For the last couple weeks I have been on the road, just enjoying my new school-free life and fishing multiple tournaments throughout the south.
So far I have completed half of the tournaments I had scheduled – the FLW College Fishing Southeastern Conference Championship on Lake Wylie and the Oakley Jason Williamson Big Bass Classic on Lake Murray – and I also entered a 2-day BFL Super Tournament on High Rock Lake.
I can’t really break down all three of the events in such a short column, so I'll just go over the BFL and the College Fishing event for now and save the Oakley event for a later write-up.
Carolina Marine To The Rescue
After I got back from Alaska, I gave myself a day to pack for my month and a half long fish-a-thon, and then made my way up to Lake Wylie for a little pre-practice before the 9-day off limits period.
Casey O’Donnell and I got our few days of practice in on Wylie, but as soon as he left (and since I wasn’t allowed to drop a line in Wylie), I immediately started thinking about where I wanted to fish in the meantime.
First, however, I had some major engine problems I needed to tend to and I went looking for a mechanic in the area. It was pure luck that the first guy I ended up running into was Parks Jones of Carolina Marine, because he became an instant ally and dropped everything else he was doing to get me up and running again.
It was also fortunate that I met Parks because he told me about a 2-day BFL on High Rock that weekend.
I knew I had to fish that BFL.
When I got to High Rock, the only thing I knew about the lake was that it was notorious for fishing relatively shallow, with docks being a primary cover choice for quality bass. After 2 days of practice I'd found a solid pattern involving burning a Secret Lures 3/8-ounce MVP Swim Jig around floating docks, primarily in a creek called Abbott’s.
I was catching 14 pounds a day, with both a white and candy-craw colored swimjig, but I wasn’t seeing the 5-plus pound fish I knew I needed a shot at to win. Nearing the end of the final day of practice I felt like I was spinning my wheels a little, continuing to see the same kind of quality. I then remembered the presence of 5- to 6-inch gizzard shad I had noted the day before around some docks positioned over deeper water in Abbott’s Creek.
After remembering that, I knew in my gut that I needed to go back with a swimbait that I could burn around those docks. I ended up digging a Yum Money Minnow out of the bottom of my boat, rigged it onto a 7/0, 1/4-ounce Secret Lures Meat Hook and high-tailed it back to Abbott’s.
The author caught a bag weighing more than 20 pounds on day 2 en route to winning a BFL Super Tournament at High Rock Lake in North Carolina.
When I got back to that area, my second cast ended up producing my first fish over 4 pounds. I knew it was on!
Goin’ To Work
The first day of competition went a little slower than I had expected. The morning bite went well, and I had caught four fish very quickly on the swimjig, but I experienced a pretty surprising lull between 9:30 and noon when I didn’t catch a single keeper. At a little past noon that all changed and I caught my biggest fish of the day, a 3 3/4-pounder.
After that, I decided to put down the swimjig and picked up the swimbait and went to work around my deep docks. Though I didn’t catch any giants, I was able to cull about five times with the swimbait and ended the day in 3rd place with 15-12.
Day 2 started off extremely slow, and by 10:30 I only had one keeper from the swimjig. That's when I made the decision to forget about just trying to catch a limit and go for a big bag. I ended up picking up the swimbait and went back to my deep docks.
It didn’t take long for me to realize I'd made the right decision because I immediately caught two fish over 3 pounds. For the rest of the day I just absolutely obliterated big fish after big fish rotating between my best deep docks.
My two biggest fish were about 5 pounds apiece and I had two that were close to 4 pounds and a solid 3-pounder. I even broke off the biggest fish I had seen all week right next to the boat – a beast that my co-angler and I both estimated to be at least 6 1/2 pounds – and believe me, we got a good look at her since she shook her big ol’ jowls several times at us trying to get that swimbait dislodged from her throat.
Driving to Wal-Mart for the weigh-in, I was a bit nervous because I heard of several local legends who had caught some “giant” bags too. Despite a little bit of sweating, I ended up closing it out with my bag that weighed 20-13, and my 2-day total was over 3 pounds heavier than the next competitor.
It's one of those wins I'll always cherish, and it was a true honor to be able to hold my own against such local sticks.
Back At Wylie
Although I had just won a large regional tournament and I was in a much better financial situation, my mind was a mess and my focus was fractured going into the FLW College Fishing Southeastern Conference Championship. I'd been dealing with some personal issues involving one of my best friends from California, and being on the road alone made the situation even worse.
During the official practice day I can honestly say Casey and I just wasted our time. We knew our areas we had found 9 days before weren’t going to hold up to the changing fall conditions, but still we wasted most of our time focusing on the same stuff.
As the tournament approached, I started to feel a little better and got into fishing mode, but I knew that our pitiful practice was going to damage our chances of making the Top.
Day 1: Fishing Pre-Practice
The first day of the event was a huge grind. We spent most of the day on some of our offshore structure with Carolina rigs, but only caught two fish by 11:30.
We ended up leaving our offshore stuff and ran down to the back of one of our favorite creeks and immediately caught two fish under docks with a Secret Lures green-pumpkin Stupid Tube.
After that we struggled on the dock-bite and we decided to run back up to some offshore stuff and throw a Carolina rig to catch one more keeper. It didn’t take long for us to fill out the limit but we were unable to cull after that.
We ended the day in 9th place with 7-12 after a half-pound dead-fish penalty.
Day 2: Adjusting .. Finally!
The second day was also a grind, and by 1:00 we only had one small fish. This is when we actually started to think clearly and fish according to the current conditions and not practice.
Burghoff and partner Casey O'Donnell ended up 5th at the FLW College Fishing Southeastern Conference Championship.
We ended up going to the back of a creek we briefly visited in pre-practice – a creek that we knew would be a great spot once the shad made it all the way back.
Once we got in there, we immediately knew it was the right move and we filled out our limit very quickly, including a 3-pounder that Casey had caught on a ChatterBait.
I can honestly say that I believed there was no way that we would make the Top 5 with what we had, but it slowly became apparent that we might have a shot – but it would be close.
Heading up to the stage I couldn’t remember the last time I was so nervous to weigh in. When the scales settled at 8-05 – a mere 3 ounces more than what we needed – Casey and I both were so excited and relieved.
Day 3: In The Groove (Sort Of)
Going into the final day, Casey and I both knew we had a good spot at the back of that creek where the actual creek dumped off into a deep-water pond. We went straight back to that creek first thing in the morning.
We caught three solid fish, including a 3-pounder, very quickly on spinnerbaits and a Strike King Red- ye Shad, and then decided to venture to uncharted waters in search of some bigger fish.
Needless to say, we didn’t find our “bigger” fish, so we ended up going back to our starting spot with a couple hours left and finished out our limit. Although our 11-01 bag was by far our biggest of the event, we ended up where we started the day in 5th place.
Although we'd failed put ourselves in contention for a win, both Casey and I felt good about making the National Championship, and I felt good because I didn’t have to call my college fishing career quits just yet.
Still On The Road
Moving on to the next several Oakley Big Bass tournaments, I'm fairly happy with my focus and how I'm fishing. Even though I'm not totally satisfied with my performance at the College Fishing event, I feel that I'm in a good place as far as my overall fishing and decision-making.
This is a very good thing, since I still have a lot of traveling to do, and still a couple more Oakley Big Bass events to go.
It’s just too much fun being on the road!
Miles "Sonar" Burghoff is a recent graduate of the University of Central Florida and the winner of the 2011 BoatUS Collegiate Bass Fishing Championship. He's an aspiring professional angler who writes a regular column for BassFan. To visit his website, click here. You can also visit him on Facebook and Twitter.