Not the finish I was looking for

DANDRIDGE, Tenn. — Did that just happen?

Going into the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open #1 on Douglas Lake presented by Allstate, I knew for certain I was prepared. Hours and hours of study, research, rigging and general game planning was complete.

I was also confident.

I know Douglas.

The water suits me.

The techniques are not foreign to me.

My expectations were high and, more than that, the personal expectations that I had developed for myself were set high.

I was ready to make something special happen.

Eight days later I’m sitting here writing this blog knowing that in hindsight this tournament was a decision-disaster after a 50th-place finish.

Two years ago, I would have thought that 50th is a good start and that I’m still in the hunt for Bassmaster Elite Series and to keep focused on the next two and move up.

Now I feel I’ve developed further as an angler. I have higher expectations now of my decisions. I want it too much and put too much into it to be happy with that finish. I know the decisions I made at Douglas were OK but not “fine-tuned.”

Every tournament has its unique characteristics, and I knew practice would include 15-hour days on the water graphing to find four schools of fish that everyone else found. The fish were biting both shallow and deep, but I knew that the deep fish would have the quality needed to win.

I kept the whole lake honest, but it was clear that the mid-lake to lower river end was where the bite was best. The techniques were going to be long lining, deep cranking, spoons, drop shots, and the multi rig and jigs. However, the biggest wild card was how few deep schools were available and how many people found the same schools.

I put my time in.

Practice went well.

My confidence was high.

I drew boat 184 out of 189.

Yes, boat 184.

Normally this would not make a difference to me, and tournament director Chris Bowes does a great job of getting everyone out and fishing fast. But Douglas is a different animal than most, and I missed an hour of the prime fishing time on the first morning. There were so few spots and the bite window was so short in the morning that a good boat draw was critical.

Well, apparently 184 wasn’t too bad.

Day 1

When I arrived at my first spot, there was only one boat on it. Aaron Martens drew boat 189 and soon showed up to fish with me. It was a confidence boost to know one of the best of all time chose to start on the same spot as me.

The spot produced a double hook-up for me and my co-angler on the first cast.

Next cast, I had a double on the same lure, something I haven’t seen in my tournament career — a 3-pounder on one treble and a 6-pounder fighting on the other.

Three surges later, the lure shows up with only the 3 hanging on.

Shattered, I moved on quickly.

A few casts later and Aaron Martens hooks up with the tournament big bass — 7.1 pounds.

At the end of the flurry, I had three quality bass in the livewell, but the excitement was over. I spent the next several hours running other spots all over the lake but never got a bite — let alone even getting at any one of my other areas — only to return to my starting spot and finishing my limit. I weighed in 13-13.

Not a bad start, sitting in 32nd with a great boat draw for Day 2.

Day 2

Taking off as boat No. 4 should have been in the prime position to make something happen early.

Three hours into the day, I had three small bass. I went into, “I’ve-got-to-make-something-happen mode,” because every other spot I had was filled with other boats.

Never did it cross my mind that it is tough on almost everyone.

Never did I think to go out and scrounge up 10 pounds because that was going to get me a solid finish.

This was Douglas Lake.

A lake that in five casts you can catch 26 pounds.

I ran from shallow to deep, to bluff walls to flipping bushes, and just couldn’t settle into anything I felt comfortable or confident fishing for a long period of time.

I was still convinced that a 10-pound limit would get me absolutely nowhere. Key word in that sentence: “limit.”

I still only had three bass.

I hang around with enough Elite Series guys to know how important that fifth fish is. Was I making decisions or was I being hard-headed and not making a solid decision at all? No limit on Douglas Lake will no doubt end in disaster.

With 30 minutes to go, I run to my favorite bluff wall, and on the first cast, I put a 2 1/2-pounder in the boat.

That’s four. One to go. So what do I do?

Put the jig down, pick up my big swimbait and parallel the walls looking for that big bite!

It doesn’t come.

If I kept that jig on I would have most likely put another 2-plus in the boat, made a good check, saved the tournament and nowhere would I write “disaster” in my blog.

But that wasn’t to be.

With literally seconds to go before I would be in late, I was casting at the bridge near the weigh-in hoping for that one bite. I feel the pain of defeat start to set in as I roll into check-in with four bass.

I hate this feeling.

This feeling is what drives me to push harder and harder on the water, to succeed and never give in. I don’t want to feel that pain.

I’m not at all happy or satisfied with my results at Douglas.

Honestly, I’m mad.

With that disappointment, however, I have realized to where I have raised my personal bar.

I have set it pretty high.

Maybe too high. But that’s OK.

I’m proud of the growth that it took to get my bar here, though. As my knowledge grows, the number of decisions grows and, as the difficulty grows, the fine tuning of my decisions becomes more important.

Every event ends with memories, lessons, achievements and failures, but it seems that the most important result is that in every event you must grow as an angler.

I grew last week.

Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go!

Whatever it takes!