"You might want to take up golf again." That was my wife’s advice after my terrible showing in the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Eastern Open at Lake Norman.
If you look at the 1980 yearbook from St. John Fisher College, you’ll find a picture of a thinner, bushy-haired Thom Abraham hitting an approach shot during a college tournament at the prestigious Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y. I wasn’t great, but I was good enough to make the team. The way I fished at Norman, I couldn’t make a Junior Bassmaster team at the local junior high.
As I wrote leading up to the tournament, Norman is a heavy dock pattern lake, and fishing docks from the back is tough, physically and mentally. But’s that’s no excuse for me. The other 200 co-anglers were in the backs of boats as well, and I only saw a few boats out on points or in areas that were not in tight. And I had outstanding pairings.
On Day 1, I fished with Robby Digh, a local who’s lived on Norman for 45 years. Digh finished a respectable 34th with 20-9 over the first two days. Almost identical to his place and weight from Kissimmee in February.
On Day 2, I drew 25-year-old pro Kurt Mitchell, who was seeing the lake for the first time. Mitchell’s mastery skipping a wacky rigged Senko was quite impressive. I saw him put that thing under and around boat docks all day, as well as into well protected boat houses. One chunky largemouth was pulled from well under a boat house that was no more than a few inches above the water with solid foam floats. My eyes were deceiving me, as I saw no gap in the floatation for his rig to skip through. After tagging and boxing the fish, Kurt moved us closer to the structure, pointing out a gap of no more than 4 inches in the foam. As they say on the PGA Tour promos, “These guys are good!”
My only “contribution” to Day 2's activity came while sight fishing a 3-pounder cruising the shoreline in the back of a cove. There was a low-hanging tree over the spot, so I thought I’d just skip my Senko in there and see if she’d offer. Now let me just say this, Power-Poles and the Mercury Optimax 250 are a couple of the greatest innovations to come to bass fishing, but they are not ideal for back-of-the-boat skippin’. So naturally, I’m hung in the tree a couple of feet off the water. What do I do? What I do when fishing a team tournament with my buddies … I tell Kurt to toss in there before we retrieve my snagged lure.
He looks at me like I have two heads.
“I’m hung, but there’s a nice one in that bush. I’ll hold my line out of the way, skip one in there.”
Mitchell swings around, almost as if to humor me, and expertly places his offering on the bass’ nose, and she takes it. It may have been his best fish of the day, and he can’t believe his good fortune. He tosses me a fist bump and says, “I’ve never casted to where a co told me too, especially while he was hung. I can’t believe there actually was one there. I don’t even feel like I earned that fish."
Well, yes he did, because he made the cast I couldn’t, and, like I said, it was a natural instinct for me.
I should also note, at one point, earlier in the day, Mitchell tossed me a couple of swimbaits that were being productive for him and encouraged me to tie ‘em on. That was a new one for me as well. Partners do that all the time, but we weren’t fishing a team deal. And even though we aren’t fishing “against” each other, we are still fishing for the same fish.
Later, as we left yet another cove, a homeowner signaled to us that a big one was under his dock. Mitchell idled down and politely told the gentleman that we were not allowed to get any local advice and couldn’t fish the spot. He turned to me and said, “I’m not sure if that’s the rule, but it feels like it is…”
Mitchell had a tough final day, but he finished eighth in the event, cashing a nice check before he headed off to an FLW event. His goal is to make the Bassmaster Elite Series. I’m not sure if he can execute other techniques the way he skips that worm, but if he can, and I suspect he can, this Delaware pro has a bright future on tour.
I’m going golfing … see you at Champlain.