Sunday, January 18, 2015

Let the Lessons Begin for 2015

The 2015 Bassmaster Southern Open started with a full field of 200 pros, multiple weather fronts, numerous lessons to be learned, and ended with Chad Morgenthaler taking home the win!
My #AERF #MercuryMarine Triton boat rig at #BigTohoMarina waiting to launch out in the Bassmaster Southern Open
I finished 122nd, well outside making a check, but earned some valuable "Angler of the Year" points. This mediocre result hurts, and sets my year up to be tough. Now I am behind and I must perform better in my next two events.  Regardless of my finish, I always enjoy representing my sponsors and introducing the great work of Kids in Support of Soldiers to the audiences.

Competitor Chad Morgenthaler holding my trophy

It is nice to see a good guy like Chad win, but I am not happy to have donated my money to him again. He beat me at the Bassmaster Wildcard on Lake Okeechobee, where at least I finished 14th in that event and earned my money back. 

My Bassmaster Wildcard event on Lake Okeechobee where Chad beat me the first time 

Fishing the Bassmaster Opens is a serious game of competition. The skill level of this group of anglers is extremely high. Many are full-time touring Bassmaster Elite and FLW pros.

The winner of the Opens is typically the fastest and smartest at figuring out bass movements and capitalizing on that knowledge over a three day event.

The #AERF #Triton #MercuryMarine rig fishing for "Kids in Support of Soldiers"

During my practice I found good areas where bass wanted to spawn, but my "on-the-water street skills" were not up to par with bass movements.  Each day I quickly caught my limit by 11 am, but I was never able to keep up with how the big female bass were reacting to the fishing pressure, the winds, and the muddy, cold water.  Chad's win showed us the bigger bass simply swam back out to deeper cover near the main lake. 

I had the gut instinct that while Lake Toho fishing was tough, it would turn on any day.  I never caught a lake-fish shallow in this event.  Meaning, all my bass were dark colored, which told me they had been up in the shallow water cover awhile.  Bass I caught out in main lake hydrilla beds were lighter colored than my shallow water bass, so I know that they were ready to come in shallow but had not done so yet.  

Dark, mottled coloring of bass caught around cattails indicated resident fish that had been up shallow for some time

While hard to see in this photo, the lighter, less mottled color of this bass shows it has stayed offshore
The Bassmaster Opens is also about seeing friends from all over the country.  It was great to hang out with friends like #ShawGrigsby, #PaulElias #GuyEaker, #PatrickPierce, #KenDuke, and #RolandMartin, to name a few. It was also about meeting new friends like #T-RoyBroussard and #DylanFulk.  

Discussing fishing techniques with Matt, Shaw Grigsby, Rich Howes, and Patrick Pierce. 

Teen Sportfishing Assocation organizer Neal Lazarus talks #TrophyCatch with Marty Mann and Jim Sweatman.
The folks at #FWC who oversee the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes continue to manage the fisheries along with the thankless task of managing the chain's aquatic plant population. This year's challenge has been controlling a new nuisance from a species of Primrose plant.  This plant is now growing over native plants and smothering out the valuable habitat.  Weed harvesting has removed much of the plant material. while selective EPA-labeled and approved herbicides are slowing the plant's regrowth. This invasive species threatens most native plants and I hope #FWC and #AERF find a solution soon. 

Neal Lazarus with Teen Sportfishing Association helps volunteer to launch 200 boats and organize trailer parking #BigToho

The Teen Sportfishing Association did a fantastic work in organizing the boat launching at Big Toho Marina, trailer parking, and shuttling fish to the live release boats.  They had to wake up early and endure the rain and cold winds.  I was proud to see my nephew Troy being a part of this great teen club. I look to see him on the trail in the near future. Thanks to all the adult and teen volunteers!

Weather is always a factor, and tournaments continue regardless of inclement weather. Except for the extreme life-threatening weather conditions, most fishing events go on in all weather conditions. This week started with water temperatures in the 70s and bass making beds to spawn.  Some spawning had occurred before this event, but most female bass appeared to be offshore and waiting for the right conditions to spawn. 
Heavy rains persisted during practice of the first Bassmaster event for 2015
A cold front brought a large amount of rain and cloudy conditions. This dropped the water temperatures into the high 50s. The water warmed up throughout the event and eventually settled into the mid 60s during competition. In practice, the winds blew light, but increased to a steady 10 mph during the competition. With sustained winds overnight, Florida's shallow Kissimmee Chain of Lakes muddied up and turned off many bass from feeding. 
Cold, windy weather moved in after the rains and challenged anglers to relocate the bass

I found that reaction bites were the only way to keep catching bass in my areas under these conditions.  I caught most of my smaller limit-bass on swimbaits and jerkbaits worked in openings of grass and along cattails edges. 

Open water edges that held many of the bigger bass
Swimbaits I used to catch limit fish each day
Cattail stands where I caught smaller buck-bass and an occasional female bass
I caught a few bigger bass flipping a Sweetbeaver on 5/16 ounce weight into shallow water cattails and bulrush.  All the bass hit on the initial flip as it fell through the light cover. Because of this I also considered this a reaction bite rather than a feeding bite.

The final day weigh-in was held at #BassProShops Orlando in front of several hundred spectators. Congratulations to all the Florida anglers who made the top 12 #TrevorFitzgerald #DannyLanier
My #Toyota4Runner enabled me to fish for #Toyota Trucks Bonus Bucks

Bassmaster Open Proangler #PatrickPierce talks #StarBright products with the spectators at #BassProShops weigh-in

#JeffHollandFishing is proud to be on the #MercuryMarine prostaff, the official engine sponsor of Bassmaster
Power-pole was an important part of my ability to anchor quietly in shallow water grass and fish for spawning bass

The Odds
Statistics extraordinaire Ken Duke will often tell anglers the facts: the odds of winning are stacked against every angler. So many factors have to fall into place in order for everything to go right for a win.  Besides the fish cooperating, anglers have to be nearly flawless landing bass without a net (new 2015 rule).  Then, there are the uncontrollable elements such as: fishing pressure, wind, clouds, boat draw number, locking times between lakes, lock capacity and operation, duck hunters, local anglers, guides, equipment performance, rain, opening of water discharge structures, lack of adequate motel parking, kicked extension cords that fail to charge boat batteries, how a well a fish gets hooked, random chaos, and much, much more.  

My own statistics after three years of fishing the Southern Opens show that I averaged in the top 25% AOY each year.  Yet, I've come to the conclusion that unless the trophy is in my hands, I will never be happy with my results!! The win is my goal. 

I was not pleased with my start in 2015, but in hindsight, I consider this event an investment in my fishing education. Now I  have to look forward and take up where I left off in my pre-tournament research on fishing the Alabama River in Prattville, AL.  This second stop on the Bassmaster Southern Open tour will take place April 16-18, 2015. 

I have never been to this section of the Alabama River. In only four days of practice, I will be challenged with assessing how to navigate around the rocky river system and quickly find both spotted and largemouth bass species.  Oh yes, I have to figure out how to catch these bass better than the other 200 Pros. These are but a few elements in this game that must be mastered....