I’ve been back from Tennessee for a while now. Here’s what went down at the B.A.S.S. Eastern Regional Championship. First of all. It was the most incredible experience of my life. Seriously, I’m not just saying that. I was so impressed by the B.A.S.S. Nation. Everything was first class.
I had the fortune of being able to stay at The Pointe Resort right where the tournament was being held. This was such a big convenience. Tennessee and Douglas Lake is an amazing place. Such a beautiful lake with plenty of fish. I didn’t spend very much time taking in the scenery. My goal was to fish… and fish well. So I was focused on practice,
Tournament Practice Days
I spent my first 3 days on the lake practicing for the Regional Championship tournament. Even though I was participating in the tournament as a co-angler I took my own boat to pre-fish. My only goal in practice was to determine a specific color and lure to primarily use during the tournament.
I settled on using a Lucky Craft 78SP jerkbait and a topwater walking bait. Both of these provided bites during practice. I wanted to at least catch my 3 fish limit each day during the tournament and the jerkbait proved to catch numbers. Not only was I competing on an individual level… but also on a team level. The state with the most total weight would win a brand new Skeeter Bass Boat. So I wanted to perform well to help our team win as well.
Tournament Day 1
The night before the tournament I got a text message from B.A.S.S. telling me my tournament partner. It had his contact information. After a short phone call with him I knew I’d be fishing shallow all day… which suits be perfect as that’s more of my strength. Pete Demoya was my day 1 partner. He was an outstanding guy that was very experienced. We were boat 178 on Day 1. This meant we were in the last flight of the day and didn’t have to check-in until 4:30pm. It was going to be a long day of fishing.
Within 20 minutes of arriving at our first stop I had my first bite on the jerkbait. Anxious and super excited I worked the fish with care as I was scared it would throw the hooks. I hadn’t lost a fish at all in practice. The fish wasn’t big. 2lbs at the most and probably closer to 1.5lbs. But hey, it was my first keeper in the biggest tournament of my life. Working the fish slowly to the boat I immediately began to realize that landing the fish from the back of the boat was much different from being at the front. I called my boater for the net just to be safe. Feeling the fish starting to run under the boat I pulled him back up out of instinct. The fish came up out of the water mouth first and threw the treble hooks and swam away.
I jumped up in disgust and felt my heart skip a beat. I quickly realized that hey, that isn’t such a bad thing. I had a bite quick on a lure that I gained more and more confidence in during practice. So that bite was going to be there today as well. So I immediately composed myself and slung that jerkbait on my Dobyns 705CB back into the water.
Working the lure rapidly with a jerk, jerk, jerk pause method it was only a matter of minutes before I had another bite and put my first fish in the livewell. A 14 inch keeper. I didn’t care that it wasn’t a 5lber. I only care that I had a keeper in my side of the livewell. Soon after my partner, who was fishing very slowly on the bottom using a 5 inch worm got his first keeper in the boat. I continued to use my jerkbait until again wham, I got another hit. This fish felt a little better…. Fighting the fish to the boat I again called my boater for the net. The fish, finally to the surface was sligthly less than a 2lber. Out of instict I again forced the fish to the top of the water knowing I had the security of a net man. My boater, was quit ready yet and as he put the net in the water the fish jump slingingt he hooks right beside the boat. Another fish lost. I was distraught this time. I never lose fish… never. I practice landing fish. I practice lipping fish. I practice boat flipping fish. I just lost my first real quality fish of the tournament.
Right back to it I again slung out the jerkbait in disgust vowing out loud to not lose another fish that day. I was outfishing my boater which always feels good. I was focused, determined and confident still. We fished in cove a little longer and finally trolled out and hit a point on the outside.
Jerk, jerk, pause…. bam… another hit. The wind blown point produced another keeper for me. This fish I fought in a much more fineses way determined not to lose it. Slowly working him to the boat he was slightly better than my first keeper. Net in place, the fish was landed and put into the livewell.
I had 2 fish in the livewell by 9am. It was a good feeling to know I had 7 hours to really finish out my limit and upgrade. With my Lucky Craft 78SP I was quickly on another bite and finally put my 3rd fish in the livewell. What a great feeling. It was a very small limit… but it was a limit. It was probably 3 fish for 4.5lbs. It wouldn’t win me the tournament but it was a start. I immediately took the Lucky Craft 78SP jerkbait off and Upgraded to a 100 size. I wanted a larger jerkbait to trigger a larger fish. And it worked.
Within 15 minutes I had yet another bite. All the while my boater had switched to a megabass jerkbait hoping to find his second bite of the day. Pulling another fish to the boat I was excited again. But before I had a chance to get him into the net the fish jumped and again, threw the treble hooks. Wow I said! I can’t believe I lost 3 fish by 10am. That fish would have helped me upgrade. Again, I realized that I was throwing the right thing. My jerkbait was getting reaction strikes. The color and size was very similiar to what the bait fish looked like on Douglas Lake. It was a traditional match the hatch scenario.
