A month ago, David Walker and I participated in the first “Bass Brawl,” a live event which turned one of the great SEC rivalries (Alabama vs. Tennessee) into a fishing tournament. Robin and I are originally from North Carolina, which is ACC basketball country, and I didn’t think anything could get more wild than that, but when we moved to SEC football country 16 years ago we learned that the fans here are even crazier. Their passion infects everything they do, so why not extend it into the world of fishing?
This tournament wasn’t about money or winnings or fame. It was all about representing our respective states and personal pride. In case you didn’t know, I’m one of the most competitive people alive, and I felt just as much pressure during the Bass Brawl as I did during the Bassmaster Classic. I’m pretty sure that David felt the same way. It’s amazing how much the competition drives all of us.
The way the scoring set up, it wasn’t just a matter of total weight. You also got points for first fish and biggest fish. I think just about everyone uses those criteria for bragging rights when they fish with friends, so it was that type of battle. There wasn’t going to be any practice or editing, and there was no size limit, which is a good thing because otherwise we might still be out there.
The competition was set up for two hours of live streamed action, both of us in the same boat, but switching boats at “halftime.” I won the coin toss and elected to take my boat in the second half. That way I could use what I learned fishing behind David and build upon it when I had control.
It was an intense mind game, neither of us landed a fish during the first half, but when we switched to my boat I stayed in the same area, tied on a mini-crankbait, and started covering water. The strategy worked. I landed a fish that weighed less than half a pound – 0.39 pounds, to be precise – but it was enough to come out on top. A win is a win, no matter how ugly it looks on the score sheet.
The win over Tennessee (David) reminded me of how much ounces matter in tournament competition. Every memorable event of my career, whether a big win or a heartbreaking loss, has been the result of ounces. When I won my first tour-level event in 1998 at 24 years old, I caught my fifth fish on my last cast to edge out Rick Clunn by a single ounce. That victory enabled me to get out of debt and keep my dreams alive. In 2012, Boyd Duckett beat me by six ounces at Oneida to prevent me from earning an Elite Series victory. If I’d only caught my fifth fish the last day, I would’ve won. Then, at the Classic in February, Paul Mueller came within 16 ounces of tying me. On a lake like Guntersville, that’s just one or two more gizzard shad inside of a fish you catch.
I’ve made 13 Classics in the last 17 years, and for every one that I missed, I can think of tournaments where a few ounces here or there cost me big time. Don’t think that little things don’t matter.
The lesson to be learned, I think, is that you need to keep your foot on the gas at all times in tournament fishing. Never quit, never slow down. Every fish has a consequence. One of the things that I talk about all the time in seminars is the “Power of Five” – the need to catch a limit every day – and how careful you need to be. All of us have gotten careless a time or two. Maybe you think a particular fish won’t help you, so you try to swing him into the boat and end up knocking him off. Or perhaps you just try to “eyeball” two fish when you’re culling instead of taking the time to get out the balance beam. Those decisions can cost you hundreds of dollars, thousands of dollars, and eventually even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Everything comes down to ounces in life, both on and off the water. Fishing is all about the details.
I hope to see more of these live –streamed Bass Brawls in the future, they will keep us all on our toes, but even in this new fast and furious format, ounces will always be the deciding factor.
Good luck and God bless!