In tournament fishing, like anything in life, you sometimes get off course. You don't mean to, but you're going to take a wrong turn now and then. The important thing for me is to stay focused on my long-term goals and do my best to get back on track as quickly as I can.
I'll tell you, finishing 10th at the recent Bassmaster Elite Series event on Wheeler Lake felt really good — probably because it gave me a good push in the right direction.
The first event of the season at the St. Johns River was a tough one for me, but there really wasn't anything I could have done differently there. I did what I thought I should have been doing to keep myself in contention.
After that, I had another tough one at Winyah Bay. With that one, sometimes you're stuck out in right field and that's where I stayed. I only weighed in one fish.
I wasn't happy, but even a bad tournament like that can give you a positive boost because it really makes you hungry. I can't stand not catching them, so I felt good going into Bull Shoals and I got a Top 20 there.
That really turned things around, and then going to Wheeler and getting a Top 10 was really big. The momentum shifted in the right direction as we head into Toledo Bend. Hopefully, I'll keep this going and get myself back into the cut for next year's Bassmaster Classic.
There's still a lot of fishing left to do this year, but I'm not stressing about it just yet. I will tell you that it feels a lot better being in the Top 10 and the upper 20s than it does being at the bottom of the list.
To be honest with you, Wheeler was kind of a weird event. If you had told me I'd have almost 20 pounds the first day, there's no way I would have believed you because practice was pretty tough.
The lake was pretty high when we got there, and then they dropped it to a little lower than normal pool. You don't have to drop much water out of Wheeler to make it really tough.
A lot of those flats and bushes that the fish get in only have a foot to a foot-and-a-half of water on them, even at normal levels. You take away 6 inches and their backs are going to be out of the water.
I had my work cut out for me in practice, but in the final day, I figured out a little deal on how to get bit on bluffs. I didn't catch anything big, but in the last hour and a half of that last day, I got like 15-20 bites.
I felt confident that I could get a limit, and compared to the way the rest of my practice went, that was huge.
So, I got out there the first day of the tournament and my first fish was a 4-pounder, and it just kept going from there. I had three big smallmouth that day as well as a largemouth that weighed 6-14.
The funny thing is that I really wasn't doing anything special. I was fishing a 3/16-ounce shaky head with a green pumpkin Zoom trick worm.
There were a lot of anglers fishing the same stuff, so I would throw at any little out-of-the-way spots I saw. Basically, I was throwing at things that nobody else would have thrown at.
I found that the early morning bite was best. The first two days of the tournament, the TVA was pulling water and that was a big key. It would set those fish up on those bluffs where they were easier to catch.
On the third day, they were only pulling water for a brief period, and that's when I caught my biggest fish. They weren't pulling any at all that final day and that was a lot tougher day. But I managed to pull out a strong finish and, as I said, that gave me the momentum boost I needed.
When I think about it, that first fish on the first day of the tournament was a lot like the overall momentum swing that I got from this tournament. It got me on track after a tough practice and pretty well set the tone for the event.
Catching a good fish right off the bat eases your mind a little bit. I didn't know what to expect, so going into Day 1 catching five that weighed 7 or 8 pounds would have been just fine with me.
Beginning with a good bite sets you up for a good day. You relax, you start fishing well, you're not worried about having to try too hard to get a good bite.
In the big picture, I definitely have a lot more confidence going into the second half of the season, thanks to two pretty good tournaments and a Top 10 finish.
Once you get momentum - man that's hard to get, but once you do - it seems natural to run with it.