Wanting to really upgrade I pulled out my 10inch Berkley PowerBait Worm. My boater was really beating the bank hard by this time trying to find his second fish. I hate fishing behind someone so I threw outinto the main channel in the creek into about 9 foot of water. Within minutes I had a bite. Setting the hook hard (like we all love to do) I realized the fish wasn’t that big. 13 inches perhaps and he wouldn’t help me at all. I was really shocked… if I were to get bit on a 10 inch worm throwing into the middle of a creek channel I figure the bite should have been from something more along the lines of a 4lber. That would be my only bite on a 10 inch worm during the tournament.
For the majority of the rest of the day I threw my Lucky Craft 78SP and was able to cull 2 of the fish. They were ounces in difference between the fish but every ounce counted as I would soon find out.
Day 1 ended and after the weigh-in I found myself in 75th place overall. I had a successful day on the water. However the size of the fish were so small. I couldn’t get that BIG bite that would put me over the top. I knew going into day 2 I needed a big BIG day. Without a big day I wouldn’t be fishing on Day 3 for a shot at the National Championship.
Tournament Day 2
I received a text notification from B.A.S.S. giving me the specific information for my day 2 partner. I drew a good guy. He was in 40th place overall and he said he was all over fish. His name was Greg Hall. I was excited about day 2 and confident that I could put 3 good fish in the boat. I knew going into the day I HAD to have a great day. So my plan was to throw baits that caught big fish. I wanted to sling a buzzbait and throw a jig all day long. There was 1 problem though.
The weather. Overnight the temperature dropped 20 degree’s, That turned off the topwater bite completely. I still tried the buzzbait several times during the morning but I quickly realized that the bite wouldn’t be there.
Blasting off as boat number 1, we were on the water and fishing much quicker than the day before. My boater, Greg was an awesome guy. He was well experienced and a nice guy to fish with. He was finesse fishing but I didn’t even let that idea enter my head for a second.
Neither of us had even a bite in the first 90 minutes of the tournament. But around 8am…. BINGO! We were working a bluff wall on the main lake sitting in 30 foot of water and throwing into 2 foot of water. I saw a giant boil and splash by a bush by the wall. It was behind us so my boater had no chance at hitting it before me. He even said… “Throw your jig by that bush…” Like I needed to be told 🙂
My jig got no reaction for the first few casts by the bush. But with a final heave of my Dirty Jig….
Thump, thump, thump, hookset!
It felt so good. I knew I had a great fish as I set the hook and the fish didn’t budge. She drug me under a floating log and as I pulled her out she came up mouth first to shake her head. It was to no avail to her as I pointed my rod tip down straight into the water to keep her down. My 16lb sunline stayed true and my Dobyns Fury 704C had plenty of backbone to bring her to the boat.
“Net!” I called to my partner as the 4lber showed her length to me in the water. With one last lunge she plunged under the boat. My dirty jig was firmly set in her mouth and she was moments away from losing the battle with me. She came up one last time and my Greg swooped under her with the net and dropped her on the floor of his bass boat.
Reaching down to grab her by the mouth to remove my hook…. “BOOM-SHAKA-LOCKA!” I yelled! It felt great. That’s the fish I needed to get my day 2 started. It was the first bite of the day for either of us. With confidence soaring high I placed the fish in my side of the livewell, checked my line for abrasions, checked the hook of my dirty jig and slung it back onto the bluff wall. However, that would be my last bite for another 3 hours.
It became a real struggle to get a bite for me and my boater. Finally around 11:30am he caught his first keeper of the day. A small 2lber. He caught the fish on a shakey head. Which was the exact opposite of what I was using. I was powering fishing looking for a big bite. I didn’t let his fishing style change mine as I continued to sling my jig.
After another 30 minutes of fishing I decided I needed to change things up just a bite. So I did finally tie on a shakey head with a black senko. Shortly after I finally got my second bite of the day. Reeling the fish in I knew he was small. I slung him into the boat and put her on the ruler to see she was half an inch to small to keep. This didn’t bother me at all. Because I knew I would need bigger fish to qualify for day 3 anyway. Back into the water he went and I picked the shakey head back up again.
Fishing slow was painful. I needed a bite, bad. A big bite. Getting impatient I threw the shakey head back out once more. I hopped it on the bottom a few times, let it sit… and finally with one last pop I cranked in the shakey head. As it got close to the boat and just as I was about to pull it out of the water a giant large mouth was trailing the senko and just as it got within eye sight of the boat she turned her head and swam away from me.
“Oh my God” I said as my Greg turned to look at me. “Giant, just followed it to the boat.” I said as he said, maybe their finally about turn on.
We continued down another wall, sitting in 30 foot of water and casting into 2 foot of water. My boater was also beginning to get a little impatient as he needed more fish in his live well. His shakey head was working. He was consistently getting bites. He even lost 2 fish that jumped and threw his hook.
