A second guess and an early check out

Florida in January has never been a strong suit for me. Well, not so much Florida as Lake Toho and the Harris Chain, to be exact.

Let me back up to my practice time. It was my first day of practice on Toho, and the cold front has not shown its frigid face yet. As usual, the weather would take a turn for the worse the very next day.

Knowing that, I chose to go to Lake Hatchineha — my confidence lake. After my first day in Hatch, I felt confident I could flip up a limit. Now I would spend time in Toho since I was positive that is where the tournament would be won.

The morning was a balmy 28 degrees. Nonetheless, I had a job to do. Sucking down my last hot cup of joe, I launched my boat. My Merc started right up, so I lost an excuse to go back to my room and stay warm.

This practice day was very confusing for me. The first stop I made yielded a nice bass. Awesome! I figured I was on my way. The next two hours of trying to duplicate this was empty.

I ran to another area and began new techniques. Within a few minutes, bam! — another nice fish. Now I was on it!

Again, trying to duplicate that success resulted in a big zero. Extremely frustrated, I just knew they were still offshore.

A game plan for the next day had developed. Another cold morning in Florida was annoying me. The day came and went, and I never came close to the shoreline. I also never came close to a bass.

OK. Game plan for the next day: Never leave the bank. I managed to catch a lot of bass, but they resembled brook trout in size, and my confidence was shrinking as fast as the bass. Frustrated, I went back to Cypress and Hatch, but I couldn't make anything happen. I was scratching my head.

My plan for the first day of the tournament was to visit Hatch and flip. It was a bad move, and I knew it almost right away.

Day Two of competition was going to be easy. I would stay in Toho until I figured it out. You see, after second-guessing myself on Day One, I had no choice. I had to figure something out if for no other reason than to gain a better understanding of the fishery.

Did I mention that I hate not catching fish? I get somewhat aggravated at myself and may not be good company when I cannot figure out the patterns.

On Day Two, I ran to the first place where I got a bite in practice — a small bay with a nice ditch in the middle of it and a beautiful spawning flat in the back. Hydrilla, bulrushes, cane and Kissimmee grass. My weapons of choice would be simple — a 5-inch Yum Dinger and a Devil's Horse.

Well, the short story is I caught them. I finally figured out what I was looking for. I ran to the second place where I got one bite in practice and there were 17 boats in the place.

Wow, did I underestimate the potential of that place! Scroggins was in there, so I didn't fish my waypoints in the trough. Instead, I went to the back where no boats were and fished a secondary ditch.

Yes, I caught them there, too! So far, I was fishing pretty well, except for the fact I lost two for around 10 or 11 pounds. I thought I could go any place I knew was right and catch them now. So I did. My co-angler and I caught them. I knew there was no way to make the 12 cut with the two nice ones I lost, but if I could cull a few more pounds, I could make a check.

Long and short of it is, I caught fish up to the last second but could not cull my way to a check. I was bummed that it took me until then to figure out the lake, but, in some twisted kind of way, I felt OK.

Now I know exactly what to look for on that lake in January.

The deal in January on Toho is never to fish anywhere more than two casts away from the spawning grounds — no matter how cold it gets. If you fish behind them, you will never find them.