In the tournament season

The long hiatus of tournament action came to a screeching halt as every angler packed up their trucks and boats to head to the St. Johns River a few weeks ago. That was the first real tournament action many of us saw since our last casts of the 2018 Bassmaster Elite Series season. 

For me, it was an exciting fresh start. Fishing is an up and down roller coaster. If you had a bad event, you can’t wait for the next tournament to scrub the funk off. If you caught them in the last tournament, you want the next event to be right around the corner to keep the mojo rolling. What’s great about the sport is your passion and competitive nature want to always be on the water getting better every day. Anglers may be tired and want a break, but that normally wears off after a day or two at the house.

My season started off on the wrong end of the standings at the St. Johns River. I finished 52nd and missed the Top 35 cut to fish on the weekend.

Navigating the St. Johns wasn’t the easiest with the foggy practice conditions. I couldn’t get a lay of the land as easy, so it took more time to get acclimated to the river since it was my first time competing there. After a so-so first two days of practice, my third day was much better. I located a lot of spawning fish in clearer water and was cautiously optimistic for my chances on Day 1 of the event. What I didn’t know was that those springs were community areas and that the boat traffic would be much greater than what I saw on my final day of practice. 

I caught some of the better spawning fish I had found and then filled my limit with other fish for 12-12 on Day 1. Based on practice, I thought that was going to be a solid weight, but I was shocked to see how good the weights were. I made a decision to fish a different area on Day 2 in hopes of catching a bigger limit, and it didn’t pan out one bit. I made a run back to my spawning fish area in the springs. Every five minutes the fish would get more active and aggressive in the crystal-clear water. I saw numerous big bass get caught by competitors around me, but I just ran out of time and only brought 11 pounds worth to the scales. It wasn’t a terrible event by any means, but it was lackluster enough to fire me up even more for a good finish at Lanier. 

With the quick turnaround for Lake Lanier, I put the St. Johns River behind me. Over the years I’ve learned how my mental approach impacts my fishing. Carrying negativity or bad finishes with you will create a negative thought process at the next tournament. The best approach is to understand that bad finishes happen, but that a great one could be right around the corner at the next tournament. All it takes is one good finish to break you out of the rut you may be stuck in.

During practice, I decided to spend my time doing a few different patterns. I was under the impression going into this event that if you didn’t fish deep, you didn’t have a chance to win. That was partially true. I finished eighth with 59-13 and didn’t have a chance to win the event when it came to the winning weight (69-0), but I was considerably closer in the standings with how Lanier played out. A very important realization every fisherman has to learn is that it’s not always about living and dying with the pattern you think is going to win. It was a fine line between the “haves and have-nots” in this tournament. 

I fished deep for some of those fish that Paul Mueller, Chris Zaldain and others targeted, but every time I would float around in that 40- to 50-foot range looking for those spotted bass areas, the voice in my head would tell me that it just wasn’t happening out there. I would run to a dock or a windblown point or even just a stretch of bank that looked good, and I would immediately get a bite. They weren’t the biggest spotted bass in the lake, but they were good ones.

My two-pronged approach for the transition areas I was fishing was a Neko Rigged Green Pumpkin Yum Dinger around docks and I threw a blueback herring colored jerkbait on points and anywhere wind was hitting. I used a 6-foot, 10-inch medium action 13 Fishing Envy Black spinning rod with 20-pound Seaguar Smackdown braid as my backing with an 8-pound InvisX Fluorocarbon leader.

Lanier was one of those ever-changing events where you needed to adjust daily and at times put down a bait that had worked earlier in the week or move to a spot on a gut feeling. Once you get in that frame of mind where you can change with the conditions then you can fish more freely and instinctually. It can be hard to know that an event is setting up that way, but there will be a time where a crucial decision has to be made. When you come to that fork in the road and make the correct choice, it can get your day and tournament rolling in a great direction. 

Wrapping up a three-week trip was the Basspro.com Bassmaster Central Open at Toledo Bend. It started on a Wednesday so I only managed to get half a day of practice after leaving Lanier early Monday morning. In reality, it’s the best 60th place finish I will probably ever have. After only a few hours of practice in some rough weather, I managed to bring just two to the scales on Day 1. I upgraded big time on Day 2 and had a blast with my co-angler. I didn’t get a check, but I did beat over 150 other anglers and made it home after an eventful three weeks. Sometimes the best way to make good decisions in fishing is to invest in more time on the water.

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