“This must be a big deal … Overstreet is here.” That was the first thing that went through my mind at registration for the Bass Pro Shops Eastern Open on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes. A moment later, I noticed Roland Martin in line just ahead of me, and suddenly, the fact that B.A.S.S. photographer extraordinaire James Overstreet was in the house seemed diminished a bit.
I had goals and questions going into this first Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open as a co-angler. My personal goal was 9 pounds per day for my three-fish limit. As it turned out, that would have won the event. Steve Robbins, out of Ohio, having never fished Florida, rode a Day 1 8-pounder to victory with just under 27 pounds. Goal two was a check. As it turned out, it took 10-2 to get paid. More on that in a moment.
The questions I had were would I see Toho as well as Kissimmee? Would I get a local pro or a young hot shot? Would my pro be on fish? Or near fish? The answer to all of these questions was, "Yes!"
On Day 1, I drew Terry Segraves. You can’t get much more local than that. When I arrived at Big Toho Marina Thursday morning, Terry was behind the counter, recommending the bacon, egg and cheese sandwich to anyone who would listen. Terry was sponsored for years by the Kissimmee Tourism folks and knows every inch of that place. We stayed in Toho, and I flipped up 6-6 in the reeds. Terry had nearly 15 pounds after a late flurry of jerkbait fish. I was 28th on the co-angler side, and he was top 15 with the pros. Of course, everyone was amazed at Bobby Lane’s ridiculous 30-pound sack, but after that, both the pro and co sides were pretty bunched up.
Saturday, I had a completely opposite draw. Daniel Martin was 25 years old. I have lures that are 25 years old. And before practice, he’d never wet a line in Florida. He had 6-11 the first day, barely more than me, and we were going to Kissimmee. I figured I needed 4 pounds to get paid … maybe 9 pounds to fish Saturday. My confidence was bolstered almost immediately when Martin caught a chunky 3-pounder in our first five minutes. He had us in the neighborhood, all I needed to do was execute. As Martin began building his limit, I saw a clump of isolated grass that he wasn’t going to hit. It was co-angler gold. I fired a creature bait in there and got the immediate “tap-tap." I took up the slack, honked back and had roof hooked a good one. Martin and I saw the boil and knew this was a good fish. I battled it back to the boat, he flashed for a moment and I thought, “Pig!" When he surfaced, my heart sank. It was a mudfish, the trashiest of trash fish. And worse yet, I had to get this beast unhooked.
Martin was laughing. He’s 25. This is funny to him.
No matter, I’m now energized and we are around fish. Only a matter of time now before the right species is at the end of my line. Fifteen minutes later, Daniel is hooked up again. It's a small fish but number five for him. And my bait has drawn a taker, another good puller. “Be a bass, be a bass.” It’s a bass. Maybe 4 pounds. Money fish. This is the one that keeps me in the cash. From here, I’ll work on making the cut.
Oh, better get this one in the boat first … I go to move off the deck, but Daniel’s in the livewell. No worries, got a fresh hook tied to 50-pound braid. Maybe I’ll just boat flip my bag of money. Here it comes by the boat … maybe 5 pounds? I’ll reach for him, and then…then…he just swims away. With my money. No broke line, no jump, just came unbuttoned. Unreal. I lose it. I am certain that that one fish gets me a check. I’m despondent. Daniel Martin is laughing. He’s 25. This is funny to him. He says I’ll catch ‘em. Well, I don’t. I hook two more, yet they break off. Probably pickerel or dogfish or some other toothy predator.
Later, headed for Ft. Myers to watch the Super Bowl with family there, I check the standings. I needed 3 pounds, 8 ounces to make a check in my first Open. Instant street cred. Overstreet taking my picture. My wife holding the check. Three little 12-inchers would have done it. I had zero. Nada. Zilch.
I take that back … I had a great time. Dreamt about it that night. My pros were great, helpful and fun to be with. And what a first-rate operation Chris Bowes and his team run. I can’t wait til Norman!