As Brad and I pulled out of lock six ramp and headed towards highway 72, I broke the silence and said what we were both thinking.
"Just because we prefished two days doesn't guarantee that we would find fish. There is a very real possibility that we are just going into tomorrow with no legitimate chance to do well."
Let's back up about 24 hours.
I was certainly feeling a lot of pressure, going into this tournament. Wilson has, for some reason, been the lake I have done the most damage upon. Brad and I have cashed three checks including two outright wins in the last five tournaments we have fished on Wilson. In addition. I have won (or placed) in countless tournaments on Wilson over the last few years with various other partners. Now, factor in the tournament we fished on Smith that equated to a second place finish, we felt like we HAD to continue the momentum though we both agreed that the odds of continuing that success was against us.
I had just gotten back from being in Florida on business on Wednesday afternoon. Brad and I were headed to Wilson early Thursday morning. Though we had fished the previous Friday, a lot had changed, notably several days of freezing weather. We knew we needed to relearn the lake.
We began fishing some of our down river smallmouth holes. With the trends in the weather, we both felt like that fish had pulled up shallow with the 70s the previous week though the cold snap would likely push them back to the first contour break. Throwing a combination of moving baits such as the Alabama rig, cranks, and swim jigs but to no avail. We hit a variety of points and shallow pockets as well as bluffs. In the past years, we have always found smallmouth in some of these places. Nothing.
On a whim, we headed into Shoals Creek and stopped to fish some grass, thinking maybe the largemouth would still be shallow. Indeed, some were. I boated this nice one on a chatterbait with a PowerTeam Lure's grub before Brad bagged a nice keeper on the A-Rig.
We left that stretch of grass and headed deeper into the creek to find more. When that turned out to be a bust, we checked the grass on the way out. It produced another fish on the 'rig while a fellow fisherman boated one on the same stretch. We quickly moved.
We headed to the dam where we thought we could find some smallmouth. TVA was pulling 50,000 CFS and had the number 11 and number 9 generators running. Looking at the dam, this would be the left-most turbine (11) and one just two to the right (9). Based upon our success, this pushed the current a bit too far to the left for where the most productive areas had been for us. We initially fished the eddy line before deciding to fan cast the slack areas adjacent to the eddy line. This produced two very solid fish, one a five pound largemouth and this smallmouth, which I caught on my custom AKRods cranking rod and a Jackall crank.
We called it a day before we turned around the next morning to try it again. We tried to build on what we had found the day before by eliminating water. We couldn't get anything to bite anywhere except at the dam, which only produced drum. Still, we have learned that catching drum means that you are typically are around bass. It was a tough day that lead us wondering if we would have any luck in the morning.
Our game plan on Saturday was to hit the grass early. I had told Brad that I believed that the slight warming trend on Friday and early Saturday might turn the largemouth on, so I was going to start out with a buzzbait with a PTL Swinging Hammer. Brad initially thought I was joking until we pulled up on the first spot and I made my first cast. That first cast provided a keeper. I thought I had called my shots and we might actually be on some fish.
Alas, we hit the grass thoroughly and didn't get another bite. We jetted down river just to check some of our favorite spots. The first was a bust and the second produced two fish, one a largemouth and one a smallmouth, neither over three pounds. Both were caught on the same Jackall crank.
Eventually, we moved on to our planned destination: the dam. We knew there were quality fish at the dam and we may only get two bites, but that's all we needed. As we arrived, we saw that TVA had indeed held the current to the predicted 19,000 CFS. This time, instead of one of the preferred left hand generators, one of the right hand ones was flowing water. All of this resulted in a lot of slack water over the best rock piles. A very, very bad thing. We quickly gave up on it.
And that was it for the day. We covered point after point and pocket after pocket. We went back to the grass time and time again. We even fished all new water. We chased birds and bait but none of it mattered. With shame, we headed to the dock knowing that our streak of luck had ended.
It took just over 14 pounds including a 5.94 to win the tournament. Big fish was 6.01 and third place was just over 10 pounds including said 6-pounder. In all, the day was very, very tough for everyone and few weighed in limits. Still, the aggravation persisted for me, not because we lost, but because people who didn't prefish nearly as hard as we had, had done better than we had. In truth, not prefishing had kept some of the club from making any sort of judgment calls and it had worked out for some. For us, it meant a lot of sunk cost and a great amount of frustration.
I suppose it is fitting that we had a tournament like this. As I had said, Wilson had been our source of two of our three checks last season and four of our last five in our larger club. After all of the accomplishment we felt on putting in the work on Smith and having it lead to a solid win, it was fitting that the same amount of work on a lake we exceed at fishing would shut us out.
In the end, tournament fishing is always a learning process. In this case, we had firmly come to believe that, with enough work, we could win any tournament on any lake. The truth is, prefishing is no guarantee of success and hard work doesn't always translate to wins. Sometimes the fish get lockjaw. Sometimes people get that lucky bite. Sometimes you just lose.