One bad day

In fishing, there are good days and bad days. No matter if you’re fishing for fun or for dollars and points, there will be times when it seems nothing goes your way.

On the Bassmaster Elite Series, it’s crucial to avoid any bad days. The competition is that stiff. One slipup and you’re in their rearview mirror.

A single-day setback can destroy your chances in any single event … even an entire season can be lost. Worse, a shot at a career-changing victory.

Believe me, I know firsthand.

A Classic case

During the 1991Bassmaster Classic on the Chesapeake Bay, I had one of those days … a day I wish I could forget. Unfortunately, that memory is permanently etched in my mind, and stands as one of the worst of my career.

On Day 1 of the competition, I caught a solid limit of bass by targeting key docks and duck blinds. When I returned to the coliseum for weigh-in, I learned Zell Rowland had taken a sizeable lead by fishing a popper over submerged grass. Thinking he was going to run away with the event, I decided to scrap my game plan and chase his.

It was a huge mistake.

The next morning, I started on a grassbed that had produced a number of bites for me in practice. Assuming the fish would still be there, I took my time and detailed each section.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go as hoped.

Whether it was the wrong tide or some other unknown factor, the fish wouldn’t cooperate. Rather than pull up stakes and run 25 miles to my key docks and blinds, I elected to stay and wait them out. And by day’s end, I had only a single 2-pounder to show for it.

Back at the coliseum, I heard Zell had also struggled. Apparently, his fish didn’t cooperate either.

On Day 3 — the final day — I recommitted to my original game plan. And it proved to be a very bittersweet experience.

Beneath a single dock, I caught and culled more than two dozen 3-pound largemouth. There were so many of the same size, I spent more time culling than fishing. And when the clock ran out, I had the second-largest stringer of the tournament — second only to Zell’s first-day catch.

While I had a great day of fishing, and gave the fans at the arena something to cheer for, all I could think of was the lost opportunity — one that could have catapulted my career. A poor decision that cost me big time.

That was then. This is now.

Earlier this season, I got off to a good start. I made checks in all of the first four events. By the time the tour got to Lake Fork — our fifth event — I was solid in the Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year (AOY) standings. And though I didn’t have a particularly good practice on Fork, I felt I’d found enough to easily survive the event … perhaps even finish high with a couple of key bites.

Day 1 went okay. I caught a 16-pound sack, anchored with a 5-pounder. I just needed to repeat that on Day 2 and I would make the cut and live to fight another day. Unfortunately, the wheels came off the next morning.

Starting on a stretch of riprap at the dam, I paralleled the rocks with a topwater walking bait. And after 30 minutes or so, I got the right bite — a 6-pounder crushed my lure. The fish jumped twice and, by then, I thought I was winning the battle. On the third and final jump, however, my line went slack and the fish was suddenly gone. My immediate thought was that it had broken off. But that wasn’t the case. When I reeled my line in, I discovered my loop knot was whole and as perfect as when I tied it.

Apparently, the line-tie had pulled loose from the body of the lure, which allowed the fish to free itself … taking my plug with it. And, naturally, I didn’t have another like it in the boat.

That began a string of losses that I’m still scratching my head over.

By day’s end, I had lost or missed more than a dozen fish. Some buried themselves in the timber and broke off. Others simply pulled off. Still others jumped off. And when time ran out, I had caught only three keepers from one of the nation’s best bass fisheries.

What’s left?

That single bad day came at a tremendous price. Suddenly, I was no longer safely inside the Classic cutline.

After Fork, the tour went to Pickwick Reservoir in Northern Alabama. And though I fished cleanly there, I somehow dropped even further in the AOY standings.

That speaks to the quality of the competition I’m up against. These guys are good — really good — and with one bad day they can bury you.

Looking ahead, I’m hoping to recover at the St. Lawrence River. I love fishing there, and my chances should be good. But even a body of water I excel on, things can go wrong. Mechanical failures. Bad weather. Other anglers competing for the same spots.

There are no guarantees. Bad days can come out of nowhere. When they do, my job is to try to minimize the damage.  

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