Wednesday, October 22, 2014

2014 Tournament Fishing Year in Review

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Now admittedly, there may be a few surprise tournaments that I get to fish in the next 2 months or so, but I don't have a boat currently and I don't have any tournaments on the books. 

Therefore, I wanted to revisit the year and take stock of how I fared in tournaments this year. Now, keep in mind that I don't fish a lot of big tournaments and this isn't a bragging board about how well I did. What I do want to do is talk about areas of growth and future areas of improvement. 

Starting in early March, I went on a 3 week tear of tournaments that started in Tuscaloosa with the annual Eagle's Wings Benefit tournament. In each of the previous events, Uncle Tony and I had cashed a good checks by culling up spots. His techniques for hitting ledges with jigs forced me to learn and utilize a technique that I was uncomfortable using. But, the tournament was moved from late in the year to early in the year, making the fishing unpredictable. We changed things up and fished shallow. Ultimately, we struck out.

The very next weekend, we had the first MFC Tournament on Guntersville. We had received some good intel on where to fish, and we found great success, but at a cost. We learned that fishing to the level that we wanted sometimes meant fishing 1 spot, sometimes only a few yards long, all day for 5 bites. Instead of starting and ending in the spot we had been instructed to fish, we didn't start on it until later in the day. We also learned how some subtle changes in techniques can make all the difference in the world. Though we didn't win, we cashed a check with 16 pounds in only 3 fish, which had us riding high for the next weekend's tournament. 

The next weekend was the NATA Open. We have had mixed success fishing this tournament, usually being boom or bust. Truth be told, we have had 1 good tournament and 3 rough showings. 2 of those plagued by boat issues, as this one was. We did attempt to execute the game plan we had learned the weekend before. We were the first to this spot and almost immediately began catching fish. However, the audacity of fishermen on Guntersville is amazing. We had multiple boats see us catch fish and come in on top of us. At one point, we had people casting line across us. Although there was 30 pounds of fish on this one spot, we ended up sharing it with 2 other boats. Ultimately we were tired of fighting with them and went looking for other spots. We did find a few more, but didn't make it back to the weigh in on time due to motor issues. 

A few weekends later, it was time to hit Pickwick for the MFC Tournament. In the past, I have been on some nice largemouth at the tip of 7 Mile Island. And, I knew that everyone else would be jockeying for position at the dam, though ironically Pickwick had hosted a massive 3 day event just the weekend before and the smallies had been hammered. I prefished the afternoon before the tournament and didn't find anything up at the dam anyway, so my gameplan was for me and Alyse to fish for largemouth while everyone struggled for the smallies. Now, I made great attempt in 2013 to get better with the shakey head, but hadn't really established the technique as a comfort zone type method. Within the first hour of fishing Pickwick, it was evident that the awful weather had put the fish in a foul mood. I went to the shakey head a lot quicker than I normally would have. Alyse and I were able to scrounge up enough fish to cash a check with the PTL Sick Stick. I managed to catch a personal best on light line by boating a 4.5 pound beast, which took 5 minutes to land. It was fairly infuriating that I had now fished 4 tournaments without weighing in a limit. But, I had also cashed checks in half the tournaments. 

Josh and I had made the agreement that we would fish a lot more of the Ditto Landing Wildcats on Wheeler in 2014. So, as soon as they started up, we were out there competing. Back a few years ago, we fished nearly every one of these and, more often than not, cashed a check. We always weighed in a limit, but we rarely found a kicker fish. We fished around 6-8 of these tournaments this year, including the two day Classic. One thing was apparent: 2014 was the year of the kicker fish. Almost every trip, we caught a fish that weighed in around 4 pounds. We did learn from some mistakes. This stretch of lake is all about current, and depending on the amount, you learned exactly how to fish. And, we learned that if there IS current, you better quit being a cheap skate and head to the dam. We did manage to cash a good check in one tournament. 

