With consecutive good tournaments in Alabama, I wanted to keep the momentum going in Georgia as I embarked on my first Elite Series season. I’ve made a vow to take things back to basics, quit trying to confuse myself, and fish the way I like to fish, and so far it has been working. I’m making really good decisions on the water.
Heading into the Elite Series opener on Lake Seminole, I was watching the weather and the moon phase carefully and expected that sight fishing would play a major role in many competitors’ plans. As so often happens, a cold front disrupted the move to the shallows and in many respects that played right into my hands. Seminole is a great fishery, but the weather was changing every day. As a result, the fish were moving too much for the weights to be really high across the board.
I spent the first practice day in Spring Creek, a well-known and popular spawning area. I was there all day and caught some fish, but really not the numbers or size that I thought it would take to win the tournament. Therefore, on the second day of practice I went up the river and started planning for something other than sight fishing. I started flipping a Missile Baits D Bomb into thick mats and flinging a big Lunker Lure jig around. I caught my biggest fish of the week that day, and shook off a few that felt like they were pretty substantial, but still I felt that it wasn’t phenomenal. I was trying to plan for where the fish would be on Thursday and could only make an educated guess about how things would play out.
On the afternoon of the second day through the final day of practice, I invested a lot of time in looking for bedding fish. I made the rounds of the clearer areas of the lake and a lot of the backwaters. Again, I never discovered the group or groups of fish that I thought could put me in the winner’s circle, but there were a bunch of fish up shallow that were willing to bite – at least they were willing to bite that day.
When the tournament started on Thursday I decided to chase after some of those bed fish, but most of them were gone. The ones that stayed behind were difficult to catch, and when I didn’t have anything in the livewell at 10:30, I knew it was time to cut my losses and make something happen. It was a textbook scenario to get those flipping fish to bite and when I got up the river they were chewing. By the time I weighed in, I’d gone from an empty livewell to a limit that weighed 20 pounds 10 ounces and had me in contention.
Even though I’d brought a good weight to the scales on Thursday, I knew that Friday wouldn’t be easy. I’d have to put my head down and keep on flipping non-stop, waiting for that one to one and a half hour window when there would be a little flurry. It was definitely slow, but I caught three fish early before it dried up for a while. Finally, at 12:30, I moved to my secondary area right in time for that golden hour and a half. I changed from the D Bomb to a ¾ ounce jig and fished down the edges until I intercepted the schools. When it was all over, I’d added another 22-06 to my total.
I was committed to fishing the jig on Day Three. I felt that it provided me with the best chance to make a run at the win. The weather had other ideas. It warmed up and that spread out the schools of fish, so I never really had a shot at that brief flurry that I’d encountered the prior day. I still had the bites to put 16 or 18 pounds of bass in the boat if I’d landed them. Unfortunately, those bedding fish bite kind of funny, just swatting at it and moving the bait a short way. I botched a few of them, but many of them were simply uncatchable. In the end, I weighed in four for 9-10.
Looking back I don’t think that I’d do anything different. I suppose you could argue that I should’ve done more sight fishing, and that proved to be the ticket for some of the competition, but plenty of others stayed with it too long and ended up way down the leaderboard as a result. I feel like I made good decisions and maximized what I had to work with. I’ll take a 15th place finish to start the season any day. It provides a boost to my confidence and combined with the other recent strong finishes I truly feel that I have a legitimate shot at winning one of these upcoming events. Moving to the Elites has really galvanized my desire to work harder and get my fishing back where I expect it to be.
My tackle from this event was pretty simple. I paired a “Bruise”-colored D Bomb with a 1 3/8 ounce tungsten weight. The ¾ ounce black and blue Lunker Lure jig got a matching Big Salty Chunk on the back. I threw both on an 8-foot extra-extra-heavy Carrot Stix rod paired with a Lew’s Super Duty Reel and Toray 55 lb. Finesse Braid. It’s simply the best braided line that I’ve ever used and has increased my efficiency whenever I have to beef up my tackle.
Next up is the St. Johns River in Palatka, Florida. Based on my prior experience, I expect this one to be a little bit tougher than many others believe it will be. I know that the fish are pretty hard to catch off of the beds in this system and with some nasty weather coming in, it’ll be tough to find the precise winning pattern during practice. The anglers who do well will adjust as they go and figure out a way to add a kicker or two every day. The way I’m fishing now, I feel confident that I’ll make the type of decisions necessary to be near the top once again.
15 fish, 52-10