There are several bass that got away that I can think of, but one really stands out. It was at the Bassmaster Classic in New Orleans in 2001. That was my second Classic. I lost a couple of fish throughout the event, but one in particular was about 4 pounds that would've meant a whole lot in that tournament. This was early in my career, and I wound up finishing fifth, which was good, but a second or third would've done a lot more for me.
Going into that last day, I felt like I needed to have a clean day to have a chance at winning. I didn't have that. I don't think I could've won with that fish, but it definitely would have moved me up several places.
I was flipping hyacinths in one of the canals up in Bayou Black and was out of my primary area looking for a big bite. I was casually fishing new water. I wasn't anticipating a bite and was fishing fast through it. I flipped into the water, waited a second, then looked for my next spot to flip, and before I knew it I had a bite. By the time I realized it, I couldn't get a good hook set, and I lost him.
That fish weighed on my mind for quite a while because it was entirely my mistake. If something on the water is my fault, I'll be mad at myself and it takes time to get over it, but if I lose a fish and I didn't do anything wrong, I don't have as big a problem with it. It's a lot easier to swallow when you haven't done anything wrong. As an angler, you try not to dwell on those things too much, especially when you're on the water. It's a part of fishing, and it's going to happen because there are some things that are out of your control in certain situations.
On the flip side, there have been situations where I lost fish because I didn't get a good hook set because I lost focus when the bite happened. That's what happened in this case. You fall asleep for a minute or think of doing something else, and those are the ones that come back and bite you.
Did this one haunt me? Absolutely. However, I took that experience and learned from it. That fish has stuck with me because I felt like it was my fault. If I was totally dialed in and concentrating, it probably wouldn't have happened.