This is going to be a good year. In recent memory, I cannot recall feeling so enthusiastic, hopeful and confident in my fishing and career aspirations to begin a season.
The reason for this optimism is primarily due to moving back to Florida, where I'm able to resume my regular fishing regimen. That was something I was unable to maintain while living in California.
So far this year has seen a more consistent fishing schedule than I have experienced in a couple years, and I feel my fishing has already started to improve. With that being said, there are still some aspects of my game that the recent Bassmaster Southern Open on the Harris Chain revealed need some work.
Practice for this event was pretty rough. On 2 of the 3 days, I never caught a fish over 3 pounds, which pretty much means I wasn’t on anything.
I was catching plenty of small keepers and a limit didn’t seem to be an issue – especially on Lake Griffin, where I had decided to focus most of my efforts. The fish were everywhere from the shoreline to the middle of the lake, which made pinpointing the best pattern very difficult.
On the final day of practice I decided that I needed to find both an offshore spot that had post-spawn fish coming to it, as well as a shallow area that had pre-spawners and spawners coming in. Fortunately, with a focus on those two things, I was able to locate both a perfect offshore patch of hydrilla, outside of a spawning bay, as well as some prime Kissimmee grass stretches that were holding some quality fish.
Between those two areas on the final practice day, I had almost 20 pounds in short order. I found what I needed to at least have a shot.
Missed the Boat
I left the launch the first day with tempered optimism. I knew that there was quality in my two primary areas, even enough to possibly have a shot at winning, but things were constantly changing with fish moving in and out of different phases of the spawn. “Here today, gone tomorrow” was heavy on my mind.
The author moved up 96 places in the standings with a 19-11 sack on day 2 of the Harris Chain Bassmaster Southern Open.
After an hour and a half of running, idling and waiting for the lock to go to Griffin, I finally pulled up to my first stretch of Kissimmee grass. Everything seemed right, and it didn’t take long to get my first bite – a swing and a miss! It took almost a half an hour before I got my next bite, which was about a 2 1/2-ounder. It was beginning to sink in that the bite was considerably slower than the day before, and that things were changing, but I persisted with my flipping approach.
What happened next is a string of lost fish that I would only describe as extremely frustrating. In the span of 2 hours, I lost about six fish that would have brought my limit into the mid- to upper-teens. I didn’t just lose flipping fish, but I also lost the biggest bite of the day on the offshore hydrilla spot. It was nothing short of maddening.
I made the long run, idle, and lock back to Harris with a small limit weighing 8-11 and settled into my 127th-place position in the standings.
Big Bag or Bust
It was pretty clear that if I had any hopes of saving my chance at a check – let alone an Elite Series berth at the end of the year – I had to catch about 18 pounds to make up the ground needed. My shortcomings the day before weren’t due to my areas drying up, and I knew that there were still some quality fish there, but I needed to adjust my approach a bit to be able to capitalize on what was still swimming in the areas.
Instead of going directly to my flipping fish, I decided, with a little more wind and cloud cover, that I needed to try for a morning bite at the offshore spot. It turned out to be the correct move, and on the first cast of the day with a 1/2-ounce green-pumpkin ChatterBait Elite, I swung a solid 4-pounder into the boat. Good mojo!
Soon I found myself setting the hook on another keeper, and finally I got the big bite I needed and scooped a 5-pound pig into the boat, both on a lipless crankbait.
Though there were plenty of fish to still be caught in the offshore grass, that spot had become notorious for only producing a few fish at a time before you needed to let it rest for about an hour.
I headed to my best stretch of Kissimmee grass and started flipping. I almost immediately got my first flipping fish in the boat, though it was only about 2 pounds. Despite that bite, it still felt like something wasn't right. It was my belief that the big fish that were there in practice were now on beds and I needed to adjust the way I was approaching the area.
I followed my gut and changed my game plan. Instead of fishing the outside edge with a flipping stick in hand, I picked up a rod with a paddle-style grass swimbait, and 50-pound braid, and proceeded to a small boat lane on the inside edge of the Kissimmee grass that was nearest the shore and lined with arrowhead grass – prime spawning habitat.
On my first cast I got the little swimbait almost half-way to the boat when a massive wake torpedoed over and engulfed my lure. I set the hook and felt the line give out under the weight of the fish. I watched the fish, which was around 6 pounds, dart away. Without thinking twice, I put down that rod and picked up my Fitzgerald Rods “Okeechobee Rod” with 65-pound braid and tied on a carbon copy of the rig I just lost.
Two casts after re-rigging with a stouter set-up, another massive fish exploded on my presentation. This time I set the hook and brought a solid 6-pound stud into the boat.
I capped off the day with another stop at the offshore spot and culled my smallest fish with two solid keepers before I had to make the long trek back to the weigh-in.
When the scales hit 19-11, all I could think about was how similar I felt at the first Central Open last year when I came in with one fish the first day, and rebounded on day 2 with almost 17 pounds to save myself from a dismal points finish. This time, however, I didn’t narrowly miss a check; I actually finished 31st, which was well within the money cutoff, and I'm in a solid position for an Elite bid.
On both occasions I was proud of my relentlessness and my ability to make a big comeback after tough circumstances, as well as disappointed that I performed so poorly on the first day. However, I also understand that in fishing, as in life, the dismal days are unavoidable.
It’s how you approach the next day that really matters.
(Miles "Sonar" Burghoff is an aspiring tour pro and co-host of the TV series "Sweetwater." To visit his website, click here. You can also visit him on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube (SonarFishing) and Instagram (@sonarfishing).