B.A.S.S. OPEN - Tenn Tom Waterway, Columbus Miss.- Oct 10 - 16
Day One: This tournament will actually be our first on the Southern side of the BASS Opens due to the postponement of the Alabama Open with Hurricane Ivan. I have never fished the waterway before, but have fished on the lower section of the waterway that extends from Alabama into the Tombigbee. It was a BFL All American I fished in the early 90's out of Tuscaloosa, which was held on the Black Warrior river that feds into the waterway. This area is not part of the tournament waters and would be impossible to reach anyway. There is little info about the waterway, and there is really no maps of the system. So I don't know exactly what to expect when I get there. I have met Bump and Todd at an exit on I85 to convoy down to our hotel. Todd has some experience on the system, having fished the Elite 50 event there in the spring. After settling into our hotel, securing a fishing license, and a brief trip to locate the ramp, its between the sheets.
Day Two: My first day on the water will be more an exploration of what it has to offer. Its actually what it says, a waterway. Just a highway on water, build to make commercial barge traffic easier up the river. It basically three pools, with having the option to either lock down or lock up. Locking itself can be a gamble since commercial traffic take priority over recreational traffic. One could find themselves blocked by a barge in the lock. I decide to spend atleast the first day on the main center pool. Its really a small area, with only one or two fairly large backwater areas to fish. These areas contain standing timber, some milfoil, and alot of hyacinths. Its obvious the water has been up some, the hyacinths are floating everywhere. It makes knowing where you can and can't run hard, since some are up on the many shallow flats in the river, and some are in the main channels. You can go from 12 ft to 12 inches in a hurry here. And up on a stump too. What looks like a good creek or slough will quickly turn into a mud flat. Most area's will not be accessible by larger boats. I heard that the tournament will be won by someone who has access to backwater areas with jet boats or small jon boat type rigs. I think it will be true. I hate tournaments like this where someone who has more means to get a special boat over the field will be at a major advantage. The day will set the pace for the whole week, tough. This is going to be a crowded tournament, with little fishing success for most and limited access to water. The place seems void of many bass, with just getting a bite hard.
Day Three: The weather has taken a turn for the worse, with another Tropical storm on the horizon. It sets off the coast, with prediction of coming ashore tomorrow. Today will be blustery with bands of showers. The fishing hasn't gotten any better either. I do manage 3 keepers today, I'm really on them by this place standards ! Its amazing, the place looks really good, with alot of cover, and alot of baitfish everywhere. I heard there is a major stocking effort in place with the wildlife dept, it needs it.
Day Four: Rain and more rain. Tropical storm Matthew has come ashore. Nothing like struggling to get one or two bites in downpours. Or no bites. Today will be really tough on me, having not one bite all day. Everything looks good, with allot of shallow cover. But I just don't think the fish are here. Least not in numbers. Back at the hotel, and with a good hot meal to look forward to, nobody seems to be doing any thing fishing wise. It will wear you out mentally and physically struggling to get one or two bites a day. I'm coming here from Lake Champlain, one of the premiere and prolific fisheries in the country. I've gone from heaven to the Dead sea.
At the pairing meeting, everyone is moaning and groaning. Word is that 7 lbs aday will be good. Heck, a bite a day maybe good. Predictions are that the jetboats will dominate. My plan for tomorrow is to go to the area I had the 3 bites and fish. Mentally you have to be tough in a tough tournament. So I will just try and stay focused the whole day knowing that there is a few fish in the area. My first day co-angler is from Minnesota. He said he decided to fish this tournament because he thought it would be a good fall fishery. I tell him all we can do is go fishing. The forecast is for a cold front to blow thru, with some isolated showers.
Tournament Day 1: I draw boat number 141 out of 200. Not sure this is a tournament where having an early number will help, I need all the fishing time a day will offer. But it does allow me to sit back and watch the take off. Its interesting to see how many head for the locks or choice to stay in this pool. Its also interesting to see how many jetboats actually are in the tournament. By my count, there is more than I expected. And its interesting who is in one. The jetboat contingent will include Rick Clunn, Greg Pugh, Mark Menendez, Randy Howell, Jeff Magee, Kim Carver, plus several locals who are in the event.
My plan is to see if I can pick off a early topwater bite and then settle in and flip. The day goes better than I expect, having caught 4 keepers that put me in 24th place. I had one 2 lb fish on late in the day that would have given me my limit. Any lost fish in this tournament will be critical to the outcome with bites so few and far. 2 pounds would have moved me into the top 10. As predicted, the bite is off for most. Well, except Hackney, who will lead with 14 lbs. That's a huge bag today.
