Heading into the final event of the 2012 PAA schedule, I certainly wanted to do well, but my ultimate goal was to qualify for the Toyota Texas Bass Classic on Lake Conroe. With a small field in this tournament, I knew that the point spread between competitors would be pretty large – each slot down the standings would mean a difference of a lot of points – so I had to catch them to keep a spot in the TTBC.
We had three pools of the Arkansas River available to us, but locks worry the heck out of me. Even though I knew the lower pool was probably the best of the three, I feared getting stuck down there and having my catch zeroed out. The lock at the northern end of the system wasn’t even working when we got there, and there were no assurances it would be working during the tournament, so I focused exclusively on the middle pool, the one where the tournament would launch. I divided it up into sections and really picked it apart over the course of the practice period.
I had a pretty decent practice, catching quite a few fish, and the last day I shook off several that I’m pretty sure were quality keepers. There isn’t much vegetation in that part of the river, but there is lots of obvious cover in the form of wood and rock, and I narrowed it down to a main river bite using the obvious group of lures: a jig, a buzzbait, a Sweet Beaver and a square bill crankbait. It was no secret that the weights were probably going to be pretty low, but I felt good that if I caught five they’d weigh in the range of 10 to 11 pounds, which would have me right where I wanted to be.
In order for my fish to bite, I needed it to be sunny and calm and I couldn’t have asked for better conditions the first day of competition. I had a large flat with lots of hard cover and a number of ditches running through it as my primary area, and while I felt that I wasn’t likely to get a lot of keeper bites there, the ones I did get had the potential to be larger than average.
In the morning, I ran a pattern fishing rocks and creek mouths with the square bill and a buzzbait. On my third stop, though, I caught my second keeper and it weighed 5.02. It turned out to be the biggest fish caught that day. At 10am I pulled out a couple of Carrot Stix flipping sticks and started picking apart the flat with a Lunker Lure Limit Series Jig, a Sweet Beaver and a tube. Pretty quickly I landed a 4 pounder, and that really gave me the confidence to put my head down and get to work. I landed a fourth fish, but I dumped my fifth, which was about 2 ½ pounds. That really hurt me – I should have had 15 pounds, but I ended up with 12.25, still pretty good considering the venue.
One thing that I did learn the first day was that a tube might play a role for me. Even though I was picking apart the cover meticulously, my co-angler caught three keepers behind me flipping a tube on the same cover I’d just hit. Unfortunately, I never got to test out the theory, because on Day Two it was rainy and cloudy and the fish never really set up on the hard cover. I caught two fish quickly on a square bill and a buzzbait, but then things got tough. I lost a couple and then proceeded to whack the short fish on a Lunker Lure spinnerbait. I must’ve caught 20 or 25 of them. When you’re in the midst of that sort of action, even though you know it’s not the right place, it’s hard to get away from it. You always think that the next fish will be a good one.
At 11am I went back to my primary area, where I caught one on a El Grande Lures Hatch Match Stick, but I couldn’t get my third or fourth fish. I had them on, but suffered through a run of bad execution. In hindsight, I should have fished slower, but when you’re racing against the clock the tendency is to rush things and I suppose I fell into that trap.
My three fish weighed a whopping 4.84 pounds and I took an enormous nose dive down the standings sheet, which led to me being the first man out of the TTBC. I don’t know what else to say except that it was tremendously disappointing. I knew that I was taking a risk by focusing on the big flat, but I genuinely believed that it was one that would pay off in both the short term and the long term.
By the time I got home, things were going 100mph again. We’re moving from our long-time home in Illinois to the Table Rock Lake area, which is a place we’ve fallen in love with over the years. I’m also preparing for my seventh annual benefit tournament on October 6th, which promises to improve upon an already great track record. Even though I was being pulled in a lot of different directions, I had already started looking forward to next year’s schedule. My frantic activities were interrupted when I got the call that someone had dropped out of the TTBC and asking me if I wanted to fish it. I couldn’t say “yes” fast enough, so now I’m scrambling to get my gear ready to drive down to Texas. Stay tuned for my next report.
8 fish, 17.09 lbs.