I think the one that probably haunts me the most — I shouldn't say it haunts me, but it has had the most impact on me over the years — is one that I lost when I was in my mid 20s.
I was fishing a team tournament out in California on Castaic Lake. We were fishing soft jerkbaits around flooded trees, just twitching them. The bass were really chewing, too. I saw a fish come out of a bush and just engulf my bait. I'd say conservatively it was 5 1/2 to 7 pounds. I set the hook on it, and it broke after one turn. In fact, I'm not too clear on the details, it happened so fast, but it may have broken on the set. Regardless, I got a good look at the fish, and it was pretty big.
If we had that fish in the boat, we would've won. Instead, we had to settle for a top 15. That was back when I had yet to win an event. If you're in that situation now, you know what it's like. It's like an itch you can't scratch until you get that first win. You lay awake at night thinking about winning that first event. It goes through your head nonstop. I think that's why it has stuck with me so far. I kept thinking to myself, "If I only had that one fish." That would have been huge for me.The most important thing I took away from that fish was that I needed to re-tie frequently. I had just caught a 2 1/2- or 3-pounder, and was on a roll, so as we came to the next bush I just threw without even thinking about retying.
I've since lost fish at different times — who hasn't? — but today you recognize that's going to happen and you just kind of go about your business after it does and try to not let it affect you too much.
For example, at a 1999 Bassmaster Western Invitational at Elephant Butte Reservoir in New Mexico I had another one get away. Two, actually. It was the last event of the year, and I was really looking to just cash a check and finish on a high note. It was tough.
I was working a crankbait when I got hit — hard. It wasn't far from the boat, and when I looked into the water I saw two smallmouth on my crankbait! They were just shaking like mad, and I'm thinking I got two in the box and am on my way to doing well when they simultaneously jumped. It was like they were trained. Of course, they both threw it at the same time. It was a small crankbait with small hooks, and it was one of those things you really couldn't do anything about.
I didn't fill my limit and I missed the cut by 10 or 12 ounces. It was just one of those things. That one was rough because it was a BASS event, and I could've made a check if I had one of those fish.
Every angler has lost fish. For whatever reason, no matter how small, they can really stick with you. That's just part of the sport.