Well, the 2013 season is under way, and although it's only a little past the midway point of January, I've already put two tournaments astern – a Gator Division BFL and the first Southeastern EverStart on Lake Okeechobee. Despite the fact that I cashed a check in both, with several missed opportunities staining my performance, I left the Sunshine State somewhat unsatisfied with the trip as a whole.
Here’s how the two tournaments went down.
I found out a couple weeks before I was to head down for the EverStart that there was a BFL being held the week before. It made sense to go ahead and fish it since I'd be out practicing anyway, as well as it being a good opportunity to get a little warmed up.
Instead of driving straight to Okeechobee from my new home in Guntersville, Ala., I first had to take a detour over to Louisiana to pick up my new boat for the season – the Oakley Big Bass Tour’s Nitro Z-8, wrapped in Oakley’s Infinite Hero graphics. Infinite Hero is a fundraising program to help battle mental and physical ailments experienced by our soldiers and their families. It was a detour I was happy to make, and was excited to get all my gear organized in my new "office. "
I had 3 days of practice at my disposal before the BFL, and for the first 2 1/2 I couldn’t figure anything out that would be of any value. Finally, right at the end of the third practice day, I found some hydrilla and hyacinth mats in the Harney Pond area that I felt held the right size and quantity I needed for 1-day event.
Big Fish Lost
Though I hadn’t spent much time fishing the mats in the Harney Pond area, I knew by the bites I'd coaxed in practice that I was around the fish to put together a decent limit. Still, I was eager to see what the area could produce.
The first fish I wrestled out of the slop was a 6-pounder. After that, despite the fact that I had complete confidence in the area, things ended up getting a little ugly.
I had caught my limit and had culled several times. However, I was having trouble getting some of my fish through the mats with the big 1 1/2-ounce weight I was bombing the grass with. Two of the fish I lost were in the 6- to 7-pound class and I'd lost a couple other decent ones.
Here's a picture of the Oakley Infinite Hero-wrapped boat that the author will compete out of this year.
Fortunately I’m pretty stubborn, so I kept at it, and finally I was able to catch another fish close to 6 pounds right before I had to get back to the scales. Despite my missed opportunities I ended the day with 18 1/2 pounds of Big O bass and finished 7th in the 200-boat field
Even if I'd gotten all my bites in the boat, I still wouldn’t have won, so at the end of the day I was somewhat satisfied with the finish and the fact that I just covered my gas expenses for my trip to Florida.
In the days leading up to my first EverStart, if you were to ask me how I felt about my chances I would've said something like, “If I were to catch less than 20 pounds a day, I would be very disappointed.” I can laugh at that now that I’ve fully chewed up and swallowed my humble pie, but before the tournament, I was dead-serious.
The days following the BFL only got better and better. Not only were my mat fish still there and biting, but I'd found several other areas within close proximity to each other that had both quality and quantity. One of the areas I found was a large stretch of reeds adjacent to a spawning flat where I caught three fish – each about 7 pounds – within about 10 flips.
The morning of the first day I was really excited and eager to see what I could producem especially from that stretch of reeds. Since it was on the way to the Harney Pond area, I figured I would give it a shot in the morning, catch a big fish or two, then move on.
One hour passed, and to my despair I had not even one tiny keeper to show for the time lost. I rushed down to the Harney Pond area, fully aware I had just put myself behind the 8-ball.
I pulled up to an area that I had found the last day of practice that I felt had good potential. It had a mixture of hydrilla, reeds and hyacinth. It was just going to be a really quick stop.
Ten minutes in I would experience the first of many heartbreaking losses when I set the hook on a fish that my co-angler and I estimated to be close to 10 pounds. It was a quick and desperate fight, and unfortunately the fish ultimately won the battle and pulled free after merry-go-rounding a clump of reeds.
In the next few hours I experienced similar heartbreak when I lost two other giant fish in the mats. I ended the day extremely disappointed with my small 11 1/2-pound limit.
I knew with the weights so close I'd have a good shot to make the Top 10 if I was able to get my big bites in the boat. I was eager to get down to Harney Pond and fish there all day.
Six hours came and went, and I was dumbfounded! I hadn’t caught a single fish out of my mats.
I finally accepted at 2 o'clock that the mat bite had died, which more than likely meant a wave of spawners had hit the flats. I quickly rushed up to a spawning area I had kept under my hat in case of an emergency and pulled out a Skinny Dipper. Within an hour and a half I had caught my limit and culled three times to reach my 13-11 bag.
Although I had rebounded and had moved twenty places up to finish in 38th ut of 177 anglers, I was very disappointed with the day. Though I didn’t lose any big fish, I sure was slow on adapting with the changing conditions.
Looking back now, there are several things I would have done differently. However, I really feel that I fished well and kept my intensity level up even after such devastating losses on the first day. You just have to accept the fact that even if you have the best equipment at your disposal and you are fishing clean, you still can lose fish in that heavy cover.
So, now that I’ve got my rookie jitters out of the way, I'm really excited to move on to the next event at Lake Guntersville. But before that, I'm headed back to California to spend some time with my girlfriend, Katie, and my mom.
This is going to be a good year!
> Flipping gear: 7’6” Quantum Smoke Flippin’ Stick (1/2 to 1-ounce weight) or 8' Wright & McGill Tessera Flippin’/Punchin’ Rod (1 1/2 to 2-ounce weight), Quantum Smoke 151 casting reel , 70-pound Daiwa Samurai braided line, 4/0 Trokar TK-130 hook, Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver (black and blue).
> Skinny DippergGear: 7’6” Quantum Smoke Flippin’ Stick, same reel, 50-pound PowerPro braid; 1/2-ounce lead weight (pegged), 6/0 Trokar Magworm hook, Reaction Innovations Skinny Dipper (Houdini or Cali 420).
Miles "Sonar" Burghoff is a 2012 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.