As the 2014 year was ending, I took the time to look back and evaluate my achievements for the year. And while I was a contender in many events, I was especially pleased with the people around me that I had helped, encouraged, or motivated throughout the year to keep moving forward in the industry. I wrote blogs, magazine articles, radio interviews, and even did a few TV shows, but what I noticed at the end of it all was that I rarely took the time to increase my own skills. Yes, my knowledge increased with every trip on the water along with every conversation around kayaking and fishing, but while my knowledge was increasing, I felt my skillset was becoming stagnant. I had become accustomed to chunking lures and not placing them, making long cast that weren't accurate, using more topwater for the explosive excitement rather than a plastics finesse approach, and I began focusing on numbers of cast and retrieves rather than the quality of them. Heck I even dubbed a jigging style the "Pontchartrain Prance", due to the erratic jerking nature of the jig, which usually ends up hooking the fish just from the jerk rather than feeling the subtle strike. So, with all of this weighing on my mind, I knew it was time to balance out my arsenal, and the best way I could come up with to accomplish this transition was to take a step back in time and put my focus back on freshwater fishing, largemouth bass specifically.
Well, this past week I was able to attend the first Kayak Bass Series that took place in Astor, Fl on the St. Johns River system. The series is a compilation of 6 events spread across the country in FL, TX, AL, AR, KY, and PA, ending with the KBS Classic at the end of the season, location TBD. Needless to say, each event is located on a body of water that has the potential to land you a double digit largemouth, and to me, that's a major attraction. My entire life I have always heard of the giant bass that come out of Florida, heck my dad even has a couple double digit bass from Florida hanging on the wall, so this event was one I wasn't going to miss.
With vacation time on the books, I finished up work and headed straight home to load up my gear, my Hobie Outback, and all essentials needed that I had been collecting over the last two months. I ended up leaving the house a little after 6pm and headed straight to Pensacola to pick up my road warrior partner Matthew Vann. After nearly 11 hours we made our arrival into Astor and went straight to my launch site.
I was planning on spending every waking minute I had dissecting the eel grass, lily pads, grass mats, and ledges that Lake George had to offer. The only problem with this plan was the wind. As I hit the water alone that morning, I was welcomed to 2 foot breakers in my face, and with a 3 mile pedal to my starting point, I knew I was in for a wet ride.
As I reached protected waters, the hunt began, everything looked fishy, flooded reeds, dollar pads, eel grass, timber laydowns. Every direction I looked I knew there was a fish there, but after 12 hours on the water, I ended with one striped bass, three missed strikes, and one blow up on a fluke. I punched grass, jigged my pigs, dug my cranks, spun my spinners, and worked as fast and methodical as possible, but in no way had I figured anything out.
At this point, I was still excited at the opportunity ahead of me, I knew there was still a chance for big fish, and I knew they were out there, I just had to find them before time ran out.
The next morning I decided on a long run that began before daylight. This was the day that it had to happen or tournament day was going to be a flop. After hours on the water, and double digit miles covered, more cabbage grass clogged canals than I have ever experienced, I was whooped, and not only whooped, but I had only landed one largemouth, and it was a small one.
With hopes still high, we decided to visit local bait shop owner and guide for more than 20 years. He informed us that with all the cold fronts and water temps in the 50s, that the fish had turned completely off. He made mention that the day before he took a client to 12 locations using live bait, and didn't catch a fish until his last stop. He then dug into his mind of knowledge and made a suggestion to us to get away from the creeks and lakes and focus more on the spring fed waterways where the water is warmer. Seems like a no brainer now, but being the springs are salty, we never even considered getting close to them. So with new knowledge, and time ticking away, we made a mad dash to yet another new launch location.
As we arrived, I immediately made a mental transition, I didn't know where I was, I didn't research it, and I had never seen this area on a map, so with that being said, I made the commitment to work slow and methodical rather than run and gun, and it worked. Within an hour I was holding a solid 4-5 lbs bass in my hand, and then 20 minutes later another one, an hour later I got one yak side that would have likely touched the 8 lbs mark, but I pulled the hook as I was grabbing the net. I immediately called Matthew on the phone and said we found em and it's time to go.
Now, at the captains meeting there were a lot of stories running around, some were of skunks, some of 10 pounders, and some of a boatload of midrange fish. It seemed that a handful of people found the fish, and a crowd of people hadn't, there was a large split. Some people were catching giants punching grass, while others were landing decent fish cranking and worming docks, my pre-fishing yielded poorly in both the grass and around docks, but I was able to find them staged up on wood structure in warmer water.
