National Championship? – Part 3

Different tournament formats require a different approach.  If you are fishing a circuit where a points system is in place and your goal is to win “Angler of the Year”, then maybe a more conservative approach is in order.  If the tournament you are fishing is a one-off, or a championship event, or a big money derby, then you should fish to win.  Although it is a little cliche to say, I was fishing the B.A.S.S. Federation National Championship to win.  At least that was what I would have told you if you would have asked when I got off the plane in Orlando.

Fishing to win in this case had little meaning by the dawn of practice on day two.  It was a fight to figure out the riddle that was Florida and the Harris Chain for me.  The idea that Florida fish were radically different and I was going to have to do something (a style or a bait) that I had never done before was beginning to weigh on me.

Practice – Day 2

I was going to spend the 2nd day in a new lake, “Lake Harris” (and Little Harris if needed) to be exact  This would require extra canal travel and idling which combined would eat into over an hour of my practice day.

Lake Harris and Little Harris. A two-canal idle away from the launch, but I was determined to find something on day 2.

When you are fishing by yourself, you have a lot of time for one-on-one conversations.  One of my strongest memories of that trip was all that self-talk time that I had.  When you are in a strange place under some pressure to perform, it’s funny the kinds of things you will say to yourself.  Picture the old cartoon with the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other.

By noon, the little guy in the red suit was winning.  In fact, Halo Boy had all but disappeared.  That’s because, by noon on day 2 of practice, I still hadn’t had a bite.  That’s a long way to travel for that kind of productivity.  As bad as not getting bit was, I wasn’t liking anything I was seeing.  Much as Eustis had been, there seem to be a whole lot of sameness on Harris.  By noon, I had covered 70% of Harris, so I was moving at a pretty good clip.  To be honest, I wasn’t really sure what I was even looking for anymore.  Just some sort of feedback.

I alternated between probing offshore and beating the bank.  I kept pushing past any areas that I saw boats working.  My number one goal was to find something to myself.  I felt that to have a chance to win, I couldn’t rely on anything obvious.  Lots of boats were already all over that stuff.  I needed to find something that:

  • Was alive…bait, birds, bugs and of course bass
  • Was complex.  It had to have varying cover, depths, and structure.
  • Was either remote/isolated and therefore overlooked or so close to the launch it was overlooked.  I didn’t want something silly like the boat draw to be a determining factor.

The bigger the area the better, but I knew it was going to be important to have at least one area I could call “base” and then add another to that if possible.  I wasn’t going to have time to put together a milk run comprised of more than a few spots.

I suspected that despite the usual bragging on the bus and back at the hotel, that this was going to be a tough, grind it out event.  A few big bass would be caught, but getting a limit all three days would be huge.  If this event was going to be a shootout then I was gonna be way off.

Despite my increasing frustrations, there was still a bunch I hadn’t seen yet.

Early in the afternoon, I moved into Little Harris, which is connected like an arm of Lake Harris – no canal to have to idle through.

I was driving slow, 30-40 mph, so I could scan the shoreline when I found it.  Just past a bend and a subtle point in Little Harris was a shallow cup, not big enough to call a bay or a cove.  Just an indentation tucked behind the point.

The cattails sections I began working looked “fishy”.

No houses, or docks where in sight which was unique in and of itself.  But more importantly, the Kissimmee grass gave way to cattails.  Out in front of the cattails was a stand of lilypads that formed a little island of pads.  In between the cattails and the pads was an open alley or lane.  The pads where not all in one uniform piece.  They were segmented into several areas with small alleyways in between.  The clincher for me was that the cattails were broken up, forming alleys, pockets, and points.  Some of the alleys and pockets were big enough to get the boat in and access water that was initially out of sight.

As I came off plane and put the trolling motor down, I noticed a large gator sunning himself just outside of the pads.  It was the first gator I had seen while fishing and it reminded me of my grandpa.  The purple tubes!

The “gator” hole, as it became known in my mind, was where the pieces of the puzzle began to come together.

I quickly dove into the compartment where I had some loose tackle and bags of soft plastics.  To my relief, I found the Ziplock of purple flippin’ tubes.  I was taking the time to rig up a second pitchin’ rod to compliment my cricket (I was using a Gambler BB Cricket).

The setting (minus the gator) reminded me of tules and cattails that I would pitch to at home and what the best, most productive ones looked like.

Having a bunch of confidence in that cricket, I started pitching with that.  Within minutes I had my first bite, but swung and missed.  I was probably the most happy I’ve ever been after whiffing on a fish.  My cricket was messed up, so I picked up the tube.  A couple of pitches later and the water boiled and I set the hook on my first catch in Florida – a 5lber!

Now maybe you’ve been in that situation where nothing you did worked for the better part of two days and then, seemingly out of nowhere, you find that “magic”.  When it happens so far from home and the lightbulb goes on, it’s kinda spooky.  You find yourself looking around to see if anyone else is in sight.  No homes, no other boats.

I released the fish and picked the trolling motor up and idled out of there and on down the bank.  As I did, I noticed another gator, birds darting in and out of the cattails and up in the trees.  I didn’t know why that pocket was alive but it was.  My mission now was to find more like it.

I ran the perimeter of what remained of Little Harris, not finding exactly what I wanted to find.  Some “maybes” but in the little time I had that day, I wanted to know when I see it that it was worth checking out.

Running back out into Harris Lake itself, I swung in behind an island and immediately said “bingo!” out loud.  There was a large stretch of varied cover.  Cattails, tules and wood cover that formed pockets, points, and alleys.  My first pitch with the tube yielded a 2 lber.  That was all I needed to catch.  Nobody was in sight.  I idled down the length of the island taking it all in.  Several hundred yards of just what I was looking for.

We had to be in by 3:00 and I had to go through two canals on the way back.  All that idling time left me plenty of time to wonder why no one else was around those two areas I had discovered?  I had probably found some community areas that most knew about and were not going to bother checking in the afternoon of a practice day.

But what if…

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