My story begins, and ends, at the 2005 Bassmaster Classic on the Ohio River out of Pittsburgh. Going into the final day I was about a pound out of first place. I was on top of the world when we launched on Sunday morning. One pound isn't much, especially where we were fishing. I thought — make that knew — I had a chance to win.
A Classic title is huge. It defines your life's work. Many a great angler has spent his entire career trying to win one. Here I was staring one in the face. All I had to do was catch a few keepers — not giants, just ordinary 12-inch keepers.
First thing that morning I went to a small drain along the shore that had a trickle of water running out of it. I'd fished it before. It was a good spot — good for at least two keepers, maybe more if things went my way.
As I approached the pipe I saw a 2-pound smallmouth jumping and chasing shad. My heart pounded as I raced to the front of my boat. A fish that big in the Ohio River can be a game changer. The other guys would need at least two — maybe three — keepers to equal the weight of that fish. Things were going my way.
He bit my lure almost as soon as it hit the water. I set the hook. He jumped with a short largemouth-like tail walk, and in the blink of an eye tossed everything right back at me. I couldn't believe what had happened. I stood on the bow of my boat, foot on the trolling motor staring into the water. I'd like to tell you what I was thinking, but I wasn't thinking anything. I was numb. Things were no longer going my way.
After awhile I started fishing again, but to no avail. I never got another bite from that spot, and I never recovered from that fish.
It put a cloud over my whole day. I made bad decision after bad decision until it was time to return for the final weigh-in. Try as I might, I just couldn't get that smallmouth out of my mind. I spent my day going through the motions and crying over spilled milk.
Most of us were fishing around the same spots. In fact, I was basically sharing bridge columns with Aaron Martens. But it seemed like he was fishing them when the barges went by — the current created a bite — and I was fishing the leftovers. That was further evidence, proof positive, that I'd been cursed.
I blanked on the final day of a Bassmaster Classic when I started 1 pound out.
Over time my perspective has changed. I now realize that most, if not all, of my problems were caused by my attitude. I let that bass get inside my head. He's the one who did his job, I'm the one who didn't do mine. That's not his fault.
You wouldn't think one fish could do that to a professional. But, it can — and will — if you let it.