Riding the Elite Series roller coaster

Cooper Gallant

The first two Bassmaster Elite Series tournaments of the year were an emotional roller coaster for me.

Toledo Bend Reservoir

My practice at the first event on Toledo Bend Reservoir was brutal. I was getting only one to six bites a day, but most of them were good fish. I knew I needed eight or nine bites a day during the tournament to do well.

I was freaking out a little bit when the tournament started. I probably had 15 G. Loomis rods on my deck because I wasn’t sure what the fish were doing. I treated it like day four of practice. I found an area late in the day and sacked enough bass to land in 45th place. I hunkered down in that area for the next three days.

I did better on Day 2 and moved up to 27th place. My focus on the third day was to catch enough weight to make the Top 10. I needed about 26 pounds. With 30 minutes left to fish, I caught a 5 1/2-pound bass that got me through to the next day.

I struggled in the championship round and ended up in eighth place. I definitely did better than expected. After a dismal practice, I was very uncertain I could catch five bass a day.

On the first day of the tournament, I started dialing in with two baits that carried me through the event. One was a 1/8-ounce Goldeneye jig head with a fluke-style bait. I fished it with a 7-foot, 5-inch, medium heavy G. Loomis spinning rod with 10-pound braid and a 12-pound Shimano Mastiff Fluorocarbon leader.

I also caught bass on Shimano’s World Minnow Jerkbait. I matched it with a 7-foot G. Loomis medium action casting rod and 14-pound Shimano Mastiff Fluorocarbon.

I was casting these baits to bass I spotted in timber with LiveScope. The trees were in 15 to 40 feet of water. When it was calm, the bass were only 2 to 5 feet deep. On windy days I caught them as deep as 20 feet.

Lake Fork

My practice at Lake Fork was very similar to Toledo Bend. I had four bites on day one, but they weighed 5 to 8 pounds. During day two I caught only one bass, a 2 1/2-pounder. On day 3 I had six or seven bites, and they were all pretty good ones.

I knew I was on the kind of fish to have a good tournament. But I could easily bomb if I didn’t get the bites. It was so hit and miss. The bass weren’t grouped up. It was one here and one there.

My primary baits were the same ones I used at Toledo Bend, the Goldeneye jig head and fluke combo and Shimano’s World Minnow Jerkbait. I also caught bass on Xzone Lure’s True Center Stick stickbait. I fished it wacky style without a weight.

I only landed four bass on the first day of the tournament, but they weighed 28 1/2 pounds. I just kind of learned as the day went on. I didn’t think too much about it that night. I tried to keep an open mind.

I had three areas in one creek and one in another creek I fished every day. The bass were in 2 to 12 feet of water. Some were on clay banks. The majority of them came out of timber and stumps. Most were suspended halfway down in the water column where I could see them on LiveScope.

On the second day, I caught a limit that went 20-13. I knew I needed a big bag the next day to get to Day 4. I lost an 8- or 9-pounder about midday. With five minutes left to fish, I caught a 7 1/2-pounder that gave me enough weight to advance. I checked in with 30 seconds to spare.

Going into the final day, my goal was to catch 40 pounds. That’s what I figured I needed to win. With only an hour left before weigh-in, I had two bass in the livewell. At that point my mindset went from winning the tournament to boosting my total weight over 100 pounds.

I still had an opportunity to earn a Century Club belt, and I might not ever have another chance to get one. Sometime after that I cast my jig to a bass I could see in standing timber. It took the bait, but I snapped it off.

The bass went right back where it had been before I hooked it. Five minutes later I cast the same type of bait to that fish and caught it. Stuck in its nose was the bait I had broken off. The bass weighed 5-7, which was just enough to get me over 100 pounds.

I wish every bass was that dumb.