I've learned many things about who I am as a competitive angler in 2017 thus far. With a handful of tournaments in the rear-view mirror, I feel I've established a formula that works for me, as well as discovered a resilience that has led to several good finishes to kick off the season.
The first Bassmaster Open on the Harris Chain, a few local events, and the most recent tournament, a BFL on Lake Oconee, showed me what I am capable of under pressure.
I love fishing the BFL events. I don’t care if I’m fishing a whole division or just one here and there that fit my schedule, the BFLs are a series I've always enjoyed.
As part of my work for Navionics, I'm scheduled to attend multiple event registrations to spread the word of Navionics mapping, and the Lake Oconee event was one of those I had penned in. Originally I hadn’t planned on fishing the tournament, but I can rarely pass up such an opportunity if I have the wiggle room in my schedule.
Part of the reason I was unsure whether I would fish it or not was the uncertainty of whether I would even have a boat ready for it. Fortunately, I was able to pick up my brand new Phoenix 920 ProXP with Yamaha 250 SHO, prep it, rig it and get it ready in time for the trip up to central Georgia.
With no research, other than reviewing the lake on my Navionics Mobile App, I knew that I wanted to focus shallow when I arrived late on Thursday. I got in the water in time for a couple hours of practice and immediately started getting bites fishing a Z-Man ProjectZ Swim Jig and a Secret Lures Stupid Tube, casting around docks and seawalls.
The average fish size was spectacular, with all fish being right at or above 3 pounds.
On Friday, I gave myself until noon before I had to get off the water and get the boat ready and work registration.
Thank God it’s not Baseball
Waking up the morning of the event, I realized that I was ill-prepared. It was about 28 degrees out and I had not brought a single pair of pants, shoes or warm-enough clothing. I had some packable Huk raingear, but that was about it. Thankfully, I was able to borrow some sweat pants from someone and I had a pair of socks to wear with my flip flops, but I just laughed at myself for being so unprepared.
My plan after catching fish on a variety of baits around docks and seawalls (the fish were obviously in a spawning pattern) was to combine all those swimming, pitching and flipping techniques into one presentation – a simple Arkie-style jig with a swimming trailer that I could both fish slowly and methodically, as well as fish it fast in between prime targets. I thought it would be great to use one rod all day for everything.
My one-rod strategy certainly was working for getting bites, but I missed or lost everything. This trend started to become a sad joke between myself and my co-angler, as I continued to miss about ten fish by noon. The frustration was exhausting.
With the prospect of a goose-egg in the first event out of my new Phoenix, I knew I needed a change of momentum. I ended up retiring the jig, which the fish were obviously eating poorly, and I picked up a Z-Man Palmetto BugZ on a Fitzgerald flipping rod and started using the same pattern, but focused on areas where the fish were likely starting to bed with the warm afternoon sun.
Finally, I set the hook on a solid fish that made it into the boat and told my co-angler, “Now we can catch a limit” That was at about 1 p.m.
Shortly after that fish, I set the hook on a stud 6-pounder that solidified my assertion that I was going to salvage my day. I finally felt in charge of my destiny.
With a 3 p.m. weigh-in quickly looming, I put things into high gear and started running every little spot I had a good feeling about. I had stayed close to the ramp because my motor was still in the break-in period, and it saved me time. I was able to catch fish Nos. 3 and 4, and when I set the hook on No. 5 I knew I had won a great personal battle, but I wasn’t done. I knew that with a 14-inch fish as part of my stringer, I needed one more fish to cull to a solid limit that had the potential for a great bag.
With the weigh-in in sight, and hearing the weights of the first-flight competitors, I saw a small stick-up in the distance and quickly worked my way to it. I made one pitch with the Palmetto BugZ and the line swam away. I set the hook on a 4-pounder that culled me up to a stout bag.
Since I could hear the weigh-in from where I'd been fishing, I could tell before I got there that the leading weight was only a little over 15 pounds, which was a surprise to me. The average I'd been seeing was well over 3 pounds, and I figured that at least an 18-pound bag would be brought in early.
Placing my bag on the scales, I was happy to see 17-10 settle on the digital screen, and I took the lead.
After loading the boat and putting away my gear, I was surprised when I got back to the weigh-in to find I was still in the lead. Unfortunately – but not surprisingly – I was bumped out of the top in the last few minutes by an angler with a 20-plus-pound bag.
At the end of the day, I was very pleased with my 2nd-place finish and a good check, but I was much more happy with the come-from-behind performance, as well as the way I was able to ramp up my intensity at the end of the day with the odds not in my favor.
Sometimes it's the little wins that you learn from that help you grow as a competitor, and I feel like so far this year, I'm beginning to see what I'm capable of with my new approach of keeping things simple and fun and focusing on my strengths.
So far, so good.
(Miles "Sonar" Burghoff is an aspiring tour pro and 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).