I arrived at Table Rock Lake in Branson, Missouri on the 21st of September. Right down the hill from the house we rented was a private boat ramp. I dunked the boat on the morning of the 22nd and motored around the small cove to have a look at the electronics. The lake looked super cool. No vegetation although there were standing trees all over the place both under the water and protruding from the lake. The water was clear. I knew from the research that I had done that alot of times the fish were found deep in this lake because of the clear water. I also knew that the healthy populations of smallmouth, Kentucky spotts, and Largemouth were able to dine on a variety of shad, warmouth, crayfish, and countless other species of bait. Once again I was at the lake early ready to learn. Practice went well. I was able to catch fish on a shad fly, flipping jigs, jigging spoons, spinnerbaits, and swim jigs. The minimum length for a keeper bass in the upcoming tournament was 15 inches. It amazed me and my fishing buddies how many 14 to 14.5 inch fish we were catching. We had one day fishing jigs on standing timber that we caught well over 30 fish and not one 15 inch keeper. While this was super fun and the 14 inchers were solid fat fish, I knew that this was not going to get it done for the tournament. We started to focus on docks and I was able to catch some great fish by jigging a small white spoon under balls of shad that were suspended in 20 to 30 feet of water. These fish were in 80 feet of water but only suspended 20 to 30 feet down. I was using my front graph to locate these bait balls and then watching my spoon on the graph. The day before the tournament in practice I caught a five pounder doing this. This was going to be my big fish pattern after I had loaded the boat with 5 keepers by fishing some isolated points and brush piles where i had patterned some spotted bass and smallies that were aggressive and plentiful.
The first day of the tournament high pressure and blue bird skies had moved in after a signifigant cold front over night. The temperatures dropped about 15 degrees and I blasted off to hit my first and best point. second cast I caught a 3.5 pound smallmouth on a swimjig. Then I went right to the spot on the point I had drilled Kentuckies before. I could not get a bite. Did they move or were they still there and just being inactive? Should I move right away? Or wait for the bite to pick up? I figured that if it was a timing thing the fish on my other areas would bite eventually so I opted to move. I got to my second spot and again did not get bit. When you have a good practice and are fairly sure you can catch them this scenario playing out can really get to your head. I fished all day long as hard as I could. I fished all of the methods I had caught any fish on in practice. Not another keeper all day! To make matters worse I had mechanical issues that contributed to my missing the weigh in. So I had to release my 3.5 pound smallie with out even getting to weigh day 1. Fishing these tournaments is hard enough, but when you throw your whole first day away it is very tough to make up any ground either mentally or weight wise. Day 2 was more of the same as I was in panic mode. I knew that I had ripped the kitchen sink off of the wall and thrown it directly into the lake.
What I learned in this tournament was to not fish like I did in practice, but to let practice be a starting point for patterning the future movements of the fish. It will be almost four months till next season starts for me. I still have alot to do to get ready for next season. Man I am glad my rookie year is over!