DECATUR, Ala. -- Fishing too conservatively was the main regret for Dave Lefebre, who finished second at the 2016 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Elite at Wheeler Lake.
While waiting his turn to weigh in on the final day, the pro from Erie, Pa., had this to say:
"If Takahiro is going to beat me, I hope he does it by more than five or six pounds. I'm going to really regret that if it's anything less."
Final score: Takahiro Omori with 81 pounds, 6 ounces and 77-3 for Lefebre, for a margin of 4 pounds, 3 ounces.
What Lefebre regrets the most is not swinging for the fences from the start.
"Nobody expected this lake to fish so well," he said. "There really was a fine line in determining just how much water and fish to save, based on it all."
Indeed. The week prior to the competition the buzz was about the lake not being as good as before. The grass was gone. Catches down. Not up to the standard of the lakes either direction on the Tennessee River, like Guntersville and Pickwick.
As the tournament played out it became apparent that taking a dose of what turned out to be hearsay got you in trouble. Twenty-pound bags crossed the scales. Lefebre crossed the scales with double-digit weights on two days.
Lefebre was in the hunt from the start with an area to himself. The area was big, had abundant spawning habitat. All the ingredients for a place to stay and win a four-day tournament were there.
"It was a dream-come-true kind of place," said Lefebre. "I kept thinking that I'd have a lot of company and there was none."
After an unproductive practice Lefebre gave the spot another chance. It showed way too much potential. The mouths of several secondary creeks functioned as intake points for pre-spawn bass migrating from the main lake.
Lefebre didn't have anything else to go on, anyway. Staying turned out to be a good idea. As a veteran pro, Lefebre felt confidence in learning the spot as he went.
"It became more of an area than a pattern," he explained. "Every day was different and I just built on what I learned, added new tactics to patterns."
The area revealed a lot of opportunity on Day 1. Lefebre caught a limit weighing 18-12 to put him near the top of the leaderboard. The next day he took the lead with a limit weighing 21-3. Things were looking up. He weighed a 20-10 limit on Day 3 to retain the lead.
"I backed it down at 11 o'clock to start saving it for the final day," he said.
The area was becoming so prolific with incoming spawners that Lefebre gauged weight based on how to sustain the area over four days of fishing.
"On the first two days I cut it off at three pounders for what I needed to start a limit," he said.
The next two days he set the weight benchmark at four pounders. Those were everywhere and even bigger bass showed up. By Day 4 Lefebre realized that setting the bar high from the start was the better idea.
The final day started like the others before. Lefebre arrived at his chosen area and began casting a buzzbait to the cover. His first keeper came an hour later than previous mornings, at about 9 a.m. Then he switched to a big, bulky jig and methodically flipped the lure at isolated wood.
The action was painfully slow. There was something amiss.
"I still don't know what it was and haven't had time to figure it out," he said just before weighing in.
The final catch provided food for thought. Lefebre, who weighed after Omori, was growing uneasy. He knew the outcome would be close. His final limit weighed 16-10 for the lowest weight of the week.
Before the trophy was handed out Lefebre sought comfort from his own words.
"Takahiro was on post-spawn bass and wave after wave set up on that one little spot," he said. "He never had to move."
"Mine were coming to me," he continued. "That took a continuous search to catch them on the way into my area."
"I should have caught as much as I could," he said.
Count on that the next time around. Anything less gets you second place when fishing the Bassmaster Elite Series.