From time to time, this sport tends to remind you that the difference between success and so-called “failure” can be an ultra-thin line.
I’ve been fishing very well this year and the decisions I've been making have resulted in strong finishes during my rookie season on the FLW Tour. Going into the most recent event on my “home lake" (Chickamauga), I was leading both the Angler of the Year and Rookie of the Year races.
Due to my proximity to Chick, the overall perception was I was a shoe-in for at least maintaining the AOY lead. After a dismal 117th-place finish, I'm left with some important lessons learned and a renewed sense of focus and intensity for the final event of the season.
A Timing Issue
My whole career has been based on an approach of embracing failure as an essential catalyst for growth. I've intentionally fished tournaments on unfamiliar waters across the country in order to accelerate the trial-and-error learning process. This approach has resulted in some great consistency overall, but inevitably, there will be tournaments that pose challenges I've never faced before.
This is exactly what happened at Chick. Though I live close to the shores of the lake and have spent a good amount of time on it, I still haven’t had enough experience to understand bass habits throughout every season.
At this particular event, there were still a great number of fish spawning, and I decided by the final day of practice that I would focus on fishing for bedding fish for the event, which was a strong decision overall.
However, what I didn’t fully understand was how narrow of a window I'd have to target the larger females in some of the higher-pressured areas of the lake.
During the final day of practice, the big females had moved onto the beds in one of the most popular regions and I was licking my chops during the off-day prior to the first day of the event, as I had seen numerous 25-pound bags worth of bass locked down on beds.
Once the tournament started, that popular mid-lake area had nothing but aggressive, solitary males where I had previously seen, and caught, giants at every turn, and I was catching fish after fish, but only culling by ounces. The hope for a single big bite was what kept me beating my head against the wall, and I ended the first day with a measly 12 1/2-pound bag.
The second day went about the same. Ultimately, I finished the event with a 12-pound average and never got a bite from a fish over 3 pounds. At that point I really couldn’t understand what I did wrong.
Watching the Live coverage on the final day, I saw the likes of David Dudley, John Cox, Matt Greenblatt and Jared McMillian setting the hook on big bass, all using the same techniques and approaches that I had, but in a portion of the lake that I had not practiced in. It was then that I realized that the window of opportunity for the bigger females was much narrower in the highly pressured areas of the lake, and the less popular backwater areas saw the females stay accessible for longer periods.
In the end, I now realize that though I was on the right track, the difference between success and failure for me came down to being a couple days off in my timing and not fully understanding the spawning dynamic on Lake Chickamauga.
Relativity Of Failure
Now that I have come to terms with my triple-digit finish and my tumble in the AOY points from 1st to 10th, it’s time for me to learn from my mistakes and move forward.
There are some bad tournaments that sting more than others. You would think this would be one of those events that just eats at me because of what was at stake, but in all honesty, this was an easy fail to accept. Although I likely threw my AOY hopes in the can, I judge how bad a bad finish actually is based on how well I controlled the controllable factors, and also by how much I learned from the event.
After really looking at my performance on Chick, I can confidently say that I fished well with the knowledge that I had. The difference between the 12-pound average I ended with and an opportunity at a top-10 finish ultimately came down to my lack of experience under the circumstances.
The lessons I learned in this event will likely serve me well in the future under similar circumstances.
Though as competitors we tend to judge ourselves by our last finish, I'm still feeling very confident going into the final regular-season event at Lake Champlain. I may have received a big gut-check at Chick, but I won’t let one event define my season.
Champlain is a challenging fishery, but with a bitter taste in my mouth from this last event, I’m well-equipped with the desire and drive to once again taste the sweetness of victory and cap off my rookie season with another solid finish – who knows, maybe even a win.
(Miles "Sonar" Burghoff is an FLW Tour competitor and the 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).