The kickoff to my 2012 tournament campaign was different than the season-openers of years past. Instead of a typical individual tournament, the PAA decided to spice things up by going to a two man team format for this event only. Now that it’s over, I feel bad for all of the pros who didn’t fish it – everyone had a blast and the guys who skipped it missed a great time. In fact, I’d love to find a national circuit that did team events for the whole season, to see which pairs adapted best over a variety of conditions.
I’m friends with a lot of very good anglers on tour, but when I first heard about this event I locked up my good friend Glenn Browne to be my partner. I mean, I’m no dummy – he’s logged a lot of hours on Toho over the years and he’s tough to beat anywhere. On top of that, we’ve worked together to share information over the past few years and I knew we would work well together.
Part of the reason for our success was that we approached our practice period as a team, staying in contact the entire time and bouncing information and ideas off one another. On the first day of practice, he fished the lower end and I fished the upper end. On the second day, he stayed down again, but I bounced back and forth between the two. Then on the third day we had pretty much decided that the lower end wasn’t going to work out for us and we’d found some bed fish on the upper end, so we ended up fishing together up there. Our focus was on finding spawning areas that you couldn’t see with the naked eye, particularly transition areas where the fish would hang around when they were done spawning. On the last afternoon of practice we found one such area that seemed to be the best of the bunch, but we only had 90 minutes to fish there. We’d punched in a few waypoints, but we were still learning the intricacies as the tournament started.
Fortunately, we both agreed to keep it simple from a tackle perspective. In fact, I only had three rods in his boat – one for a one-ounce jig and two others with straight-tailed worms. All three baits were the same color – junebug, a Florida staple – but the two worm rods differed in that one had straight 50 pound braid while the other had a 20 pound fluorocarbon leader at the end. The fish were spawning on the roots of lily pads, but there was Kissimmee grass and hydrilla mixed in, so there wasn’t an option of making a lot of long casts with moving baits. In fact, we’d typically anchor down, saturate an area with short pitches, then move another 20 or 30 feet and do it again. My 8-foot extra-extra-heavy Carrot Stix rod made a huge difference in getting the fish out of the dense cover.
The first morning of the tournament we had a small limit in 20 minutes and we culled up from there. Our bag included one that weighed 8.42 lbs. and as we approached 30 lbs. at about noon we decided to fish away from our area rather than burn up bites we’d be able to use the second and third days. At about 2 o’clock we stopped in an area where I’d found some bedding fish in practice. The wind was getting up, so we had to fish blind for them, but we made one final upgrade with a 5 ½ pounder. We didn’t feel bad about that one at all because we knew a front was going to roll in that night and she probably wouldn’t be there the next day.
When the scales closed, we led the tournament with 31.89 lbs.
The front changed everything. It was so windy we could hardly stay in our area. Just as significantly, it stirred up the water and made the fish leery. The first day we caught every fish we weighed in on a 6-inch worm with a 3/8 or ½ ounce sinker. On the second day, that was almost unfishable and all of our 16.34 pounds came on the big jig.
Heading into the final day of competition, we were about a pound out of the lead but we were absolutely stoked. The winds were going to be light and the skies were sunny, so we just knew that we were going to crush them, because we could slow down and make things happen. Unfortunately, the fish were still a little bit shaken up. It had gotten down to 44 degrees at night and it became a waiting game as the temperatures rose. We had a 2:30 weigh-in and that meant we were racing the clock.
We had a small limit early from our primary area, but with 30 minutes to go we decided to hit one more place like it that we hadn’t visited during the tournament. It would require about 10 minutes of running time so that left us 20 minutes to fish. Almost immediately upon arriving we had a 4 pound bite that got hung up in the pads and twisted off. That fish cost us 2nd place. It was disappointing, but at the same time, we’d fished a nearly flawless tournament and everyone loses fish at some point. Then we culled once up to our eventual total of 11.88, which landed us in 3rd, just .36 pounds out of 2nd. In hindsight, we realized that it was probably a mistake not to move sooner, but you can’t dismiss an area that produced a bag of nearly 32 pounds too quickly.
Next up is the first FLW Tour Open of the year, also held in Florida, but this time a few hours south at Okeechobee. I have a strong track record there and this great Toho tournament is a confidence booster. At the same time, Okeechobee is going to be an absolute slugfest. That scares me a little bit – you can’t stub your toe, not even one day – but I also know that this week I got into a slugfest and did well, so my confidence is high.
15 fish, 60.11 pounds