In 2013, the Southern Open bass tournament trail covered water from Florida to Tennessee to Alabama.
We started off the year on Lake Toho, Kissimmee FL in January where the bass were thinking about spawning. I'm comfortable fishing the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes and I found some solid groups of pre-spawn bass to place high in the event. I caught many fish, but lost two large bass in the event that put me out of the money.
My focus on the next two events had to revolve around improving my execution and getting the fish in the boat if I was going to have a good year.
For the first event I ended up in 45th place out of 198 pros (top 23%). My 2.0 pound average/bass was just out of the money cut.
At the beginning of April we fished Douglas Lake, TN, just west of famous Pigeon Forge in the Appalachian Mountains. Cold weather was still blowing over the lake and frost was common on the boats in the morning.
My practice was horrible, and all the techniques I thought would work, didn't. The last few hours of practice I ended up catching one bass on a jig along a rocky bluff that keyed me in on what to do.
The tournament days were rainy and colder, pushing 54F muddy water into my only fishing spot. But northern bass don't shut down in dirty water like our Florida bass, so I was able to catch a solid limit both days.
I did better on executing and landed all but one small bass that hit. I ended up 22nd place out of 180 pros (top 12%). My 2.6 pound average/bass earned me my first Bassmaster Opens pay check, but was 4lbs shy of a top 12 cut.
The month of May brought the last scheduled Opens event of 2013 on Logan Martin, part of the Alabama River system in Leeds, AL.
The long cold spell was over and snow melt raised the river 10ft above the normal high water level. My campsite was still 3ft under water and I had to spend the first day of practice finding higher ground. Spotted and largemouth bass were trying to spawn but the water authorities were dropping the water so fast it confused the fish.
I caught nice limits of spotted bass fishing deep water coves and largemouth fishing shallow beds. Caught my largest Coosa River spot in the event, 4lbs 3ozs.
Fishing pressure changed the bite in my area and I didn't have time in the two-day practice period to find alternate areas. I was only able to catch small limits of spotted bass and finished the worst of the season.
I ended up In 120th place out of 164 pros (bottom 75%). My 1.7 pound average/bass was 11lbs out of the money cut and an extremely poor performance.
I have to figure out better patterns for fishing extreme drops in water levels.
My final ranking for the year was 28th on the Southern Open trail. This qualified me for a last chance tournament named the Bassmaster Classic Wildcard. The event was scheduled for the first week in December on Lake Okeechobee, FL, a lake I am very familiar with.
The Bassmaster Classic Wildcard event was to be unique. Only the top-30 Open anglers were invited to compete against the Elite Pros who had yet qualified for the Classic.
The Open pros were to fish against Bassmaster Elite pros under Elite rules (no net, no coangler), and there was a 30-day off limits period for information. During the week of the tournament all the competitors had just two and a half days to practice. I felt this levelled the playing field and gave working guys like me a chance against full-time pros.
I made a scouting trip in September ahead of the 30-day off limits. That set the stage for me: I found weed control efforts for water hyacinth and cattails were going to determine this event! The constantly changing habitat conditions were going to constantly change the fish.
Mats that held fish one week were gone the next. The bass were making beds but spawning was not yet in full swing. I felt this was going to be a pre-spawn derby.
I ended up finding quality groups of bass during the 2.5 day official practice period that could win me the event. I knew that if I could land them, I would have a shot at 21lbs per day and could win.
Poor execution again plaqued me and cost me a chance for a tournament win. Chad Morganthaler won with 63lbs, nearly equal to the weights I was finding in practice.
Not having a landing net allowed three bass around 4lbs each to get off at the boat on day one. On day two, an 8lb bass I flipped up to the top of a weed mat and got away. I've since analyzed my mistakes and made corrections.
In the Wildcard event I ended up 14th place out of 49 pros who qualified and fished the event (top 29%). My 2.9 pound average/bass earned me a pay check, but was one pound, six ounces out of the top 12. So close....
In my second year on the Bassmaster Southern Opens tour I ended strong. My overall ranking remained 28th; I caught my largest one-day bag of bass on the pro level (17lbs, 4ozs); and I earned my largest annual winnings as a Bassmaster Southern Opens Pro.
Overall, a good year but not good enough. Trust me when I say I'm happy with my accomplishments, but they were short of my goals. Had I landed the bass that I hooked, I would have met many of my goals, and realized a greater outcome.
I play a game that involves sleep deprivation, intense long-term focus, exsposure to harsh environmental conditions, mental stress, and physical endurance during week long events.
I am ready for 2014!