Losing the Monkey
You hear it every week on the Elite series and the FLW tour. “It’s just so hard to win one of these. You have to take advantage when you get the opportunity.” Although I don’t fish against the level of competition that those guys do, any big tournament that brings out the best bass fishermen on the lake is tough to win. I’ve been very fortunate to have won a few big tournaments. But I haven’t won a larger scale event in several years. As I type out this blog, behind me in my office is a pile of 2nd and 3rd place plaques and trophies. Don’t get me wrong, finishing in the top five is nothing to scoff at, but I badly want to win every event. This past weekend, I knew I had that chance.
Saturday, May 4th was the second event of the Kentucky Division of the Bassmaster Weekend Series. I finished (you guessed it) 3rd in the first tournament. I got one day of practice last Friday to try and figure out the winning pattern. I backed the Triton into Kentucky Lake on Friday morning in a 20 mph south wind with the lake 4 feet above summer pool. The high water made for perfect conditions for flipping flooded cover. I love to flip and there was no end to the places to do it. I heard from several friends that the flipping bite was red-hot so I idled out of the marina with two big sticks on the front deck. My preconceived notion of what to do started to fall apart when two hours later, I had only gotten one bite and it was a 2.5 pounder. On a whim, I decided to try an off-shore ledge where the fish tend to get later in the year. To my shock, I caught a three pounder on the first cast. “That was a fluke,” I thought as I fired another cast. On the next cast, the rod loaded up again. This time, I could barely move it. I marked a waypoint on my Humminbird and looked up to see two four pounders clinging to the crankbait. “What are these fish doing here? This is a June pattern.”
Just to make sure, I fired one more cast and caught another four plus. I looked at my map and started trying to find some similar ledges. On the next couple stops, I didn’t catch any, so I began to wonder if that one school was a fluke. Then I found another school, and another and another. By noon, I felt like I had plenty of places to fish and had boated a 20 pound limit. I decided to pick up the flipping stick again.
The wind was howling and it was hard to get the bait where it needed to be. I fished a 300 yard stretch of prime bushes and had three bites. All good fish. I next stopped in pocket and caught two six pounders before I decided that I had caught enough. I cut my hook off and flipped for another hour without a bite and the put the boat on the trailer. I had two patterns that were working and had boated 25 pounds of bass. My tackle selection for Saturday was going to be pretty simple: two flippin’ sticks, two cranking rods. I headed to the pre-tournament meeting then off to my friends Brian and Mary Brown’s house for some sleep.
We were boat 19 and the rain was coming down heavily when we took off. I made a short run to my first spot where I had seen those bigger fish on a crankbait the day before. My blood was pumping pretty strong as I got on my waypoint and made “the cast.” Nothing. I was sure that there was a good school of fish here, so I kept adjusting my boat position, casting angle, everything I could think of, but I couldn’t get a bite. Disappointment was starting to set in. I was sure that I could catch 18 pounds here. Just as I was about ready to pull up the trolling motor and head up the lake, I made a very long cast, turned the reel handle about three times, and the bait just stopped. “Got him…. Biggun!” The six pound largemouth tried to get out of the water, but her belly made it difficult. I reeled and prayed that big fish to the net, dropped her in the box, jumped back on the front deck and fired another cast. Same result. This one was about 4.5 and by the time I had the hooks out, my co-angler had a big one on. The school was ignited and it was on! Within ten minutes, I had 22 pounds swimming in the starboard livewell. I looked at the clock. It was 6:56 AM. I hit my other schooling spots and caught fish after fish. I managed to cull once for about a pound and threw back my only fish under four pounds.
Now I had a serious decision to make. I wanted to win badly and I knew that I was in position to do it I just needed to make the right moves. I have been so close, so many times over the past few years only to wind up a couple of pounds or a couple of ounces short. I knew I could keep catching them on a crankbait, but I also knew that I had the opportunity to slam the door shut if I could catch a couple of giants flipping. I picked up the 8’ All Pro and went to the bank. I didn’t get very many bites, but I did get a few good ones. I upgraded a couple of times, but didn’t catch that 6 pounder I was looking for. As the day dragged on, I figured that I had about 23-24 pounds, a great day by almost any measure, but not enough. I knew I needed at least one more really big bite.
We fired up the Triton and headed back to one of my schooling spots. As soon as the boat was in position, the bite was back on! They were smashing the crankbait every cast and many of them were 3-4 pounds. Unfortunately, four pounders didn’t help at this point. After catching about 10 fish, I figured I wasn’t going to upgrade. Then she bit. I immediately knew that this fish was different. It stopped the crankbait and pulled drag for 10 seconds. I couldn’t move it, all I could do was hold on. I tried to keep her from jumping, but I immediately saw a huge smallmouth three feet in the air. My heart stopped when I thought she came off on the first jump, but she was just running straight at the boat. It was a heart-pounding battle filled with acrobatics and my praying that she would just get in the net. Finally, she did. The thing was huge. I knew at that point, it could be over. I culled a four something largemouth and put that big brown fish in the box. My nerves were a wreck. It took me several minutes to calm down after the show that fish had just put on.
I had about an hour left to fish and the calculator in my head was clicking like mad. I knew I had more than 24 pounds. I might have 25 pounds. I doubted that I had much more than that. I knew that I had two six pounders and three that were over four. As I headed back to Moor’s Resort, I had that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Did I have enough? Was I finally going to get this monkey off my back and win one again? As I floated around waiting to trailer the boat, I heard that there had been a 25 pound bag weighed in. I was deflated. I doubted I had that much. At very best, in my estimation, I had 25.5 and I heard that the lead was at 25.6. The seconds dragged on as I waited for the trailer, then waited for a bag. Exhausted from the waiting, I finally loaded the big girls into the bag. It was a heck of a sack of fish. I hated to come so close and still come up short. When my turn finally arrived I eased my bag into the bump tank. When the water cleared there were five giants in the tank. It was a beautiful sight. They bagged them up, I climbed on stage, and set them on the scale. After a few nervous seconds, the weight locked in at 26.03. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Although there were still several anglers coming behind me, I felt pretty sure it was done, and it was.
If you've read my blog in the past, you know how much I stress decision making, both in practice and on tournament day. To win, you must make the right choices based on all the information available. My timing had been perfect. My execution had been perfect. My decisions had been spot on. This was not the Bassmaster Classic, but I won a tough event against some great fishermen, caught 100’s of bass and finally got that monkey off my back.
Until next time,
Keep chunkin' and windin'
BoatUS Angler ProStaff