Day One: The drive to Florence is pretty uneventful. Usually going thru Atlanta means traffic jams and headaches. I met a good friend that will be staying with me at the BPS. We go in, buy some tackle, like we really need it, and get back on the hard top. Even though this is the Everstart Championship, I don't look forward to fishing Pickwick. I don't have a good history there and don't think its a great fishery. Every time I have been there, which last time was for an Everstart Championship in 2001, the weights have been low and the field full of zeros. I hear excuses like its the weather, the falling water, this and that. Its just because there isn't that many fish in there. It also means that you will either have to make a long run or lock thru. I hate tournaments like this, I like to be able to just go fishing. The time changes tonite, so I will gain two hours. One for Central time and one for Daylight Savings.
Day Two: We awake to a frost on our boats. What a change, when I left home we were experiencing record high temps. There is a thick fog. Today I plan on fishing Lake Wilson. It will mean that I will have to lock during the tournament. I like Wilson better because it has alot more shallow options to fish, docks, grass, wood and rip rap. Its also usually more stable with water levels. Today I will manage 3 keeper fish, which has to be atleast 15" in size. I found a little area of schooling fish, but there will be alot who find these fish between now and tournament start.
Day Three: The plan today is to fish down river in Pickwick. The fog is thick, but I will trailer there while the fog lifts. Pickwick is low, well, least low today. It could be up one day, down the next, but I think they are currently dropping it to winter pool. That doesn't leave much cover shallow to fish. Today will not be very productive size wise, but numbers wise I have a good time. I will catch atleast 20 fish today. Bad news is that not one will measure 15".
Day Four: Its back to Wilson. Least I can fish and be happy there, even if the fish are not biting. I check my schooling fish, no show. Perhaps the cold weather snap has moved the shad deeper, or perhaps the fishing pressure has sore mouthed them. What ever reason, they are gone. I fish around the Wheeler dam some, hit some docks and grass. I manage 2 keepers today. Its a short day, off to the pairings meeting and dinner. There is really no choice here but to plan on locking to Wilson and just fish.
At the meeting, everyone is whining about the fishing. Well, most anyway. Those who are planning on a long run feel good about their chances. If the fog allows us to go out in time. Seems the talk is that Wheeler is the place to be. That means locking twice and making a long run. Rumor also has it that the bite in Bay Springs is good. That means a 180 mile round trip. In my younger days, I wouldn't think twice about such a run, but I would rather fish than be running. I'm still set on Wilson.
Before the official meeting starts, I decide to take my goody bag to the truck. There is a group of people around the check in table and some discussion going on. Seems a group of guys were late to the registration meeting and have officially been disqualified. Bummer. Even worse, they are all from California. Man, I hate to know I spend 36 hours driving here, fishing for three or four hard days, then getting disqualified for being late to the registration meeting. But there is some who are happy. I over hear a guy sitting near me during the meeting telling his buddies that he is in the tournament due to someone getting disqualified. One mans lost is another mans gain. The meal is pretty good and the meeting is long with everyone having to speak, from FLW officials to Florence politicians. Seems like forever before my number is called. My trend remains, I get a high number for the first day, boat number 183. It means that if we do have a fog delay, I will atleast still have time to fish Wilson.
Tournament Day One: The first thing I do when I wake up is look out the window to see if there is fog. Yep, and thick. No way will we go out on time. My co-angler partner for today is also staying at the hotel, so it makes meeting easy. She is from Ohio. Yes, she. When I go to the office to get a cup of coffee, she is putting her gear into the boat. We exchange morning greetings and settle into heading toward the ramp. The closer we get, the thicker the fog. On the way there, my co-angler brings up the topic of "when nature calls" out on the water. I tell her I will accommodate her in any way she wants. I also tell her that don't be too embarrassed to ask because I live with a house full of women, that being my wife and two teen age daughters. She laughs.
During a fog delay, you hear alot of fish tales old and spun. We are launching from inside the big Florence harbor, where alot of really big yachts transient. I have tied up next to a really big one. While I get out on the dock to stretch my legs, a older gentleman steps out from the ships living quarters. He ask if I have a moment, which unfortunately due to the fog, I do. He is really curious about what is going on and the purpose of the large gathering of boats is. I will spend a delightful 30 minutes teaching him the in's and out's of tournament fishing while he educates me on the carefree life of living from marina to marina sitting sail on the intercoastal waterways of America. Finally, after about a 90 minute delay, the call is heard to prepare for take off.
Once our number is called, its only a brief ride to the lock. Its kind of neat seeing all the wide eyed co-anglers who have never seen or have experienced locking. What makes this so eye opening is that the Lock into Wilson is the second highest rise and fall in the world, about 9 stories. I hear one guy say that the lock contains 93 million gallons of water at full elevation. So after a 90 minute wait, I find myself again waiting to fish. Its always interesting to see who is in the lock. You can hear the more vocal personalities. Charlie Hartley is tied up a couple boats over from me. We greet and both remember that this is where we first met, during a BASS Tour event, sitting right here in this lock. I remember fondly how Charlie was like a little kid on the way to some exciting destination, up and down from his seat, on the deck, back to the motor, constantly a blur of energy. Some things never change!
