By Todd Ceisner
Scott Canterbury set the hook with a sudden, violent sweep to his right, stepping back to gain leverage. His rod bowed as he tried to play the fish out from under a dock. It felt good. It felt big. It felt like the kind of fish he needed on the final day of the 2014 Forrest Wood Cup at Lake Murray.
And then it was gone. The fish came out from the under the dock, jumped briefly and spit Canterbury’s jig. The whole sequence lasted roughly four seconds before Canterbury found himself face down on the deck of his boat, moaning in agony.
He screamed and yelled and leapt to his feet, spiking his hat on the floor of his Ranger before mumbling something to effect of, “That was $500,000 right there.”
Turns out it probably was.
Had Canterbury landed the fish, it likely would’ve propelled him to the biggest win of his career. Instead, he endured the even greater agony of a 1-ounce loss to Anthony Gagliardi.
"It was a weird bite," Canterbury said following the final day in 2014. "I hopped the jig under a dock and as it's going down, I felt him tick it and it starts going away from me instead of coming out toward me. You have to set the hook and turn the fish. I set the hook and got him turned and it was a 5-plus. I get him out from under the dock and he's 10 feet from the trolling motor and he just comes up, jumps and that's it. There's nothing I could've done differently. I set the hook as hard as or maybe harder than anybody on tour. I've caught a million on a jig and it just wasn't meant to be. That's all I can say."
This week, he’s ready to take another swing at the big Saluda River impoundment. It’ll be his third Cup at Murray, his ninth overall and seventh in a row. A lot has changed since Aug. 17, 2014. He’s racked up five more top-10 finishes in Tour competition, including his first career Tour victory in 2016, and he’s ready to hit the reset button at Murray, where he also finished 27th in his first Cup back in 2008.
“I’m going to fish hard,” he said when asked why he thinks he’ll win this week. “I want it more than anybody in the tournament, in my mind. This is my third time at Murray. I’m sure some people have fished it more than I have, but it’s a mindset thing of how you approach it. I feel like I’m prepared, but you still have to practice hard and hopefully get on something that will hold up for three days and capitalize on it. I’m looking forward to it.”
Canterbury admitted it took roughly a week to get over the initial pain of letting the 2014 Cup slip away. He doesn’t dwell on that big fish that got away on day 4 as much as he beats himself up over weighing four fish on day 1 of the tournament. Not catching a limit in a championship event leaves the window open to get beat, he says.
“I never think about it until somebody brings it up,” he said about the lost fish. “It took a couple days. By the next weekend, it was over. That was one lost fish, but having four fish on the first day hurt more than losing that fish. It was the only one I lost all tournament.
“It hurt a bunch, but it didn’t take long to get over it.”
He said the 2014 Cup followed the textbook scenario that all tournament anglers crave. Rather than figuring out productive patterns and areas in practice, the picture came into focus during the competition and he was quick to capitalize.
“I figured them out at lunchtime on day 2 and that’s when your opportunities to win come together – during a tournament, not during practice,” he said. “When I won at Beaver, it was the same thing. I was 32nd after day 1 and jumped up to 2nd on day 2.”
He’s also anxious to overcome the two triple-digit bombs he endured to close the season, the combination of which dragged him down from 2nd in the AOY points after five events to 27th. It was the first time in his Tour career he’s finished 100th or worse in consecutive derbies. He said the Mississippi and Potomac rivers didn’t play to his strengths in the end.
“We’ve had a lot going on with selling our house in the spring and moving and getting a new house started,” he said. “I said at the start of the year that I could get into good shape going into the last two I could make a run at it, but there was a lot of dragging and dead-sticking a Senko in those two events – stuff I’m not good at.”
Canterbury is one of eight anglers in this year’s field who will see Murray for a third time with the Cup and a big payday on the line. Like other veterans, he has learned to manage how much energy to pour into the lead-up and preparation for the tournament. When he was younger, it consumed him and he maybe overthought things during the competition.
Now, with more events and years of experience under his belt, he’s better equipped to navigate the highs and lows that come with a marquee event.
“You think about it a lot and I know I’ve thought a lot about it a lot over the last month, but I remember my first couple Cups and I put so much into it and had some good tournaments,” he said. “But you drain yourself getting prepared for it. You have to treat it like another tournament.
“This is the hardest tournament to qualify for because you’re competing against 165 guys for 35 spots. It’s hard to make it, but then it becomes the easiest to win. The competition is still great, but you’re only fishing against a third of the field.”