Everybody knows me — I’m going to go down swinging with what I think I need to do. For most of the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK'S Sporting Goods on Lake Hartwell, that was fishing pockets with docks and shallow grass.
That’s important because I have to be 100 percent confident in what I’m doing. I can’t be searching during a tournament. I never found any concentrations of fish during practice, so I felt like the best thing for me to do was cover a bunch of water and stick with the pattern I had established.
I probably spent three fourths of the final day in water I had never fished before. That’s how confident I was in my pattern. Unfortunately, on the final day, I came in with four fish.
It wasn’t like I fished pockets that didn’t have any fish in them. They were there; I saw them. I just couldn’t get them to bite.
The first two days, there were slow periods, but I’d just keep moving and then boom, boom, boom, I’d hit some and boom, boom, boom I’d hit some. I lost my first fish Sunday morning — a 3-pounder — and I was like, it’s a big deal, but it’s not that big of a deal. I’ll get plenty of bites.
Then, I lose one on a dock, but that was my fault — a poor hook set.
I didn’t doubt that I’d catch five all the way until I had to leave for check in. I had one fish at noon, but I thought, “I’ll run into them.”
The mistake I made was that I could have still caught some more if I had just stayed in the muddy water. But the big ones I had been catching the first two days had come out of the clearer water underneath those docks.
When I came to this event, I committed 1,000 percent to fishing shallow. I’m not going to beat (second-place) Brent Ehrler fishing deep, so I never made a cast deeper than probably 10 feet. Practice was good, and I felt like I had two different things going on to catch ‘em.
I wasn’t catching a lot of big ones, but I felt like what I was doing would give me the opportunity. The first day, obviously, worked out great; Day 2 worked out great. What changed on Day 3 was the lack of wind.
The fish were still there; I was seeing them, but they were in that lazy mood. They were laying 18 inches beneath those docks sunning. Those fish were one day away from going to the bank. Whenever you start seeing what we saw on Day 3, they’re going to be laying everywhere on the bank in the morning.
On that last day, I had the bites to do what I needed to do. I kept plugging and plugging, but it just didn’t work out.
At the end of the day, I was aggravated at myself for not settling down somewhere and figuring out a different way to catch them. But in all honesty, I had the bites.
The first day I never lost a fish; the second day I lost a 5-pounder and a 3 1/2- that would have culled me up another 4 or 5 pounds. Then, to get seven bites the last day and lose three, and I lose by a pound and a couple of ounces?
It almost scares me a little bit because I’ve had the chance to win the Classic twice. But this one hurts more than placing second at the 2016 Classic on Grand Lake because Edwin Evers caught 29 pounds the last day and there’s nothing I could do about that.
I think this is a good example of just how much has to go right to win one of these events. You have to have a great event.
I really believe it’s getting harder and harder to win Classics solely on a shallow water pattern like the one I was fishing. We have so many changing conditions, and we’re usually in the spring when a lot of those fish are holed up out deeper.
This one hurts because it was so close, and I only had four fish on Day 3. But all I can do is keep knocking on the door and maybe one of these days, somebody will let me in.