As the morning of the event came around, I knew that the fish weren't going to be active in my area until at least 10 a.m. when the sun got high enough to warm the banks near the wooden structure the fish were on the previous day. The winds had shifted over night, and around 11a.m. they were supposed to shift again and get up into the 15-20 mph range, but where I was, the wind would only produce current and that was a good thing. If the weather man was correct, with the sun high and the wind howling, my bite was going to happen in the last 3 hours of the event.
10:11 a.m. I got my first strike on a custom made whooly booger, he wasn't a giant, but it was a fish. I quickly got him on the board, took my picture, released the fish, and got back refocused. Around 12:00 I landed my next fish on Bad Boy Jig & Pig in black and blue, only a quarter inch bigger than my first fish, but one more closer to my limit. With the bite being extremely slow and sporadic, I knew that if I could land my limit, I had a good chance of ending in the money.
Then around 1:30 it happened, as my jig was sucked up by a bass, I reeled down on her and set the hook with all I had, but what I heard was heart breaking, with every inch of hook set, my drag let line out. As the fish bowed my rod into an inverted "U" I knew I had a big bass, but I also knew she wasn't hooked as well as I wanted her to be. She tore off to my right attempting to go deep, and as I was able to turn her, she eventually wore down, as I grabbed the net, she calmly surface a foot from the side of my Outback and rolled on her side like she had given up. I was grinning from ear to ear looking at what appeared to be a 24-25" bass when all of a sudden during her roll over of defeat, the lure came right out of her mouth. I can't begin to explain the disappointment I went through over the next few moments. In fact it was so outwardly displayed that the bass boat across the river from me cranked his motor and sped off. I have never felt so defeated as I did during that moment. In saltwater fishing I usually just blow it off because I know there are likely several more chances throughout the day to land a monster, but in the bass world, especially during a tournament, those opportunities don't knock that often.
Once I gained my composure, it wasn't 2 cast later I had another strike, and then another one, but I wasn't able to hook up with either. I spend the next hour working this 80 yards of timber with everything I could. I threw spinners, swim jigs, cranks, craws, whooly boogers, but it appeared that the bite was only going to be hot for 10 minutes of the day, and while I had the chance, I blew it.
When Matthew caught up with me, it was time to head to the truck. While we crossed the lake toward our launch area, I uploaded my pictures through the IAngler free app and submitted them to the TD while on the water. As we both pedaled with a 20 mph cross wind, I could see a lone willow tree off of a point of land about 300 yards down the shoreline. On one side of the willow was a howling wind and on the other was a calm cove, I made an immediate 90 degree right turn and B lined to the tree. As I approached I laid the softest flip I could right through the split trunk and as the Jig hit the water, it began to swim off to the right, I immediately set the hook, with a tight drag this time, and out came a bass, flying toward me like a kite, I reeled my Reel so fast that the fish barely touched the water again. As I got my final picture of my limit fish submitted in the IAngler App, I couldn't help but sit back, collect my thoughts, and thank my youngest daughter Payton for all the prayers she sent up, the two prior days, that her daddy would do good on tournament day. It was an appreciation and fullness that I hadn't experienced in a while, and it was awesome.
Minutes following my last fish, Matthew and I loaded up the Hobie's and headed to the weigh in. My mind was racing, did the previous nights cold front disrupt everyone's expectations, did the 3 different wind shifts cause some anglers to abandon their plan, was a 13.5" average even respectable given the tough conditions we were all faced with? The easy answer, yes it was.
Turns out that with 56 registered anglers, only 10 of those landed their bag limit, and with payouts going to the top 8, I ended up with 40.5" and a 7th place finish. Now, I am never disappointed on whether I win or lose a tournament, my goal is usually just to be a contender and try to make the top 10, but given the poor pre-fishing I had, new waters, non optimal conditions, I was more than excited to finish 7th.
Overall the Kayak Bass Series run by Robert Field was a great event held at a great fishery. I got to fish against some of the best in the kayak industry, I got to fish next to, deer, manatees, ducks, alligators that are a lot bigger than La Marsh gators, and even a snake so large I'm confident it could have crushed me and the kayak and ate us both, not mention cross a ferry that had me wanting to put a PFD on. Simply said, it was an experience that I will long remember and I can't wait for the next one that will be taking place February 28th on Sam Rayburn in Texas.
Special congrats to the top money winners, in order, Jason McRae, Andrew Mixon, Drew Gregory, Stephen Nesler, Joseph Harrick, Jason Broach, and Christina Weber.
Until next time,
Stay Safe & Catch1