Going from stuck on a sandbar the first day of practice to a Top 12 finish at what was probably the most important event of the season for me was pretty incredible, but I’ll take it.
I’m sure everybody’s heard about how I ran aground on the first day of practice at La Crosse, and I’ll admit, it wasn’t my favorite moment from that final Elite Series event. But I think this was a good lesson in how important it is to manage the mental part of this sport and keep yourself focused on what you have to do.
In my case, I had to have a good finish at that event in order to qualify for next year’s Bassmaster Classic. There was no way around it — that tournament was do or die for me. I still needed to have a decent finish the next week at the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship, but without a strong performance at La Crosse, my Classic hopes would have been sunk.
What was frustrating about that sandbar incident was how much it limited my practice effort. I got stuck on my way back to the ramp from the first day of practice, and I spent the night out there with the raccoons and mosquitos.
I did find some fish on that first day, but I didn’t find enough to last the whole tournament. I was hoping to get some time to build on that, but I had some factors working against me.
For one thing, I didn’t get my boat off the sandbar until 10:30 the next morning. Of course, I wanted to take it to the service trailer and get it thoroughly checked, because the last thing you want to do is get out there on the first day of the tournament and blow up your engine because you got sand in it.
Then, of course, you’re batteries aren’t charged because you’ve sat out there all night. I let them charge a while and finally got on the water about 2 o’clock that second day and practiced until a storm rolled in about 6. I didn’t get to look around much that day, and then the third day of practice was a short one, so I had to make the best of it.
Looking back, the last thing I wanted was to be sitting there on that sandbar, I can promise you that. I had so much on the line, and I was eager to get back to my practice plan because, I thought I could expand on what I had found that first day.
In a couple of my places, whenever I’d catch one, there would be a bunch with it. The only problem was that they all seemed to be the same size — 2 1/2, 2 3/4, maybe a 3-pounder mixed in there with them.
I never saw any really big fish in practice, but the first morning of the tournament, I pulled up to my place and the first fish I caught was a 4 1/2-pound smallmouth. That was very encouraging because in this area, that’s like catching a 7- to 8-pounder. A 4-pounder or a 4-plus is your kicker fish and those are hard to come by.
Throughout the day, I tried not to fish too many of my places. I only fished three spots and caught several fish the size of that first one and by 11:30, I had 17 pounds. I knew it was going to be all right because I hadn’t fished all my stuff yet.
When I ended up leading Day 1, it was like a sigh of relief. My back was against the wall, but that removed a lot of pressure.
After that, I thought I might actually have a chance to win, but the water kept rising and rising. There was too much current on the places I was fishing, and it washed away a bunch of those fish.
The good thing was, after catching 17-10 on Day 1, I knew I didn’t have to catch them that great the next day. A 12 1/2- to 13-pound bag would get me to mid-pack where I needed to be for points. I felt pretty confident that I could catch that much again on Day 3 and get a solid finish.
Well, I caught them pretty decent again and made the Top 12. Once I did that, I knew I was good in the points, as far as making it into the Classic. That enabled me to go into the final day relaxed.
By then, I had pretty well figured out that there was no chance for me to win the tournament, but considering what I had been through, it felt like I had won. I did what I had to do; I had a great finish, got points, made the Classic and went into the Angler of the Year Championship that following week not needing to stress over having to catch them really well.
Speaking of stress, I could’ve gotten mad about being stuck on a sandbar, but that wouldn’t have helped me. I guess it’s just my demeanor; I don’t get rattled that easily.
I think it would have been harder to deal with if I had not done well my first day of practice. But I had something to build on, so that probably helped me maintain a positive perspective.
It was still an uneasy feeling, for sure, but you can’t worry about the time you lost. You have to think about the time you do have and make the best of it.
You know, ending this season on a positive note helps, but the things that went wrong earlier in the season, that’s what makes you a better fisherman. My granddaddy and my daddy both said, “The best lessons learned are the hard lessons learned.”
I had plenty of those this year.
Yes, I’m glad to come out of it on a high note because going to Lacrosse and then coming back from Minnesota, that’s a long haul for a guy from South Carolina. If you went up there and struck out, that’s a big expense at the end of the year to come up short on.
So, doing well makes it all worthwhile. It allows you to go into the next season with good level of confidence and build on this year’s lessons.