Lucas: Local knowledge means little on Elite Series

One of the most common misconceptions about professional bass fishing is that the anglers who live close to whatever venue we’re fishing are going to have some great advantage in the tournament.

After fishing the Diet Mtn Dew Bassmaster Elite at Lake Guntersville last week, I can tell you without a doubt that just isn’t the case.

This was my first Elite Series event on my new home lake since I moved to Guntersville from California five years ago. And though I cross the lake every time I leave home, I think my 30th-place finish proves I didn’t have any advantage over anyone else. The fact that only three or four of us who live in the area even got a check drives the point home a little more.

For one thing, I don’t get to spend as much time on Guntersville as some people might think. As much as I travel, when I finally do get home and have a few days off, I am spending time with my wife and re-organizing for our next event.

Plus, every tournament has a 30-day off-limits rule that keeps us from fishing right up until the official three-day practice period that leads into the event. While I love that rule – I think it levels the playing field when we visit lakes where other anglers live or grew up – it was sure tough driving over Guntersville on those nice spring days and seeing people hooked up when I knew I couldn’t go.

If anything, I think my past knowledge of the lake hurt me. It certainly affected the way I practiced.

I went out checking all of the places where I’ve caught fish in the past, and that’s a dangerous thing to do on a lake like Guntersville. There are so many fish out there that live all over the place – and since they get so much fishing pressure, they are constantly changing and moving. Also, the past couple cold winters have really knocked back the grass and have changed some of the areas the fish used  to use in the spring three or four years ago.

I burned a lot of time the first two days of practice chasing ghosts, and then I had to scramble on the last day to put together a game plan that would keep me from bombing.

For me, this tournament really put into perspective what Casey Ashley accomplished during the Bassmaster Classic on his home lake, Lake Hartwell.

Hartwell is an outstanding fishery – and like Guntersville, it has very few secrets. So for him to do what he did with all of that pressure on him, was just phenomenal.

I’ve looked at my 30th-place finish on Guntersville several times since the tournament and thought, “Man, that just wasn’t good enough.” But the finish moved me up to seventh place in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings, and it was pretty much in line with what the other Guntersville guys did.

Just look at the standings.

A guy from California won, and another guy from out West finished second. Then you had a Tennessee guy, a guy from Australia, a guy from Oklahoma – anglers from all over the place.

The only local to kill it was Derek Remitz. (Nice job, Wolverine!). Our local knowledge might have helped some of us avoid a total meltdown, but it certainly didn’t give us an advantage.

On the up side, I definitely learned something that will help me the rest of the season.

Our next event is on the California Delta. I grew up there and fished there probably as much as anywhere.

It’ll be so cool having friends and family there for the takeoffs and weigh-ins. I grew up fishing with my grandpa, Jack Schmidt, and I’ll stay at his house during the tournament.

He’s my No. 1 fan, and he watches everything online. But this will be his first chance to actually come see me in a professional tournament. He got me started fishing tournaments when I was 13 years old. So for him to be able to finally see me in a big tournament like this will be a really neat deal.

I’ll be running every day within about three miles of the house I grew up in. There are two roads on the side of the river the whole way down to the Delta, and I’ll be seeing signs as I’m driving my boat that I remember passing in the school bus on the way to class.

All of that’s great, but it won’t help me at the scales.

During practice, I’m going to go out and fish a lot like it’s my first trip there.

I’ll know how to get around, and I’ll know which baits are good. But that’s the only history I am taking with me.