“I set the hook and had him coming my way … and boom! He just pulled off.” "Man, we wrecked ’em today, but my buddy lost one right at the end of the day that would have gave us the win.” Yeah, it happens. Depending on your current situation, the one that gets away can cost you more than bragging rights at the next club meeting. What about three got away stories?
With the blessing of Bass Pro Shops, Nitro Boats and Sevierville Tracker Marine located in beautiful Sevierville, Tenn., I hit in the road in 2017 on my journey aiming for the Bassmaster Elite Series, I never thought about losing fish, breaking line or losing a bait that seemed to be magical that particular day. I was totally focused on the job at hand: find fish, catch fish, weigh fish. Hello, Elites.
Other than the last part of that equation, I am totally satisfied with the 2017 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens season. But the ones that get away hurt, no matter what, you just can’t lose them. Even if it’s not your fault, you just can’t lose ’em. Here’s a rundown of the year quickly as possible … about the “ones that got away”
#1 Oneida Lake, Syracuse, N.Y. Early July.
I was 15 hours from home, drove all night and slept in a truck stop parking lot. I hit the lake and immediately started catching ’em. After a daylight to dark day on the lake, my truck suffers a catastrophic engine failure at 10 p.m. on the side of Interstate 81 in the middle of Syracuse, N.Y. After a day of trying to locate a U-Haul pick-up to tow my Nitro Z21 to and from the lake (not fishing), I got back to business.
Things just went sideways all week like I had a black cloud following me. Day 1 I’m working a pop-r across a grass point. Smack ... a 5-pounder loads up and just pulls off halfway back to the boat. No splashing, no jumping … it just pulls off. I weighed 13 pounds and was near 120th. Day 2 worked to plan. First fish was a smallie of more than 4 pounds, then a 4-plus largemouth off the bed made things interesting. I weighed in 16 pounds on Day 2 and jumped to a whopping 80th place. Not the finish I wanted, but I got a new truck.
#2 James River, Richmond, Va. Early August.
I went up for two days and rode the water that I thought I wanted to target before practice started. Although I heard terrifying stories of this place, I somehow felt at home there. Dirty water, lots of stuff to flip/pitch/cast at on the banks, and it had grass. I settled in on an area and milked it for two straight days of competition.
To heck with running that tide, I stayed on the same stretch and fished the tide whichever way it was moving. I caught most of my fish flipping heavy cover, and yep, you guessed it, I broke one off. I mean, when you flip over a log and one hammers it, you jerk. And that’s exactly what happened; I watched a 3-pounder slide back down the other side of the log after breaking my line. I finished up the event in 20th place, tickled to death, but that fish cost me valuable points, as did the one at Oneida.
#3 Douglas Lake, Sevierville, Tenn. Early September.
My home lake. Tough was an understatement for this bad boy. I guide on Douglas, Cherokee and Norris Lakes here in East Tennessee, so I was ready. But after a lackluster practice, I told my wife I was just gonna go swing at ’em. I ran a pattern that was more suited for February through April, but the baitfish were there so I knew the bass had to be close.
Day 1, I start off with a small keeper and continue to fill my limit when I hit a stretch where I had caught some giants in days gone by. This time it didn’t disappoint. As I make a long cast I watch what I think is a 4 pounder streak off the bank and crush my Killer Bass Baits spinner bait, and the fight is on. After two trips up and down the side of the boat she starts to come straight up ready to be flipped in the old Nitro. Nope, not happening. As I crank down to use her momentum to bounce her over the rail she surfaces and can’t even jump. Now I’m in a tug of war with a 6-plus pound bass which I lost. I can close my eyes and still see that hook rip out of the roof of her mouth. Did I rush her? Maybe a little. But I will go to my grave thinking she was a 4-pounder, and 4-pounders get flipped on certain tackle.
Totally distraught, I set down, tuned my blade up and attempted to gather my shaken wits. My co-angler asks, ”Now what?” I just smile and say, “Keep fishin I reckon.” Ten yards down the bank I hook up again and boat flip a 4.25-pounder. I slid into the Top 12 cut by an ounce and end the event in ninth place, getting the opportunity to make the big show and weigh-in in front of my hometown crowd, family and title sponsor Bass Pro Shops of Kodak, Tenn. That 6-pounder I lost on Day 1 hurt the most. This event was blown way by local pro and friend Ott DeFoe, but losing that fish was the difference between a ninth place finish and a fourth or fifth place and four or five AOY points. One bite, one hook set, one cast. That’s it, how you decide to react to these actions means mountains in the world of professional bass fishing.
I ended the year ninth place in Northern Opens AOY standings and missed a Bassmaster Elite Series invitation by four points while fishing against some of the best anglers in the world. Any one of the three fish I lost this year would have put me in the Bassmaster Elite Series, my main objective when I started this season.
Hindsight being 20/20, all things happen for a reason. Would I have accepted the Elite invite if I had made it? You dang right! Maybe I need another year? The Lord knows what’s best. Maybe I’m going to win an Open this year? It would have been easy to get discouraged after getting so close but no cigar.
Am I the only angler that lost fish this year? Shoot no. I hear these stories everywhere I go. It has made me even more determined now that I know I can hold my own. The amount of time you spend on the water will most definitely play a role in the number of these incidents. I’ve even had them come off in the air after a hook set and fall in the floor of the boat. I’ve caught two fish on the same lure, I’ve had them follow a lure and bite right at the boat. If you fish enough, crazy stuff will happen. The more you play with fire, sooner or later you get burned.
What I do know is this is a game of ounces played by cats that will outthink, outwork and out-will you if you aren’t on top of your game at all times. We all have “one that got away stories,” but they sting way more when life-changing moments are on the line … not to mention thousands of dollars. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
I was proudly sponsored by: Bass Pro Shops, Nitro Boats, Mercury Marine, Power-Pole, Killer Bass Baits, P-Line, Lowrance.
See you on Kissimmee in 2018 for the opener of the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Eastern Opens.