This weekend I experienced one of my biggest fears for a tournament. Spring here in Illinois is by no means T shirt weather. Our air temps just started to hit 50 during the day and mid 30’s at night and our water temps in the mid to upper 40’s. Four days before our tournament a cold front came in bringing our highs to the upper 30’s and lows in the low 20’s. My pre-fishing was out the window and I needed a new game plan. Or did I?
Not having time to get out on the water at all for the entire four days before the tournament I was thinking the worst. Fish are not going to move, they are going to hunker down and I was going to be skunked. I asked around on Ultimate Bass for advice, talked to friends for their opinions and began cycling things in my head (which is a mistake by the way). Biggest mistake one can make is second guessing himself or thinking too hard.
The morning of the tournament I listened to the guys at registration all morning talk about the fish they had landed the previous two days, of course they didn’t discuss their tactics or baits. At that point I really thought I was in trouble. I had no plan of attack and the “Top Sticks” in our group knew what the fish wanted and where they would be. At this point I was really nervous, should I fish or just go home and save my money? At that point I thought of the famous words from my role model, “Never Give Up”, I went ahead and got ready to fish.
Now I need to mention I am also the Director of this tournament, so I was the last one to hit the water as well as fishing solo. When I launched the boat it was already go time and the other guys were already idling to their spots. I get in my boat, drop the trolling motor, turn on my locator and whammy 42 degrees. Only a 6 degree drop from 5 days ago! At that point my day started to turn around. Made it to my first spot in 5 minutes and within 10 minutes I hooked and lost my first keeper. It happens to all of us, so I just pushed on. Air temp is 26 degrees, I have ice in all my guides and my line guide on my reel. It didn’t matter though, I was getting in a zone. An hour later I boated my first keeper, 20 minutes after that another. As soon as the sun got higher and shorelines started to light up I thought to myself “hit the sunny spots, the fish want to be warm”. After another hour of working just those sunny spots I flipped into the shade and nailed my third keeper! It was 10 o’clock and I have a solid limit already, but wait that fish was in the shade? I cruised over to exactly where I had flipped my jig and noticed under the water were dead reeds from last year covered in a dead algae. I went back to where I caught my second keeper and the same thing. That’s when it clicked, the algae is holding heat!
Another hour goes by and I had talked to several other boats not even getting a bite. I tried my hardest to stay out of site after that so guys wouldn’t see my pattern. After all it is a tournament and I want to win. About noon I get to another area I know holds decent fish. I start working those dead reed spots and boated a solid 18” fish. At this point I had two 18” and one 15” bass in the livewell, a nice limit for this area. Still pressing on I followed my pattern down the shoreline. Within 25 yards I get a bite that changed my day and up to today my bass fishing life. I set hook and for the first time ever I felt drag peel across my thumb on my Curado, spooled with 40# braid. This was a solid fish! After a quick fight and almost a loss I boated my new personal best 5 lbs 7.5 ounces! I went on to win the tournament by a landslide. After that fish was safely in the livewell, I “Went Ike” for a minute with a scream of pure joy. Later I found that several other anglers heard that scream and new someone stuck a “pig”.
My point here is this. No matter what is thrown at you, whether it is weather, guys talking smack or anything else, stick with your gut and stay positive. Second guessing yourself or letting guys get to you will ruin your day on the water. Whether it is a tournament or just another day on the lake the most important thing is to have fun doing it. I once told my wife this, the day I stop having fun tournament fishing is the day I will quit doing it and go back to just fishing.