The last two months have come and gone with breakneck speed.
The final two regular season FLW Tour events at Chickamauga and Champlain are in the books. ICAST was a blur. Now I find myself sitting in my small plywood shack in southeast Alaska on my annual stint of guiding at the Baranof Wilderness Lodge before flying back to fish the FLW Cup.
In all honesty, I’ve almost certainly put a little too much on my plate during this short stretch of the year, but I also enjoy staying busy, and getting up to Alaska has always helped to slow things down and cast some perspective on everything going on in my life.
Most of what I've been reflecting upon has been the last two events in which I went from the top of the Angler of the Year race to free-falling to my final placement of 15th in the points.
Looking at the Tour schedule for my rookie season, you would think that Chickamauga would’ve been the event I’d have been licking my chops in anticipation for, since it is now my “home lake.”
It is true, Chick is spectacular fishery – one of the best – and I certainly enjoy fishing on it, but when it comes to competition, the TVA fisheries are still where I find myself making poor decisions and not being able to adjust well, so I was actually more apprehensive about that tournament than any other on the list.
Up until that point, my performance had been good enough to seat me atop the season standings, and I truly felt like I could continue my string of strong finishes. But in the back of my head I knew that Chick would be my biggest challenge of the year.
Obviously I was correct, as I finished 117th in the event. By looking at the standings, you would think that I choked under the pressure of being the AOY leader, but in all honesty, I felt like I fished a good event but didn't quite understand what was going on with big female movements and also failed to diversify my patterns and have more backup plans for a fishery that was changing drastically from practice to the tournament.
Though it was a tumble that I knew I could not recover from for the AOY title, I still had the lead for the Rookie of the Year crown, which I'd wanted since the beginning of the year.
I was certainly disappointed in my Chickamauga finish, but the fact that it was on a TVA fishery seemed to make it easier for me to accept. However, Champlain was a fishery that I've done well on in the past, and as long as the largemouth bite was solid, I felt that I could hold my own and get the top-30 finish I needed for ROY.
Going into Champlain, my game plan was to focus on my “wheelhouse” by chasing the green fish up north in the Missisquoi area, where I had had most of my success in previous trips to venue. My plans quickly changed, as I didn’t like what I saw up north and I couldn’t see myself being able to excel at smallmouth fishing.
Ultimately, I decided that I needed to see what was going on down at Ticonderoga. It didn't take long to realize that Ti could very possibly dominate the event, as the fishing was pretty good down there.
Looking back, I set myself up for failure on the second day that I went down to Ti to practice. When you make a long run like that, you need to make sure that you have backup plans in those locations to make up for a changing bite. That is not what I did.
I ended up seeing the potential of Ti by finding an ultra-shallow frog pattern that was highly dependent on the water remaining high and stable. But instead of diversifying and finding other patterns in the area, I spent all of two days seeking stretches where the frog pattern would work.
By the time the tournament started, the water had fallen another half a foot, and though I was still able to get bites, the frequency and the size were notably going in the wrong direction. I knew why, but without any auxiliary plans, I stuck to the only game plan I had and sunk with that ship.
My inability to practice effectively and adjust during the event left me with a finish lower than Chick and I handily lost the ROY title.
Oddly enough, it wasn’t losing the ROY that stung the most – it was actually the fact that I had such a terrible event by fishing what I consider to be my wheelhouse, while other anglers ended up dominating the event down in Ticonderoga.
If there is one thing I thoroughly believe in when it comes to tournament fishing, it is that you need to learn how to embrace failure in order to understand what you need to work on for future successes.
Nobody wants to fall flat on their face when the stakes are so high, but my perspective on it is that I would rather bomb and know exactly what I did wrong than have a mediocre finish where I maybe got lucky and didn't end up recognizing where I could improve.
Though my finishes at Chickamauga and Champlain both kept me from my goals in the short term, they have been very effective at highlighting some big weaknesses that I need to improve upon.
The good news is that I plan on using them to my advantage at the FLW Cup in a couple weeks.
(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).