My big gamble nearly paid off

People say that close only counts with hand grenades and horseshoes, but I’m still happy with my 10th-place finish in the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at St. John’s River last week.

Any time you can make it to Championship Sunday against this stellar group of anglers, you have to be pleased.

Yes, I lost the lead after two days when my spot that was two hours from takeoff went dead on me. But after a lousy practice, I had nothing to lose and made the most of the situation I had at the time.

It was a big gamble to burn that much fishing time running down the lake, but I’ve fished that area before and knew the potential was there.

Conditions were right; whether it could hold up remained to be seen.

And, like I said, it was all I had going. I caught a few fish in other places during practice, but I caught a good one in there and shook off a few other bites.

It was a gamble I was willing to make.

In fact, after the first two days, I thought I had a shot to win, especially if more fish moved into the shallow lake I was fishing. They didn’t live there, but it warmed up fast and attracted spawning bass from other nearby lakes and canals.

This lake was shallow – not more than a foot deep – and not easy to get into. After each weigh-in, I had to go to the service yard and replace my prop that got bent from dinging on gravel or shellbeds along the mucky bottom.

You can bet my mind was whirling while we sat under fog delay the first day of the tournament. When they released us I would have only one hour of fishing down there.

But wow, was it worth it.

I left the takeoff at 10:35 a.m. and didn’t put my trolling motor into the water until 12:40 p.m. I picked it up at 1:40. During that hour, I had seven bites and five were 5-pound-plus fish, giving me 25 pounds, 12 ounces and the lead. It was like getting to pitch opening day and throwing a no-hitter – an unbelievable feeling.

I was catching them on a Zoom Ultravibe Speed Worm (junebug) with a 1/4-ounce sinker and an Aaron Martens Gamakatsu G-Finesse Heavy Cover hook.

The first day I was using 40-pound braid, and the fish were smokin’ the bait. The bite was slower the second day, so I thought my fishing pressure from the day before had the fish a bit spooked. I switched to 20-pound fluorocarbon, and the aggressive bites improved.

Did it make a difference? In my mind it did.

I caught 19 pounds, 5 ounces the second day and still had a decent lead. I could tell the bites were getting tougher and tougher in there and suspected I had pretty much caught everything in the area.

My hunch was right. I only had two fish (6 pounds, 4 ounces) the third day and two (2-12) the last day.

Sure, I’m disappointed I didn’t win, but I was thrilled to make my first Championship Sunday since joining the Elites. It’s a good start to a long season, and more importantly, to my goal to be in the hunt for Bassmaster Angler of Year and a Classic berth when it’s all over.