For the last three years, I have been fishing as a boater in the FLW Everstart/Rayovac series on what was to me, familiar water. The Potomac, in particular, is a body of water that I know well enough to have a relative sort of consistency; and by consistency, I mean coming to a weigh in with at least SOMETHING in the live well.
During the 2012 Everstart, I weighed in 4 fish for a little over 11 pounds, with a 5 lb.er that won big fish for day 1 – and was only a couple of pounds out of the cut line. Then, fishing the same water on Day 2, I blanked. Zero. Zilch. Nada. I was embarrassed. I missed what a fellow competitor described as a “monster” on a frog that broke off on 65 lb braid (always check those knots people!!), but even with that fish, I failed to execute on a body of water that I know well enough to be able to put a few in the boat every June, especially with a 12 inch minimum for keeper fish.
Last year was no better – banged them in practice on the Potomac and the James, and then just failed to execute during the tournament. Had a 7+ on the James in practice, and blanked on day one. Again, I was embarrassed and quite frankly, it was time to do some serious introspection regarding my ability.
Now truthfully, both the James and the Potomac are fickle fisheries that stump even the best anglers from time to time. Both are heavily influenced by tidal fluctuation, and are known for hot spots turning cold in a matter of minutes. The thing is, there are many who thrive on these bodies of water, and they are doing SOMETHING out there that I have either failed to recognize or just don’t know.
I ended 2014 by fishing the Bassmaster Southern Open #3 on Lake Norman, a place I have only seen once, fishing as a Co-Angler and practicing with my good friend and Fitzgerald Rods teammate, Rich Howes. My motivation was simple: I wanted to have fun and work on a few things for BassEast.com with Rich. What I ended up learning, however, was one of the most valuable lessons of my fishing career to date.
Rich is the 2013 Bassmaster Open on Lake Toho Champion who would go on to finish 2nd on Norman in 2014, and his ability to analyze and execute on the water was superior to mine in every way. His decision-making was faster, more in depth, and more wholly committed when compared to mine. Essentially, he was a far better tournament angler than I was, making and committing to decisions about his day in a manner that I wasn’t over the last three years, and it showed in his results. Sadly, I should have learned this lesson years earlier while having the opportunity to practice with FLW Tour Pro Michael Murphy, who really allowed me access to the way he thinks on the water in multiple tournaments. Unfortunately, I was too concerned about how I could WIN those events, not how I could LEARN from them, and many of those lessons were lost until today.
I fished that Open from the back deck with a new sense of how to attack the tournament, and I ended up with the best result of my career, fishing my first final day in a major event and finishing in 5th place overall. Sitting next to Andy Montgomery, the eventual Champion, as we hit the stage in the Bass Pro Shops parking lot is an experience I will never forget, and has motivated me to take a new approach in 2015.
My good friend and 2012 Potomac River Everstart Champion John Hutchins told me that I made the switch to the front of the boat too early, and honestly, I wanted to tell him to talk a long walk off a short pier (actually, it was much worse, but you get the meaning). He would tell me that I had a lot to learn about decision making, and tournament choices, and blah blah blah…. and he would always end with a smile and say “I’m just trying to help you out brother”; all I kept thinking was “I’ll show him”. Turns out he was right; I had a lot to learn AND he was genuinely trying to help, and I should have listened to him. Some lessons, however, have to be learned the hard way. FLW Tour Pro RC Cooper told me countless times how valuable fishing the tour as a Co before he made the move to the front was to him, but again, I needed to come to that realization on my own.
There is a stigma associated with fishing as a Co-Angler in our world – that those who fish from the back do so because they aren’t good enough to fish from the front. Ridiculous. When some of my “Facebook followers” saw the results from the Open that listed me as a Co, I received a lot of “atta boys!!” but just as many “you sucks” or “you’re a fake” from people who felt the need to share their opinion. I appreciated them both – having the support of my fellow fishing junkies is truly awesome, and having the motivation to show those who wallow in negativity that I will succeed adds to my competitive drive.
So, I put my ego aside for 2015 and have decided to fish the Bassmaster Southern Opens in their entirety as a Co-Angler. I’ll still be fishing from the front in the Walmart BFL’s and the ABA Weekend Series, but 2015 will be a year spent more on my growth as a tournament fisherman, and not so much on my results. Of course….a Co-angler title would be pretty sweet…………….