The MFC Tournament on Logan-Martin has been one of our favorite annual events. The lake is loaded with magnum spots. If the stars align, you can slay them. The difference between this year and previous years is that I was very comfortable throwing the shakey head as a primary technique. So, almost at day break, I was throwing it. And, it netted us 30 fish and a solid sack that came in 2nd. We missed 1st by mere ounces. We weighed in over 12 pounds without having a kicker. All 5 fish were clones. It was a riot. There was a significant source of satisfaction that I had learned the finesse technique and it was paying dividends in a big way. 

One of the barriers that we had not overcome was weighing in a 20 pound sack during a tournament. We had been danger close on many an occasion, and while we win or at least place in almost every tournament we fish (at least with MFC), we seem to excel only on tough days. When the fish are biting good, we have been unable to turn the corner on the competition. On this early June tournament on Guntersville, the MFC Club fished out of Seibold. By 11am or so, we had a limit of around 9-10 pounds which we had scared up using topwater baits on flats, targeting post spawn fish. But, the size started to drop and we knew we needed to do something different. We at least knew that we had a chance with the small sack we had, so we decided to do something that we had both talked about, but never really had done. We turned on the depth finder and went idling down the ledges. Quickly, we found a group of fish that were holding on the ledges in 18-20 feet of water. Using a variety of baits, we were able to cull each and every fish we had up to over 20 pounds. Though we only won 2nd, I left with one of the best feelings I have had while fishing. That was an amazing feeling, to go looking for the fish, to target them, and to knock a home run. 

Our next tournament was out of Ingalls on Wheeler at the PEO Org Invitational. Initially, we hit the ledges, even tough we knew there was no current. Everyone else was doing the same thing, it appeared. The boats were back to back lining the main river channel. After 15 minutes of casting deep diving cranks with no reward, we looked at each other and realized that it would never work. And, even if it did, EVERYONE else was doing the same thing and our luck isn't that good. So, we decided to do the very opposite. We started flipping grass, dirt shallow. Within 15 minutes, Josh boat flipped a 5 pounder. We flipped for the rest of the day, by inexplicably, I could not get a bite. Josh, however, boated 20 or so fish. We finished in 2nd place, though I didn't catch a measuring fish all day. I was frustrated, but ultimately determined to learn how to flip. I am still trying....

What followed was an onslaught of tournaments that varied on location, but all had the same conclusion. Whether it was the Spro Frog tournament, or an MFC tournament on Guntersville, or the Ditto Classic on Wheeler, fish were seemingly IMPOSSIBLE to catch. While it's true that everyone I talked to also struggled, it didn't make me feel any better that I COULD NOT catch anything. Even my fun fishing trips were brutal. I tried a little of everything but couldn't buy a limit. 

After a string of 3 or 4 tournaments without weighing in a fish, I was able to somewhat get on track in the MFC Classic. I entered tied for Angler of the Year, meaning that I needed to beat my opponent, which would be no small task since he had a partner and I didn't. And while the fishing was tough....again....I was able to execute a gameplan and win, something that I wouldn't have done in the past. 

All told, we averaged a check in every other tournament. But, this was the first year that we didn't just "go fishing" during a tournament. We started implementing structure into our tournament fishing and I think it really showed. Across the board, 2014 was the worst year of fishing I have had since I started back in 2009. I registered only 108 fish, which is an insanely low amount. I entered the year with the resolution of never getting skunked, but this was not the year to try and make that happen. But, I learned a few techniques that I am confident with. I learned to really dial in my electronics and use them the way they are supposed to be used. I think I have come around to the idea that I don't belong in any big tournaments. Just because I got lucky in 1 or 2 doesn't mean that I can do it on a consistent basis. I think we learned that fish move spots, so we need to move too. When it comes to ledges, you can't expect them to be there every time. You really need 5-10 ledges to rotate. 

So, that's about it. We caught BIG fish this year, but not MORE fish. Let's see what 2015 brings!