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Winning and Losing on Kentucky Lake
Editor’s Note: The writer's opinions and observations expressed here are his own, and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views, policies or positions of FLW.
So there I was, near the Blood River, leading the Walmart FLW Tour event on Kentucky Lake after days two and three, trying to concentrate and bring home the trophy and $100,000 top prize. Standing in my hip pocket was a cameraman, to my left were a dozen spectator boats, in front of me were 3-foot waves that periodically crashed over the front of the boat, and above me were clouds that intermittently threw rain and wind gusts my way. Oh yeah, and behind me, and I mean right behind me, were nine top pros who were all within a few pounds of my lead. Brutal conditions, a slow bite and a rapidly ticking clock … not exactly the meditative environment Plato or Aristotle would have chosen for contemplating the mysteries of life.
After my primary spots went dry on the final day, I focused on one spot that I’d found more than 10 years ago, a spot that wasn’t productive when I’d stopped there on days one, two and three. In contrast to the distractions in every direction, to my right was a familiar sight – the resort where I stayed during my first trip to Kentucky Lake.
Flash back to about 1997. I was a few years out of college and living in Wisconsin, winning a number of local tourneys by fishing grass beds or beating the bank and boat docks. A partner and I qualified for a championship tourney on Kentucky Lake, and we were ready to show up and take home the top prize. Oh, brother, was this cocky know-it-all ever in for a surprise at that tournament! While we struggled to bring in a few little ones for one of the last checks, a number of guys with deep-fishing knowledge brought in big bag after big bag of offshore toads. Humbled, I knew I needed to learn to fish offshore if I was ever going to be competitive in summertime events.
Learning to fish deep structure has been a long process, and I’m still figuring out a lot more each year. Some instruction from old-school gurus on Lake Fork years ago gave me a head start, but most of it has come after countless hours of graphing for fish with my Lowrance, then figuring out how to make them bite once located. Current, the season, new baits and fishing pressure continue to add a lot of variability to the equation, so things evolve day after day, and year after year.
In that moment of looking at the old Kentucky Lake resort, realizing how I’d come from a kid who wasn’t nearly as good as he thought he was to a fisherman who isn’t nearly as good as he’d like to become (though much nearer to it through a lot of hard work), all my nerves went away. I went to work on the fish, culling through most of my small early limit and getting one nice kicker.
Alas, I averaged more than 21 pounds per day but didn’t win. I wound up in sixth. Based on my practice, I had hoped to catch about 20 pounds a day, and I exceeded that, so I felt that I maximized my fish and executed well, never losing a bass that would have helped. In this case, I didn’t lose it, others just flat-out beat me, and I congratulate them for doing so well. Skip Johnson did a miraculous job of managing and adjusting to a killer school of fish and blasted 24 pounds the last day for the win. The rest of the top 20 reads like a who’s who of TVA fishing and some of the hottest sticks in the sport, including Jason Lambert, Jim Moynagh, Randy Haynes, Clent Davis, Brett Hite, Andrew Upshaw, Scott Canterbury, Tim Malone, John Voyles, Michael Neal, Scott Martin, Andy Morgan, Cody Meyer, Jason Christie, Ramie Colson Jr., Charlie Ingram, Alex Davis and Mark Rose.
Prize money and trophies are great, but measuring yourself against the best in the business is why most of us do it, me included. In addition to my success, my day-one co-angler Jason Johnson would have won the Co-angler of the Year if not for an inadvertent rule infraction, and I was really happy that my day-three co-angler Cody Kelley won the tournament. Mainly I was hoping to win it for all the friends and family who have supported and helped me, as well as for my sponsors, most of whom have stood by me since my fishing career began. These are companies that I truly believe in, such as Ranger Boats, Mercury Marine and the Boy Scouts of America. Not winning really stinks, but having the opportunity to win on the final day is awesome, and I eagerly await another chance.