I remember the day my one that got away happened as if it were yesterday. But then again, who doesn't? It was the final day of my first Bassmaster Classic, the 1997 Classic on Logan Martin Lake near Birmingham, Ala. I was boat No. 2 that day. Ray Scott called my number, and I began my quest to become the Bassmaster Classic champion. I was boat No. 2 because I was in second place going into the final day.
About the time Ray called my number, it began to rain so hard that I could only see 50 yards ahead of me. Luckily, I wasn't going far. About a half-mile from take off, my boat settled and I began looking for my line-ups so I would know where to throw my crankbait. I was trying to locate an underwater rockpile that had produced several key bites the first two days of the Classic. The only problem was that I didn't have the fine-tuned GPS unit that I have today. So I was forced to triangulate my position so I could make the right cast. The rain had made my furthest mark extremely hard to see, so I wasn't sure about my first cast. But, as luck would have it, it was perfect.
I felt the bait contact the rockpile, and as soon as it broke free I felt magic. A hammer ate it. I played the 4-plus-pound Coosa River spot carefully, and after a time I thought I had the fish whipped. When she came by the boat, I could feel my heart about to jump out of my rainsuit. Then, she made a powerful run out in front of the boat. Fortunately, I got her turned and headed back to me. She came back down the side of the boat, and that would be the last time I would lay eyes on her. The crankbait pulled free.
I thought I was going to be sick.
After I regained my composure, I triangulated my position again. The lost fish was still weighing heavy on my mind, but that was my first cast. I still had all day to catch enough weight to put my name in the history books. As it turned out, the bite was not so generous to me that last day. I had four keepers in the well with about an hour remaining to fish. I had pretty much forgotten about the first cast of the day, until I heard Bob Cobb having a conversation with someone over the radio. Bob's words were: "We can't leave him now. If he catches a good one, he might win."
I didn't catch another fish.
My heart sank again for the second time that day. If it weren't for the one that got away, I would have won the 1997 Bassmaster Classic. I finished 3 pounds behind the eventual winner, Dion Hibdon.
I still think about that hammer spot. But as I look back, I wouldn't have fought that fish any different today. It just wasn't meant to be. If I had caught that fish that day, I know my life as it is wouldn't be the same. I have been fishing as a full time pro for 14 years, and I have a wonderful wife and son to go with the greatest job I could ever wish to have. I am so thankful for what God has given since the one that got away.