We have two new additions to the Jones household — two puppies. What does that have to do with fishing? Well, something I like to do at the end of each successful season is reward myself for a job well done.
That’s where a pair of 6-week-old yellow labs fits into the picture. I’ll get back to that in a moment, but for now, I think an appropriate headline for my experience over the past two weeks would be “Mission Accomplished.”
Going into the final two events of the year, I had done the math on my standing so I knew where I wanted to be to make the Bassmaster Classic and finish strong. Doing so with a third-place finish at the Bassmaster Elite event in La Crosse, Wisc. and then finishing sixth in the Angler of the Year Championship allowed me to develop some momentum to carry into the next season.
The numbers ended up about the way I thought they would, but looking back now, I didn’t actually need to catch a fish at the AOY Championship to maintain my Classic spot. Naturally, I wouldn’t ever go into an event with that perspective, but it was rewarding to know that the numbers had already solidified before that event even started.
I would like to offer huge congratulations to Gerald Swindle for capturing his second AOY title. As a guy who’s had a great career and has not achieved that title, I realize what a big deal this is. For him to do that twice says a lot about who he is as an angler and his consistency. He’s to be highly commended for that.
I also want to congratulate Ott DeFoe on his first full-field Elite Series win. I really believe he’s one of the best anglers on tour. I’m actually surprised he didn’t have a full-field Elite Series win under his belt before now, but I think this is the first of many.
A lot of times the confidence of that first win propels you to the next level of achievement, and I really expect that from Ott. I suspect he’s going to be a guy that’s going to have not only multiple Elite wins, but also Angler of the Year titles and probably a Classic win along the way as well.
Now, getting back to those puppies; my wife and I drove home from Minnesota on Monday and then we got up at 6 a.m. on Tuesday to drive three hours to Houston where we picked up our new additions.
A year ago at this time, we had four yellow labs, but we had to put down two of them — one from old age and one from a terminal illness. So, with these new puppies, we’re back to being a four-dog house.
My dogs are primarily pets, but I train them as hunters — mostly dove but also a little duck hunting. I love training them, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have some people who know more about that than me to teach me how to train my dogs.
One of the basic elements of a well-trained dog is discipline, and I can say that discipline played a big role in my La Crosse success. In practice, I found a good spot — a rock pile with strong current flow and weeds to filter the water. I felt like the spot had good potential, but I didn’t want to burn it too soon.
My first goal was to make the Classic, so I knew I needed to manage that spot. I couldn’t just go for broke and hammer it on Day 1 to try and win that tournament because you never know how many fish are on a spot until you fish it.
On Day 1, running 20 miles down to the lock, locking through and then running another 30 miles to my spot took well over an hour. I pulled up to my spot on day one, made eight throws and I had my weight — 14 pounds, 11 ounces.
In hindsight, I could have made five more throws and upgraded a pound or two, but I didn’t know that on Day 1. That was part of managing the spot; having the discipline to not make another throw once I knew I had the weight that would help me make the Classic.
On Day 2, I got my weight in 12 throws. Could I have culled up another pound? Probably, but again, I didn’t know that. What’s important is my goal of making the Classic was accomplished at the end of Day 2.
I had done what I needed to give myself a cushion heading into the AOY Championship, so on Day 3 I stayed and hammered my spot for three hours. That’s when I realized how many fish my spot held. That rock pile was the only place where those fish had to hide behind and it seemed like there were a thousand of them there.
I caught my fish on a 1/2-ounce Booyah jig with a YUM Christie Craw trailer, a Texas-rigged 6-inch YUM Dinger and a Texas-rigged Christie Critter. I was casting upcurrent and letting my baits wash down with the water. Color didn’t matter; I just needed to show them different looks.
In the AOY Championship, I caught all my fish on a drop shot with a green pumpkin YUM Warning Shot. I was using my Lowrance to see fish directly under my trolling motor, and then I’d drop to specific fish. Some would bite on the drop, and some took 20-30 secs.
This event also required discipline in that I only practiced for big fish. From the legends I’d heard about Mille Lacs, I knew I was going to need big ones. So, even if a spot looked good, if I didn’t think it had the potential to produce a 5-pounder, I didn’t even practice there.
Fortunately, I was able to find some quality fish and end up with a second consecutive Top 10 finish. Now, it’s time to enjoy those puppies.