Day One: The drive from Lake Wheeler to West Point is about 5 hours. The traffic in and around Birmingham is not too bad. 5 hours is long enough to do nothing but dwell on the one fish that got off the last day, a good 3 pound fish. A $3,000 fish because I missed a check by just over a pound. Time to forget it and focus on the West Point Everstart.
I have fished West Point before, in 1990 and do have some good memories of the lake. It was a Red Man Regional and I made my first All American then. Back then the lake had a 16" size limit and no spotted bass. Now it is known more as a spotted bass fishery and has a smaller creel size. Back then it was also fall, and I ran way up the river to catch my fish. When I arrive at my hotel, I notice that I was lucky to have made it there. Seems I have a trailer hub gone bad. Great. I doubt the Ranger service crew will be in town from the FLW until early Monday. I will have to limit my practice until then to the closest ramp, which is the lower end. I had planned on fishing the upper end. Today I will manage a small limit, around 10 pounds. I will gladly take that every day from what I remember of the lake.
Day Two: I will fish close again, checking back to see if by luck, the Ranger truck is here. No such luck. I’m sure my hub is about to lock up. Today I will struggle. I did see a few fish on the beds, but they were extremely spooky. Back at the hotel word is that there was a big local tournament today and it took 23 lbs to win and 15 to cash. I didn’t know this lake had that kind of fish. There was alot of boat traffic today. The lake is alot like Lake Martin, with one main lake area and numerous arms. Its mostly a clear lake, with an upper river somewhat colored and allot of current.
Day Three: Today I will start up river, then move back to the take off marina in hopes Ranger is there. I will catch several fish on topwater, mostly small spots. I did manage to find a little floating worm pattern that I think will work. Back at the marina, Ranger service crews are there. I can leave my trailer, go fish the lower end some more. When I come in, Lee has my trailer good as new, ready for the long haul. These service support crews, like Ranger provides, are critical to your success at this level. Any small problem can become a major one if you have to go find a local dealer or mechanic, because time lost on the water during practice is time you can never get back. The service crews are the unsung hero's of the professional trail. They are behind the scenes, getting little press, but essential. I will get run off the lake when a major electrical storm hits. Its kind of a welcome relief, I can use some rest since I have been fishing now for almost 14 days straight. My arms and legs are sore, and my feet are sunburned.
Day Four: With my hub fixed, I'm going to trailer way up river. I got some good memories fishing way up, having caught all my fish up there in the regional I made my first All American. I remember fishing around a bridge that crosses the river, when a man came out from under the pillars. He was living under the bridge and ask if I had any food. I offered him all my nabs and a soda. Not much has changed in the 10 or so years up there, cept the river is running red and fast from the recent storms. I decide its better time spend to go further down. The backs of the creeks are showing signs of getting some color, perhaps it will help.
At the meeting, there is alot of crying. Word is that 11 lbs a day will make the cut. And the word is that just like Wheeler FLW, sight fishing will play a major factor. I avoided the spawning fish thinking there just wasn't enough and just too risky. My co-angler partner for tomorrow is from Decatur, where I just came from. I tell him we are just going fishing mainly for largemouth. I need to make a check here to stay in the Championship hunt, and the spots won't do it.
Tournament Day One: I meet my first day partner at the ramp. The line is long to launch your boat. We are in the next to last flight, so there's no rush to get in. I plan on running some backwater area's with a buzzbait to see if I can get a big fish early. I start in alittle creek that has gotten some good color from the rains. I will catch a couple short fish, then a keeper. It will be a long day, not getting the bites I thought I would get. Its also very crowded in the area's that I'm fishing. Late in the day, I decide to go back out in the main lake area and see if I can finish my limit with a spotted bass. This means either throwing a Carolina rig or little shakey head worm. I choose a c-rig. About 15 minutes into fishing the little main lake shoal, I tell my partner I got one. He ask if I need the net and I say No. But then it begins to pull pretty good and I make the comment, "maybe". Then it goes limp again, like the fish came off, then it goes to pulling some more. It will continue this pattern for a couple seconds. When I finally get my rig up to the boat, I can see what is happening. The water is clear enough to see down almost 10 feet. I have a little fish on my bait, and a huge bass is trying to eat it. I MEAN HUGE ! My co-angler makes the comment, "What a fish"! If its not a ounce from over 10, then its closer to 12 pounds. No exaggeration. The huge bass takes the smaller fish in, then lets it go. I immediately begin to reel in the fish as the bass continues to frantically eat it. My plan is to get the rig in, pick up a spinnerbait and see if it will eat it. When the huge bass gets next to the boat, he kind of darts off. I fire my spinnerbait in the direction it goes. After a couple cast, something bangs my spinnerbait. My heart bout jumps out of my chest thinking here we go, I got her. But it will turn out to be a small spot. I will not see the fish again. I will end my day again with only 4 fish, just outside the money.
Tournament Day Two. I didn't sleep too well last nite, all I could think about was that huge fish. I lay there in bed going over different endings to the days last few minutess. I could have maybe dropped the rig down, hoping the big bass would go ahead and eat it, getting hooked. Or I could have tried a different bait. You know how it is, you play that scene over and over, hoping for a different ending. Well, maybe I can make it happen today. I plan on starting on that little shoal.
When I get to the ramp, where I'm meeting my second day co-angler, I am greeted by my first day partner who tells me something is wrong with him, perhaps very sick. I load his gear and he comes walking up. He thinks he has food poisoning. He's not sure he will be able to get in the boat, must less fish. He leaves me to launch my boat alone. I go thru boat check, still not knowing his faith. We are in the early flight, so I hope he returns soon. Just before take off, he comes slowly up the dock. He does not look well, but decides he will try and go. I tell him I'm not running far at take off. This will turn out well timed. By the time I sit the boat down off plane, he is puking his guts out. Then he takes off his pants and begins to crap all over the side of the boat. I don't say anything to him, we have all been there before. Its nothing that alittle water won't clean off. But not long, I begin to feel sick from the stench. He will lay there on the back deck with his pants off, only in a T-shirt moaning. I ask him if we can move. He does his best to get ready, but it takes him some time. When we do get to another spot, the same thing occurs. He immediately begins puking and crapping. I'm beginning to wonder if I had better take him back to the marina, this appears serious. He begs me to bare with him, and I do. To make a long story short, he will puke and crap every time I move. All he can do is lay on the back deck half naked and moan. Now, this gets interesting because I'm fishing in some pretty crowded area's, and there is some homes on the lake. He will lay there, occasionally making a comment when he knows all his "glory" is in full view. A fellow tournament boat gets real close, fishing by me. Both the guys just look as he suddenly begins puking and crapping over the boat. I don't miss a beat, keep fishing like everything is normal. They on the other hand will look with their jaws wide open. My co-angler says he feels like a nudist. I tell him not to worry what others think, just get comfortable. Which is nearly impossible with this heat and boat movement. I imagine he got a little sun burned in places the sun don't normally see, lol.
My day will be bout as productive, only catching two keepers, and failing to get into the money. My co-angler says that he was the perfect partner, he never made a cast all day. He will sign my weigh in slip, and hit the road home. I hope he goes by Church's Chicken and explains to them what has happened. He blames his roommate for taking him there, and being hungry enough to eat it.
I will end the series with a sick feeling too. I can look back on the second day of Santee and Eufuala, if I land just one fish those days, and I had my opportunities, I would have easily made the Everstart Championship. Bump and I talk on the way home. Its amazing how tough it is, and how just one fish here, or one bad day can kill you. Its alot like golf, a stroke here and there, well, and you will be over par. I'm just not getting my putts to roll. It will happen, the roll will come............