Sunday, December 28, 2014

Lessons from the Ups and Downs of 2014

Fishing is a sport of trial and error.  When anglers go fishing everyone has their own style of tying on lures, testing theories, and eliminating water.  Luckily for everyone, the art of discovery is still a major factor in fishing, even with all the advances in equipment and electronics!

For tournaments my study always begin with looking at the fishery habitats available on each lake.  My homework helps answer the question of whether the water has aquatic plants, structure, or man-made docks and cover for bass to utilize.  A main source of information is the national Aquatic Plant Management Society webpage links. I compiled the most helpful links on my webpage under the Angler Tools page.

Preserving our nation's water through scientific understanding

Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Foundation has been my most supportive premier sponsor, and the Triton/Mercury rig my most reliable equipment for successful fishing trips throughout South Eastern US lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. Stop in at Miller's Boating Center in Ocala to pick out your own reliable fishing rig!

Triton/Mercury rig traveled nearly 5,000 miles in the 2014 season
During the 2014 season, I made a change in my normal way of scouting and finding fish.
After a few years of limited success on the Bassmaster Southern Open trail, I modified my traditional fishing techniques in an effort to reach higher finishes.  I based this modification on taking the advice of others, mainly listening to them say I had to fish the way that past champions fished in order to win.

Fishing large reservoirs is educational and rewarding. Spottedbass
By trying to fish the styles of other pros I hurt my overall success in 2014. One reason was being limited to three days of practice for each tournament due to my family and career obligations . With such limited time, this change in fishing habits did not fit my style and made it difficult to be consistent.  After a year of trying this new method, I learned how wrong it was for me.  I already began making mental changes to help me return to my own style in 2015.  Some of the psychology that aided me in understanding this was by Jay McNamara.  If you are a serious angler you should read  Jay McNamara's The Psychology of Exceptional Fishing.

Typical FL largemouth

Florida bass habitat
Growing up and learning to fish in Florida allowed me to develop a personal fishing style that focused on shallow water. While on the Bassmaster Open trail, I was forced to learn how to find bass in large, deep water reservoirs.  Fortunately, I found that I liked fishing deep water contour breaks.   Learning how schools of bass migrate in thirty to seventy feet-deep water made sense to me and has been fun to analyze on the tournament trail. 

Together, both my shallow and deep water skills have given me a method of consistently catching bass in tournaments.  My fish have not always been the biggest, but they consistently put me close to top 25% of the field.

Learning to fish contours such as this 70'-100' breakline has been fun.

Looking back on all my Southern Open events I found that my most successful baits were topwaters, jerkbaits, swimbaits, and jigs.   These accounted for all the bass I weighed in since 2012.  I like fishing spinnerbaits and crankbaits, but found these baits were only productive for me when scouting for bass in practice.  I am still working on developing my skill for fishing these baits for weary bass that have been heavily pressured by anglers. 
Docks are often the only habitat in large reservoirs
The 2014 season yielded emotional ups and downs like I have never experienced before.  I realized at the end of the season that I am not the same angler who started this level of competition.  I feel I have developed a quicker ability to analyze strengths and weaknesses, both in my angling skills and in choosing the best lures and bass habitats for the conditions.  I shared my techniques and habitat choices in my blog posts, Facebook page, and website links.  I hope they help you catch more fish as well.

The Year in Detail:

The 2014 Bassmaster Southern Open season started off with two events that experienced massive cold fronts and Gail force winds.  The article, North American Cold Wave of 2014, covered the extreme weather events we anglers faced in 2014.

Cold fronts on radar
Muddy water and severe cold made my groups of Florida largemouth shut down in the Florida event, while snowfall caused frozen line guides that hampered my Spotted bass success in Alabama. During such extreme conditions all an angler can do is just grind it out for a few bass and hope for the best.

In between tournaments I volunteered with several youth events: Teen Sportsman Association,
Kirchman Foundation, Osceola County Sheriffs Xtravaganza Fundraiser on Lake X, and several packing events for Kids in Support of Soldiers.

Famous Mercury Marine Lake X

Osceola County Sheriff fundraiser

KISS packing monthly care packages for US Troops

Goodies from Walgreens and many other donors for troops
My experience at the 2014 ICAST tackle show event in Orlando was inspiring! New tackle products were announced and demonstrated, manufacturers provide product training, and I even hung out with longtime friend Bill Dance.

ICAST 2014 in Orlando FL

Longtime friend Bill Dance at ICAST

In the spring of the year I joined Steve Chapman, Boodreaux, and Captain Mike Ortego on the Fishing Florida Radio show! Hilarious bunch of guys and a great radio show for fisherman throughout Florida.  I encourage you to listen live or download the podcast.
Headphones and on the mic with FFR

Fishing Florida Radio hosts Steve & Boodreaux
Bassmaster finished up the Southern Open season in North Carolina where roaming bass failed to stay grouped up during fall cold fronts.  The fronts brought bluebird skies between all-day rain storms which keep the shad moving and bass confused.  Or maybe it was just me who stayed confused?
Coming into weighin on Day1, Lake Norman

The trophy up for grabs in the last event of 2014
 While the 2014 season felt like my toughest ever, it was not.  I still maintained a 56th place pro ranking in the Angler of the Year (AOY) race for 2014.  That ranking brought my overall AOY record into the top 22% of the pros for my three year history with the Bassmaster Southern Open circuit.  I am proud of that record, given I am full-time father of four kids and holding down a full-time career as a Limnologist!  

                        Year    My AOY Finish    Overall Rank
                        2012         79                      Top 32%
                        2013         28                      Top 11%
                        2014         56                      Top 24%

An exciting year that allowed me to maintain a top 25% showing

Plans for the New Year:

My game plan for the 2015 season will be focused on using  lures that I am confident will catch bass on each lake given the weather conditions and habitats available.  The season starts on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes in Florida, travels to the Alabama River, and ends in Georgia on Lake Seminole.  Fishing spans from January through October and challenges anglers to catch fish in all seasonal conditions.
Lake Toho is the site of first Open in Jan 2015

The 2015 season will visit AL, GA, and FL.

The pro that wins the 2015 Angler of the Year race will have to catch pre-spawn, spawning, and post-spawn bass in the first two events, then switch gears and catch fall transition bass in October.  I am excited about all three events as they are scheduled in places and months that should bring unstable weather conditions. 

Without the benefit of long practice days, unstable weather helps me as it puts all anglers on an even playing field. Anglers who have been fishing for weeks before the event will have to start over.  Having to adapt throughout the tournament is a condition that suites my "scramble and move" style of fishing. 

I enjoy the challenge of fishing conditions that tests an angler's skill for adapting.  I began fishing tournaments to learn, and changes in fishing conditions may not always be fun, but it teaches the most about how bass act and react to lures.

Preparing tackle during the off season

You have to love this sport in order to appreciate this emotional roller coaster ride that unstable weather and fishing conditions bring.  The mental aspect of the game is the least understood and most confusing. But then again, I am somewhat of a fishing geek that likes to analyze the inner voice and the mental side of fishing.

Jigs accounted for many bass

I want to win this game and have made the mental plans that will allow me to break into the top 10% of the field.  This level will put me in contention for multiple wins in 2015 and beyond!

Learning to represent sponsors and talk to crowds is important

Thank you for following my 2014 season.  Look for another year of photos and videos as I share my fishing adventures on the lakes we explore in 2015 Bassmaster Southern Opens!

See you in 2015.  Have a Happy and safe New Years