Benefiting from big bites in Florida

When I first saw the 2016 Elite Series schedule, there were events that worried me. Now, I’ve made it through one of them with a Top 12 finish and a good start to the year.

I’m happy with my eighth-place finish on the St. Johns River for a few reasons. This one and the next event on South Carolina’s Winyah Bay were the ones that had me concerned, so it feels good to have the Florida event behind me.

You don’t want to start a new season in the hole. I’ve done that a few times, and it seems like you’re always gasping for air.

Of course, one good tournament doesn’t mean I can relax. It’s a long season, and I have a lot of work to do. But getting through one of what I consider the tougher events for me gives me a boost of confidence that hopefully will carry me through the South Carolina tournament.

What makes me feel good about my Florida finish is that I didn’t have a good practice. I just put the trolling motor down and went fishing.

I was fortunate enough in the tournament to get four or five big bites, and those big bites carried me into the last day. The last day, I didn’t get any big bites.

That’s the thing about Florida, you have to get at least one big bite a day to stay near the top. But this is a good start, and it makes that 17-hour drive back home a little easier when you have a little money in your pocket.

From a momentum standpoint, I’m sure my second-place finish in the Classic definitely had something to do with this consistency. Fishing is like any other sport – you ride the highs.

 think I made some decent decisions at the Classic and put myself around the kind of fish to win. And that’s the thing about this sport; you want to have a chance to win on the last day.

I did that in the Elite event and at the Classic. If I keep doing that, pretty soon it’s going to work out, and I’ll get another trophy.

I can tell you that going from the Classic in Oklahoma to the first Elite event in Florida was a big change. We went from fishing prespawn wintertime patterns while dressed in bibs and jackets to wearing shorts and looking for spawners.

The two weeks between the Classic and the first Elite event, I was too busy to fish, but I had some time to sit down and change over all my tackle. I took everything I was using on Grand out of my boat because I didn’t think it would play on the St. Johns.

The big difference between Oklahoma and Florida is that, for the most part, if you go to Grand and catch 20 pounds, you’re going to have four or five 4-pounders. In Florida, it’s about catching big ones.

You have to stay into it mentally, even if it’s 1 o’clock and you have 12 pounds, it just takes that one 8-pounder to move you up to that 16- to 18-pound mark. And if you get two of those bites, it puts you over 20.

There were some guys that caught two or three big fish, and they had the big bags. Of course, Clunn caught five of them and weighed the giant bag.

I got a few of my own, but they were spread out across the tournament.

The first day, I got a big bite right off the bat and lost it. About five minutes later I caught a big one. The second day I got no big bites, but the third day I got two big bites in the afternoon.

I didn’t have much, but all of a sudden, boom, boom – I catch almost a 7- and an 8-pounder. I went from having almost nothing to having over 20 pounds.

The thing in Florida is you have to stay focused the entire day because it’s all about a big bite and that could happen anywhere at any time down there.

For me, this tournament was a grind. It seems that when I don’t have a good practice, I fall back to my comfort zone. On the St. Johns, that meant flipping a 5-inch Junebug color YUM Dinger. I like that bait because it gets the big bites, but you can also fish it with finesse for those non-aggressive fish.

The third day, we had about an hour of rain and wind. I figured the fish would be feeding during that weather, so I caught a few of my better ones on a Booyah Pad Crasher frog.

I was just playing the conditions because I had a window of opportunity. If I hadn’t done that, I might not have made it.

Looking ahead, I want to keep this momentum alive, and I’ll definitely need to for the next Elite event. If I can get through South Carolina with a good finish, I’ll be on my way to establishing the kind of consistency we always want to have.

I want to stay up near the top and make a run at Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year. This is only tournament number one, so I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I want to fish the next event well and avoid getting in the hole.

Starting off well in the top half of the season will help me fish more relaxed on the back half.