In any tournament on a lake where you have a lot of experience, one key factor is to integrate your history into your game plan without relying on it entirely. If you're inflexible, that's when you tend to stumble. I'm comfortable with Table Rock and knew that I wasn't going to get stressed out, but my history almost got me into trouble.
I spent the first day of practice on the lower end of the lake in the clearer water. It was a dark and cloudy day and the water temperature hovered around 48 degrees, absolutely perfect for the jerkbait bite and I did pretty well with it. There was going to be a warming trend, though, so I knew I'd have to expand upon things on the next day.
On the second day, against my better judgment, I went up the White River into the dirtier water. I knew that there would be huge numbers of fish up there, and I was filming a Pro Patterns segment and wanted to give them plenty of action. The area didn't disappoint – I probably caught 75 fish cranking a Wiggle Wart – but my best five were probably only 12 pounds or so. I was afraid to make that long run when I wasn't sure if there were any big fish biting up that way.
I decided to stay down in the clear water most of the third practice day and the results were less than inspiring. Eventually I worked my way up into the dirtier water in Long Creek and that's when I started getting bit real well, including some big bites. I figured that if it blew on tournament day I could spend my time in the clearer water and use the Long Creek fish, which weren't far away, as my fallback spot.
It was critical to start each day on your most productive water because there was a golden hour to an hour and a half period that you had to maximize. On the first day of competition I started in the calm clear water in Indian Creek and missed that window of opportunity. The morning was brutal, with just four or five shorts to show for my efforts. I finally pulled up stakes and headed into Long Creek and started to catch short fish virtually non-stop, but I didn't have a keeper in the box at 1:30. I was getting anxious and fishing too fast. Fortunately, that's when the bigger ones started to bite and I ended up with a limit for 10-06. I was fortunate to have what I had. It left me in 84th place, which is horrible, but in reality it was only a pound and a half out of the cut. With a big bite on Day Two I could be right back in it.
On the second day, the weather completely changed, with heavy winds and rolling storms. I started in Indian Creek once again and this time they bit. I had a limit by 10 o'clock and culled several times, but only had around 12 pounds at 12:30. I needed a big bite to make the cut. This time, I made the right move and went back to the dirty water and culled two or three more times, with a 6 pounder to boost my effort, jumping me into a tie for 29th place. I'd salvaged the tournament.
The weather changed again on Day Three – it was cold and clear, with no wind. I started in the clean water again and true to form I couldn't get a bite. By the time I left at 9 o'clock and went back to Long Creek, I'd missed my window of opportunity and was lucky to grind out three fish for 6-11 the rest of the day. Meanwhile, Kevin VanDam, fishing many of the same areas, went there first and lit them up. He had a huge bag on Day Three. That's frustrating. If I'd even managed to catch a limit, I would've earned some critical points, but timing was everything.
The majority of my fish this week came on a Megabass Vision 110 jerkbait (Pro Blue), fished on a 6'6" medium-action Carrot Stix rod paired with a Team Lew's reel and 8 lb. Toray fluorocarbon. I also added some on an old hand-painted Wiggle Wart. The crankbait was fished on a 6'9" medium-action Carrot Stix rod, a Team Lew's reel and 10 lb. Toray fluorocarbon. A couple of key fish came on a shad-colored Hawg Caller spinnerbait, slow rolling it in the deeper trees. I had the right baits and the right tackle, but I made the wrong decisions.
We have a couple of weeks off before the next Elite Series event. The last four weeks were pretty rough, so this will give me a chance to catch up on the business side of the sport and reorganize my tackle before heading to Toledo Bend. I don't know Toledo Bend or Dardanelle (the following stop) as well as I know Table Rock, but I love grass fishing and overall I'm fishing pretty well right now, so I'm sure I'll be ready to get back on the road shortly. I'm 8th in the Angler of the Year race and I think that this rest will allow me to get revved up again to keep the momentum rolling.