Sometimes no matter how well you prepare, and no matter how many controllable factors you take into account, it’s just not your time.

The recent Bassmaster Northern Open on Douglas Lake in Tennessee was the first event of three in the division, and by virtue of a 74th-place finish in the 188-boat field I am once again in a precarious position when it comes to qualifying for the 2015 Bassmaster Elite Series.

I say “once again” because with one event to go in the Southern Opens I'm sitting in 34th in the standings, which means that I would need at least a Top-5 finish, and some of the anglers above me to stumble, to qualify through that division.

Though I am now in a tough spot in both divisions, there is still a chance, but the rest of the season needs to go off without another hitch.

Up and Down Douglas

I knew that Douglas would be an extremely challenging event. The lake is a unique TVA reservoir that fluctuates approximately 40 feet annually between winter and summer pools.

This massive water-level change makes the fish react differently than pretty much any other lake I've experienced. In general, the fish on Douglas stick to the depths year round and are reluctant to spend time in the shallows, even when presented with freshly flooded cover.

During practice I spent the majority of my time using my electronics, including my Navionics charts and my iPad with Google Earth images, to scour the most likely and least likely deep-water haunts. was unimpressed by what I found and was forced to look for patterns that others weren’t beating to death.

After turning to a rod instead of my sonar, I quickly was able to find two separate patterns that were fairly consistent throughout the lake – one fishing deep, rocky points and the other fishing isolated willow bushes in 8 to 12 feet of water. After getting dialed in on the two patterns, I accumulated almost 40 areas where I was able to get bites, but the size of the fish I was seeing was sporadic and usually on the smaller size in general.

I knew going into the event that my patterns were realistically only good for 12 to 15 pounds, but that was enough for a quality finish. I also knew that I was only looking at getting one or two quality bites a day, which in this event were in the 3 1/2-pund range

Up and Down Days

My minimum goal for day 1 was 12 pounds. I knew that if I achieved that, I would be in a solid position to get a decent finish.

Fishing was notably slower than practice on my rocky-point pattern, and the first half a dozen points I fished were duds. I quickly started running my secondary willow pattern and immediately started catching fish. I caught several right away, and then ended up losing my biggest bite of the day – a fish close to 4 pounds – in the mangled vegetation.

After running several of my best willow trees, I decided to make a run to an area upriver that had a little bit of both patterns to try for a big bite. The run was made in vain and I ended up coming back down to focus on my best points near the dam. The decision to back-track was a good one and I ended up culling several times, including catching a 3 ½-pound chunk that finished out my limit that totaled a little over 12 pounds. I had achieved my minimum goal and was in position to clinch the finish I wanted if I was able to follow up with another good bag.

Miles Burghoff
Photo: Miles Burghoff

Quality bites, like this one from practice, were hard to come by for the author during the Douglas Lake Bassmaster Northern Open.

My plan for day 2 was to focus on only the most productive part of the lake between Mud Creek and Flat Creek, and not waste time like I did the day prior by making a run up the river.

I started on my willow pattern and quickly caught a few small keepers. I was catching most of my fish flipping a tube, but heading to my favorite willow tree, placed in the back of a deep pocket, I switched to my signature series jig from Secret Lures – the 2X-HD Jig.

I opted for the 1-ounce model, hoping to get a reaction strike from some bluegill-eating lunkers, and this particular tree was the one I felt would be the best to start on. I ended up fishing all the way around it before I got the bite I was looking for. I set the hook on the biggest fish I had gotten since the first day of practice, and after fighting it for only a couple seconds, I felt the unfortunate sensation of slack line as my 25-pound fluorocarbon was sliced by the scaly willow branches.

Immediately after the realization that I had lost the biggest bite I had in the event, the fish, which was between 5 and 5 1/2 pounds, leapt out of the water in an effort to shake the jig, adding a heaping dose of insult to injury.

Though I'm usually really good at shaking off such losses, I was aware that more than one of that type of bite in the same day was a rare occurrence given what I was doing, and I would really need to work hard to make up for that fish.

As the day wore on the bite continued to die with both patterns and I was unable to make up for the loss in the morning. I came to the scales with a paltry 6-15 limit that landed me in the mediocre position of 74th.

My drive home was filled with frustrated reflection knowing that my 2015 Elite hopes were now in jeopardy.

Part of the Game

Though my 4-hour drive home from Douglas was one made in poor spirit, my mood has changed in the few days since.

All year I have had my mind set on one goal – to qualify for next year’s Elites. The realization that I might not be able to do so this year has been a tough pill to swallow, but I'm looking at it a different way.

The reality of this journey to the Elites is that it is not an easy one. You not only have to be fishing at an Elite-worthy level, but you also have to have the uncontrollable factors in fishing go your way. To finish in the Top 5 in points in any of the Open divisions is a quest that cannot tolerate any slip-ups, and unfortunately I have slipped up once in each division.

I am in no way out of the running to achieve my goal this year, but I know now that I cannot rush this, because I still have dues to pay before I get to the big leagues.

My life has been a series of serendipitous events. Sometimes I didn’t understand or enjoy what happened in the short term, but the long term revealed that those occurrences were all for the better. If at the end of the year I fall short of my goals I know that for whatever reason I wasn’t ready to make the leap, but not too far in the future my time will come.

Let’s see what the rest of the season brings!

(Miles "Sonar" Burghoff chronicles his quest toward becoming a tour-level angler in his Sonar Sound-Off column. To visit his website, click here. You can also visit him on Facebook and Twitter.