Cherokee: Black ice and hot coffee

It started with the coffee, a 32-ounce piping-hot thermos full of what I thought was a morning wakeup call by the Cherokee Lake boat ramp. But I never really got to taste the coffee that day. Most of it ended up doused on the deck of my boat in a final attempt to thaw the boxes that had frozen together overnight.

By the time we’d poured gallons of lake water on the brand new Blazer’s deck in an attempt to clean the mess, I was itching to leave the weirdness at the ramp and hit the water. That’s when Tim Horton hailed me. I ran to the man who ironically shares a name with Canada’s favorite coffee shop…and promptly slipped on a patch of black ice.

Tim is great, and I love you Tim, but the whole morning was a metaphor for a tough week in Tennessee. Still, even after the frozen boxes and the coffee and the fall, I found myself rolling on the ground laughing — what else can you do?

Cherokee was tough, but I managed to move up a few points in the standings before a Lake Okeechobee showdown in my home state of Florida.

The Big O sits about an hour and a half from my home. I’ve lived nearby for almost 20 years, but I have to confess, I don’t usually fish Okeechobee unless I’m in a tournament or practicing for one. I’m an adrenaline junky, and I’m more likely to head over to Lake Toho or the Kissimmee chain in search of Florida’s 10-pounders rather than spending the day hauling in 5- and 7-pounders on the inland sea.

I’m optimistic about Okeechobee, though. Despite not fishing there regularly, I’ve had some tournament success there. I placed second there in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic Wild Card, and I found a ton of fish on the lake just a few weeks ago while pre-fishing.

Mid to late February in Florida doesn’t usually fish a whole lot different than December or January. The temperature will be hot, probably in the mid-80s, and I think the fish that win the next Elite Series event on the Big O will be caught on prespawn and postspawn patterns. (I know a lot of guys associate Florida with flipping and punching beds, but the weather and my gut tell me they might not be there yet.)

Cherokee could have gone better for me, there’s no doubt. But thinking about a Florida tournament this close to home? That gets me excited. And, it makes me want to reboot the season, to act like this tournament, not Cherokee, is my very first Bassmaster Elite Series outing. Technically, that won’t be true. But if anything is true in fishing, it’s this: The game is mostly mental.

My motto has always been to win the battle against the fish. If I do that, I win the war against the fishermen. Now, with a few more battle scars under my belt (and on my shoulder, thanks to the ice) we’re headed for a war in my backyard.

If you ask me, Okeechobee is going to be a blast. And if I get lucky enough, I might just scare a few guys in the hot, Florida sun.