Ledges let me down

I rolled out of the Lake Guntersville Bassmaster Elite Series stop with less than I'd wanted to accomplish. The Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year (AOY) race was a big focus for me here, and I really wanted to be leading the race as we turn the corner and head north for St. Lawrence and Cayuga Elites, but I have to say that the ledges let me down.  

I really thought I'd do well on deep fish, and I did catch some good ones, but on the all-important Day 3, I couldn't get anything going out deep. I never caught a fifth fish. 

I caught 18 1/2 the first day, 16 pounds the second day, and 10 pounds the third day to finish 33rd. Here's a rundown of how things went down.

Mega-school strikeout

I'd never fished a tournament at Guntersville before. I don't do a lot of research or scouting before events — I just like to back the boat in and go fishing. And that's what I did here.

I figured the fish would already be out on the ledges, but I had a bit of a tough practice. I spent a lot of my time idling out deep and I found I found a few schools of fish, but nothing too serious. My brother Chris had a really good practice out deep. He found a bunch of schools, but he never found the mega-school you need here.

That had my mind thinking that I just had to stay offshore, idling around and trying to find as many schools as I could. So I did that, but I also saw a thick grassline that I pulled up to and started flipping. I got six bites pretty quick, with one pretty good one, so that got my head thinking the other way — that the fish hadn't moved out yet and were still in the grass. So I found a few other spots in the grass where I got some bites, and that gave me a backup gameplan if the offshore stuff didn't work.

I was getting the deep fish on a Scottsboro Swimbait, a Punisher football jig and a dropshot. In the grass I was flipping a 9/16-ounce Punisher jig in black.

Day 3 dilemma

I started offshore on Day 1 and caught three real good ones. Then I went to the grass and caught two good ones out of the grass. I brought in 19 1/2 pounds the first day, which put me in 25th.

I was going to do the exact same thing the second day: Start offshore, then go to the grass in the afternoon if I needed to. The offshore bite didn't pan out for me one bit. I actually don't think I caught any out there. So I went to the grass and caught 15 pounds flipping.

On Day 3, the AOY points were big in my mind, so I decided I was going to spend most of the day in the grass. I thought if I could do that, I could catch 15 pounds and stay in the AOY hunt, and maybe be leading it. 

I started on an offshore spot and the fish were totally gone. So I went to the grass and immediately caught a 3-pounder. Then I broke one off; then I caught a short. That was all in about 20 minutes. So I figured, "They're biting, they're pulling current, so I'm going to go run some more offshore stuff and try to catch one or two more big fish, then come back and flip grass the rest of the day."

I thought wrong. Every one of my offshore spots either had boats on it or locals were there, and clearly it wasn't happening. I wasted way too much time looking and idling around. 

So I went back to the grass and made one pass on a stretch and never got bit. I knew the fish were there, so I went over and fished some docks, then came back for another pass and caught three shorts, one keeper and lost a 5-pounder. The wind was blowing against the current, but I learned that I could drop my Power-Poles halfway down, and that would cut the drift perfectly so I could flip.

I knew they fish were biting, so I made one more pass with the Power-Poles sunk halfway, but only caught a short. And that was that. I never caught a fifth fish.

Looking back, if I could have done it all over again, I wouldn't have fished offshore at all that third day. I'm so close to the AOY lead, I needed every point I could get. If I'd fished grass all day, even new grass, I know I could have caught five bass. And looking back, all I needed was 15 pounds to keep fishing. 

Some guys will say they don't think about AOY points when they're fishing, but if they say that, they're lying. It's always going to be in the back of your mind. When it comes to the point in the tournament where you know you're not going to win, you have to do everything you can to maintain your spot.

It's not all that bad, though. I'm only one point out of second, and 11 points out of first, so I'm right there knocking on the door, which is a good place to be as we head into our northern swing and familiar water at the St. Lawrence.