You lose a lot of fish in tournaments, and I'm no exception. I've gotten over all of them except one, and this one was in a tournament on Lake Murray with another national circuit back in 2004.
After two days, I was on good fish and on my way to my first national bass tournament win. I was throwing a crankbait on the third day when a big fish hit. It was at least 5 pounds, closer to 6 pounds. After the strike, I kept good pressure on the fish; I knew it was hooked. He ate the whole bait then started swimming for the shallows.
As the fish swam, I felt him coming up to jump. I kept pressure on it and as it jumped, I saw the fish's mouth open and the crankbait shoot back toward me. Somehow the fish didn't have a single hook in it! The crankbait plopped harmlessly in the water and the fish swam free. I was stunned at how that could have happened.
I ended up losing the tournament by 2 1/2 pounds. That big fish would've let me cull a 1 1/2-pounder and moved me from third to first easily.
I still think about it from time to time, and have replayed it in my head hundreds of times. As I reflect on that fish, there isn't a single thing I would've done differently. There was no slack in the line when the fish jumped, and there was no way I could have done anything better than I did. It was one of those freak one-in-a-million things that happened at the exact wrong time.
That fish taught me that this can be a cruel, cruel sport and that you don't get a ton of opportunities to win. When you do get a chance to win, you have to focus and not let anything get in your way.