When we left Kentucky for the St. Croix Bassmaster Open at Harris Chain, my brother Lafe and I had talked about how there wasn’t any way we could afford entry fees for the 2024 Opens season.
Going down there and winning this tournament got us enough money to enter the Opens next season. I made enough money to keep the dream alive, keep fishing the Opens and hopefully make the Bassmaster Elite Series. If I could afford to do it, it has been my goal my whole life to travel and fish at a high level.
Not only that, I qualified for the 2024 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic at Grand Lake. It is blowing my mind. I watched the Classic last year when I was there for the College Classic, and I remember telling everyone, “I’m not watching it from out here again next year.”
I made it now and nothing can go wrong. I don’t plan on sucking, but even if I do, it will be a fun week. I just get to go swing and try to win one. I haven’t been to Grand Lake before, but I feel like it does suit me. I’ve been to Oklahoma twice now and have gotten a top 10 both times. It fishes like eastern Kentucky does for some reason. The fish are just bigger.
Bo Thomas and Lafe have traveled with me all year, and it has been a huge help to have a team you can bounce ideas off of.
The Harris Chain is a special place to me. Lafe and I won the College Series event there in 2022 fishing shellbeds. We put 60 hours on the motor idling in practice and found two schools the entire time. Ever since, when I’ve gone down there, I’ll idle and look for schools, but this time I didn’t find anything on the shell.
It’s crazy to me that I won another event there and I was doing something completely opposite from what I did the first time. That’s cool.
The day before the tournament, I had an hour left of practice, and I ran over to a Kissimmee line in Harris and caught a 5-pounder on a Boogerman Buzzbait. That was the only thing I had really seen all practice. I had spent most of practice idling around looking for schools. So on Day 1, I started by throwing that buzzbait and caught a 3 and a 3 1/2-pounder. I was going to go to Dora after that to fish some offshore eelgrass I found over there. I had no plans on going to Griffin in this tournament.
But as I’m idling through the Dead River, which connects Harris to Eustis, I picked up a crankbait and flipped it like a coin toss on whether I was going to go to Dora or Griffin. It landed on Griffin.
So I went to Griffin to fish some lily pads that I caught a 4-pounder out of and I caught some bass out of in January. I locked through at 11 a.m. with two bass and within an hour and a half I caught two 7-pounders and a 3-pounder.
On Day 2, I knew there was going to be a bunch of boats at the lock to Griffin, which is the only reason I stayed on Harris to start the morning. I wanted to be doing something. I went over there and pulled up on my stretch and there must have been someone who saw me catch them there because there were four boats on that stretch. So I ran over to another stretch and caught a big one on a buzzbait.
After that, I ran to my pad stretch in Griffin and fished all day. I only got one big bite, and I never hooked up. It came up and ate when my bait was on top of the pads. He swam with it and I set the hook, but it never hooked up with it. I was grinding all day over there. I came back to the lock and there were five boats sitting there waiting. I flipped some pads leading up to it and then I asked the boats in front of me if I could fish the lock in front of them.
I threw my bait in front of them, and the current started coming out of the lock. The shad started getting up there, and I threw a buzzbait to it and caught a 3 1/2-pounder. That ended up being the fish that won it for me. It was really cool, all the guys were sitting there and when I caught it, they all started cheering for me. It was awesome.
Day 2 was stressful, but after practice I never dreamed I was going to be in that situation. I had the mindset of simply trying to get a check on Day 1, so I had done my job already.
Now, I get to look forward to the 2024 Opens season and begin preparing for the Bassmaster Classic.