Charlie Hartley's Bass Wars


Dec. 22, 2010
Home for the holidays

I'm headed home — actually, I'll be home by the time you read this — and I couldn't be happier. Florida's nice. I love to fish her lakes, but I've been gone four weeks, without Tracey, and I miss the homestead. It's time to be home.

Early on, Tracey traveled with me almost everywhere. I never got homesick. She was with me, my business was a phone call or e-mail away, and I was nearly always fishing. Basically, life was perfect and I had no reason to miss anything. Everything I care about was with me.

That's not so much true anymore. Tracey is staying home more, and I find myself feeling lonely at times, almost emotional. I sometimes wonder what's happening. Is this a sign of old age, maturity, that I'm getting soft?

Not knowing exactly what the emotion is doesn't mean I don't know what it isn't, however — burnout. A lot of the guys avoid fishing and traveling in the offseason. Their reason is that they don't want to get burned out on fishing or the sport. I guess they think they won't have fun fishing anymore.

I suppose that's possible for some, but it's not possible for me. The day I left Florida, and as badly as I wanted to get home, I made a short run to a good-looking spot to catch one more bass before I left. Fishing burnout is a foreign concept to me. I can't even imagine what it would be like. How could you not want to go fishing? What kind of a man would think like that?

Once I get home, I'll have to do so some last-minute Christmas shopping and then spend some time at Signcom. After we celebrate Christmas and New Year's, I'll head back down to Florida and get ready for the first Southern Open on Toho. It starts Jan. 20. If everything goes as planned, I should have at least two weeks of practice for it. I'll use every minute of every day. I want a win!

Florida has been good to me over the years. Some of my most memorable moments in fishing have happened down there. In fact, I think so much of it I've been thinking about making it my winter home. It offers just about everything I want and need, except for smallmouth bass.

And I can take care of that need by traveling to Lake Erie in the summertime. It's no farther from Erie to Florida than it is from Florida to Erie. All I'd have to do is point the truck in the opposite direction and settle in for the drive.

That's about enough of my musings about my life for one blog. You guys have a good Christmas, and make sure you tell your wife, kids and extended family members how much you love them and how much you miss them when you're apart.

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Dec. 15, 2010
One cast, two casts

First, let me say I'm back bass fishing in Florida. Apparently some of you guys thought I'd gone over to the saltwater side after my last blog. Not to worry. As much fun as I had chasing sailfish, bass are still my fish of choice. I suppose they always will be.

This week I've noticed something about catching them that I've always known about but never talked much about. It's the strategy of casting back to the same spot immediately after I've caught one. It's amazing how many times I can catch another bass off the same piece of cover or off the same underwater structure.

When I talk about a second cast, I'm talking about making the same exact cast. Close, almost the same or darn near identical won't do. It has to be exact, precise in every detail. If it's anything different, you're likely wasting your time.

I know what you're thinking. Sometimes when the fish are especially active, you can catch several from the same general area. True enough. Nevertheless, the more exact your second cast, the more fish you'll put in the boat over the long haul.

Why this is so is a mystery. Some guys theorize that a struggling fish creates a response in other fish that draws them in to see what's going on, or maybe they want to help their captured brother. Either explanation might be the case, but I think something else might be going on.

If there was a fish in that spot, it's a good place. We know that because we just caught a fish there. Maybe that means that other fish are there, too — living in a school or in a group. Or, it might be that other fish are waiting their turn to move in.

No human knows for sure. It's just one of those things that happen when we're fishing, but we don't know why. There are dozens of things that fall into that category, so it's not unique in any respect except that this one really makes a difference in how many fish we catch.

This all came to mind this past weekend when I was fishing a tiny group of buggy whips (reeds) in a local tournament down here. I decided to put my second-cast theory to the test. It passed with flying colors. In fact, I caught three keeper limits from that little stand of reeds. It was amazing.

So, next year when you're fishing a tournament and you catch a keeper off a pitiful-looking little stickup, throw another time or two at it. You might be glad you did.

That's all for now. I'm going to leave my boat down here with my in-laws and return to Ohio for the holidays. After that, I'll head back south for some last minute practice before the tournament season starts.

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Dec. 8, 2010
Sailfish and salt

It's Tuesday evening, and I just got in from my second day of sailfishing off the Florida coast. I can hardly express how much fun I had out there. I caught three or four — my first sailfish ever — and are they ever tough fighters.

When I hooked my first one yesterday he jumped and ran and jumped and ran for over an hour before I finally got him to the boat. They fought even harder today. I'm guessing that's because the water has cooled down a little bit and that gave them more energy. I suppose saltwater fish respond to temperature pretty much the way freshwater fish do.

We hooked a double today. When we did, I saw something I wouldn't have believed if it hadn't happened right in front of me while I was standing there wide-eyed watching it unfold.

