My "One That Got Away" story happened in May 2006. I was in my second year of fishing the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Weekend Series and hadn't been fishing tournaments for very long. I was still a little new to the sport and trying to learn as much about tournament fishing as possible.
I was in Monroe, La., practicing for the Weekend Series Regional and staying with a cousin. He had offered to take me out on the Ouachita River and show me around. We went out for a couple of days and caught a few small bass, but nothing much.
He told me about a Ronald McDonald Big Bass tournament taking place there and suggested I sign up to fish it. I decided to do it just for fun. Since I still had a couple of days before the big bass tournament, I kept practicing by myself.
One day, just before the tournament, I pulled up on a creek mouth leading into a huge swamp. I started fishing the upriver point with a jig, and within just a few casts, I caught two largemouths over 5 pounds and another that weighed about 7 1/2. I had found the mother lode!
The key to this spot was current. The point came out into the river a little and had a straight drop on the back side. It was a small area, but it was big enough to hold some big bass.
The Ronald McDonald tournament ran two days, and first prize for the biggest bass was a new truck. I knew I had just the place to win it. On the first morning, I pulled up on the point and started fishing.
Well, about every five minutes all day long a boat would come blasting by going into that swamp. Since the mouth of the creek was only about 15 yards wide, it really disturbed the area and kept the fish from biting. I didn't catch anything all day long, but I knew they were there. It was incredibly frustrating.
After the first day, a guy was leading the tournament with a 5-pounder. I knew that if I could get one of those fish in my area to hit, I could win easily.
The second day rolls around, and I'm in the same spot. The boat traffic was a little better, but I fished all morning without any bites. I was starting to get worried that the spot was never going to pay off, so I left it to go fish some other areas.
That didn't work, either, so I headed back to my point. When I got there, there wasn't another boat in sight. It was completely calm and quiet. I knew that would be my chance.
I was fishing hard for about 30 minutes when I finally had a bite. It was a big one, too. When I set the hook, it was almost like being hung up on something solid. The fish barely budged.
I eventually got the bass headed toward the boat, and I can see that it's giant. She was so heavy she couldn't even jump and get her body out of the water. The whole time I'm fighting her, I'm thinking about that truck I just won. I didn't have the fish in the boat yet, but I knew I had just won the tournament.
Unfortunately, because I was there just to practice for the regional tournament that was coming up, I didn't have a landing net with me. To add to that, I was also really nervous because I had never won such a big prize.
I finally got the fish within arm's reach and was about to grab her when she made a surge and broke my line. I had been holding my rod by the tip, so there was nothing to absorb the shock when she surged.
I couldn't believe I had just lost the winning fish. A 5-pounder won the tournament, and the fish I lost was much bigger than that. I was heartbroken.
That one moment hurt so bad, it drove me to improve. It's almost as if I want revenge on the fish. It changed my life forever and made me realize that I can win ... and that I will win one day.