If you fish long enough, you’ll see just about everything, and last week on Cayuga Lake I experienced something I’d never before seen. I’ll preface this by saying that, although I’m happy with my 15th-place finish, I should have made the Top 12 at the Bassmaster Elite Series event. On Day 2, I lost a 5-pounder in the most unusual way imaginable.
I had hooked a big smallmouth under a metal dock, and when the fish jumped it came up so hard it hit the underside. That dock was about a foot and a half off the water, and when the fish hit the underside it sounded like you’d hit it with a sledgehammer.
I was using a big flipping hook and 30-pound braid, but I think the fish simply hit that dock at the perfect angle. I’ll explain like this: When I’m dehooking a fish that’s hooked firmly, I often have to pop the top of the hook with the palm of my hand.
Well, that smallmouth hit the dock hook-first, and I watched it pop that hook out. I had the fish hooked well, but it just wasn’t meant to be.
Some of that disappointment was counteracted on Day 3 when I stopped on a spot with five minutes left in the day and caught a 4-pound largemouth within a mile of the takeoff site.
So, I didn’t catch what I should have caught, and I did catch what I shouldn’t have caught.
It’s nice when you have one of those tournaments where you capitalize on every opportunity. This time, I capitalized on most of them.
That big one at the end of Day 2 was a good example. I had been fishing mid-lake and way south. I had headed back a little early just to give myself a little extra time in case the boat traffic was bad or the wind picked up.
I had about five minutes to spare, so I stopped on a grass flat. Instead of getting on the weed edge, the visible hard weed line where everybody was fishing, I got inside the weed line and was casting into about 4 feet of water.
I was literally on the flat making long casts with my Texas-rigged YUM Dinger and caught that 4-pounder. I basically had time to throw it in the box, cull and get to the weigh-in.
Where I caught that fish was a function of where we were at in terms of the tournament’s progression. At the start of the tournament, before every fish has seen a thousand lures, the high percentage areas are those weed lines — that’s where the fish should be.
I was trying to go to the less obvious and less likely area. What’s important to note is that, later in the tournament, the less likely stuff becomes your higher percentage stuff.
That’s something I always try to do when I get into the third and fourth day of the tournament: You have to start thinking outside the box and looking outside the box if you want to get a quality bite.
This analysis starts in practice — the period that is always more important to me than game day is the preparation process. That’s where my strategy is formed.
On the first day of practice, I got a good indication that there were still a lot of fish spawning, or just beginning the postspawn phase. I decided to put all my eggs in that basket, so I didn't’ spend my practice trying a lot of way-out, off-the-wall things.
In the first half of the first practice day, I saw enough activity to realize that this is the meat of what’s going on at Cayuga Lake. It’s risky to put all your eggs in one basket, but you’re never going to win if you don’t do that.
What that allowed me to do was spend all of my practice searching for areas that lined up with that main productive pattern. Sometimes, you don’t find out what’s going on until the second day of practice and that leaves you with a short window on the final day of practice to try and expand on it.
To have a Top 20 in an Elite event, you need as much time to expand on a productive pattern as you can get. These guys are relentless. They are the best in the world, and they leave no stone unturned.
You can’t take a pause; you can’t take a breather in practice. You have to bear down and figure out more than your competitors figure out, and then you have to stay mentally sharp throughout the entire game.
That said, congratulations to KVD on his second victory of the year. That’s just another amazing feat to put behind his name.
After my Top 20 finish, I’m sitting 28th in the 2016 AOY standings. I’m not on the bubble, but I’m not out of the woods.
I really want to make the 2017 Bassmaster Classic in Houston because this would be the first time in my career that I’d have the opportunity to fish a Classic in my home state. I won’t necessarily prepare any differently, but I really want to make this one.
I’ll keep the pedal to the metal and keep accelerating. I need two more good events and then I can enter the AOY Championship with less pressure. That would allow me to fish a little riskier and try to win.