We (my friend Jim Casto and his son Tyler) had one on the bow and the other on the stern. That's a problem with a 50-inch fish that weighs a good 50 pounds and that doesn't know the meaning of the word quit.

Faced with that dilemma, the boat captain tied one of the rods and reels to a big buoy and tossed it overboard. The sailfish pulled everything away towards the horizon. That was of no importance to the captain. He turned; we landed the other fish and then went looking around the ocean for our buoy. When we finally found it we pulled it back on board to continue the fight we had started.

We had a problem, though. The saltwater got inside the spool and was causing problems. It wouldn't turn smoothly and the drag wasn't operating properly. Quick as could be, the captain swapped spools on the reel, tied the new line to the old and handed me back the rod and reel. I landed the fish.

The functioning drag was the thing. I never realized how important a drag was until I needed one today. We were using 12- and 15-pound-test line out there. That's really light tackle considering the size of the fish we were catching. Without a high-end drag, it would have been impossible to land one. They'd break you off on the first run but with that drag all the first run does is start to wear them out.

That's enough about sailfish. I've been getting reports from the Louisiana Delta that the fishing's tough and the weather is brutal cold. I wish I felt sorry for them but I can't. I'd give my you-know-what to be practicing for the Classic regardless of the bite or the weather.

But it was not to be; not this year anyway. Did I tell you I'm going to fish two Open divisions next year, as well as the Elites, in the hope of taking advantage of the new rules? If not, you know it now.

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Dec. 1, 2010
Learn to cast

I had an experience last week that bears repeating here. There's a lesson in it for everyone — especially for recreational anglers.

You'll remember that last week I opined Florida was good for the biggest bass of your life. Well, I almost caught one of my biggest ones a few days ago. I was fishing a lake down here with a Tiny Torpedo when I noticed an open spot behind 10 feet of lily pads. They're called gar holes, or at least that's what I call them.

I tossed my Torpedo into the back edge of the spot. Within seconds the water looked like a toilet had flushed under the surface. I set the hook and saw a bass that was easily in double digits. She was big. I knew I couldn't pull her through the pads, so I tried to ease the boat over to her.

It didn't work. She jumped straight up and then came down in the middle of the thickest part of the pads. All I saw after that was my bait hanging on a big, green leaf. It was frustrating to say the least. At the same time, however, it was thrilling. Better to have hooked and lost than to never have hooked at all, they say.

As I was reliving the experience, I realized that but for my casting skill, I never would have hooked that fish. I was able to set my Torpedo down in the back of the hole where I could get the most distance out of the presentation, and the most turns of the prop, before I hit the front edge of the pads.

Now, I'm not saying I'm the best caster around — far from it. I am saying that casting accuracy is a skill that's more important than many anglers realize. It used to be talked and written about a lot, but not anymore. I don't know why. It's something that anyone can learn to do with a minimal investment of time, and no monetary cost whatsoever.

If you'll spend 10 or 15 minutes a day practicing in your backyard or on your driveway, you'll be amazed at what you can learn to do. Then, next spring when the club tournaments start, or if you're just out fun fishing, you'll catch more bass.

You won't make four or five casts to hit the sweet spot behind a stump. And the next time you want to drop a jig into some heavy shoreline brush, you'll be able to do it instead of ruining the spot by hanging in a limb and being forced to jerk your lure loose.

This isn't the most interesting topic, and it certainly isn't the sexiest, but it's darn important. Think of it this way: You wouldn't expect to be a good hunter if you couldn't shoot accurately. Why do you think you can catch fish if you can't cast accurately?

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Nov. 24, 2010
Sunshine and warm weather

I'm in Florida working topwater baits and catching bass. It's a big change from Ohio where we're supposed to be well below freezing by the end of the week. I spent the whole morning swapping tackle around. That's one of the things I'd have to say I'm thankful for during this Thanksgiving week.

I know a lot of guys will say that Florida is an overrated fishery — that the fishing isn't as good down here as it once was. I have a different take on that line of thinking.

There's no doubt that there are better lakes around the country than are found in Florida. They have more big bass in them and they're easier to fish, at least for most of us. But, there's no other state where you can say that in any body of water, on any cast, you can catch the biggest bass of your life.

Before the economy tanked, I spent most of my winters here. My in-laws live a stone's throw from a ramp on Toho. This state has some of the best bass fishing — overall — that you'll find anywhere in North America. I say that as a man who's fished coast to coast for more than three decades.

One of the reasons a lot of guys have trouble down here is that they're not used to the effect of the wind. Most all Florida lakes are big, shallow bowls. Deep water is often 3 feet. All it takes is a minor shift in wind speed or direction to change the bite. (A lot of guys would say destroy the bite. That's not true. Change the bite is correct.)

