Staying sharp

Staying sharp between tournaments is usually not a challenge on the Bassmaster Elite Series. We fish a pretty aggressive schedule that covers at least parts of all four seasons of the year, and between the miles and the tournament stops, you can maintain your edge. But because our event on the Sabine River was postponed and because I didn’t qualify for the 2018 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK'S Sporting Goods, there are now 11 weeks between B.A.S.S. tournaments for me.

That’s a lot of downtime. And that downtime really hurts if you’re doing well and trying to create some momentum … or if you’re struggling and hoping to turn things around. I’ve been on both sides of that coin just this year. Starting the season, I was fired up about getting going because I had a disappointing 2017. I posted a fourth-place finish at the season opener on Lake Martin in Alabama, so now I want to keep some of that mojo going, but it’s tough to maintain a competitive edge without competition.

Since there are no Elite Series events for a while, I’m doing the next best thing and fishing some tournaments near my home in California. At the end of March, my buddy Nick Salvucci and I fished a team tournament on Lake Lopez. I’ve been fishing the lake since I was old enough to ride my bike and carry a fishing rod. It’s basically where I learned to fish for bass. 

We managed to win the Lake Lopez tournament with five bass that weighed 26 pounds, 7 ounces, and we had big bass (9.39), too. What’s impressive about that weight is that these are northern-strain largemouth — not Florida bass or intergrades.

It’s always fun to fish with Nick, and it was a lot of fun to win. While we were on the water, he told me about another tournament coming up on Clear Lake. It’s a three-day event, April 11-13, and I’ll probably be fishing it before you read this. 

Going into the tournament, I’m feeling really good about my fishing and trusting my instincts. I know Clear Lake really well, but I’m trying to approach it like an Elite Series event in the hopes that it’ll help to keep me sharp.

It’s pretty easy to do that because Clear has changed a lot in recent years. There’s been a fish kill, the loss of a lot of aquatic vegetation, and the bass have been using different types of structure and cover and holding at different depths than they used to. All of my history here is now “out the window.” If I come in with a preconceived idea of how to fish it, I’ll probably get my butt kicked. I have to approach it almost like I’ve never seen the lake before. 

Getting out of my comfort zone on a body of water I know well is a good challenge for me right now. I need it to stay focused and sharp for the next Elite event on Grand Lake in a couple of weeks.

Before heading to Clear Lake, I stopped by Tackle Warehouse - yes, they have a brick-and-mortar store here in California - and picked up some new baits, including a new swimbait that I think could be the ticket at Clear Lake and at Grand. 

It’s tough to experiment with new lures when you’re practicing for an Elite event. There’s just too much on the line. But you have to spend time with a bait before you use it in a big tournament so you’ll know what it can do, what line to throw it on, what rod handles it best, and on and on and on. It usually means fishing a bait or a method when conditions are not right just to get the feel of it. 

I can do a little experimenting on Clear Lake, but I plan to stay focused on the tournament and not look ahead too much to Grand. It’s a bit of a balancing act. I’ll have four days of practice on Clear Lake. If I can get eight or 10 hours of trial and error with that swimbait, I should feel pretty comfortable.

I hope it’ll be a key to a good finish on Clear … and Grand.

And I hope to stay sharp.