By Todd Ceisner
The way the Bass Pro Tour season started for Brett Hite, it seemed as though the transition to the Major League Fishing format would be a smooth one.
He strung together three straight Knockout Round appearances to kick off the inaugural BPT season with the high point coming in the opener at the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, where he boated an MLF record 9-pound, 12-ounce lunker during the KO Round.
However, after the initial three events, Hite’s momentum fizzled as he had an average finish of 65th over the final five events and wound up 70th in points out of 80 competitors. He did qualify for one of the MLF Cups, but when the Elimination Round at Lake Winnebago concluded on June 27, his season was complete. Needless to say, it was a disappointing outcome for someone who’s been a fixture in championship events over the years, qualifying for six Forrest Wood Cups and five Bassmaster Classics.
“It was definitely a disappointing season,” Hite said Wednesday as he headed out on an elk hunt in Arizona. “It’s a little different format, but it still comes down to finding fish. Obviously, you want to find numbers, but at certain times of the year, certain lakes won’t be good as numbers lakes.
“I started out decent, but I never had a great tournament. I was feeling pretty good. When it went south, it’s not like I had bad practices, but things didn’t materialize during the tournament. Then you get behind on the ScoreTracker and it’s hard to catch up. I’d say at most of the tournaments I had good practices, but things didn’t go my way or I didn’t make the right decisions.”
Surprised by Struggles
Hite was one of 25 competitors in the BPT field this year with no previous experience with the MLF format, but he’s an accomplished grass fisherman, one of the top finesse anglers in the sport and has five tour-level victories, so he figured to be well equipped to handle much of what the schedule threw at the field.
As it turned out, the Kissimmee Chain and Lake Chickamauga were the only grass lakes on the docket. Shearon Harris Reservoir, the lake used for the Championship Round at Stage Three in Raleigh, N.C., was another, but Hite finished 35th at that tournament and didn’t get to compete on it.
Hite said he was surprised by his struggles over the course of the season. He ranked 68th in average pounds per competition day (22.19) and 74th in average fish caught per day (11.95).
“I thought it set up good for me, being a finesse style fisherman,” he said. “Besides the last tournament (at Lake Winnebago), a lot of them I had good practices, so it wasn’t like I struggled. I mostly picked the wrong area to start in and played catch up from there.”
Playing catch up in the MLF format was no easy task this season, but Hite is hopeful that the 2020 BPT schedule will allow him to capitalize on his strengths.
“Going forward, with the anglers having more say in where we’re going, it’s not going to be a dink fest,” he said. “You’re going to have to look at that body of water and decide if it’s either going to be a true little fish, numbers lake or a place where you throw a six-inch swimbait instead of a three-inch version. It’ll be about finding the happen medium of when to power fish and try to catch better ones and when to go straight finesse on them.”
’Got in a Funk’
When Hite tried to diagnose areas that may have contributed to his down season, he didn’t see a need to alter how he practiced for each tournament.
“I didn’t practice any different,” he said. “When I practice, I try to stay in certain areas of the lake so I’m not running all over. I try to find bunch of spots in, say, a five-mile stretch. I feel like I was efficient in that sense so I didn’t really change my practice (concepts) from what I’ve done before. I just got in a funk where it seems like all of the decisions you make are the wrong ones.”
A prime example was the second Table Rock Lake tournament, or Stage Seven. MLF officials altered the competition schedule by pushing the start times back several hours. Hite said he had plenty of fish found, but the timing of everything impacted his ability to target those spots effectively.
“When we launched at noon, the boat traffic had broken up those schools,” he said. “I’d go there and they’d been all scattered out. They were not on the brush like they had been. I went back the next day and was playing catch up. The fish were more grouped up, but I couldn’t make a run (up ScoreTrackler). It was too little, too late.”
In terms of areas he’d like to see MLF improve as an organization moving into year two of the BPT, Hite said he’d like to see it be “just a little bit more organized.” He’s also in favor of extending the schedule into the fall.
“It’s to be expected being thrown together as quickly as it was,” he said. “They did an unbelievable job for the time they had, and it’s only going to get smoother and smoother. Most of us didn’t really worry about it because we know it’s going to get better and better.”