You can't say that about most other parts of the country. The water's a lot deeper. That makes a big difference. And don't forget that Florida is mostly flat. That means there's nothing to break the wind, which increases its effect on the water and the fish.

Another thing is the lack of classic structure here. Florida lakes don't have deep channels, sharp drops and ledges, or bluff walls. At least most of them don't, anyway. A shallow, almost imperceptible, drainage ditch is what structure in the Sunshine State is all about.

Because of that, you're fishing grass and weeds down here. Savvy Florida anglers fish them like we Buckeyes fish rock and wood and deep, twisting channels. That takes a lot of practice and thoughtful fishing. You don't learn it overnight.

I don't claim to be a Florida expert. At the same time, though, I have had as much or more success here than anywhere else I've ever fished, and I'm telling you Florida is a great place to thaw out this winter and catch some bass at the same time.

Come visit and see if I'm not right. All you have to do is think different. You'll have a great time and maybe catch your biggest bass ever.

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Nov. 17, 2010
Steel's the deal

Last week was Indian summer here in Ohio. The weather was beautiful, gentle breezes with temperatures in the 70s and all that. As you might expect I played hooky from the office and headed to Lake Erie. I can't help myself. I'm an addict.

The only tough thing was the water temperature. It's still around 50 degrees. We were fishing with blade baits — Venom's Vibra-Max and Silver Honey — and everyone knows the bite gets better when the water temperature drops into the low 40-degree range.

I've always wondered about that. It seems like that would be a little cold, even for smallmouth. It doesn't seem to bother them, though. In fact it turns them on. We can file that under one of the many things about fishing we humans don't understand.

My friend Tom Harbison was with me and, as usual, he whooped on me pretty good. Last year I said he beat me like a rented mule. I'll not say that again. Frankly, I'm tired of hearing him quote it. I should have known better. But it really is true. The numbers were ugly.

We caught about 40 smallmouth the first day. He had 30, I had 10 — but mine were big. (Note that I didn't say mine were bigger, just that they were big.) I don't know what it is about Tom, but he has the feel with the steel. He seems to be able to make minor adjustments in his presentation on the fly.

That's what it takes. You have to make subtle changes as the day wears along if you expect to catch a ton of them. I know I'm going to hear about this, but he's the best blade fisherman I've ever seen.

We also did a little walleye fishing. They're unbelievable on Erie. We averaged about 7 pounds per fish with several in the 10-pound class. In all we caught about 180 pounds of them. I know I'm supposed to worship bass, but I have to tell you catching 180 pounds of anything's a lot of fun. It'll be even more fun this winter when Tracey fixes them for supper.

I'll be working in Columbus until the weekend when I leave for a couple of weeks in Florida. I want to do a little fishing on some of the Elite venues before they go off-limits and maybe visit an Open lake as well. I'm fishing two Open divisions this year. I figure the more of them I fish, the better my chances are of returning to the Classic.

The only responsibility I'll have when I'm down there, other than Signcom, will be attending my sister-in-law's wedding. I'm really looking forward to that. She's nice, and besides the church might have a pond out back I can fish before the reception. I'm thinking that would be a great way to kill time while they're taking pictures.

Next week ...

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Nov. 10, 2010
The karma thing

There have been big doings this week in our world. The sale of BASS is official. With new owners will come change. Naturally, all of us (professional anglers) are wondering what that means for us and how it will affect the future of our sport.

Our worries are not that things will go bad. They won't. The new group is top-shelf. (I say that as a businessman as well as an angler.) It's just that change is unsettling. We like things in predictable patterns. Most of us want things to be as they always have been.

There's one thing about this sport that I'm not wondering about, however, and that's the men and women who participate in it. I don't believe that'll ever change.

Anglers are a funny group. They'll beat your brains out on Thursday and then lend you a rod and reel to fish against them on Friday. I've seen it happen many times in the past and I'll see it happen many times in the future.

I'll never forget the break-in down in Florida. Basically, everything I owned fishing-wise was stolen. As soon as the story spread, my phone started ringing. The calls came in so fast that I couldn't answer them all. In the middle of all that, I had to answer the door to my room because guys were coming by wanting to know what I needed.

Those anglers were doing that knowing that I would use the tackle to try to out-fish them in a few hours. I was after the same check they were after. Nevertheless, they did it with a smile and a good luck wish.

In part, their actions were motivated by self-interest. If you do something good, it'll come back to you later — the good karma, bad karma thing. And make no mistake, everyone will need help at some time in this business, and probably in every other business as well.

Their bigger motivation came from the heart. Anglers are that way. It's a part of our soul. We want to help.

This topic reminds me of the Special Olympics commercial on TV. A young man is running on a track, nearing the finish line. He's obviously going to win. Another young man, way behind and in last place, falls. Everyone in the race stops and turns around to look.

