As you certainly know by now, the 2015 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro was a disappointment for me. The problem started at Media Day — the day before competition began — when it was announced that we'd be starting late.
You see, my best pattern involved fishing deep early in the morning. The late start meant that my key bite would be over by the time we launched. That was very bad news, and I wasn't happy about it.
Unfortunately, I made things even worse by not adjusting once we were on the water. I had three pretty solid patterns going in — a crankbait pattern, a deep water pattern and a boat dock pattern. After losing a couple of hours due to the late start, I never gave any of them enough time or enough of a chance to catch a decent bag. I hurried when I needed to slow down. Instead of trying to maximize the time available, I tried to cram a full eight-hour tournament day into less than six hours.
It didn't work … and it got worse from there.
There was a dock where I just knew I could catch a 5 pounder. I had seen her in practice, and I felt like I could make her bite on the first cast. At the end of the day, I decided to run to the dock, catch the 5 pounder (a game changer on Hartwell) and hurry to check-in.
When I got to the dock, she didn't bite on the first cast … or the second … or the third.
Now I was running out of time, and there were several bridges with no-wake zones between me and check-in. I ran as fast as I could, but I didn't give myself enough time and ended up a minute and 15 seconds late. That translated into a 2 pound penalty. Instead of weighing 9-4, my small limit weighed 7-4. It was a disastrous start.
I still thought I could get back into the hunt … maybe a top 10 finish. All I needed was a strong Day 2. I decided I was going to fish my best pattern — the dock pattern — and try to salvage my Classic.
Unfortunately, it was cloudy, and you know what happens to a dock pattern when it's cloudy. Without sunshine to position the bass under the docks the fish were roaming, and I never really found a great way to catch them. I finished the day with another small limit (12-0) and was out in 32nd place.
In retrospect, I wish I had just one pattern that I believed in. It would have forced me to stick with it no matter what because I wouldn't have had other options. Instead, I had three things working in practice, and I didn't make the best decisions after some early adversity.
With water temperatures in the 40s, you're just not going to get a lot of bites. It's going to be slow, but I didn't fish that way. I fished too fast, trying to make up for lost time, and didn't put enough focus on a single pattern that might have given me better results.
I learned a lesson, though, and I won't make the same mistakes again. That's my takeaway from this Classic. And if I don't learn from things like that, I don't get better, so getting something from the experience is important to me.
Like most of the anglers in the field, I take losing the Classic hard — certainly much harder than losing an Elite Series event. So much goes into the Classic, from qualifying to preparing to the pressure and support from family, friends and sponsors, that it magnifies the experience to a level that's unmatched in our sport.
I'll have to wait another year to have a shot at the title I want so much. That stings, but it's probably a good thing.
If it didn't matter so much and if it weren't such a challenge, I might not love what I do so much.