Rich Howes’ boat dock boot camp

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A week of frustration is how Florida pro Rich Howes summed up his week at the Bass Pro Shops Southern Open, held on Lake Norman.

Frustrated not because of his second-place finish. Frustrated because of what he went through to come within 1 pound 8 ounces of a trip to the 2015 Bassmaster Classic.

Bedbugs are only part of the story. There’s more about those later in this article.

“In Florida, casting accuracy is not as critical to a fishing presentation as here,” he said, summing up the week in a nutshell. “This was one of the most frustrating weeks I’ve ever spent at a tournament.”

Howes faced two worse case scenarios for a Floridian unaccustomed to the three key factors for success in this tournament. Those were spotted bass, ultra-clear water and boat docks.

The triple whammy of unknowns panned out like this: Small schools of spotted bass stayed on the move. Fishing clear water required a stealth approach the likes of which is unheard of in the tannic water of Howe’s home state. The boat docks were the worst part of the equation.

“I spent practically more time re-spooling my spinning reels than actually fishing,” he said, of the practice days. “It’s amazing how fishing line can get wrapped around a boat cleat, piling or plank.”

Howes settled down after learning, under the gun, the mechanics of fishing light line and lures. As it turned out, learning on the go proved not such a bad thing.

Spotted bass were abundant around the boat docks, which narrowed the area required to find them.

Howes eventually dialed into a pattern on Day 1. The crash course required staying on the move to constantly learn, dock by dock, how the fish related to each structure.

A massive school of baitfish lit up the screen of his electronic graph as Howes randomly idled into one cove. And a pattern was born. The spotted bass used the docks as ambush points as the baitfish came within close range.

As baitfish came within close range of the docks, the spotted bass ambushed them. Howes tricked them into biting jigs fished on the outside and inside edge of the docks.

The Day 1 effort produced a limit weighing 13-11, one of the better catches of the day. The plan got scraped on Day 2 when the weather changed from sunny skies to overcast, rainy conditions. A new day meant a new learning experience.

“Staying on the move was the most difficult part,” he said. “I’m used to spending an entire eight-hour day on a grass flat in Florida. Here, the fish stayed on the move.”

Those fish always on the move were aggressive. They snapped up Howes’ jig when he hit the target zone. Duplicating the conditions produced a subpar limit weighing 10-1.

The frustration lifted somewhat after Howes made the top 12 cut. Then he arrived at his hotel room. It was infested with bedbugs. After moving to a new hotel, he settled in, realizing a second consecutive Classic berth could be in reach.

It wouldn’t happen. Howes was okay with it. The next time a tournament is held under these conditions, he’ll be more prepared.

If the event is on Lake Norman, he’ll also know a certain hotel to avoid.

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