Not one competitor will start running again until they know their fallen friend is OK. It's a camaraderie that exists in some sports that others have trouble understanding. Thank goodness we have it in professional bass fishing.

And so, while we think about the changes that are coming, wondering what they will be and how they're going to affect us, we should also think about what's permanent and far more important. The men and women who chase bass — like those who compete in the Special Olympics — are good people.

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Nov. 3, 2010
I think I like Oklahoma

I'm out in Oklahoma getting ready to fish the Fish & Chips tournament. This is another chapter in the good life that I wrote about last week. This has been a great week, and it isn't over yet.

We're fishing Grand Lake o' the Cherokees. It was formed in 1940 and is something like 46,500 acres. The fishing is supposed to be pretty good. I don't know that for sure yet, but I do know that the wildlife around here is extraordinary.

On our way to the ramp, we had to brake for a pheasant that was walking across the road without a worry in this world. You don't see that very often. And while we were messing around on the water yesterday we saw a couple of red foxes playing along the shoreline. That's something to watch. They were really cute. I enjoyed watching them.

But that's nothing compared to the place we're staying. It's in Quapaw, population 984 according the 2000 census, and I believe it was named after Quapaw Chief John Quapaw. (He donated land for a community school back around 1891.) It's called the Downstream Casino Resort, and I'm here to tell you, it's first-class all the way.

They have valet parking for your truck and boat as well as golf cart service to and from it after they've parked it. That's the sort of thing a guy could get used to. I can't remember ever having that anywhere else.

The parking lot is smooth as silk, too. I've been skateboarding all over it for the past few days with only a couple of mishaps. Of all the places I've been, it's the best skateboarding parking lot I ever seen. I love it.

The first night we were here they had a Halloween disguise contest. The winner was awarded a check for $3,000. You can imagine what the place looked like. There was one of everything and everyone. Nothing was left to the imagination — nothing. (Sorry. I don't know who won or what they were wearing.)

My partner and I thought about wearing our tournament jerseys and going as professional bass anglers, but we chickened out. I wish now we'd done it. It would have been a memorable experience, although I doubt we would have won anything.

We'll start fishing for real this Thursday. Usually I say I can't wait, but in this case the decision isn't so easy. When we're not fishing we'll be competing in poker tournaments. That's always a lot of fun. I'm better at it than you might think, especially considering how frugal — actually cheap — I am.

I'll let you know next week how everything turned out. I know one thing now, though. Even if I don't catch a single fish or win one hand of poker, this will go down as one fine trip.

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Oct. 27, 2010
The good life continues

I'm sitting at my Signcom desk working estimates for signs and wanting to be out on the water. It's more fun to go fishing than it is to try to figure out a way to bid a price below your competitors and still make a profit. Believe me when I tell you business is no less competitive than fishing.

I don't really have anything to complain about, though. Life's been good lately.

I didn't make it to St. Clair like I planned. It's just too far of a drive when Lake Erie is only a little over two hours from my home. I decided to go there instead. It was a great trip despite the windy conditions.

On Saturday, I bass fished. In the morning I boated a ton of smallmouth and would have had a five-fish bag around 22 pounds if I'd been counting. (Have you ever noticed how often "if" comes up in fishing? It's a big word for just two letters.)

In the afternoon I trailered my boat to a different location and targeted largemouth. I caught a lot of them, too, but not the weight I had in the morning with the smallmouth. My best five would have weighed something around 15 pounds, maybe a little more. That's a good sack, but it's not 22 pounds.

Sunday was another story. I fished with a friend for walleye all day. We slayed them. Our freezers are full. They looked so good I almost — note I said almost — want winter to get here so Tracey and I will have time to cook and eat them. There isn't anything better on this planet.

Sunday night I stayed at the lake with my friend on his boat. I say boat, but in reality, it's more of a yacht. Those things are nice, really nice. I could get used to living the way he does.

I've been working on my first mate skills in the hopes that he'll think about hiring me. Lord knows I would keep everything clean and shiny, although his boat's a little big for a carwash. I'd have to do it by hand. That's OK, though. I'm willing.

Monday turned into a day off from my real job at the office. I stayed over and fished a few hours before going home for dinner. The bass were biting, although it wasn't anything like Saturday. Those days only come along every so often.

The rest of the week belongs to my sign business, and then it'll be time to head out West and get ready to fish the Fish and Chips event. This year I'm going to work harder on my poker skills. That might be a way for me to pick up a little loose change. We all need some of that.

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Oct. 20, 2010
Change is constant

I just finished fishing a PAA event on Table Rock. During the event it occurred to me that the only constant in fishing is change. I say that because of what happened on Thursday morning.

