Life on the tournament trails has its ups and downs. I go to every tournament with the hope and expectations of winning that event. If you don’t believe you can win, I really feel like you shouldn’t waste the money and time involved to enter. But last week’s tournament at Toho was a prime example of how fast those expectations and hopes can change.
When I arrived on Saturday for the first day of pre-fishing, I knew the lake would be fishing tough. Florida fish are notorious for hating cold fronts and after watching the weather on ScoutLookweather.com for the month before the tournament, I knew that there had been a series of cold fronts in the area. Even so, I was not prepared for how tough it would really be.
Because of the time of year and the fact that there would be a full moon, I was certain that the fish would move up at some time during the tournament to spawn. One thing I have noticed in previous trips to Florida lakes is that their move to shallow water happens fast. Once the water warms enough, it seems like every fish in the lake decides to move up at the same time.
In the 5 days of practice, I tried everything I could think of to determine what the fish were doing. The problem is that with less than 20 bites over those 5 days, it was extremely difficult to pattern the fish or even establish what areas would have fish in them once the tournament started. Because of my lack of success, my expectations for the tournament quickly went from hoping to win to just trying not to embarrass myself. In fact, by the first day of the event, I was not certain that I would even be able to catch a single fish.
When thing are that bad, I’ve found that the best thing to do is to find an area that you have some confidence in and put your head down and fish hard. This has paid off for me before. The best example would have to be the Open at the Harris Chain in 2009. Under a very similar set of circumstances, I was able to find one marina dock where the fish were staging on their way to spawn and fished it for 3 complete days. In that case, I managed to catch a limit every day and finish 14th, so you never know what you have until you fish it hard.
In this instance, the only area I had any confidence in at all was about a 50 minute run down to Kissimmee. I had had a couple of bites on a Ribbit and thought it was my best chance to catch some fish. When I got there, the topwater bite wasn’t working but I picked up a Skinny Dipper and caught a limit both days. It wasn’t a great limit, but considering what I expected, I was please to weigh in a limit both days. With a couple of larger bites, I even had a chance to pick up a small check but those bites didn’t materialize.
So what are the lessons from this event? There are several and they are good to keep in mind when the fishing gets tough.
- When you only get a few bites, the ones you do get are critical. Use that information to build some confidence in a bait or area and start out the day that way.
- Make the most of what you do find. It’s important to stay focused and capitalize on every bite that you get.
- Listen to what the fish are telling you and adapt as the day goes on. I had really thought that the frog was my best chance but swapping to the Skinny Dipper saved the day.
- During any tournament practice, remember to base you decisions on what the fish will be doing during the event and not on what they are doing in practice. Know what the fish do in different seasons and plan accordingly.
- During this time of year, things change fast. I didn’t see a single fish on the bed during practice but they moved up and started spawning on the last day of practice.
- Most importantly, never give up on the fish or yourself.
I started the first day really down on myself for not finding the bites that I needed. But I decided to just go fishing and keep trying. For me, finally finding a way to catch some fish and figuring out a piece of the puzzle was very rewarding. Not as rewarding as cashing a check, but sometimes you have to be happy with what life gives you. There’s always the next event and maybe Lewisville will be better. I’m certain once again that I’ll do well there and figure it out.
Thanks to the sponsors who make this all possible: Scoutlookweather.com, Lowrance Electronics, Phoenix Bass Boats, Mercury Motors, Motorguide Trolling Motors, Costa del Mar Sunglasses, Bass Angler Magazine and Mississippi Van Lines. Without all of you, no of this would be possible.