What a week! I’ve fished a lot of tournaments over the years and most, if not all, have had their high points and low points. But last week’s B.A.S.S. Open has to have set some sort of record for emotional swings.
As most of you know, one of the Open anglers was murdered at a local motel during practice for this event. To describe the mood on the water the next morning as somber would be a drastic understatement. All of the anglers that I spoke with were struck by the senseless nature of the murder, as well as the realization that we’ve all stayed at places over the years that could best be described as sketchy, just to save a few bucks in expenses. I never had the chance to meet Jimmy personally, but I understood the drive and passion for the sport that we shared. It’s something that all of the competitors have and share and it’s that love of the sport that ties us together. Jimmy will be missed and remembered.
For me, fishing this event in my home area was both a blessing and a curse. Although I’ve fished Ross Barnett for more years than I’d care to share or remember, it’s always been a lake that I’ve struggled on. It’s one of the hardest lakes that I’ve ever fished to get a pattern that will work for an extended number of days and this trip would prove to be no exception. After establishing a pattern on docks and retaining walls, I felt certain that I would be able to catch 9-10 pounds a day. I looked and looked for a way to catch bigger fish. Here on the Rez that generally means fishing in the pads and I never could get that to work.
Despite not being able to locate the bigger fish, I went into the tournament confident that I could at least not embarrass myself on the lake I learned to bass fish on. Day 1 started out pretty much as expected, although I had to adjust and throw a spinnerbait early. I put together a 10-3 limit and was sitting in 18th place. Do that again and I’m fishing on Saturday.
Day 2 was an entirely different story. The cold front came through (as usual) and my spinnerbait bite went away completely. I managed to adjust somewhat by throwing a Ribbit and catching a couple of keepers, but connecting on only 2 of the 8 bites I had, dropped me to a 52nd place finish.
I’m left, as usual, wondering what I could have done differently. Execution was the real key to my not making the cut, but that Ribbit bite is like that some days. I’d also eliminated a dock that I felt was in an off limits area and the eventual winner caught several fish off of that same dock. The off limits area is not well marked and at best, it was a grey area to fish. After another visit to the area and discussions with the tournament officials, I still feel like it was too close to call either way.
Tournament fishing has always been a game of decisions and I stand by my decision not to fish that area. Personally, I’d rather be beat than violate or even push a rule to the edge. The integrity of our sport is something I’ve always loved. There are so many “heroes” of other sports that are such horrible role models. But the heroes of tournament fishing have always been the kind of people I wanted my kids to look up to. They’ve always been role models that you could be proud of and I sincerely hope that it’s that way for many years after I’m out of the game.
All in all the week, like many others before it, could have gone either way. I’m happy to have been in contention but disappointed to have fallen short on Day 2. Happy to have been able to sleep in my own bed for an event; and yet, unhappy that I wasn’t able to do better. Saddened by the death of a fellow competitor, but proud of the way that the competitors and the Mississippi fans handled a bad situation. Hopefully B.A.S.S. will decide to make a return trip to Ross Barnett. The area has so much to offer and based on the crowds at the weigh-ins and calls since, the fans want and deserve it.
Thanks to the sponsors who make this all possible: Lowrance Electronics, Phoenix Bass Boats, Denali Rods, Bryan’s Marine, Power Pole, Costa del Mar Sunglasses and Mississippi Van Lines. Without all of you, none of this would be possible.