In practice, the topwater bite was hot. The sky was overcast and there was enough wind to break light penetration. I was catching lots of bass on topwater baits. My biggest was caught on a Zara Spook.

But when the tournament started, the sky cleared and the water slicked over. When I arrived at my offshore hotspot there was no topwater bite. It just wasn't there. I knew if I was going to do anything I'd have to make changes and make them fast.

At the same time I knew the fish were there, and that I could catch them if I made the right adjustments. After switching to a drop shot rig, I started boating keeper bass. The constant in my pattern was a change in strategy and baits.

As I thought about this, I realized the same thing happened during practice. At one point I caught a giant bass. My Spook was walking along when one of the hook points snagged on a small piece of wood. I had to change my walking rhythm to get it off.

That slight change triggered a huge splash and vicious strike from a bass that was obviously following my bait. After that, I started mixing things up. The difference was amazing. It really increased my catch.

We all need to keep change in mind when we're on the water. The same thing doesn't always work. We need to alter our approach if we expect to be successful bass anglers. The constant is change.

I wish I could have changed the tournament result. I didn't do very well. Change would have been nice.

But enough of that — let's talk about fun fishing. I picked up my new boat on Sunday and am headed home to put my trolling motor on it. Once that's done, I'm heading to St. Clair to do a little fun fishing for smallies. I hear they're on fire.

I was talking to an old friend and former BASS angler, Art Ferguson, at the PAA tournament. He said there was a tournament up there the other day with a sack that weighed 29.86 pounds. That's a lot of brown bass, guys. I want some of that action.

A day or two after that I'll probably head to Erie for a little meat fishing. Now's a great time to catch walleye up there. If there's a fish on the planet that tastes better than a walleye, I don't know what it is.

Once they're in the freezer, it'll be time to head out West to fish the second annual Fish and Chips tournament. I'm taking Dan Welch with me again this year. More on that later.

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Oct. 13, 2010
Ice follies

I've had a number of interesting experiences at carwashes over the years, but with winter coming on there's one in particular that comes to mind. Before I tell it, however, you need to understand how a carwash is made.

Inside the bay everything slopes towards the center drain. The ramp up to, and away from, the bay slopes up so that the water drains into the driveway or the parking lot. This helps keep water from accumulating. It also allows ice to form in layers over everything when the weather's cold.

Some years ago I pulled into one during the middle of the night that had several inches of ice on the floor, the walls and on the ramps. It was a mess. I should never have gone into it. Nevertheless, I have a thing about my truck and boat being clean, so I did go in.

Things went fairly well during the wash and rinse part of this adventure. In truth, I was rather proud of myself. Not everyone could have washed a truck and boat under those conditions.

When I tried to leave, my truck started twisting sideways and sliding toward the wall. I couldn't get it out despite my best efforts. I finally decided to unhook my boat and try inching the truck out with the motor at idle. Once I got it out I figured I could push my boat out backward and then hook everything up in the front parking lot.

The truck part went pretty well, except that I slipped and fell a few times. Once I actually slid under it. It's funny now, but at the time — lying on my back under my truck with the wheels spinning on the ice — it wasn't all that amusing. The strange thing is, though, I wasn't really scared. Maybe I don't have enough sense to be scared. I wonder about that sometimes.

Anyway, I finally did get it out. I then went to the boat and started pushing it backwards by hand. That worked almost perfectly until I got it on slop. It started running away from me. I ended up on my belly with my back and neck arched up like a banana watching my boat and trailer snaking around the parking lot. Thankfully, there were no other cars in the lot.

After about an hour — maybe a little longer — I had everything hooked up and was on my way. I was sore and had a few scuff marks on my clothes, but my boat was washed. That was the important thing.

I'd like to be able to tell you that I learned something, that I don't use ice-covered carwashes anymore, but that wouldn't be true. I still use them in the dead of winter. Some people are slow learners.

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Oct. 6, 2010
Learning the craft

I've been getting a lot of e-mails lately asking me for advice about how to learn the craft of bass fishing. I certainly don't claim to have all the answers but I will offer you a thought or two on the subject. (I apologize for not being able to answer each one individually but there just aren't enough hours in the day.)

If you expect to learn to catch fish you have to catch fish. You can't fish tough waters and learn, at least not as fast as you can learn fishing easier waters. That's why I love farm ponds. They offer a small body of water that you can manage efficiently and they usually have more than enough bass in them to keep you busy for an afternoon.

The best ones are usually the ones with limited access. Don't despair. They aren't that hard to find. Here, near my home, there's a new planned community right around the corner. There are ponds everywhere in it. But they're all posted, and the "No Fishing" rules that ban non-residents from fishing them are enforced.

I was complaining to Tracey the other day about that. She informed me that her aunt and uncle lived in that community. Do I need to tell you the rest of the story? I didn't think so.

