I have one of these stories from just about every year I fish, but when I really stop and think about it, a Georgia Top 150 in February of 2000 comes to mind as the best, or worst, depending on how you look at it. This one has the worst sting regardless.
It was on Lake Seminole and was a sight fishing event. Going into the third day I was in position to make the Top 12 cut on the fourth day. I worked on a bed for about 20 or 30 minutes because I thought it was a good fish. It was in deep water, so I couldn't see it real well, but when it bit, I set the hook and it came up to jump and my partner grabbed the net — this was back in the spell when we could use dip nets — and I said, "No, it's a little one, I don't need the net."
It was frustrating having worked on that fish for 20 or 30 minutes and having it turn out to be a dink. I was complaining, then reeled it up and nonchalantly tried to sling it up out of the water and he came off. When it came off in mid air, it landed in the front of the boat and I just knocked it back in to the water because I was mad it was so small. I could've easily gotten him in the well. It was a 12- or 13-incher, and I had been getting almost 20 pounds a day before and thought, "I'll catch more like that, it's no problem."
The rest of the day I only got four more keepers. I didn't have a limit. That fifth fish made me miss the Top 12 cut by 1 ounce and miss the Classic by one spot that season. I only needed 10 more ounces in any event to have made that Classic in Chicago.
In all, that fish cost me about $40,000 when you take into account the guaranteed money you get from making the Classic and the incentives from your sponsors.
What did I learn? Every fish I hook in a tournament I try to get my hands on regardless of what I have in the well, and I never take for granted the difference one little fish can make in the outcome of not only a single event, but an entire season. That fish cost me a lot of money. That also would've been my fourth straight Classic.