I have three Bassmaster Opens left in my attempt to be the first Australian to qualify for the Bassmaster Elite Series.
As I made my way to the famous Lake Champlain, I was super excited, and I also contemplated this biggest six-week tournament road trip of my life.
What I didn’t know was I heading toward a war zone.
I drove all of that day and 18 hours of the next with only a short sleep just outside of Indianapolis. This got us to Ticonderoga, N.Y., on the south end of Lake Champlain, at around 1 a.m.
I have never been more prepared in my life leading into a tournament. I had worked hard on the physical, mental and the pre-study side of this sport. I couldn’t have done any more and I felt great.
I put in five big days of practice with 4 a.m. starts every day. I fished from as far in the north as Missisquoi Bay to Ticonderoga in the south. They’re a distance of more than 100 miles apart, and then there’s everything in between. The earliest I loaded my Skeeter on the trailer was 8 p.m.
Some mornings started with huge thunderstorms rolling through, and my travel partner, Gene Eisenmann, and I would be the only ones sitting at the ramp waiting for enough light to launch. Those were some of the days we found where the big ones were hiding. I got my best bites in the rain and had put together my best tournament plan yet.
I had found great largemouth up north and huge smallmouth in the main lake, but my heart was set on making the 70-mile run south to Ticonderoga. This is where I felt it could be won, and on top of that I had backup plans of untouched smallmouth on the way home. I felt I was ready for whatever was thrown at me come tournament day.
I was wrong.
Wednesday night before the tournament, I drew boat No. 98 — about mid-pack and just what I wanted. The weather looked stable with a small chance of storms in the late afternoon. Everything was lining up. I felt like this tournament was mine to lose.
Tournament morning approaches and the alarm blares at 3:15 a.m. This is where I believe the physical side I’ve been working on has been a huge benefit to me. After five 15-hour days on the water, averaging less than five hours sleep a night and enduring every type of weather condition possible, I was still feeling great and ready to get after them. I was 100 percent focused.
Blast off is one of my favorite parts of a tournament. As I’m doing 70 mph in my Skeeter on slick, calm conditions, everything just hits me. Again, I’m reminded of how lucky I am to be doing this. Where I am right now, where I’ve come from and what I’m about to do that day — it’s awesome.
I make it down to Ticonderoga after an hour run and I start to fish my best stuff but quickly realize that the water level has dropped. I know this is not good because all my big fish had come from less than a foot of water!
I try to make adjustments all day and find myself with one bass at 12 o’clock — and I have to be back at 3:15.
I run into a marina to fuel up at Buoy 39, and what a very cool experience — as close to NASCAR pit lane as you can get! Three people standing on the dock pull my boat in and ask “How much?” I say $50, they yell “50 dollars!” to the man up the dock at the pump. They fill my boat and I was gone and back fishing in less than 2 minutes. It was incredible.
I had hit every spot I thought I could catch them at except for one, which I now ran to. I started to hear the rumble of a huge storm emerging over the hills, and then I see boat after boat making the run back. I get a sick pain in my stomach that I knew wasn’t good. I should be running with them. It was then and there I had to make a decision.
I checked the radar and the storm looked nasty but short-lived. It should pass in under an hour. The wind started to pick up, and we could see lightning heading towards us. I decided to stay, wait it out, and hope there was a calm after the storm for the run back.
As the storm approached, the bass started to bite, I had finally relocated them on the deeper grass edge and they were coming up and smashing my popping frog. I had four bass. Then the storm hit.