In one short afternoon, I caught at least 40 bass on a topwater bait. The hot bite gave me the opportunity to try new retrieves and new hook set techniques. The learning curve was almost effortless. I knew the fish were there and biting so I had the confidence to try new things, and I was able to figure out what works and what doesn't.

Let me tell you something else. I'm not the only pro who does that. Nearly all of us practice with new lures and equipment on "easy" waters or places we know really well.

Easy is in quotation marks because I don't want to mislead you. The bass in farm ponds don't just grab your lure. You still have to catch them, and they're still fish.

After the first time I caught all those bass on topwater lures, a serious cold front moved into central and southern Ohio. I went back to the pond and couldn't buy a bite on my topwater plug. The thing is, though, I didn't blame the bass or the pond. I knew I was in a place with plenty of hot bass so I knew the problem was mine.

I switched baits and started catching them again. I worked that bait in a number of different ways and learned new things about it, which is why I was there in the first place.

Learning this craft isn't always about fishing legendary waters from a big, fancy bass boat. It's about learning to use your tools in the most efficient manner. Ponds are great places to do that.

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Sept. 29, 2010
Tuesday night

This week we're going to pay tribute to the Tuesday night tournaments here in Columbus. What I have to say about them can be repeated around the country a thousand times. They really are the backbone of our sport.

I fished the first one when I was 14 years old. I had a tournament-ready fishing boat but not a driver's license. My mother was an alcoholism counselor. She would take her recovering alcoholics who had an interest in the outdoors and let them fish with me. It was a kind of reward for staying sober.

It was perfect. I had the boat; they had the truck to tow it with. Nowadays I suppose no one would do that, what with all the weirdoes running around. But back then it was a perfectly reasonable thing to do. No one thought anything of it.

Anyway, I've been fishing them for decades now. They are truly one of the fun things I do on the water. I don't always win — the idea that Elite Series anglers can dominate a fruit jar circuit is a myth — but I always have fun.

And, contrary to popular belief, the guys welcome me with open arms. In fact, they passed a special rule so that I could compete in the point's race during the year. If I can't fish because I'm off somewhere else competing in a tournament, I still get the show-up points. How cool is that?

The reason I'm talking about this is because I want all you guys who read my blog to think about joining a local tournament circuit. It doesn't have to be big or fancy. Just join a club or a group and go somewhere so you can fish competitively on a regular basis.

It'll make you a better angler. You'll have a chance to watch the fish move during the different seasons of the year. That's invaluable information. That movement will also force you to fish different types of cover and structure with different lures and different techniques. You won't be able to throw the same bait every time you go fishing, at least not if you expect to win anything.

At the same time you'll be able to spend time with good bass fishermen. Don't kid yourself: There's are a lot of great anglers out there who never get to fish professionally, but that doesn't mean you can't learn from them. You can.

Most of all, however, you should fish a local circuit because it's fun. Over the years you'll develop friendships and relationships that will mean the world to you. Your good times and good memories will multiply like you can't believe. The longer you do it the better it'll get.

I know. I've been fishing the local stuff here on Tuesday nights for about 34 years. I hope to be fishing it for another 34. It's the highlight of my week.

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Sept. 22, 2010
Fall color

In the last couple of blogs we went heavy and got inside my head. I hope hearing about my demons, and how I deal with them, helps you in some way. That was my intent, anyway.

I think sometimes as anglers, and maybe as human beings, we're too fearful when it comes to admitting our faults and our shortcomings. We think confessing that we're not perfect makes us look weak. In my opinion, that's nonsense. We all have a short side. My thinking is that we should admit it and move on. Life's too short to do otherwise.

But we've talked enough about that. Let's spend this week talking about fun fishing in September, October and November. It's my favorite time of the year, and for good reason.

I know a lot of bass anglers think that spring is the time for big numbers and big weights. In my experience, that's not always the case. The fall bite is more predictable and more reliable than anything you'll see in the springtime — or any other time of the year for that matter.

For one thing the weather is more stable. That tends to keep the fish in predictable places and in predictable feeding patterns. It also makes it easier to plan a day off work with the confidence that your day of fishing won't be ruined by an unpredictable Mother Nature.

The biggest weather problem, cold fronts, isn't really a problem at all at this time of the year. In fact, fall cold fronts often turn bass on, especially smallmouth. If you doubt what I'm saying, try fishing one. You'll be amazed at what you discover.

Along with that is the fact that the waters are less crowded and more beautiful, especially in the central part of the country east of the Mississippi River. In Ohio the leaves are just starting to turn and most anglers are now looking for spots to hang their deer stands. "Real anglers" have most of the water all to ourselves.

