It’s hard to believe how quickly this year’s BFL Season has reached the midway point. After getting off to a great start at Smith Mountain Lake, cashing a check with a 34th Place finish, things took a downturn with a zero on Lake Gaston where I broke off a 4+ pounder by the boat. Hoping to turn the season around, I entered the third event of the Shenandoah Division with high hopes; however, as the saying goes, it is what it is. I failed to adjust and only boated a single fish for 2-05. On the upside, I boated the only bite I got and even though I fell six spots in the season standings, added to the ever-so-valuable points towards regional qualification.
Event: Potomac River
Date: May 7, 2016
Weight: 2-05 (1)
Season Standing: 86
As a Co-Angler receives the linking the night before an event, the first task is to not only call your boater link, but to do some research on the boater you have randomly drawn. Jeffrey Thomas, former FLW Tour Pro, boosted my confidence that we would be on fish, but unfortunately with all the rain and changing conditions days prior to the event, it seemed as though the fish had moved from their original location on the banks where they spawn. Although Jeffrey would catch one fish up shallow, moving to community grass flats proved to be where the bass were positioned. In fact, Mr. Thomas’ next two keepers and my single fish would come off such grass flats where the water was cleaner. Although I caught a perch on a wacky-rigged stick bait, I would fail to put another fish in the boat. A tough event to cap off what has been a downward sloping progression.
Lessons Learned / Concepts Reiterated
1) There are no guarantees in fishing. Although a cliché phrase, this season has showed me just how humbling the sport can be. Last year I was fortunate to only zero once, and in every event brought multiple fish to the scales. Now three events of this BFL Series behind us, and I have already zeroed and weighed in a single bass on the Potomac Saturday. The Potomac is known for big bags and limits of keepers, and this time around I failed to catch but a single fish. In last year’s event, I had the tournament of my life, boating more than 50 bass between my boater and me. When things are going right, it is easy to equate the circumstances as skill. In reality, the boater is often to thank for your success. As Co-Angler, we are often at the mercy of the Boater’s decisions, but this is not to say we don’t determine our own performance. Grinder days are where true success is determined, and unfortunately I didn’t figure things out.
2) From the years fishing on the FLW College Fishing Series and fishing the BFL Series as a Co-Angler, I believe it is important to spool your rods multiple days prior to competition. Unlike multi-day events in which changing out line may be a necessity, single day events allow for a little more leeway. To me, lacing rods a few days prior allows a Co-Angler to practice casting the exact test line you will be fishing during the event. With limited reels, this gives you the ability to tune your reel to avoid backlashes, line twists, and knots that can rise especially from overfilling reels, and particularly with spinning reels.
On the Potomac, I dealt with a spinning rod I had spooled with too much line. Making a cast, far too much line was released and large knots resulted. Taking the time to fix the issue and retie, I lost valuable time that could have been spent making casts. Likewise, I upsized the line on my pitching rod knowing I would be fishing around grass amongst other heavy vegetation. As a result, the line left the spool at a slower rate, which resulted in more backlashes and once again, more time dealing with the minor bird nests and less time casting. A rookie mistake in a busy week, but excuses aside I was not completely prepared for competition.
3) I have much to learn when it comes to fishing the tidal shifts on tidal rivers like the Potomac River. Whereas fishing moving baits are easy to fish when the tide is high and the depth between the grass and water’s surface is a foot or more, I struggle with fishing the low tide conditions when the grass is topped out. Although the topwater frog bite excels as summer approaches, finding springtime strategies is something I need to work on. Although I pitched baits into holes in the mats, I failed to receive a bite fishing this way. I also fished the edges of the grass lines with moving baits, but failed to receive a bite.
4) The mental mindset plays a HUGE roll in the success of a competitive angler. As described in 1), there are no guarantees in fishing. When things aren’t going as expected, it takes an experienced angler to turn the course of the season around. When you are in touch with your mental mindset, you can easily feel the rises and falls in the mental psyche. On both Lake Gaston and on the Potomac, I could feel the day slipping away from me. Like a runner feeling the fatigue of a long distance run, there is a battle between the one inner voice that begins to make excuses for why it is time to walk, and the other voice that helps us reach levels we never thought possible. The same is true for bass fishing. When we begin to question our day and techniques, the weak voice in our head begins to negatively affect performance. When our performance is compromised, an angler becomes distracted. As a result, distraction leads to a loss of concentration, as was the case at the second event on Lake Gaston. Although there were no lost fish on the Potomac, the mental side of the lack of bites definitely wore at the success of my day.
Moving forward into the final two events, my goal is to fish clean and with confidence considering we will be fishing my home water, the James River and a chance at redemption in the two-day final BFL on the Potomac. Even if an angler does not qualify for the second day, points are doubled making every catch critical to solidifying a seat in regionals. Although my only zero last season came on the James River, I have also finished in thirteenth, which was enough to score a check. Thank you for reading, and remember that failure provides some of the most humbling learning experiences.