Bassmaster Eastern Open #1 – Harris Chain Of Lakes – Leesburg, FL
The first Bassmaster Open is in the books. It was an event that I feared for multiple reasons. First, it was the first Bassmaster Open I had ever fished as a Pro. The first time I had got to make all of the decisions for the day. It was all new. While I had already fished as a co-angler for 3 years, and knew what the format brought to the table. I had no clue as to what my first tournament would be like. My second fear was that I would be fishing home water. The Harris chain is only 40 minutes from my home. I got to sleep in my own bed for this tournament, which was great! However, fishing water in a large tournament adds tons of pressure. It makes you want to fish history and put together game plans that include all of the what ifs and maybe I should do that. It really was a big fear going in to this tournament.
Practice for the event went really well. I knew most of the field would be sticking to fishing offshore grass during this tournament. It is a common tactic used to catch fish during the spawn because you will be catching fish that are moving up to bed and fish that have spawned and will be heading back to feed up on shad. I decided to separate myself from this scenario to find fish that could be potentially more consistent and far less pressured. Lake Griffin is usually a big player when it comes to pre-spawn and during the spawn. This particular tournament, there were far less people fishing Lake Griffin during practice then in previous years. I decided to check some of the offshore grass I previously relied on and didn’t get a bite in multiple hours of practice. Finding this weird, I ran up the Ocklawaha River to check for a bite in the pads along the river. One thing I noticed was a lot of current and no boat traffic. I put together a pattern of bites along bull rush that stuck out and created current breaks. I was very confident and really felt this was my best opportunity. In 3 hours of practice in that area, I never saw one boat run by. It was exactly the type of water I wanted to find.
Tournament Day 1
Day 1 was cancelled due to a major cold front that moved in with high winds and bad lightning and thunderstorms. I applaud tournament director, Chris Bowes, for his decision to hold us back for safety concerns with the inclement weather rolling in around 3am. This made it to where we would have to fish a full field on Friday and Saturday with no top 12 cut.
Tournament Day 1.5
My plan for the first day was to run to Lake Griffin, but having a late boat number I thought that it would be a long wait to get through the lock in Haines Creek. So, I decided to run to the Palatakaha River on Lake Harris. It was about 40 degrees out and making a 15 mile run did not sound like fun at all. I pitched a senko and buzzing frog around tree limbs and was able to catch a couple of small fish but nothing to exciting. I only spent about 40 min there and decided the lock should be less crowded. I made my run all the way up the river almost to the Moss Bluff lock. I flipped pads and bull rush along the river edge and was able to catch about 8 pounds worth of fish. I lost 4 or 5 fish that would have helped substantially. Running short on time I locked back through and had a little extra time to spare. I then stopped to fish a chatterbait over eel grass in Dead River to use my time efficiently. After about 3 Casts I hooked a 5 pounder, put it in the livewell and made it to check in with about 2 mins to spare. The first day I ended up in 49th Place with 12Lbs 13oz.
Tournament Day 2
After having a good day on day 1, I knew with a lower boat number I needed to get through the lock quickly. So, I ran straight to Lake Griffin. While at the lock I made one big mistake. I originally planned to fish some offshore grass on Lake Griffin before heading up the river. I believed my fish up the river needed time to warm up and get fired up with a little sun. I heard some of the guys talking about heading up the river and got spooked. So, rather than going with my gut. I panicked and ran up the river to early. All of the bites I ended up getting up the river had gone small. They ended being just short of 12 inches every time. It turned out I stayed to long. Everytime I would think about leaving, I would get a bite and it would bring me back in. With 30 min left to fish before having to go to the lock, I went to my offshore grass patches. When I pulled up within 10 min, my co-angler caught a 3 pounder and I caught one about 2.75 pounds. It became apparent that the cold weather had set in and moved the fish up in the grass. I ran out of time and had to go lock through. Unfortunately, my poor decision cost me a check in this tournament. I was only able to weigh in one fish and it dropped me down to a finish of 139th Place.
I learned a lot from this one event. I feel that had I not listened to the people around me at the lock and stuck with my game plan, it may have been a different outcome. Looking forward to this being the first of many lessons this season. Looking forward to the next stop in May on Lake Chickamauga in Dayton, TN!