When it’s your time, it’s your time

Brandon Palaniuk and Adam Rasmussen

Alabama was very good to me this year, but I just didn’t complete the job. In back-to-back weeks I missed winning a Bassmaster Elite Series event on Lay Lake and a Bassmaster Open on Wheeler by a combined 9 ounces. In terms of lost winnings, that comes to over $10,000 an ounce, but while I’m certainly disappointed, now that I’ve had some time to reflect I’m generally leaning toward the more positive side of things.

This is my 13th year fishing professionally, and I know how hard opportunities to win are to come by. It’s one thing to make a Top 10, another thing to have a shot to win. Every time I get that chance I want to close the door, but when I step back and look at Lay Lake in particular, so many crazy things happened that I’m convinced that it was the right time for Will Davis Jr. to win. The storyline went the way it was supposed to go.

There’s no doubt we were gunning for him, but the breaks went his way. I lost two 5-pounders on a drop shot that I normally would not lose. Similarly, Jason Christie has boat flipped thousands of 5-pounders. He had one that choked a frog the last day, and when he tried to flip it in it came off. Meanwhile, I’m sure that Will has caught plenty of big largemouth by the dam, but by “big” I mean 4 pounds. That 6-pounder he caught up there on Day 2 was an absolute freak. The same thing with the bed fish he found at the end of the day.

It definitely wasn’t luck – he put in his time, preparing his entire life for this moment, but the key was that when opportunity arose he took advantage of it.

Looking back at it, I never would have thought there’d be four days’ worth of fish in the back of Beeswax Creek. One, maybe, and then I’d have to look for something else, so when things tightened up on the last day and I only had around 11 pounds, I decided to go down the lake looking for a big bite or two. Before making the run, I checked my fish and made sure the livewells were full with the pumps running full bore. Everything was fine. After bouncing around looking to cull, but failing to do so, I ran back in thinking I’d blown it.

I went to bag my fish and when I reached inside the livewell divider had come loose enough that a cull tag slid behind it. A small fish got pinned there and died. I’ve never had that happen. I don’t know of anyone who has had it happen. Still, there was talk that the final weights would be close. In the end, the 4 ounce penalty for the dead fish cost me the win, which I missed by 2 ounces.

I was in shock when I walked off the stage. I’m super competitive and it hurt, but there were more fish to catch and more tournaments to win. I told Will not to take it for granted, because wins don’t come easily. We talked on the phone a little bit later, and he confessed that he hated how it went down. I assured him that he won the way he was supposed to win. It wasn’t my time. We don’t always understand why things happen, but there’s always a reason. I’m convinced that two or three years from now it’ll make sense.

My success at Wheeler Lake was super-unexpected because I only had one and a half days to practice. By the time we got there, I’d planned to fish an afternoon, but massive thunderstorms rolled in so Tiff and Kora and I spent some quality time together instead. On the first day of practice I looked offshore and didn’t find anything, but that last partial day clued me in. In every sport they talk about being “in the zone,” and I felt like this was one of those times when making decisions on the fly worked to my advantage.

I’m fishing instinctively and not second-guessing my decisions, so while I knew that the Decatur Flats had the largest population of fish, I also knew it would get pounded. Instead, I found some stuff that was a little bit less pressured. There were sometimes other people fishing them, but I never ran to a spot and couldn’t get on it. I didn’t have a great Day 1, but felt that with one or two big bites on Day 2 I could get a check. I eventually changed my focus when I caught a 4-pounder, and then culled out a 2-pounder with a 5 3/4-pounder to move past 19 pounds.

With that big bag in the livewell (and the divider reattached), I spent the last three hours idling around looking for schools of bass, but not finding any. Suddenly I had an epiphany – I was getting lots of bites in the areas I’d found, so why force something else? That freed me up to stick to my game plan. The clouds rolled in, I put a jerkbait rod in my hand and went to work. I still didn’t think I had a shot, but when I caught a 5-pound smallmouth after 1 o’clock, suddenly the wheels started to spin.

Mostly, that last day was just fun. I caught so many bass – probably at least 50 – that I had “bass thump” on the tops of my thumbs. Again, I was disappointed to come so close and not close out a win, but I know that the process is right. The aspect of enjoying what you’re doing is one of the most overlooked momentum tools we have. When it’s fun, everything just flows better.