I lost the Bassmaster Elite Series event at Arkansas’ Lake Dardanelle by only 4 ounces. That’s close. I would have loved that win dearly, but I truly have no regrets.
That last 50 minutes of the tournament was special for me — and my marshal, too!
In a way, what happened on that Arkansas River impoundment was “text book.” A guy makes a simple decision and gets one bite, and the fish tell him from that one bite what they are doing. But the way it happened, with fish hitting back-to-back-to-back, and then catching two big fish within the shadow of the launch in the final minutes…well, like I said, it was a special day!
Tried and true
Overall, it was a pretty simple tournament.
I switched it up every day during the tournament, fishing about a mile and a half stretch including part of a creek, in just one area. I kept going round and round, dividing my time between three baits: a black and blue ½-ounce Booyah jig with a big chunk trailer, a black and blue 3/8-ounce bladed jig and a ½-ounce Booyah spinnerbait in chartreuse and white.
In the scheme of things, the simplicity of working just three or four baits and staying in a single area were key. It was just a matter of keeping it simple.
On Wednesday’s practice day, I caught one of my bigger fish on a ½-ounce Booyah double willowleaf spinnerbait, throwing it out over deeper hydrilla and milfoil. Remembering that fish was important that last hour of the tournament.
But up until that final flurry on the fourth day, I caught most of my fish on the ½-ounce Booyah jig. With darker water, I kept a full skirt and used a big “old school” chunk for my trailer to create a large-profile bait.
Even though I was flipping only 1- to 3-feet of water, that bigger bait and profile seemed to be key to getting fish to hit. Most of my key bites came on it, and, even on that last day, I still caught my biggest bass — a 5-1/2 pounder — on the jig. I would cover 200 or 300 yards and get a bite, then work another long stretch and get another. It wasn’t that I was getting a lot of strikes, but when I did it was a big one!
Basically, I was fishing around water willow grass, which is a bank grass. The water levels were fluctuating every day, but when the water was high, the fish were in that bank grass.
But by late afternoon on Day Four I wasn’t getting any bites, and I only had four fish in the box. Two of them were less than 14 inches.
If they hadn’t quit biting entirely, I probably would have stayed with what I was doing. But I had the feeling that bite was over.
With 50 minutes left, I knew I needed to make a move. That’s when I remembered the bigger fish I had taken on the Booyah spinnerbait over the deeper hydrilla and milfoil.
I moved off the bank and made a long cast with the bladed jig with a sapphire blue trailer. I had been slow reeling that bait most of the time, but now I started fishing it fast.
And I caught one!
The water had fallen six to eight inches, and the fish had positioned themselves out in front of the bank grass in slightly deeper water.
That was the difference! Take six inches of water off the bank, and the fish move out 20 yards.
The creek I was fishing had sparse hydrilla and milfoil growing in front of the bank grass. It was still only 2- or 3-feet deep on that vegetation, but as the fish came off of the bank grass, that’s where they had set up. My boat was in 4 feet of water, and I would cast into the 1-1/2- or 2-foot depths and bring it back.
I continued to reel faster, then faster, and they kept coming. There were 12 of them back-to-back-to-back. They got bigger, too. The sixth, seventh and eighth were all 2-3/4- to 3-pound fish.
I was feeling good about that flurry as I headed in. As I neared the launch, I still had 12 minutes left. I looked around and noticed the same type of grass I had just been fishing. I said, ‘That is a perfect situation!’
I made one cast, and it was like magic. A 4-1/2 pounder! I made another cast and caught a 3-1/2 pounder. Both culled!
I had fished Dardanelle before, and I knew that bank grass is always key at this time of year. But I had never caught fish like this – not in the style I caught them this time.
Normally, I don’t fish that big of a jig (and trailer) in areas like this. And getting one bite by reeling faster… getting another bite reeling faster, and yet another reeling even faster…that was reading the situation.
I never focused on winning that day. I didn’t even know how far behind I was. All I thought about was catching every fish I could.
It didn’t cross my mind that I might win until I got to weigh-in and a fellow said, ‘Dude, you might have won it!’ Five ounces more, and he would have been right!
But it was a great day. Those final 50 minutes were pure chaos, and the truth is that it was one of those days in your career where you say, ‘That’s what it’s all about!’
Whether you win or you lose, you know that you had figured them out.
And it is all fun!