When I look back and review my performance in any given season, my only hope is that Iím making progress and moving in the right direction.
In 2014 and 2015, I didn't myself a favorable assessment. Sure, I had the occasional decent finish, but overall I felt disconnected from the competitor I expected myself to be.
To me, great finishes, or the number of checks I cash in a season, donít determin the grade I give myself. Rather it's based on my decision-making under the conditions and how I handle challenges.
Winning is still the primary goal, of course, but in this sport itís so important to capture good momentum, even if that means weathering some mediocre finishes in the short term.
With my recent finish of 29th in the final Bassmaster Central Open of 2016 at the Atchafalaya Basin, I feel that my fishing once again has the right trajectory.
Road (and Air) Warrior
Going into the week of the Basin event, I had a pretty tight travel schedule. Iíd spent some time at home in California the week before, and the Saturday prior to the event, I had a good friendís wedding to attend.
After the wedding, I was only able to sleep a little over an hour before I drove myself to the Sacramento airport at 2 a.m.
I arrived in Dallas around 2 p.m., picked up my truck, and then headed down to Fin & Feather Resort on Toledo Bend, where we had recently filmed some episodes of Sweetwater, and where they were nice enough to let me keep my boat.
I made it down to Morgan City at 2 in the morning, exhausted and wired all at the same time.
The Notorious Bayou Black
With barely 2 1/2 days of practice time, I knew that I needed to make a decision on a general location I would concentrate my efforts on. Bayou Black was an obvious choice for the way I like to fish.
I arrived in Black on Monday at about 9 a.m., since I needed a couple hours of extra sleep after the drive. As soon as I got into the area I felt right at home. Some would be discouraged by the overwhelming amount of vegetation, but the mats of hyacinth, the plentiful patches of submerged vegetation and the canals lined with reeds were a sight for sore eyes.
I quickly found a solid pattern running submerged eel grass on the main river with a ChatterBait and a swimjig, though the size ceiling seemed to be around 2 pounds.
With the remaining day and a half of practice, I probed some of the dead-end canals in the area looking for a big bite. Though it never came, I found a couple canals that I felt had some potential for 3-plus-pounders.
I didnít feel a limit was an issue, but I was feeling the pressure when it came to quality.
Making the 35-mile run to my starting stretch of eel grass I was very confident in the type of pattern I was running.
That confidence started to wan as my fast-and-furious practice bite was reduced to a single keeper in almost an hour. However, realizing this was in fact a tidal fishery, I kept my cool and decided that I needed to stay focused until the current started to roll.
That patience paid off, and I quickly started getting more bites and even found one stretch that produced a full limit's worth of keepers on the Project-Z ChatterBait.
With a small limit in the well, I felt it was time to experiment for a big bite, so I started running some canals.
The second canal of the day turned out to be the turning point of the tournament for me. I had actually caught my biggest fish of practice Ė which wasnít saying much Ė while punching some of the hyacinth mats in this particular canal. However, what I didnít experiment with during practice was flipping the reeds that lined the canal.
After I realized that there was sufficient depth at the base of the reeds, things started to click,and my suspicions were confirmed after I flipped a solid 4-pound stud over the gunnel. That fish left me with a solid limit for the day, but I was unable to cull a ďsqueakerĒ 12-inch largemouth by the time I had to leave for weigh-in.
I finished the with 11-05.
Though I felt the main-river eel grass still had potential, I knew that I had something better in the canal where Iíd caught the kicker fish. My gut feeling about the canal was right and the bite was consistent, and it seemed that the quality was slightly better. It didnít take long to catch a limit and I kept culling up by ounces, but as the hours passed by, the kicker bite never came.
With a couple hours to go, I knew it was time to go experiment and make something happen.
I started running new water and caught some fish punching random canals, including a 20-pound flathead catfish that made me shake for a good 15 minutes after the fight.
With about 45 minutes left, I had one last canal I wanted to hit on the way back. Punching my way to the back of the canal, I had only 5 minutes to go when I picked up my Secret Lures MVP Swim Jig and ended up catching twin 2-pounders on back-to-back casts.
Back at the scales, I was the last to weigh in, and with a limit just shy of 10 pounds I secured a check and finished in 29th place, and it all happened in the last 5 minutes.
Progress, For Sure
Sure, 29th lace isnít a top-10 or a ďWĒ, but it was an important finish for me as far as the lesson I learned.
For over 2 years I have been struggling with who I need to be as a competitive angler, and I was trying to do things the way other guys do, forgetting the techniques and approaches to fishing that brought me success so far.
At this event I was able to confirm that my way of doing things is the right way for me, and I was able to break down one of the biggest bass fisheries in the country with less practice than any other semi-pro event I have fished, and come out with a solid check.
I didnít make the Elite Series, I didnít win an event, and I didnít even make a top-10 showing, but what I did do is turn the one-fish first day at the Arkansas River into a 17th-lace finish in points, and I did it my way.
For me, that is moving in the right direction.
(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).