Well, I’m back in Dallas recovering from what was, by far, one of the harshest, most brutal fishing tournaments I’ve ever experienced at the Bassmaster Central Open on Lake Amistad. Amistad just isn’t herself at the moment and a 30 foot rise in water level from last year and some of the coldest temperatures on record for the tournament, only made things a lot worse.
I hit Lake Amistad at daylight on the Saturday before the tournament and ran some of the areas where myself and good mate and rod sponsor Ian Miller caught some fish on our trip last year. After a few hours of no bites I put my Skeeter/Yamaha on pad and kept my eyes glued to my sounder searching for some hidden drop offs or creeks that didn’t show up as well on the Navionics.
After an hour or so I came across a 15 foot flat that then dropped down into a 30 foot creek bed then back up to 15 feet. It was a prime winter/staging area for these Florida strain bass. I positioned my Skeeter and made a cast with a Hog Farmer multi rig lure up the middle of the creek bed. It hit the bottom and I made a short sharp rip with my Millerod ‘Rig Freak’ and went into a slow roll.
Then the rod was nearly torn from my hands.
I knew it was a big fish so I kept my rod low and was trying to not let a nearby boat see that I had a fish on, I pulled my trolling motor up and strapped my rods down while fighting the fish. I could feel her slowly rising to the surface and out of nowhere I saw this giant mouth thrashing on top.
It was the biggest Bass I had ever seen in my life.
I sat down in the driver’s seat, cranked my motor over like I was going to leave, grabbed her by the jaw and slid her over the side.
As she lay on the seat beside me I couldn’t believe the size of the bass. I wanted to get some photos so I put her in the live well and called good mate Josh Douglas and asked if he would come take a few pictures for me.
It was recommended I get it officially weighed because she looked over 12 pounds, so I took her up to the Texas Parks and Wildlife center and she went 10.20.
This was my first ever 10-pounder and the biggest to be weighed on Lake Amistad for over 6 months.
Even though it cut into my practice time, I didn’t care - it was an amazing experience and a fish of a lifetime. One I’ll never forget.
In the following 4 days I had an up and down practice. Some days I would find fish and the next I wouldn’t have a bite. The weather was relentless - sitting at 29 degrees (or -3 Celsius) and winds up to 35 mph. It was nothing short of brutal.
I fished hard all week and each morning I would try to be the first on the ramp and last off. I could never beat Edwin Evers, though. He was there after dark every day.
I have been working hard on my fitness at Crossfit and eating well every day and it 100 percent helped me throughout this tournament. I haven’t needed an energy drink since eating right and staying fit. I can go hard all day rig my boat and tackle at night, sleep well and be ready before day light the next morning to be back at them again.
Tournament morning approached and we hadn’t seen the worst of the weather. The temperature dropped to well below freezing with a solid 10mph wind.
I’d never felt anything like it.
I had the best warm weather gear I could afford and had on just about every piece of clothing possible. I had hand warmers, feet warmers, neck gator, beanie and had two sets of gloves on and it was just bearable.
I ran to my first spot and started to throw the Hog Farmer multi rig on a 30ft drop. After five minutes, my reels were becoming hard to wind when I realized my entire rod was covered in ice and my reel got jammed so tight with ice that it wouldn’t let the level wind come all the way across. Every five minutes I had to chip the ice from my reels and clean out every guide on the rod.
This is the reason I use the best of the best gear, my Shimano Chronarch and Curado powered through being completely frozen and went on to fish for a another two days without missing a beat and staying smooth like they were out of the box. Casting the Multi rig puts a huge amount of pressure on both rod and reel and my gear was up to the challenge. I was also worried about the ice cutting my line, I was using 50lb Power Pro Super Slick and again it did not let me down. The 3 make an amazing combination and many stories from other competitors having to use 5 or 6 outfits through the day from each one seizing were common when we can back in.
I didn’t realize how tough the fishing had gotten and I tried to run all over my areas to put a limit together and didn’t really slow down, my biggest mistake was not giving my 10-pounder spot enough time. My co-angler caught a five-pounder there dragging a drop shot while he sat on the seat, in a ball, shivering.
He looked in trouble so I gave him some of my feet and hand warmers to try get his body temp back up.
I weighed two fish for the day and sat in 78th after day one.
I am a positive person and try not to let things get me down for too long, but after the work and conditions I had endured through that week and for it not to pay off can be heart breaking.
I have a lot of support and got some great messages over night, I was ready to make a comeback even though I had never made a second day comeback in my three years here.
The next day I went straight to my 10-pound spot. This time the wind had picked up and created some current over the drop off. My plan was to drop shot all day to try put a limit together and save the points for the Central Opens, but the conditions were right for the Multi Rig, so I picked it up and caught a three pounder on my fifth cast.
I decided then that I wasn’t going to leave this area all day and to go for a big limit. I knew I wasn’t going to get many bites, but I ground out five fish all day - with a five pounder to anchor the bag and my final fish a solid four.
I ended up weighing in the third biggest bag of the day (15-6) and made a jump from 78th to the top 12 cut in 11th place.
It was an amazing feeling to make such a comeback after being down by so far. I knew I had a lot of people watching the live weigh in from back home and it was great to give them something to cheer about. I got an overwhelming response from it, it makes me want to push so hard and be the best I can be.
The third day was a blast.
I was on such a high, but it was still down to business, I needed to make a jump and you always have to go for the win even though I was 18 pounds behind the leader.
Who would have known by the end of the day I was two, five pound bites off winning the tournament. Fishing is a crazy game and one thing’s for sure - nothing is a guarantee.
I weighed in 3 for the day with big bass at 7-6 and it moved me into 6th place.
This tournament was a huge one for my confidence and reinforced that I should never doubt or never ever give up. It was an amazing week in all, as I was lucky to stay with Elite series pros Jeff Kreit and Mike McClelland and Hydrowave owner Gene Eiesman.
When these guys started talking fishing I stayed quiet and listened. They are two of the best anglers in the world I was very lucky to have that time. I learnt so much just staying with them for a few days.
A big congrats to Andy Young for winning the tournament. Andy was one of the guys that stayed back and cheered me on when I made the cut at Ross Barnett in 2013. When I broke my MinnKota prop he was the first there to lend me his spare. He’s a great guy and a deserving victor.
I have plenty of exciting things happening now - like heading to the Bassmaster Classic and picking up my new 2014 Skeeter.
I love the Classic it gets me so fired up.
My money is on Fred Roumbanis.
Next Open is on Smith Lake so hopefully I’ll have my Skeeter run in and set up ready to roll.
I can’t wait.
WHATEVER IT TAKES!