I came across some old pictures the other day.  The kind that makes you remember times that are starting to fade.  That’s not really accurate.  Some things you never forget.  I’m sharing this experience with the idea that maybe there is something in here that many of you can learn from and apply to your own tournament adventures.

Qualifying

I qualified for the 2009 B.A.S.S. Federation Nation national championships in Tavares, Florida.  I know, way to get to the point, but I can’t cover the whole story right here and now.  Anyway, the Harris Chain of Lakes was the destination.  I had never been to Florida before, so the initial worry was the basics like getting there, where to stay, how to get a boat down there, etc.  I shouldn’t be so dismissive with an “etc.” because those were big concerns.  Luckily B.A.S.S. handled most of that including having a boat available for those who didn’t want to tow one down to Florida.  All I really needed to do was to box up the gear I wanted to have with me, put some rods in some rod tubes and ship them down to the hotel we would be staying at.

Preparation

There was a “pre-practice” period that ended a month before the actual tournament.  During the month before the event, you were not allowed to get any information other than “publically available” info.  I wasn’t able to make it down to Florida for that “pre-practice” so my preparation was limited to what I was going to pack up and send ahead of me to use.  For the most part, I resisted the temptation to buy a bunch of new stuff.  I would use what I had, not because I knew it would work, but because I didn’t really know what else would work.

The event was being held in the fall (late October), not that I had a clue what that meant for Florida fishing.  At that point, I was undecided on whether bass from another state would be different to try and catch.  My experience to that point had been limited to the Northwest and California.  I had bass fished all over Washington and Oregon and a few places in Idaho and Montana.  I had covered some of the main attractions in California like Shasta, the Delta, and Clear Lake.  I was counting on that all of those experiences plus a lifetime of reading every Bassmaster magazine I could get my hands on, plus any other magazine, book, tv show or video series out there would help me.

If all that wouldn’t help me, I had one other little bit of information that I would end up falling back on.

My grandfather had taken a trip once to fish for largemouth in Florida.  Back in the late 70’s.  He came back from that trip with tales of alligators and big bass.  He caught a 12lb largemouth on that trip that he had mounted.  I have that mount up on the wall in my office.  He also talked about the grape colored giant plastic worms that he used while down there.  They were a deep, dark purple color.

The largemouth that ended up playing a big role in this story.

While gathering up some things at the last minute before catching a flight, I came across a bag of 5″ tubes.  Flippin’ tubes. A bag I had gotten from Les Whitley at Bass Kick’n Baits.  Stuff I used all the time – just not that color.  They were a deep, dark purple color.  I threw them in my carry on bag just in case.

The closest thing I had to a “grape rubber worm”.

My wife and I got on a flight headed south, very sure that I was forgetting something and wondering if I would ever see the rods and tackle I had shipped down there again.

Florida Landing

We arrived on a red-eye flight in Florida at about 8:00 am on a Saturday morning.  Check-in was at 3:00…PM.  We spend that morning wandering around looking for a place to eat, calling for a rental car and trying to stay cool in the meantime.  We had left eastern Washington and some seasonably mid-fall cool temperatures and arrived in a Florida heat and humidity wave.  95 was the number.  Temperature or humidity?  Yes.

One of my first stops, once we had a rental car delivered to us, was a local tackle shop.  I was mostly in search of a map of the lakes.  Any kind of map.  The Harris Chain of Lakes is just that, a chain of lakes connected by canals.  Nearly all of the lakes would be available to fish.  I didn’t have a map of any of them.  Now, I did have a Navionics mapping card that I had thought to bring, but I didn’t have access to the boat yet, so that card was of little use at the moment.

This was a little before my use of Google Earth as a scouting tool.  But I was really in need of something that would show me some contours just in case the mapping card wasn’t any good or didn’t work.

Overall, the tackle shop was a bit of a disappointment.  The maps were very general, and the baits were as I expected.  One thing I didn’t see was any deep, dark purple flippin’ tubes.  That didn’t really register at the time because by then I had pretty much forgotten that I had brought them along.

These were the maps that I was able to find. Not quite the detail I would want, but it did include where to catch ’em. Those fish are still there by the way. I never did catch any of the ones on the map!
I got two of those maps for nearly $5 apiece.

Later that evening there was the meeting in which all the contestants gathered in a room and were briefed on how the tournament would be run, our schedule, some introductions, etc.  Standard tournament briefing, but all well done.

In the course of the meeting including before and after, you are around the other anglers for the first time.  Some guys knew each other from competing over the years.  I didn’t really know anyone.  I recognized some names, but that was about it.  This is the stage where you begin to hear or “overhear” other anglers talking about how the fishing was going to be.  Many had been on the water during the pre-practice.  Several had spent up to a week, and had hired guides or had a “friend of a friend” take them out on the water.  All perfectly legal before the “off-limits” period.

The general train of thought gathered from all these conversations was this:

  • Florida fish are “different”
  • People from “up north” were at a disadvantage (a lot of sympathetic “good luck”s)
  • There were really big fish to be had and those that understood the first two points were going to take advantage.

I couldn’t help but feel a little unprepared. Why had I thought a guy from Washington could go all the way to Florida and just show up and figure it out?  The next day would be the first of three days of official practice on the water.  We would all be going solo in our boats.  Many would be going out and checking things they had discovered in pre-practice.  I would be just getting oriented to the lake(s).

Next Time:  Eliminating water – a.k.a – Getting My Ass Kicked on Lake Eustis

1 COMMENT

  1. Florida fish are a different breed, literally and figuratively! I spent some time on Okeechobee two years ago and it was an eye opener. The cover is mesmerizing and the fish behavior very confusing. I’ve never had to let fish chew a bait like we had to down there to get a hookup. Up here if you let them chew for that long they’re gullet hooked. The “Hay Fields” were something else, complete 180 from Potholes or Moses.

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