Fall bass aren't hard to find. Look for isolated cover on the shallow side of the lake or in the backs of the creeks, coves and cuts. Pay particular attention to anywhere that's near a spawning area or along a path into deep water.

Once you've found a good spot, look around, find what their feeding on and then match it as best you can. From there, it's a matter of casting, cranking and fighting them to the boat. They'll bite anything that matches the hatch.

While you're having all this fun, don't forget to document your catch with a few photos. Pick a spot with lots of fall color and hold your bass up proud with a big smile on your face. In future years, it'll mean a lot to you.

Go have some fun!

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Sept. 15, 2010
The confidence thing, part 2

Last week I mentioned the fact that I have trouble believing in my own decision-making power — to truly believe. Nowhere is that more evident than in my fixation on weighing in five bass every day, and nowhere does it hurt me more.

I've got a thing about that five bass business. I know it hurts me, but try as I might I don't seem to be able to change my mindset or to develop a different perspective on the issue. It's basically impossible for me to go across the stage without a limit of bass. I'm embarrassed to the point where it literally eats me alive.

Here's the thing about it. Some of the anglers I most admire — Denny Brauer is the one that immediately comes to mind — are willing to go for broke and come in with an empty sack, or at least less than a limit. They know that they can't win very often with five keepers. As Denny says, you can't be a hero unless you're willing to zero. He's got it right.

I know that as well as he does. It's common sense at this level of competition. Yet, when I'm out on the water and presented with that choice, I always go for the limit. Honestly, I can't ever remember doing otherwise. There's this inner sense of doom and gloom when I think about zeroing. My stomach is about the size of a walnut, and my armpits are soaking wet just thinking about it.

That doesn't make sense. I've been around long enough to know that if I'm going to win one of these things, I have to take the chance. It's not about strategy; it's about necessity. You don't beat the top anglers in the world by playing it safe.

There's an old saying in boxing that the challenger has to take the title away from the champ. It's not much different in fishing. You have to be aggressive and fish to win. But I don't, and that's the part that hurts the most.

Now that I've bared my soul, it's time to start thinking about doing something about this confidence thing. That's truly my goal for next year. If I'm successful, you'll know because you'll see me cross the stage carrying one or two good-sized bass with my head held high knowing that I went for it all.

And maybe, just maybe, you'll see me hoist a trophy or two somewhere along the way. I sure hope so, anyway.

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Sept. 1, 2010
The confidence thing, part 1

OK, I'm going to bare my soul: I suffer from FCS. That's Fragile Confidence Syndrome. It's plagued me throughout my entire adult life and it doesn't seem to be getting better.

That was apparent last week. I was fishing a tournament on the Great Lakes when my fish disappeared. For most guys something like that would have been disappointing, or maybe a challenge to be solved. For me it was a mess.

I ran helter-skelter about the lake looking for replacements. Finding fish wasn't the problem. There were plenty of them around. Finding the right size ones was a problem, however.

Now I know intellectually what I should do under those circumstances — make one of two choices. You can sit on your old spot and hope for the best, or you can keep moving until you find bigger fish. Either way is a gamble. Success is far from certain no matter what a guy does.

But, for me, it isn't that simple. I lack the confidence to make a decision, to truly believe that whatever I do will be the right thing. And without that mental attitude, all is lost. Because, you see, at the Elite Series level this game is all mental.

There isn't an angler on the tour who doesn't know how to fish. We can all cast accurately; we can all flip, pitch and skip; we can all fish topwater; and we all know how to drop shot. The thing that sets us apart is confidence; the ability to believe that what we're doing will put us on winning bass in the long run.

Let's go back to last week. Everyone who fishes seriously knows that smallmouth carry their suitcases with them. They travel at a moment's notice without any reasonable explanation, or at least any reasonable explanation that we humans are able to decipher from our vantage point.

And so, the long and the short of it is that there was no reason for my mental attitude. I know what smallmouth are and I know what they do. I should have expected it and been in a position to deal with it. My being in a tizzy over what to do was silly. There's no doubt about that.

The really frustrating thing is that I know all this but can't put it into play on the water. I'm fine as long as things go reasonably well. If they start to slide, or if I think they're starting to slide, it's another chapter out of the same book.

I just don't seem to be able to get it back. Honestly, it's very frustrating and I have no clue what to do about it. I can't tell you how many times I've been in a position to win and had this confidence thing jump up and bite me where it hurts.

We'll talk some more about this next week.

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Aug. 25, 2010
A first time for everything

The Northern Open on the Detroit River was a disaster for me. I marked fish in practice, but when I went back during competition, I couldn't catch a thing. It was about as ugly a tournament as I've ever fished. I mean when you can't catch fish on your home waters, where can you catch them?

