FLORENCE, Ala. -- Second-year Bassmaster Elite Series pro Keith Poche made a split-second mental move today reserved for the experience level of the veterans joining him for tomorrow's Alabama Charge finale.
The Alabama angler's last-minute heroics landed him in the runner-up position with 62 pounds, 12 ounces. Davy Hite took the lead with 63-8 with at least five pros within striking distance of both anglers.
Coming off his rookie season, Poche, 28, still is mentally soft when it comes time to make the go or no-go decision after a hot fishing area has gone cold. That happened today at 10:30 a.m., with two keepers in the livewell.
For the previous two days his area below Wilson Dam had surrendered consecutive 20-pound bags on a hot morning bite. The frustration was mounting.
The mind games played on him and began to grow louder. No voice of experience could squelch the urge to bail out. The pressure was amped up when the crowd of roughly 15 boats around him abandoned the tailrace at midmorning.
"I was ready to give it up, just blow it off," he said. "The only thing that kept me going was knowing the spot had produced over 40 pounds for two consecutive days."
With the tailrace territory opening up, Poche expanded his fishing area in search of new water. He fished the same area at last year's Alabama Charge and knew the mother lode of tailrace bass could appear anytime.
He finally caved to the pressure at 2:30 p.m., after adding the third keeper in the livewell. With a 4 p.m. check-in deadline he finally caved to the mental pressure and made a 10-minute run south, piling on more mental pressure.
If misery loves company, it was the best move of the day and a blessing in disguise.
"I got down there and leaving started to eat away, get the best of me," he recalled.
The tipping point came at 3:24 p.m., after Poche aimed his boat back north and arrived at the tailrace hot spot.
"I thought to myself that I've got less than half an hour to make this happen," he said.
In three consecutive casts he landed bass weighing 5, 3 and 6 pounds to round out the eventual 20-15 catch.
Poche was visibly shaken when the media gathered to interview him after he stepped off stage. He his regained composure and spoke with the voice of a veteran.
"Sometimes you've got to stick it out and believe in yourself," he said. "Anytime you're in a situation like this you're going to grow mentally."
That growth spurt unknowingly first came nine years ago after his football scholarship at Troy State University ended because of a shoulder injury. After a surgery, his left arm was wrapped in a sling for six month.
Without football, he revived his interest in fishing from an aluminum boat in local ponds. With the bum arm pinned to his chest by the sling, he cast with his right arm, then switched the rod to reel with his left hand. The sling came off and he channeled his competitive drive into tournaments, reaching the Elite Series in 2010.
"I can't believe I'm going to be doing this tomorrow with all these guys who've taken me in, coaching me on the tour," he said. "I'm ready to go right now and see what comes up next."