Tournament fishing: Walking the fine line

I’ve been fishing pro events for 23 years; I’ve gained a lot of experience and seen a lot of things happen on the water. But despite countless hours of fishing, I still come away with a wealth of knowledge after every tournament.

The past two were no exceptions. And while I’m not completely satisfied with how I finished at the Sabine River or Falcon Lake in Texas, I realize it could have been a lot worse.

The thing I’ve learned over the years is that there is a fine line between having a great tournament and a horrible one.

The hardest part is recognizing the factors that determine which side of that fine line you’re going to end up on.

Of course, some things you just can’t control. For example, at Sabine, I lost a couple of big fish that would have been game changers.

And I touched both of them! It wasn’t a matter of me making any mistakes; they just came off.

It was a very tough tournament where limits were difficult and big fish were a premium. Conditions deteriorated throughout practice, and the one place I found that was good turned to mud when I got there on tournament day.

It was very mentally challenging because I knew I was fishing for a few bites a day. I had to cover a ton of water and make thousands of pitches and be ready when I did get a bite. I was pitching a black/blue Hack Attack jig with a Strike King Rage Craw trailer to cypress trees and shallow brush. A lot can happen when you do hook one in a situation like that.

I was glad to get out of there with a top 20 finish, especially considering I had never been to that water until the tournament practice began.

Falcon was not easy, either. Fishing was tough, yet that lake remains one of the greatest big bass lakes in the country. It’s loaded with giant bass, and you had to catch quality fish to be in contention.

I didn’t get many bites in practice and never caught anything over 5, so I tried not to set the hook too much until the tournament started.

I got keyed into throwing different sizes of Strike King crankbaits on the rocky points. The lake was falling so the fish were out there instead of in the pockets or on the flats.

I figured if I hit enough points, I could trigger big bites. But when the tournament started, it was a lot tougher, and I finally figured out that they wouldn’t chase a moving bait so I had to catch them with a jig. On the second day, I caught a limit weighing almost 29 pounds.

But on the third day, the fish changed again. I caught 30 bass from my area – but they were all 2-pounders. I kept thinking about making a move but didn’t listen to my instincts until later in the day. When I did, I caught better fish. If I had made that change when my mind told me I should, I would have done even better.

I finished 19th and the two tournaments have me in 11th for Angler of Year race. There’s nothing wrong with making two cuts and starting the season off well, but my deal is I want to be fishing on Sunday – when you’re given a chance to win.

Remember, it’s all about the attitude!