Like many BassFans, I’m a weekend angler who enjoys the thrill of local and regional tournament competition. During the week, I’m the ad sales guy for BassFan, Game & Fish Magazine and In-Fisherman Magazine, and on the weekends I’m a hardcore bass fisherman. It’s the best of both worlds; a steady paycheck in an industry I love, along with time to pursue my passion.
Prior to last week's B.A.S.S. Nation Eastern Regional, I had qualified for one other B.A.S.S. regional and one on the TBF side through the Georgia State Championships. which I qualified for via my local fishing club, the Marietta Bassmasters. In both of those, I came up just short of moving on to the Nationals.
When I found out this year’s Eastern Regional would be at the Chesapeake Bay I was excited, as I love tidal fishing and fishing grass. Growing up in New York, I had fished the Chesapeake twice at an early age with the New Jersey Federation. It was a body of water I didn’t care much for, but I had no tidal experience at that time. Most of my 20s were spent fishing the Potomac and Hudson rivers and my love of tidal waters grew, as did my knowledge of them, which was helpful for this event.
Having grown up in the Northeast, I still have several friends from the New York and New Jersey area who were helpful in my preparations for this event. Nearly every one of them said, “It will be won on the Flats”, which was no secret, but still helpful. One of the best parts of leading after day 1 was all the text messages of support I received from those anglers, many of whom I considered mentors growing up. It was a homecoming of sorts.
Practice days were a pretty tough, with just a few bass each day except for one day when I had five bites for about 20 pounds, three of which fell to a Gambler Big EZ. Most of my practice was spent trying to learn every nook and cranny on the Flats, a 25-square-mile, grass-covered area in the middle of the bay. Practice days were long, 12-14 hours, and when it was all over I wasn’t all that comfortable with what I had found. Maybe it was enough to become the top boater from the Georgia team and I could advance to the Nationals ... but maybe it wasn’t enough.
The author (left) caught two of the four 20-pound sacks that were weighed in at the B.A.S.S. Nation Eastern Regional.
On day 1 of the event, I started in an area I felt would give me the best chance of putting a couple in the livewell – a small ditch way up on the shallow part of the flat, further in than most of the other competitors were fishing. With no preconceived notions of catching a limit there, I was pretty relaxed. To my surprise, the area had a lot more bass than I thought and I culled up to 22-01 that day without ever leaving until it was time to head back to the ramp. My partner and I had a fun day fishing, catching a bunch and having great conversations.
Obviously, I was on cloud 9 leading the tournament and even got to hold up my entire limit with the two weighmasters, which was really cool! The B.A.S.S. writer interviewed me about my catch, another first (and cool) experience. Everything went my way on day 1; I could do no wrong, made every correct decision and had fun. I hardly slept that night from the adrenaline, along with the phone calls from friends, family and customers.
Day 2 was entirely different. First, I was a nervous wreck. This was the biggest event I had ever led, so I was really feeling the pressure – much of it self-induced. My main goal was to be the top guy from Georgia and advance to Nationals. Winning the event never crossed my mind, but after day 1 I had a good chance to do just that.
Everything that could go wrong on day 2 did just that. I ran straight to the spot that propelled me to the top on day 1. First cast, backlash and snapped off my Big EZ. I only had six more left in that color and two more of those hooks. Retied, cast, repeat. Well, now only five more baits and one hook to last me 2 more days. I could hear the little voices in my head: “Don’t blow it”, “Just catch five”, “Hope I don’t embarrass myself today”.
Honestly, I was my own worst enemy that day. It must be so hard for pros to stay focused with camera crews, big money on the line and spectators. Thankfully I didn’t have any of that, but I still felt the pressure. Yes, I think the fish changed on me and I didn’t adjust because I wasn’t thinking straight.
Come noontime, I had two in the well and my mindset changed from trying to win to just trying to survive and be the top boater from Georgia. I left my main area and scrambled up two more to weigh in four bass for 13 pounds, which dropped me to 2nd overall, just a little over 2 pounds out of the lead. I was pretty bummed, but still had a good lead over the 2nd-place Georgia boater ... I just needed three bass on the final day to go to Nationals. I kept telling myself that was the goal – go to Nationals.
With the win out of my mind, I fished much more relaxed on the last day. I still had a chance to win, but the angler who was leading the event is a local stick and I had some ground to make up. Again I started in the main area, but this time I was quick to adjust to the east wind and figured out how they repositioned in that ditch. Once I got my third keeper, I was pretty sure I'd locked up going to Nationals; maybe I can win this thing?
Again I started to get a little anxious, fished faster, and lost No. 4 … my heart sank. My partner that day was great and helpful at getting me to shake it off, relax and get my head back in the game. It may have helped that he was a pretty seasoned angler, having won an EverStart at Santee Cooper back in 2001, so he knew how to handle the pressure.
Finally I got No. 4, then No. 5, and then started culling. It was like a weight was lifted; my partner and I were cutting up and have a great time just having fun fishing. He went on to win the non-boater side that day, and I couldn’t have been happier. Even up until the end of the day I didn’t have any thoughts of winning. While I had a good bag (20-12), I knew that meant the leader would have to weigh his smallest bag of the event, and that was unlikely to happen.
When the dust settled, I ended up in 2nd place behind the winner, Michael Sentore, a local tournament stick on those waters. I wasn’t disappointed at all; in fact, I was ecstatic for making it to the Nationals, which was the goal all along. Honestly, I was happy for Michael, too. He and I spoke at length after day 2 as I was picking his brain about the tide and how unique the Chesapeake was compared to other tidal waters I'd fished. He was more than helpful in answering my questions – not many would that generous to the guy trying to beat him.
Hindsight is always 20/20, but I can’t dwell on the “could have” and “would have” as those can’t be changed. If I had day 2 to do over, there are things I would change, but I’m not sure it would have changed the outcome. However, I did learn something really important on day 2 ... it's important to relax and have fun fishing.
All in all, I was very happy with the outcome as I’m moving on to the Nationals in October and during the 3 days at the Chesapeake I had two of the four bags that weighed more than 20 pounds. Not bad for an angler who lives 13 hours away from that body of water!