Once the lock master gives us our instructions and return time, the doors begin to open. Its like the pearly gates to the promise land slowly giving way to the dark depths of the huge chamber. It will turn into the parting of the Red sea and with all its fury.
Since I was one of the last boats to arrive at the lock, I will be one of the last to exit. Blame it anticipation from the wait, lack of knowing better, or just sear unsportsmanship, but the race is on. There is a no wake zone for about 70 yards beyond the lock, but the first line of boats ignore it and it creates a follow the leader effect. It also creates one rough ride from the waves bounces off the lock walls and concrete platforms. By the time I reach the entrance, the waves are atleast 6 feet high. There is a FLW camera boat that had put in Wilson, positioned itself to film the exit of the boats into Wilson. It gets more than it bargained for as the waves quickly swamp the boat, knocking the camera man almost out of the boat.
When I finally reached my fishing area, its apparent that I was not the only one to find the schooling fish. I decide to begin our fishing day here anyway. After about 30 minutes, I have had all the crowd I can handle. I decide to go try a bluff pattern and quickly land a keeper. After about 4 or 5 shorts, I decide its back to the schooling fish to see if the crowd has thinned out. No such luck. I decide to go flipping and will land another keeper. We have to be back to the lock by 1:30, a short day. I overheard most saying that they were continuing on this morning to lock out of Wilson into Wheeler. That meant a very short day for them, only about 3 hours fishing time. Good news is that once we lock back into Pickwick, I will have about 2 hours. Bad news is that I have nothing close to fish, so the plan is to run some bluff banks. It will pay off, as I will catch my third and final keeper of the day. My co-angler keeps saying that I will be in the top 10 with it, I have my doubts, maybe the top 20. But when we were here last time, it only took 7 lbs to get a check, and I may have that now. Plus with the short day, the weights should be off. Wrong.
My three fish will top the scales at 6.7 lbs and put me in 35th place. Amazing they caught them this well under the circumstances. Well, if you call 5 limits and 5 lbs at 50th place well out of 200 boats.
Tournament Day Two: My co-angler partner today is from NC. He is excited with the prospect of me having caught 3 keepers yesterday, with his chances of catching some fish. He managed one keeper yesterday and finds himself in the top 15. He probably already has secured a check, but one or two keepers today could move him into the top 10. He's also excited about going thru the lock. He has never done it before and plans on having his wife go up there and watch from the viewing platform. She will have to wait because we are again under a fog delay.
The fog delay allows us to hear and share war stories from the day before. Several guys talked about running a ground in the fog, some even getting stranded from the falling waters. I heard that Pat Fisher's boat was still stuck somewhere behind Seven Mile Island because during the high water he got across a flat, but once the water fell, he became trapped. What was even more interesting was learning how far some of the guys were running. Word was that 3 of the top 10 had run over 180 miles to Bay Springs to fish. And some had spend 3 hours locking and running to Lake Wheeler. But it seemed to be paying off. I also heard that one guy who was in the top 5 got all stuff stolen while he was fishing. Everything, including his clothes and gear. Several had to give him clothes and tackle. I've been there before, at this same location, having been broken into on a previous trip here. What's ironic about it is that the town officials constantly go on and on about how they lay out the red carpet and the police force is the best in the land. I guess you can say a few bad apples can spoil the entire town. But having experienced it myself, the gut wrenching discovery of the deed, its will drop you to your knees. I can also script exactly what will happen with the guy who got his stuff stolen, the mayor will give him a sympathy note from the city, along with a hat and a town seal pin. All I wanted was to tell me you caught the low life's. Finally the call to prepare for take off. I'm boat number 18 today, which means I will get to the lock first, and have to wait till the last flight gets there.
The plan today is to pick up my Skeet's Custom flipping stick and fish docks. If I can land one or two keepers, I'm sure I will get a check. When I arrive at my starting docks, I quickly notice that the current is pulling from the back of the creek like someone pulled the plug in a bathtub. I will continue flipping, watching my jig be swept each time under the docks. I decide that perhaps with so much current, a spinnerbait will generate a reaction strike. After about 4 or fives docks with the blade, my co-angler will land a nice 2.6 lb keeper while flipping a doodle worm past a dock. Dang I hate those fairy wand tactics, but they will catch fish. With the current moving, I decide to go to the bluff walls. It paid off yesterday, but not today. I will land a couple near keeper fish, but nothing else. I can't help but keep thinking how just one big fish would go along way, and this is one of the only ways I know to get it. It seems like I just got started when my co-angler will remind me that we need to go as to not be late for the lock. I can't believe I will lock down without a keeper. And only a few minutes time left to fish once I get to Pickwick.
That's how my day, tournament and Everstart season will end. There will be over 100 blanks today. And people ask me why I list Pickwick as my least favorite fishing destination on my bio's.