, but it was still down to business. I needed to make a jump and you always have to go for the win even though I was 18 pounds behind the leader.

Who would have known by the end of the day I was two 5-pound bites off winning the tournament. Fishing is a crazy game and one thing’s for sure: Nothing is a guarantee.

I weighed in three for the day with big bass at 7-6, and it moved me into sixth place.

This tournament was a huge one for my confidence and reinforced that I should never doubt or never, ever give up. It was an amazing week in all, as I was lucky to stay with Bassmaster Elite Series pros Jeff Kriet and Mike McClelland and Hydrowave owner Gene Eisenmann.

When Kriet and McClelland started talking fishing, I stayed quiet and listened. They are two of the best anglers in the world. I was very lucky to have that time. I learned so much just staying with them for a few days.

A big congrats to Andy Young for winning the tournament. Andy was one of the guys who stayed back and cheered me on when I made the cut at Ross Barnett in 2013. When I broke my Minn Kota prop, he was the first there to lend me his spare. He’s a great guy and a deserving victor.

I have plenty of exciting things happening now, like heading to the Bassmaster Classic and picking up my new 2014 Skeeter.

I love the Classic. It gets me so fired up!

My money is on Fred Roumbanis.

Next Open is on Smith Lake, so hopefully I’ll have my Skeeter in and set up, ready to roll.

I can’t wait.

Whatever it takes!

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