Experiencing an incredible fishery

If you would have told me I’d catch 20 pounds of smallmouth a day and not make the cut, I would have told you there’s no way. But that was the reality for me when a two-day total of 40-13 on the St. Lawrence River left me four spots below the cutline at the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite.

Was I disappointed? Of course. I’m fishing to win this season, and the first step at every event is making the cut. However, there’s something special about having the opportunity to experience such an incredible fishery.

I’ve been fishing tournaments for almost 24 years, and I’ve never seen anything to compare to that. But looking back, that event was such an anomaly. The fish should have all been offshore by then, but the weather held them up a little longer. I caught 4- and 5-pounders from 2 feet to 37 feet.

You miss the cut in a lot of tournaments and you’re like, “Man, I didn’t figure it out.” But while I didn’t figure everything out, I caught two good limits, and it is what it is.

Overall, that was a fun tournament, and I learned a lot about the fishery. Last year, I fished the river, but this year I committed to the lake. I feel like I have a better understanding about it now, so if we go back, I’ll have a higher level of confidence.

Looking ahead to our next event on Lake Oahe, I can see how there may be some continuity, at least in terms of the way smallmouth behave. I mean every smallmouth on the planet will eat a Ned rig and every smallmouth on the planet will eat a drop shot.

But maybe some other things like a crankbait, a big spoon, a ChatterBait or a hair jig could come into play. I’m thinking that baitfish oriented lures will excel here, because unlike the Great Lakes, this fishery isn’t dominated by gobies.

After Oahe, we end the season on a fantastic shallow fishery. I’ve fished the Mississippi River several times, and I know my way around. I’ll feel fairly comfortable there because I love the shallow fishing with swim jigs, frogs and stuff like that.

While I don’t have any experience on Oahe, I think it will be more manageable. Everything is on the lake; there’s no backwaters, there’s no locking, there’s no running back and forth and jumping sandbars.

There’s a little more control with a fishery like Oahe, so in my mind, I envision finding a bunch of places that I can fish and rotate. If you can manage what you find wisely, it’s not necessarily easier, but it’s right there in front of your face.

After the St. Lawrence, I’m 44th in the Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings, but as I’ve said before, I’m not dwelling on the points this year. Making the Classic is always a goal, but it’s not the goal this year. The goal this year is winning a tournament. I want a blue trophy, so I’m fishing to win.

I have two more chances, but I only need one. If I make the Classic by fishing to win, then I’m going to make the Classic. But I’m not worried about points; I’m going to keep fishing the way I’m fishing.

Fish hard, pray hard. I’m not going to get bogged down in anything else — just fish to win.