An emotional Classic

When I weighed my fish at the recent Grand Lake Bassmaster Classic, I was even more overwhelmed with emotion than I had been at my first Classic last year on the Tennessee River. In 2016 I attended the Classic as a fan, which also took place on Grand Lake. It was a defining moment in my life.

Bassmaster Elite Series emcee Dave Mercer, a fellow Canadian, gave me tickets to the splashwell at that Classic. I got to stand right next to the boats as the pros pulled the fish from their livewell before going on stage. I was so close I’d sometimes get wet.

I watched Edwin Evers come from behind to win with a spectacular final-day limit that weighed more than 29 pounds. That’s when I began dreaming to be on the Classic stage.

And here I was, eight years later, fishing the same lake and up on the same stage that Evers had walked when he became a Bassmaster Classic champion. I’m not sure how I held it together.

As with my Elite Series tournaments this season, my official practice for the 2024 Classic didn’t go well. I spent time on Grand before the cutoff and marked well over 200 brushpiles that were 5 to 15 feet deep. I marked only a few in 2 to 5 feet of water, which I now regret.

I took off on the first day not sure if I could catch one bass, let alone five quality fish that would put me in contention. A limit of keepers at the Classic is a disaster. You have to catch big fish to be the world champion.

I boated straight to a cut that was loaded with bait hoping I could catch one or two big ones. I probably caught 40 bass on a Shimano World Minnow jerkbait from deeper brushpiles. Not one of those bass weighed more than 2 pounds.

Then I ran around fishing different areas. I never caught anything big enough to upgrade and wound up way down in the standings.

On the second day, I started on a stretch that had some brush in shallow water. I caught a 3-pounder right off. After that I concentrated on small, isolated brushpiles in the shallows. I fished super slow and dragged a 1/2-ounce Outcast Tackle jig dressed with an X zone Lures Adrenaline Craw Jr. over the brush.

I sacked a 19-pound limit that was anchored by a 6-pounder. That jumped me up to sixth place. Suddenly, I was one of the Super Six. Etched in my mind was Evers’ 29-pound limit eight years ago. If I could catch 25 pounds on the final day, I’d have a chance to win.

I started out fishing shallow wood and snapped off a 4-pounder. I stayed in the same area for the next three hours because I didn’t know of another place that had the same kind of cover. I never got another bite there.

I went back to the cut where I caught all those fish on the first day hoping some bigger bass had moved in there. They were bigger but not big enough. Most of them weighed 2 to 3 pounds. I caught them on a Goldeneye jig with a fluke style bait and a crankbait that ran 4 to 5 feet deep.

I carried a limit to the scale that weighted 14 pounds and finished in 12th place. I sure wish I had looked for more shallow wood in practice.