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Smoke on the water
Here goes round No. 2 of my blog. Things are relatively quiet around the house as we enjoy the holidays. We had a good Halloween. I didn’t dress up, but my son Wylie was a sushi roll and my wife Allison was what she called a “hot mess” where she wore a bunch of strangely mismatched clothes. Her costume was more of a last-minute deal, but she put a lot of effort into Wylie’s sushi roll. She planned to save a bunch of money and make it herself, but after several trips to Walmart I don’t think that happened. The costume turned out great though; Allison is really good at stuff like that.
As a family, we’re pretty traditional with our fall festivities. There’s a pumpkin farm a couple miles up the road. We took Wylie there, went on a hay ride and picked out a few keeper pumpkins. On Halloween, we drove Wylie to the grandparents’ house. They enjoyed seeing Wylie in his costume and he got to trick or treat at a few of the houses. Then we went to a few of the houses in our own neighborhood.
A friend of mine has a Halloween tradition where he has a campfire and cooks a stew in this big, cast-iron pot. We throw whatever we have sitting around in the kitchen in there, roast some marshmallows and have a big time. We also let Wylie hand out some candy to the other kids in the neighborhood. I think he had more fun seeing the other kids than getting the candy himself. Halloween was fun but now let’s talk fishing.
Everyone is talking about Randall Tharp right now and rightfully so, he’s an awesome angler. As I said in the last blog, I’m glad he went out and caught a big bag on the final day of the Forrest Wood Cup or I would be having some major regrets. Anyway, a few people have pointed out to me how different Randall and I are. Randall is a guy that is pretty outspoken with his confidence and I’m pretty reserved.
I get a lot of grief for this, but I rarely have a strong practice. That’s the truth too. There are lots of tournaments where I really don’t know what’s going to happen. A prime example would be Eufaula this year. Before the tournament started, I knew what I was going to do and I knew I was only going to get a few bites doing it. It could have been an absolute bomb or a great tournament. It ended up being a great tournament, but on that third day I only got four bites, so you can see how fragile that pattern was.
It’s hard for me to go out there and say I’m going to catch this or that many pounds because there are just too many variables in bass fishing. If that attitude works for you as a fisherman, then by all means go for it. It obviously works for Randall. But that’s not me. As soon as I would say something like that it would come back and bite me in the rear.
I’ve had plenty of tournaments where I thought I was going to do well, but didn’t. One that sticks out in my mind was an Okeechobee EverStart several years ago. Two days before the tournament started I found this giant wad of fish on bed. I literally thought I was going to catch like 30 pounds the first day of the tournament. I was going crazy I was so excited. So I finally get there and all the big girls had vacated. The only fish left were 12-inchers. As you can imagine, it was frustrating and disappointing.
My first couple years on tour I was kind of a feast or famine fisherman; I was either way up near the top or near the bottom. Then I kind of learned how to practice and this gets back to what I was talking about before – having “bad” practices. Now, just as soon as I figure something out, I stop and go find something else. I think in a four-day tournament you have to fish with the mentality that something out there is better. You’ve always got to be looking for stronger patterns and bigger fish.
I’m told I have a little reputation as a sandbagger, OK maybe a big reputation. I think I do it because I’m naturally paranoid. Let’s say I catch a 5-pounder early in the morning. But as I’m thinking about it throughout the day, I convince myself that it was probably 4 pounds or maybe even 3 1/2. By the time we bag our fish and walk up to weigh in, that fish only weighs 3 pounds in mind. It’s like I play mental games with myself – doubting I really have what I need. Maybe it makes me fish harder, I don’t know.
I have started weighing some fish. But usually the only time I put them on the scale is in a culling situation. So that has taken some of the guesswork out of it. Still, I’d rather be guessing on the low side than on the high side.
My mind has already started thinking about next year. In addition to travel reservations and that kind of planning, I’ve started to think about the lakes. The first one of the year is on Okeechobee, a place that’s special to me because that’s where it all started. I won an EverStart there back in 2006. I had won a few EverStarts before that as a co-angler, but that first pro win was huge. At that point, I knew I wanted to be a full-time pro. I was right out of college and that kind of got me a little more financially secure.
I can’t get too sentimental though. I mainly view it as a good place to fish – you know there’s the potential to catch a 10-pounder. For me, Okeechobee has been a feast or famine type lake where I’ve either done really good or really bad. The last couple years I’ve been fortunate enough to find that little 100-yard stretch where the bigger fish are at. It kind of suits me in that I like to run around and look at the whole lake to find where those bigger fish are hiding.
Just the thought of a 10-pounder right now is enticing, but practice itself at Okeechobee is grueling. It sounds strange to say it because we’re fishing, but practice at Okeechobee is awful. I compare it to a ledge-fishing tournament, except you can’t idle. You’ve got to fish your way through all these spots. It’s hours and hours of monotonous casting.
I will say I’m excited about trying a new prototype swimbait from Damiki. They already have the 4-inch Anchovy Shad, which is great on rigs, but they’re tinkering with a new 6-inch Anchovy Shad. I should have my hands on it by the time Okeechobee rolls around. The Air Frog will be fun to experiment with too. Damiki plastics are so soft you can wind the Air Frog slowly and the tails still kick like crazy. At Okeechobee, these fish a lot of times will wake behind your bait. So naturally you stop it to try and get the fish to commit. But just about every buzzing bait out there sinks when you stop it. The Air Frog stays up and floats like a pontoon – allowing them to get it better. So I’m pretty excited about that and hoping it can be a difference maker.
Overall, the whole deal at Okeechobee is those big bites and sometimes they come when you least expect them. That’s where a lot of people miss out. They’re just going through the motions. You’ve got to have the mental focus to make yourself slow down and get the right bites. If you’re not focused, you won’t get that big fish out of the grass; they’re too strong, too mean and there’s just too much cover.