After a few weeks off in Minnesota, where I pretty much laid low and hung out with the family, we’re back on the road this week for the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at Pickwick Lake. Even though it’s a famous fishery and a repeat stop on tour, I’ve never been there. The last time the Elite Series visited was in 2011 when Davy Hite won, and I didn’t join the circuit until four years later.
I’m not the kind of guy who does a ton of pre-tournament research on the lakes, even when it’s someplace I’ve never been before, but I expect this one is going to be an absolute slugfest. We’re hitting it at the perfect time of year, and judging by the recent tournament weights I’ve seen, the fishing is on fire. With the exception of some smallmouth action under the dam which could get a little finessy, it should be entirely a prespawn power fishing showdown.
Earlier in my career, I dreaded TVA fisheries, not because they were tough but because they didn’t fit my style. Growing up, I fished a lot of single-hook baits – flipping and dragging them. That’s because I felt that a Texas rig and a jig were my best ways to win on lakes like Minnetonka. You can certainly catch a lot of fish, and a lot of big fish, doing those same things down south, but in events like this one it seems like a lot of times you need to be winding baits if you want to be competitive.
The lakes in the South are really flat, and they have a lot more hydrilla and eel grass than the milfoil I fish up north. Those fish at Guntersville and Pickwick and the other lakes around there are heavily pressured, and something about a vibrating jig or a crankbait or a lipless crank triggers them to bite. It’s often a pure reaction bite, especially this time of year.
I’ve learned to look forward to these traditional southern reservoirs. You have to embrace them if you’re going to do well on tour, and I think it shows in my results. I landed an 11th place at Guntersville last year and fourth in the Classic there.
We don’t get to choose where we go, so whether it’s someplace tough for me like the Sabine or someplace that reminds me of home like Champlain, I have to be on my game. That's especially true this year with a 100-man field full of hammers.
Of course, we’re still dealing with reschedulings, but there seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel. I’m glad they moved the Sabine back to April. I don’t handle the heat well, and I’m convinced I would have died there in August. I just about keeled over when I was there in June. It would be nice for about a half hour in the morning, and then when the sun got over the tops of the trees it was just about over for me. I’m not built to handle that.
The other big change to our schedule – but one that we’ve known about for a few months now – is moving the Classic. The original plan was to be on Ray Roberts for the Classic next week, but now we’ll go in June instead.
Again, I’m only looking at the derby right in front of me, and I don’t know a whole lot about Ray Roberts in general, so take this with a grain of salt. I kind of suspect that everybody would’ve caught big bags in March, and while we’ll still see some big bags in June there will also be some competitors who struggle. There will be a greater disparity between not only the top and the bottom, but also the top and the middle of the field. That means that someone who gets on a little something special, or something different, has an overall better chance to win.
The way I’m fishing now, I feel good about that. I’m comfortable just about anyplace, and winning is the name of the game. I may not do well there, but just like Pickwick, I’ll go into competition with my head screwed on straight and excited about the day ahead of me.