Congrats to Lee Livesay on an amazing performance at the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite Lake Fork. I was right there with him through Day 3 — just 1 pound, 10 ounces behind — but 42 pounds on Championship Sunday has a way of separating a contender from the pack.
Despite the fact that I didn’t win, the eighth-place finish was my best in Elite Series competition since last July, and in many ways I’m as proud of this one as any performance in recent memory.
You see, I wasn’t really on the winning stuff. There were lots of guys who didn’t make the Top 10 who were probably on a better or more reliable overall pattern than I found. I was only getting eight to 10 bites a day, and for the most part I wasn’t around a bunch of giants, but I made the most of the hand that I was dealt and powered through to a Sunday appearance and a lot of TV time.
There’s nothing wrong with “falling back” onto what you know or what you’re comfortable with even when you know it’s not the top pattern. In fact, when you’re trying to make it to the Bassmaster Classic, or even just to requalify, it’s performances like these that really make the difference. By executing nearly flawlessly and sticking to the game plan, you can earn valuable points that are critical to your season.
Of course, to do it you have to believe in what you’re doing, from bait choice, to presentation, to the area of the lake. You also have to remain calm. My best bites weren’t coming until the end of the day – it would have been easy to bail on it, but based on past events I was willing to stay the course.
In many respects this reminded me of the Texoma BASSfest event in June of 2016. While the time of year wasn’t exactly the same, I knew in both cases that the fish were replenishing on my key spots, and I could go behind other anglers and catch them.
This time there was a shad spawn going on, along with a bass spawn, and there were bass that had finished spawning and were guarding their fry. I suck at fishing the shad spawn, but I feel like I’m pretty good on the other two. By focusing on dead willows and standing timber in shallow areas I was in my element.
I mixed it up with several baits, but the most productive overall was a green pumpkin tube with a chartreuse tail fished behind a 5/16-ounce weigh on 20-pound Gamma fluorocarbon. I know it’s a big fish presentation that also gets a lot of bites. Again, when you know you’ll have to scrap and claw to be near the top, it pays to stick with your confidence baits. That tube has been one of mine since before someone like Patrick Walters was born.
Obviously, the goal every time out is to win. I wouldn’t trade my two B.A.S.S. victories for anything in the world. Nevertheless, it’s also possible to sit back after the event and feel good about “making something out of nothing.” When you follow those instincts and processes that work for you, you prove to yourself that you can still compete when your back is up against the wall.
Particularly after a tough tournament like I endured at Pickwick, you need that kind of occasional affirmation to remain confident. By making the most of what you have, you reaffirm your decision making process. We can all catch fish at this level, but the differentiating factor in most instances is who wins the mental game.