Classic look back

You know, a positive mindset and confidence in your game plan goes a long way in guiding a fisherman through the pressures and challenges of tournament competition. From my recent experience at the 2014 GEICO Bassmaster Classic, I can tell you that these things also help you deal with the letdowns that are just part of life.

The news has already been covered, but for the sake of this blog’s focus, I’ll use my 18th-place Classic finish as an example. I got off to a strong start by taking seventh place on Day 1 and moving up to fourth on Day 2. Unfortunately, Day 3 was less than I wanted it to be, but despite the obvious disappointment in missing my chance to raise that trophy, I actually don’t regret the way I fished.

In all honesty, I would have preferred that the weather system that blasted the lake the night before the event had waited a week to get there. That influx of rain water brought cooler temperatures to the Tennessee River and muddied the backs of the creeks. However, the massive straight line wind also stirred up a lot of the main lake flats. Then again, we all had to fish the same lake, so let me give you a recap of what I did.

I spent the tournament in North Sauty Creek, where I targeted grass, natural rock and riprap. All three days, my main bait was a shad colored XCalibur lipless crankbait, which I fished around the grass. I threw the XR50 most of the time, and if the water was dirty I used the XR75 for a larger profile. When I fished rocks and riprap, I used the XCalibur XCS200 squarebill in foxy shad.

For follow-up baits, I used a 3/4-ounce chartreuse and white Booyah spinnerbait and a 5-inch Yum Money Minnow on a 5/8-ounce jighead. The Money Minnow was a prototype version of a chartreuse color pattern poured just for the Classic. I used all of these baits to give the fish different looks.

Since I didn’t have a lot of experience on this lake, I found a few small areas that I felt had some fish in them. Rather than spend all my time running around looking for fish, I committed to fishing those areas and milking them for all I could. I didn’t have a lot of areas in which I thought I could potentially catch a 5-pounder or better. That’s why I stayed in those areas and just ground it out.

I had about six areas I was fishing, and I would go through them first with the lipless or squarebill bait. I was just fishing the conditions. On the first day, the water was still pretty cold so I had to go slowly. With the lipless bait, it was more like stroking a jig. The second and third days, it warmed up and I could fish a little faster.

That’s where a good selection of baits comes into play. If you go down a bank and you don’t catch a fish, you have to choices: You can leave and run somewhere else, or you can stay there and try different approaches.

There’s nothing more a tournament fisherman wants to do than pick up one rod and stick with it, but I needed multiple baits for this event. It was really about fishing my gut. I just picked up the bait that felt right based on the conditions that were given to me at the time.

The first day I caught ‘em good and weighed 22 pounds, 3 ounces. Day 2 was also pretty good, and I added 20-11. I struggled on the last day and I only caught three keepers for 8-11.

Now, I could give you an accurate breakdown of daily conditions and how they affected me, but that’ll probably sound like a bunch of excuse making and that’s something I don’t like to do. So here’s why I’m not going to be too hard on myself: I made a game plan, I stuck with my game plan and I didn’t let the changes and the challenges rattle me and push me away from what I had determined was the best way to fish this event.

I did what I wanted to do and what every fisherman should do – I put myself in position to fish on the third day. On that last day, I fished for 25 pounds. I didn’t just play it safe – I went for it and fished for the win. That’s the thing, you only get one chance at this a year, so you have to fish for the win.

Ultimately, I didn’t have enough fish in my areas and I didn’t have enough areas to fish. As far as the place, it wasn’t a great finish, but I’m satisfied with my effort and I feel good about my commitment to a game plan.

I was in position to win the tournament on that last day it just didn’t work out. Maybe I didn’t make all the right decisions on when to fish which particular areas, but hindsight will tear you up if you let it.

This year, it just wasn’t my turn – it was Randy Howell’s turn and I want to congratulate him. He’s a great guy and a deserving champion. I can’t change the way this year’s Bassmaster Classic played out, but I can work hard this season to earn another shot at the Classic title. If I’m fortunate enough to find myself competing in next year’s event, I’ll follow the same strategy I followed this year – I’ll make a plan and I’ll stick to it.

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