His minor success with the shakey head still didn’t bother me. The bite he was getting and the fish he was hooking were small. I needed big bites.
At a last ditch to catch fish though, my boater pulled out a tube of megastrike and smeared it all over his shakeyhead worm. 2 casts later and he drug his worm along the bottom of the bluff wall. “Hook set!”. His finese spinning rod bent and he said “Good one”. Moving to grab the net for him, I asked him again… “Is it a good one?”
“Feels like it…” he said as the bass surged under the boat. Finally the fish reared her head and came to the surface trying to shake the hook. He handled the fish like a pro! With drag pulling and the spinning reel screaming the 5lber tried hard to get away. Finally she tired and she came to the surface one last time… I swooped under her with the net!
“Megastrike!” he called out. I could tell he was excited about his 5lber. But all I could think about was, “Was that the same one that trailed my senko back to the boat?” We were in the exact same area… exactly the same. It was a possibility. But I quickly put it out of my mind and got back to my jig. Sadly, that would be the last fish of the day for my boater.
It’s 1pm now. We only have 1 hour and 20 minutes left to fish. It’s now or never.
We go back to the same bluff wall I caught the 4lber on that morning. I’m still very confident knowing I’m only 2 bites away from being where I want to be. We pull up to the bluff wall and without hesitating I again pick up my jig… This jig will make me or break me today.
5 minutes onto the wall finally… I sling the jig right up against the wall near a laying peice of wood.
Thump, thump, hookset!
Boom, finally a jig bite. Feeling like a solid fish I called for the net as I battled to keep the fish low not wanting her to jump. Dropping to one knee as I always do, I positioned myself to win this battled. This fish has to get in the boat.
Pulling the fish to the boat again, my boater was on the spot and had the net ready. Reaching under her with the net and scooping her into the boat I immediately felt a sense of relief. The fish was 2lbs. Not a giant, but a good keeper. My confidence was soaring knowing I only needed 1 more bite.
I would only get one more bite that day – At 2:05pm, with only minutes to go my boater took us to one more wall. The wall led to a cove that went from 50 foot of water to 3 foot of water at the back of it. This was our last stop of the day.
Greg made a few casts, but his body language and demeanor showed me he was ready to give up. Getting around the corner of the bluff wall, he positioned the boat back facing towards the back of the cove and put his rod now. He had officially given up. He even began talking to another competitor who was fishing the same spot.
Not going to quit, I know I had only had seconds to go before we had to rush back to the boat ramp for check-in. I heaved my jig towards a bush in the pocket. Nothing bite. I worked it fast and hard, begging for a reaction strike. Reeling fast I again threw it back to the same bush…. nothing. Reel in fast, I made one last cast onto the wood beside the brush.
There she goes I yelled. My last bite of the day! Reeling hard and fast I told Greg, “I got’em this time”. This fish was nearly as big as I had hoped. But a solid 1.5 keeper that would complete my limit for the day. I caught the fish in front of 3 other anglers who had essentially given up for the day and were just talking. It felt good. “Never quit” I thought to myself as the fish went into the livewell and I sat down for the ride back to the ramp.
Day 2 Weigh-in
I was really confident getting back to the weigh-in. I felt like perhaps I had done just good enough to make it into the cut and fish tomorrow. I had fished my butt off. Never before in my life had I fished as hard. My casts were precise. I never missed. I was accurate. I was mistake free. No backlashes. No missed hooksets. No fish lost at the boat. I was perfect. I knew I had done the best I could have possibly done.
My bag for day 3 was almost 7lbs. Not bad for a 3 fish limit. I jumped up to first place in my North Carolina Division however, everyone else was left to weigh in. The North Carolina State Team was full of great anglers so I knew it was going to be close. I sat and waited patiently as each of them came across the staged and weighed in one by one. And slowly I began the drop. Drop down to 3rd place my nerves were working on me. And finally the last 2 anglers for the NC team weighed in and bumped me out of the cut for day 3. I missed the cut by a mere 10 ounces. I felt deflated. I worked so hard and fished my butt off. It was devastating to not have a chance to fish day 3 and earn a chance at the National Championship.
But all wasn’t lost. As I mentioned, the NC State team was full of fantastic anglers who can straight up catch fish. The NC Team won Team Championship at the tournament and won a brand new Skeeter boat certificate. Being a part of a winning team at a B.A.S.S. Event is something I’ll always cherish.
The event was something I’ll never ever forget. It was something I’ll always cherish. But more-so it’s something I loved so good that I craving to get back to that point again. The urge to get back is something that I can’t compare to anything else. It’s something I want so bad that I’d do anything for. It’s all I think about everyday. So the work begins now to earn my way back to the B.A.S.S. Nation Regional Championship!
I had the great fortune of having 2 great boaters during my tournament. Pete Demoya and Greg Hall were fantastic and I hope to one day fish with each of them again.