As much as I think I know which lakes I'll have a good event at, I’m always surprised at how the venues that are seemingly outside of my wheelhouse ultimately yield solid results. Conversely, it's often the case that the tournaments I get too comfortable with end up resulting in a poor finish.
Such was the case with the two final FLW Pro Circuit Super Tournaments on the Mississippi River and Lake Erie.
Lowering My Guard
Leaving my driveway in Tennessee, my expectations for how the northern swing would go was the following scenario: I'd post a solid finish at the Mississippi River utilizing my shallow-water power-fishing prowess, and then I would have to work extremely hard to overcome my lack of experience in Great Lakes smallmouth fishing in order to leave Lake Erie with a check.
The one thing I felt very confident in was that I would be able to give myself a good cushion for a TITLE Championship berth at the Mississippi, so I could just coast at Erie.
Well, needless to say, I ended up relearning a very important lesson at the Mississippi. In boxing terms, that lesson was to always keep my hands up – no matter how confident I am.
Pulling into La Crosse, I was so supremely confident that I could tap into my extensive shallow-grass experience to be competitive that I didn't even care to do much research. I figured that a frog rod would be all I needed. Though I wasn’t that far off the mark with that assumption, the fact that I was already limiting my potential with such pre-conceived notions and complacency was a recipe for disaster that I should have recognized.
In the end, my narrow-minded practice, and the fact that I neglected to monitor water levels, left me scratching my head during the first day of the event when my frog bite died and I had nothing else to fall back on. I ended the day with one keeper to weigh in.
The second day I was able to recover a little bit with a decent limit by fishing the moment and plying different tactics, but the damage was already done. I left the venue that I was convinced was a “sure thing” with the worst multi-day finish of my career, landing in 157th place.
I forgot to keep my hands up, and for that I deserved every numeral of my triple-digit finish.
Great Lakes Rebound
With my terrible performance at La Crosse in the rear-view, my sights were now on Erie and I was highly motivated to not make the same mistakes.
Practice was a challenge, to say the least. With the event launching from Sandusky and some of the most notorious smallmouth waters being 80-plus miles away in Lake St. Clair, it was difficult to decide where to put my focus.
In the end, I had some good success on St. Clair and had found the Sandusky area to be a suitable area to catch some largemouth, but I had nothing in between.
The biggest decision that ended up setting the tone for the event was made on the first day, when I finally decided to take the gamble and make the 95-mile run (each way) to St. Clair. Not only was it risky due to the distance, but also because that first day the wind was pretty strong, which meant that I would have even less fishing time to catch my weight.
Ultimately, I made the run, and it took exactly 3 hours and 2 minutes before I was able to put my MotorGuide Tour Pro in the blue-green waters of St. Clair, which left me with about 2 1/2 hours of fishing time.
Fortunately, I was able to scratch together a limit worth 14-08, which landed me in a decent position going into the second day.
After braving the treacherous waters of day 1, and with much calmer conditions on day 2, I once again made the trek to St. Clair. With a little more fishing time, I was able to improve my weight by over a pound despite losing three giant smallmouth.
The third day, I made a decision that I still partially regret – I decided to punt and stay in Sandusky Bay for largemouth. At that point I had already secured the championship berth and the weather was considerably worse than even day 1, which all factored into my decision. However, in the end I regretted it because I could only muster four keeper largemouth, which landed me in 35th place.
Despite partially regretting day 3's conservative move, I am very proud of this event because it challenged me in many ways, including overcoming my lack of experience fishing for smallmouth, as well as making epically long runs.
Eye Toward the TITLE
Though the last two events didn’t go as I had imagined they would on the drive up north, I'm very happy with the results. I didn't knock it out of the park by any means, but I took an incredibly disappointing finish and translated that into positive motivation that carried me to a great rebound.
To me, one of the biggest challenged we face as competitors is taking the “bombs” in stride and learning how to use them as positive learning experiences. I think I overcame that challenge pretty well this month.
Now, I have my eye on the first ever FLW TITLE Championship on Sturgeon Bay, and I can’t wait to put the work in and overcome new challenges.
(Miles "Sonar" Burghoff is an FLW Pro Circuit competitor and the 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).