'Bent' out of shape on Toledo

They say that practice makes perfect, but if practice doesn’t go well, then you really can’t expect perfection on tournament day. That’s how it was for me at the Bassmaster Elite Series tournament on Toledo Bend.

I was really looking forward to fishing this event, but on a scale of 1-10, I’d rate my performance about a 1.

Nobody likes to lose – I hate to lose – but I really, really hate to lose whenever they catch ‘em the way I like to catch ‘em, which is shallow flipping.

Everybody talks about key bites in a tournament; well in practice, you’re also looking for a few key bites to get you started and get you on the right path. This time, I just never got any key bites that told me what I needed to be doing.

I intended to fish deep, but after the first day of practice, I eliminated that and I decided to go shallow. I caught fish out deep, but I never caught that 5- to 8-pounder that told me this is what I want to be doing.

It was just one of those tournaments where the first day I had four fish for 9 pounds, 14 ounces and with just a little bit of luck, I would’ve caught 18-20. I was throwing a Booyah Pad Crasher frog and the fish would blow up, but they just would not commit to it.

On that first day, I saw the fish that I needed to have a good tournament. I just didn’t connect with them and get them in the boat. I think a lot of that was due to the cold night we had before the first day of the tournament.

I tried different colors and different retrieves. I even tried swimming a jig and flipping a Yum Christie Critter after one would blow up and miss the frog.

Several times, I was just on the verge of giving up on the frog and then all of a sudden I’d have a 4-pounder blow up on it and miss it. Then I’d go another hour and just when I was ready to switch baits, a 5-pounder would blow up on it.

It was hard to put the frog down because I didn’t want to give up on one thing that was working. But you go through that cycle a few times and before you know it, you’ve burned up 8 hours.

On Day 2, I caught all my fish on the frog, and they were eating it a little better. The difference was that the night before that second day was warmer, and the fish weren’t so shocked in the morning. I got two to three good bites, but I just never got that big fish.

It all goes back to practice. I never settled down in an area and I never had confidence in one particular technique to compete. From my experience, that’s the recipe for disappointment on lakes like Toledo Bend.

For one thing, this lake is giant. You really cannot practice on the entire lake. You have to pick and area and commit to practicing there and hope you can put together something that you can do in the tournament.

The other thing is that at these shootout type tournaments, where a lake like Toledo Bend has such incredible potential for big numbers, the whole time in practice you’re thinking “I don’t need to catch 15 pounds, or 17 pounds; I need to catch 20 pounds a day to win.”

So, you kind of write off the 3-pounders that you catch in practice and your ears don’t even perk up until you catch a 4- to 6-pounder. That’s the downside of fishing one of these shootouts – you might overlook something you could’ve used in the tournament.

So, here we are at the midpoint in the Elite Series regular-season schedule and if I’m doing a mid-season assessment, I’d say that my main goal of qualifying for the Classic is still a possibility. I feel like I haven’t fished that well in the first half, but I’m sitting 24th in the points, so I think there’s still plenty of potential left in this season.

I just need to have a strong second half and that’s going to depend on strong practices.