Drivin and Cryin
If you’ve seriously fished bass tournaments very long, you’ve undoubtedly been faced with this dilemma: stay close and maximize your time with a lure in the water, or make the long run and sacrifice precious time for a limited amount of potentially more productive fishing. Those who know me, know that I’m not afraid of making the run. I regularly fish Kentucky Lake where there are 100+ miles of productive water. Last week I was faced with just such a decision. I fished the southeastern regional for the BASS Weekend Series. The tournament was to launch out of KY Dam Marina on the extreme northern end of the lake. A couple of years ago, I made many long runs from the north end of the lake to the south because all of the tournaments were won south of Paris, TN. This year has been a little different. The grass that used to hold the giant bass down south is no more, so winning areas have been a little more diverse this year. However, in the fall, the Paris to New Johnsonville stretch of the TN River is well known for producing winning stringers. The week prior to our tournament, a tournament out of the North end of the lake took about 15 pounds a day to win, while a tournament on the south end took over 20 pounds/ day to win. Those results told me that, if I wanted to have a chance to win, I needed to focus my time down south.
Normally for a regional championship, I like to practice for 3 days. That gives me time to hopefully find a primary and a back-up pattern. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, my work schedule has been extremely busy lately, so I only got a day and a half to practice. I put the Triton in at the New Johnsonville ramp on Wednesday afternoon. I only got to fish about 4 hours, but in that time, I boated a strong 17 pound limit and saw another couple of big fish. In my mind, that meant I needed to make the run. I stayed with a friend in Waverly who fished with me on Thursday. As we were getting ready early Thursday morning, he dropped a bomb. “Have you seen the forecast for tomorrow? It’s supposed to blow 25+.” Great, I thought, a 90 mile boat ride in 20+ mph winds. Armed with that knowledge, I spent a few hours fishing on the south end of the lake, then I trailered my boat up north about 10 AM and tried to find something that would work if I couldn’t make the long run.
As time for the pre-tournament meeting approached on Thursday night, I still wasn’t sure what to do. All of my big bites had been on topwater, so even if I could make it, I wasn’t sure I could catch them. I guess I’m just too competitive, because I just couldn’t make myself try to limp-by a catch a few small fish on Day 1. I decided that I was going for it.
When I walked out of the house on Friday morning, the wind was steadily rocking the trees. This was going to be interesting. I met my co-angler and we headed south at about 7:15. The ride was actually pretty smooth. The wind was at about 10 mph out of the west. I managed to stay out of it for most of the 1 hour ride. Arriving at my first stop, I had to shed a few of the layers with which I had bundled-up prior to the long run. By the time I got ready to fish, a school erupted about 50 yards from the boat. I fired a perfect cast with my spook and had a bass crush it within a few feet. I had a keeper on board in less than 2 minutes. Unfortunately, they didn’t appear again. I didn’t get a bite in my next five stops. When you make that long run and know you have to turn around to run back at 1:30, the pressure starts to mount quickly. At 11:00AM, I still had just that one fish. I stopped on a place I had caught a five pounder in practice. As I eased the boat into position, I made the same cast I had made to catch the big one just two days earlier. I walked the spook across the water and it disappeared in a loud explosion. “Biggun!” I grunted, just knowing this was a five pounder. My co-angler quickly netted the fish. It was a three pounder. Not as big as I had hoped, but a good one nonetheless. Within a few minutes, I had another three pounder and a keeper aboard. I spent another 45 minutes trying to get the big ones going, but it just didn’t happen. I made three more stops before it was time to head back, catching about 4 more keepers. I just never got that big bite. At 2:00PM, I strapped everything down, bundled up, and headed out for the long bumpy ride back to Kentucky Dam Marina. The wind was now howling and the ride was not a smooth one. Fortunately, the wind stayed out of the west, so the run was manageable.
After an hour and a half of boat driving, we arrived safely at the check-in with about five minutes to spare. I ended up with 12.98 and to my shock I was in 6th place after all the fish were weighed. Although I didn’t know if I could catch a big bag on Saturday, I felt that I had no choice but to make the long run again.
The weather on Saturday was much like Friday, only the wind laid down to only 15 mph instead of 25. The lake was smooth for the long run southward and I stretched out the 21 HP at 73 mph most of the way. I made it to the first stop in 51 minutes today and quickly boated two keepers on my spook. I eased down the bar hoping to hit the mother lode. I made a cast and was actually looking the other way, when I heard a massive crash. I turned to see my bait gone in what looked like a giant whirlpool. I couldn’t feel anything so I figured the fish missed it, but I quickly realized that the bass was running right at me. I finally caught up with it and after a short battle a 3+ pound bass was in the net. I was sure it was bigger than that when it hit, but sometimes those fish just get mad and fool you. I was confident that it was just a matter of time before I got a truly big fish to bite my bait. I had caught 3 over 4 in just a few hours on Wednesday, so surely I could get a couple of those bites today.
A limit came easier today, but the fish were smaller. Other than that one three pounder, they were all just keepers. I caught and culled, and caught and culled, but just never got that bite. My co-angler caught two over three pounds on one of my spots while I caught two two-pounders. It just wasn’t meant to be. The wind was up to around 15 when I disgustedly gave up on my fish and headed back north. I left time to hit a couple places for a few minutes along the way. After a 30 minute run, I stopped on a point where big smallmouth live this time of year. My co-angler tossed his spook up there and had a big brown fish crush it twice and but didn’t hook up. The second bite fouled his line in the hooks. “My bait is fouled-up!” he said. “Can I please throw on him?” I pleaded. He agreed and I walked my spook across the turbulence left behind his bait. I watched a 4 pound smallmouth kill my bait and take off. My drag sang. “Got ‘em. Big Smallmouth!” I hollered. But no sooner than I had her stuck, she came off. That one hurt. It would have bumped me up about two pounds.
We gave them about 10 more minutes, but had to head back. As I passed under the 68/80 bridge, I checked my watch. I had about 20 minutes to make the 15 minute run back to the Dam. I stopped on a point and told myself I could make three casts. It only took one. A good fish ate my spook and after a brief battle was in the net. It was no giant, but the biggest fish of the day. I only had time to quickly cull and put the Triton back on pad. We checked-in at Kentucky Dam Marina with about 3 minutes to spare. I sincerely thanked God for safety in the almost 400 miles I had traveled in my bass boat in the last couple days. My Mercury performed flawlessly as did all of my equipment. When you take the risk of making those types of runs, everything has to work perfectly. It did. The only thing that didn’t go as planned was the big bites. I ended day two with 13+ pounds for a 26 pound total. I finished the day in 6th place and managed a good payday. I needed most of it just to pay for the gas! Looking back, I might have been able to do just as well staying close to the launch, but I truly felt that I had a shot at winning making that long run. It has worked for me before, unfortunately, this one wasn’t meant to be. I was a little disappointed in my finish, but I know that there were about 140 people that would’ve gladly taken my place. Had I played it safe and not made the run, I have no doubt that I would have been pondering “what if?”
That pretty much wraps up my tournament season. I had a blast watching them come get a topwater, and I know that the fuel companies were glad I choose to make the long run.
Until next time, keep chunkin’ and windin’.
Boat US Angler Pro Staff
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