Tournament Day 2: Today is cut day, with only the top 50 moving on tomorrow. The weather has taken a turn for the worse, with the passing cold front. The temps hover in the mid 30's, with not a cloud in the sky. Post bluebird conditions will make today a struggle. My co-angler partner today is from Indiana. My plan is to stay in my one little area and see what it will produce again today. The day starts off good. I set up on a quality fish, that gets me wrapped around a cypress tree. I work to free and and luckily put it in the boat. Its a good 3 lb fish and my spirits and determination grow. The day will go slow, but good for both me and my co-angler. I manage to catch 4 keepers again today, and move up to 14th place. The good news is that I will fish tomorrow. And so will my co-angler. In fact he will make a huge move in the standing, going from blanking the first day to 2nd place overall, which also will include the big fish of the day on the co-angler side. He is ecstatic ! It just shows that being focused and staying in the game, how using an opportunity can change things when it comes if you adjust. I hope tomorrow will be my opportunity.
Tournament Finals: Its obvious the jetboats are playing a major factor in the tournaments, with several, such as Clunn, Pugh and Menendez leading the top part of standings. I tell my co-angler that I think my area should still produce. Its all I have, and I'm not going to change now. Its obvious there is or was atleast one good fish in the area. One big bite here can be as much as a limit. Its tight in the standings. I decide to start the day off again with topwater, trying to get a good bite early. Not long into the morning, as I'm working my buzzbait down the bank, my co-angler sets the hook on a fish, only to have it pull off. I ask him if it seemed like a good fish and he ignores me. I ask him again, and again he remains silent. I think nothing off it, perhaps he is just trying to refocus and regroup. After about 30 minutes of silence, except the ever presence of the "zzzzip" as I cast my buzzbait, my co-angler suddenly says "It was your fault". I turn to him and say "what was my fault"? Then he goes into the blame game as to how I caused him to loose that fish, which was atleast 2 lbs. I ask him how he figures I made him loose it? He snaps back "Cuz you are fishing too fast". Too fast for who? Lets see, I'm throwing a buzzbait, which means I'm fan casting the shoreline, and he choices to fish a slow bait, like a senko,and its my fault he loses a fish? At first, I don't take it too serious, thinking he's letting his disappointment of missing the fish overcome him. But after his continuous banter about how I cost him a two pound fish and how big that was, I just about had enough. When he fell into how I probalby cost him winning a boat, I guess I let him get into my head so I snapped at him saying "What ever grumpy ole man" and turned to try and re-focus on my task at hand. The bite is just too tough and far between to allow someone who has to blame someone other than himself for everything.
The day will be a long one, for more reasons than just the fishing. The topwater bite is off, and its bad enough having to hear someone constantly complaining "I'm fishing too fast for him". Fishing too fast for him? I didn't realize I was a hired guide today. I don't usually complain about my co-angler, in fact, I have never really met or fished with one that I didn't enjoy. But today will not be one of them with the constant whining. When I'm covering water, I'm fishing too fast for him. When I flipping, I'm being a hog and not leaving him anything to fish. Or I'm not giving him an opportunity to win. One thing after another. My thinking on this is I'm out here trying to make a living, feed my family. Its my job and I plan on doing it as well as I can. If I don't try and catch every fish I can, then I'm not doing it to the standard I should for me, my family and my sponsors. If I was a mailman, am I supposed to skip every 4th or 5th mailbox? Now I'm not going to do anything to purposely hinder a co-angler, but I'm not going to change my style for him either. I try to make the best of it, trying to remain friendly, since one is confined to a 20' x 5' space for 8 hours together. But I will admit, it tested my will. I let him get into my head. I hear so much how co-anglers blame or complain about how the pro did them wrong. Well, today, the shoe was on the other foot.
My bite seemed to have faded along with my mental game. I guess I had taken from all this area has to offer. I will end the day with only one small keeper and fall to 32th place, but still a check in a brutal tough tournament. Paul Elias will go on to win with a huge fish and weight for this place and conditions. The jetboat guys will dominate the top 10. My today's co-angler will go on to win a nice check but he still continues to blame me for his lack of even better success. My last words to him as we leave the ramp is to ask if he wants to help me out with some gas money. Something I always do to all with the current prices of gas, just ask. I guess it was only fitting that he again will cop an attitude about that too. Life's too short to allow such people to bother you. And thank God that only 1% that you met in this life have their &** on their shoulders.