It was a mistake and the wrong thing to do, but I couldn’t stop myself. The worst part of all is that I knew it was a mistake when I was doing it. It’s a mistake that I’ve made many times over the years but I continue to get stuck on one thing in practice for a tournament and stick with it.
The recent Southern Open at Douglas was shaping up to be a deep pattern tournament. All the research I’d done and all the press leading up to the event told me that. One look at the lake, full of points and rock bluffs, coupled with the hottest week of the year and rapidly climbing water temps told me to fish deep. If that wasn’t enough, all you had to do was ride around the lake and count boats out fishing on points and it was obvious where the majority of the fish were located.
Despite all of these clues, I committed myself to a shallow pattern at Douglas Lake and I didn’t even work on a backup plan during practice. Yeah, I know, not too bright! But in my defense, I’ve never claimed to be a rocket scientist.
It was a different kind of week for a B.A.S.S. Open. I’ve fished them for a number of years and one thing you can count on in 5 days of prefishing and 2 or 3 days of a tournament is change. The typical pattern is consistent weather for the practice days and a front coming through on the night before the tournament starts and changing everything. In this case, the cold front was scheduled and did come through that night, but it only dropped the temp a couple of degrees and it was still clear skies and hot.
The water at Douglas was very high, about 4 feet, so there was a lot of shallow cover available to fish. Almost immediately in practice, I found out that if you threw a Strike King Ocho, Texas rigged, by a willow or bush in 4 to 7 feet of water you would get bit. On the fish I went ahead and caught, 1 in every 4 or 5 would be in the 2.5 to 3 pound class, so catching 11 to 13 pounds a day looked pretty easy. This pattern was so consistent that you could run down the lake, see a likely looking spot, pull in and catch them. I tried a bunch of different baits but there was something about the Ocho; either the profile, fall rate or coffee scent, that they really liked.
At this point a smart tournament fisherman (read someone else here) would have totally stayed off of this shallow pattern and worked on developing a deeper pattern that might get a larger bite. Not me! I just found more and more areas that were the same and tried to figure out a milk run, where I could catch the most fish and hopefully the largest ones as well. I even told my practice partner that I felt like there was only one thing that would hurt me and that was falling water.
Well, you guessed it. They pulled about a foot of water out of the lake and it really changed the bite. Not that I wasn’t catching them. In fact, I caught between 60 and 80 keepers in the two days of the tournament that I fished. The problem was that the larger bites were not there. I would have bet a fair amount of money (actually, I did when you count fuel, entry fee, motels and meals) that you couldn’t catch that many fish and not get a decent number of 2 pound plus fish. In this case, I only had two limits that averaged 8 pounds each and finished the tournament in 70th place.
I’d like to say that I’ve learned my lesson and won’t make this particular mistake again, but I’d be lying to you. I’m a firm (read stubborn, pig headed, mulish, inflexible, etc) believer in fishing to your strengths. I’m not much of a deep water fisherman, so I only do it when I can’t catch them any other way. In this tournament, that was a real drawback but more often than not, you’ll do better fishing your strengths than doing something that you really aren’t comfortable with. It didn’t work out for me this time but it’s worked often enough to keep me going over the years. I’m sure I’ll do it again.
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, none of this would be possible.