You’re not going to win a tournament with one fish, but a good one can absolutely change the course of your event. For me, that one fish was a 9 1/2-pounder that bit early on Day 1 and set me on course to earning a second-place finish.
Toledo Bend is a lot like Florida — you have to catch a giant to have a chance to win. After I caught that big fish the first day, I kind of rode that out the rest of the tournament. I caught quality fish to go with it, but really, that one fish is what allowed me to stay in the top 10 all four days.
That’s a good example of how you can get right so fast on this lake. You can go from being nothing to having a serious chance with one catch.
I actually started the first morning just looking to catch a limit, and I catch a 9 1/2-pounder in the first 30 minutes. That immediately changed my outlook, and I went from the mentality of trying to catch points fish to thinking this is a fish that will get me through Day 1. I knew that if I just caught four other keepers I’d be in decent shape.
After I caught that big one that day turned into more of a practice day for me. I fished a lot more freely, I tried some new stuff and I figured out a few things that helped me the second, third and fourth days. I can honestly say that I probably wouldn’t have been able to do that had I not caught the big fish.
What I figured out was that I needed to be in that dirtier water. The fish were hard to catch — even on beds — because of the fishing pressure, so I started running dirtier water where I couldn’t see them. I had to just fish for them.
I ended up catching all but one of my fish on a 1/2-ounce chartreuse/white Booyah spinnerbait with tandem Colorado blades (a 1/2-ounce Booyah jig with a YUM Craw Chunk produced one). We had big winds the last day of practice and it turned my area kind of chalky, so that bait gave me a big profile with lots of vibration.
Once I figured out that I needed to be in that dirtier water, I started moving farther back into the creeks. Toledo Bend had a lot of rain before the tournament, so there was a lot of runoff coming into the backs of these creeks. Here, I was targeting hard cover like cypress trees, bushes and docks in the dirtier water.
You have to consider that Toledo Bend can be hard to navigate in calm water because of all the stumps, so you have to spend a lot of time idling back into the creeks. Adding wind to the equation makes it even tougher, so you have to commit to an area.
Each day, I went to an area and fished it. Even though those areas changed throughout the tournament, I didn’t move around. Once I got there, I put the trolling motor down and fished. I think that catching that big fish on Day 1 gave me the confidence to do that.
Ultimately, I don’t think I was around the fish to win, but that big Day 1 fish gave me a little jump start. I didn’t weigh a fish over 5 pounds after that, so I don’t think I deserved to win.
Of course, I would have preferred to win rather than finish second, but I feel like I overachieved based on what I did in practice. I didn’t lose any fish that would’ve made a difference, I fished my strength and I caught good fish each day.
John Murray caught three 7-pounders the last day and beat me, so I didn’t do anything wrong; John just did everything right.
In our sport, you’re going to lose a lot more than you’re going to win. You have to learn how to swallow it and move on to the next one, so that’s what I’m going to do.
I feel like I’m fishing well, and I’m making decent decisions. I believe that if I can keep doing that, at some point, I’ll have my chance at holding one of those trophies.