The sixth regular-season stop on the 2019 Bassmaster Elite Series schedule brought us to Lake Guntersville, about 160 miles due north of my home in Dadeville. It was a memorable week for me, mostly for the right reasons, but there were a few speed bumps along the way.
Most importantly I ended up in 10th place, my first Day 4 appearance (this time on Championship Monday, not Sunday) since last year at Kentucky Lake. That moved me up inside the 2020 Bassmaster Classic cutline and put a nice check in my pocket, but there were times during the week when it seemed like everything was going to fall apart.
That started on Day 1, when I weighed in 14 pounds 9 ounces to land in 47th, outside of the money cut. It felt to me a lot like last year’s stumble at Lake Martin, where I relied so heavily on history and tried to hit too many places. Instead of bearing down and fishing key areas hard, I spent too much time running. The upside to all of that running is that I managed to eliminate a bunch of water.
I also figured out a little something in the last hour of the day that really helped me throughout the remainder of the tournament. I’d saved a jerkbait spot on the way in, and when I got there in the afternoon I culled up three times in the last hour. It was obvious that I should start there on Day 2 and upon arriving I had 18 pounds in the boat before you could blink an eye. I managed to figure out the combination of conditions – depth, contours, bottom composition, etc. – that made it special, and after that I spent some time looking for more of that combination and dialing things in.
I wasn’t sure if I had enough good areas to last four days, and as I threw back one 3 1/2-pounder after another on Day 2 I was sure that I’d be begging for them on Sunday. Still, my 24-12 moved me up 41 places into sixth, just a few pounds off the lead.
I was sharing my best area with Hank Cherry and not surprisingly he was throwing a jerkbait, too. We both found them fair and square, but I can’t help but wonder what would have been if either of us had the area to ourselves. The winning fish were there – we just had to split them.
I also have to wonder what would’ve happened if I hadn’t lost a substantial chunk of time on Day 3 in order to head to the ramp to ride an ambulance to the emergency room.
Editor's note: See the Ambulance Video
When you throw a jerkbait as much as I do, the occasional treble in your hand is an occupational hazard. I’ve had dozens of them over the years and usually you can spin them around and figure the right way to make it exit the hole. This time around it was just buried too deep to do that. It didn’t hurt until you started to pull on it a bit, and then it was excruciating, like pulling on a tendon.
I knew that I already probably had enough pounds in the livewell to make the cut to Monday, but I didn’t just want to make the cut – I wanted to take the lead. I only ended up being off the water for about 90 minutes, but what a lot of people don’t realize is that for the next two hours or so after that the anesthetic prevented me from feeling my right hand. I couldn’t retie my lures, I couldn’t change out my treble hooks, and I had to hold my rod during the retrieve between my middle finger and my fourth finger. With those limitations I jumped off a 4-pounder and lost a 5, but everyone loses fish in big events so I can’t worry about the past. It’s over now. On the bright side, I got a lot of publicity out of it and gained a whole bunch of social media followers.
While I would’ve liked to have won, this was exactly the type of tournament I wanted to have at this point in the season. There have been so many times this year and last year when I’ve come close to putting the puzzle together and missed it by just a few degrees. This time it seemed like I made the right decisions at the right time, and that gives me confidence as we head north that good things are ahead of me.