National Championship? – Part 4

Practice Day 3

With only one day of practice left, I decided to find more of the “good stuff” that I had discovered the day before.  Our day was going to be cut a little short, however, as we had to come in early and do a dry run through the weigh-in procedure for the tournament.

I had to be especially efficient that day as I didn’t feel what I had discovered would be untouched by other anglers for three days of competition.  I needed to anticipate that the two areas I had found would both have boats on them at any or all times of the competition and find more that I could go to.  After all, they were both too good looking not to get attention.  Plus my feedback in those areas had been immediate vs hours of nothing anywhere else.

If you can imagine, I had finally begun to put the pieces to this giant jigsaw puzzle together and had two or three remaining pieces that I knew the shape of and needed to find.  Day 3 was about finding those pieces.

Filling in the Gaps

There was still a large section of Harris that I hadn’t checked yet, so I decided to start there.  I would rather have everything in one lake since it would take up too much time to have to idle through canals during the tournament days.  The two areas I had found were maybe five minutes apart and no canals to travel through to get from one to the other.

The weather had changed on that day 3 of practice as I remember.  It wasn’t the hot/muggy kind of day but now was overcast and breezy.

I covered the rest of Harris and only found some “maybes” – puzzle pieces that looked close but didn’t really fit. I would stop, cover it with a spinnerbait, and the pitchin’ tube, and then move on.  As easy as the feedback was to get on similar looking areas the day before, I was stumped by not getting any takers on this day.

I resisted the temptation to go back to the “gator hole” and the island.  However, I did keep an eye on it when I could, noting the overall traffic flow in and out of those areas.  Pressure does not always mean anglers directly fishing for a group of bass.  Any associated noises that anglers make can have an impact.

I tried to keep Long Island and the sections of Little Harris that I wanted to fish (top far left) in view as much as possible – trying to gauge how popular it was.

I wasn’t noticing much traffic in and around those areas, but I hadn’t found those missing puzzle pieces either.

Fear of Failure

Just after noon, I had to make my way back to the weigh-in site for our mock weigh in.  Alone in the boat, idling through the canals, I had plenty of time to talk myself out of all of it.  This whole “plan” of mine was silly.  There was no way that those two areas wouldn’t have boats all over them.

As much as the canals were a pain to try and factor into the tournament, they were beautiful to look at.

The idea that this whole thing was a big deal was kind of an abstract idea up to this point in the story.  I had spent two days solo in a boat somewhere in the middle of Florida, but any fanfare or hype that you might associate with “big” tournament had been absent.

That went away as we went through our “dry” weigh-in procedure.  As we were being pulled out of the water by the B.A.S.S. staff, I could see that the park next to the ramp had been transformed into a big arena with banners, a giant stage, speakers, monitors, and seating for a big crowd.

I had almost forgotten that there was an actual tournament that was going to take place, with people watching and all!

We were pulled up to a “bump” station first where are fish would be checked by Trip Weldon, who was the head tournament official for B.A.S.S. and I knew of him from watching all those Bassmaster shows over the years.  He is the one that actually weighs the fish on TV and makes all the final decisions on rule violations.  In short, he is the “man” at B.A.S.S.

Trip explained the process, how we would pull our bagged fish out of the livewell as the boat and trailer pulled up to the bump station.  He would then take the bag and measure the fish.  Fish needed to be 12″ in length to count.  After checking the fish, we would be handed back the bag, which went back into the livewell and we would be pulled the 100 yards or so right up directly to the weigh-in stage.  We would literally step right out of our boat with our bag of fish onto the stage.

Bag of fish

It occurred to me in a comically obvious way that I had only caught 2 bass in three days of practice.  The limit, by the way, was 5…per day.

If you had zero fish, you were still going to be pulled through the process and would half to give Trip the big “ZERO” sign and then on up to the stage with your picture and name and hometown all over the oversized monitors with the music blaring.  Then you’d have to reach around and grab an empty bag from the livewell and step up onto that stage empty handed and then as the music faded and the whole crowd looked to you like “what happened?”, you’d have to explain how you came cross country and despite three days of practice you still sucked.

Gripped by the idea that there was a good chance I may have to cross that stage empty-handed, my whole attitude changed.

I had to find a way to bring at least one fish over 12 inches to that stage.

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