I headed into the third and final Bassmaster Southern Open in first place in the points race and thereby in position to qualify for the Elite Series. With a lot to lose and a lot to gain, I went down a week ahead of time to get in as much practice as possible. I’d never been to Logan Martin before and wanted to maximize my chances of doing well.
The region had been pummeled by rain, so when I arrived the lake level was four feet above summer pool, highly unusual for this time of year. With that in mind I had to practice as if the lake would remain high, but also plan for the possibility that they’d draw it back down to a more typical level. Everyone had told me that spotted bass would dominate, but with all of the newly-flooded cover I also knew that I’d have to explore the largemouth options.
Practice started off extremely well. I immediately felt comfortable with the lake and could catch 12 to 15 pounds of spots a day. In fact, on several days I had multiple teen-class limits and one day I would’ve had a 19 pound limit of spots. The largemouths continued to beckon, though. I knew that if I could catch a decent limit of spots each day, one or two big largemouths could put me over the top.
On Day One everything started off as planned. I headed to one of the multiple schools of spotted bass I’d located and I had a limit by 8:30. With a late weigh-in and a long day ahead of me, I then turned my attention to the largemouths in the flooded grass. That also worked as planned, as I caught my two biggest fish of the day fairly quickly. The spots came on a mixture of topwater, a 3/16 ounce Lunker Lure shakey head tipped with a black Zoom Trick Worm, and a Strike King 5XD crankbait. I caught all of my largemouths on a Lunker Lure Rattlin’ Shakin’ Shad.
While my 12-06 limit was good, the problem was that the fish bit for everyone on Thursday. To be honest, my weight was lower than I expected, so I was a little bit disappointed, but I was still in the hunt and knew that a good Day Two would get me where I needed to be. I also knew that things were changing and fishing was probably going to get tougher.
On Day Two I had a 2:30 weigh-in, so I elected to play it safe and fish for spots. All of the schools I’d located were close and I wanted to maximize my fishing time. I never realized how tough it was going to be. I had a pretty good topwater bite going in the morning with a Spook Jr., but that day I had three fish in the 3 to 3 ½ pound class jump completely over the bait. The ones that struck it also hit funny – they’d come up and mouth it and then let go. There was no way to hook them. That must’ve happened 30 or 40 times.
I had a little over 8 pounds in the boat and my gut kept telling me to fish for largemouths to get up to 10 pounds, which would get me where I needed to be. I couldn’t force myself to make the switch, though, and I fell just a bit short. If I’d pulled the trigger and moved to my largemouth water, I might not have done any better, but in hindsight I wish I’d tried.
My 8-06 limit dropped me about 20 places in the standings and I ended up 7th in the Southern Open points race – 8 points out of fifth. It really hurt, not only because I missed a guaranteed spot in the Elite Series, but because I didn’t fish up to my capabilities. When the current stopped flowing and the spotted bass got weird, I should have listened to my inner voice and gone to fish for largemouths. I fished against my gut and I’ll never do that again. I don’t care if I don’t catch anything – you have to fish the moment.
There’s no time to obsess about my poor performance. Now we’re at Ft. Loudoun in Tennessee preparing for the second PAA event of the year. Next week I’m off, so we’ll set up the camper at Chickamauga and then I’ll head out to Oklahoma for the Grand Lake FLW. There are always more tournaments to fish and I’ll have more opportunities to qualify for the Elites. At the same time, it’s very frustrating that everything went so well on the Southern Opens for so long and then it came down to the final day of competition and I fell a pound short. It’s really aggravating but I have to move on and hope to create new opportunities for myself down the road.
68th Place; 10 fish, 20-12