In fact it was so bad that late on the second day I actually stopped fishing so that my co-angler could fish by himself and hopefully catch a limit and cash a check. I've never done that in all my years as a professional bass fisherman. Not ever!

The whole thing started shortly after lunch. I realized that the only way I could make the cut was with a 25-pound sack. I also realized that wasn't going to happen. It just wasn't in the cards.

My co-angler had one good smallmouth, but needed a limit. I knew where there were some largemouths in the river. I couldn't watch him go down the tubes with me. It just didn't seem right. So, I told him we'd go to the river docks, I'd run the trolling motor — he's not allowed to control the boat — and he could fish the docks by himself.

It worked out perfectly. He caught two more keepers to round out his limit. After that, I fished a little and caught a largemouth that almost hit the five pound mark. It's the first time I've ever weighed in a largemouth from that area of the country. When I'm on the Great Lakes, especially Erie, it's brown bass all the way as far as I'm concerned.

When I say things worked out "perfectly," that didn't include my state of mind. I have a reputation for being intense on the water. According to my co-angler, I'm even worse when I'm not fishing. That may be true. It's very difficult to control the boat for another angler when you're a professional. There's something unnatural about it.

Unnatural or not, it does give you a sense of pride to put another guy on bass when you know he's fishing for a check just like you. I don't have children but I'm thinking it's much like watching your kids succeed. It's a vicarious kind of success. I left the tournament in a good mood because of it, despite my dismal performance.

But that's all behind me. I'm now practicing for a tournament in another circuit.

After that, there's a PAA event on Lake Tawakoni (Texas) Sept. 9-11. That'll be a ton of fun, no doubt about it.

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Aug. 18, 2010
Wind, wind and more wind

I'm practicing for the Detroit River Open, or maybe I should say trying to practice. Saturday and Sunday were dream days. The weather was perfect. There was just enough wind to break the light penetration into the water but not enough to make travel or boat positioning difficult. The big smallmouth were biting. I was in heaven.

That all changed Monday with the wind. It's blowing like the devil and making the 32 miles of river seem like several hundred. I don't care how good you are with a boat, you can't make any headway with the high wind and the current.

And boat positioning is tough in this stuff. The importance of that can't be overstated. The river runs between Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair. As you get closer to each lake, the fish get bigger. But, like most things in this sport, it's a little more complicated than that.

The fish tend to position themselves on rocks — most of which are no bigger than my boat — in eddies, out of the current. Precise bait placement is the key. They don't venture far from the current breaks. You have to hit the sweet spot with every cast if you expect to be successful.

You can't do that if you're fighting 4-, 5- or 6-foot waves and rollers. It's just not possible. Obviously, these conditions will hold your weight down, and that's something that you can't let happen up here. Typical weights range between 20 and 26 or 27 pounds in this venue. One bad day and you're history.

While we're speaking of bad days, I was reminded this weekend of why you shouldn't arrive late for an Open. I drove from the PAA tournament up here and checked into the motel late. I had to beg like a dog at the supper table for a room and might have been better off if they hadn't given me one.

My boat parking spot sucks, and my room is as far from the entrance as you can get and still be in the same building. On top of that, my air conditioner sounds like a lawnmower. Add to that the fact that my extension cord is hanging out a third-story window and you can understand where I'm coming from.

Nevertheless, I'm having fun. I get to fish three tournaments in three weeks. For me that's about as good as it gets. I say "about" because it would be better if I'd caught a couple more fish at the PAA event. It wasn't pretty. I left in the dark of night with my tail tucked between my legs.

Wish me luck this week. I need a strong finish if I'm going to have any chance at all to be in New Orleans next February. You know that's where I want to be. The dream never dies.

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Aug. 11, 2010
In between boats

For the last few weeks I've been in between boats, and it's occurred to me that one of the most important decisions you can make is what boat you buy and where you buy it from. I mean, let's face it: A boat is a critical piece of equipment regardless of whether you're a pro or a weekend warrior.

My boats are Rangers. I purchase them through Dixie Marine in Fairfield, Ohio, between Columbus and Cincinnati. I couldn't be happier. Until I get my new one I've been fishing out of the owner's boat. He's one heck of a guy and his boat is beyond belief. I can't wait to get mine.

There is one drawback, however. You know I'm a little whacky — OK, a lot whacky — about taking care of things and keeping them in perfect condition. Knowing how I am about my stuff, you can only imagine what I'm like with someone else's stuff. It's been a chore, even for me.

When I come in at the end of the day I have to load the rails with bumpers, drape cloths over everything and stay far away from the other boats. Then, once the rig is out of the water, I have to wipe it down before I wash it properly.

Nevertheless, it's been a thrill to be treated the way I have been and a privilege to fish out of a boat like this. I'll tell you straight out that you should give a lot of thought to what boat you buy and where you buy it. Make the wrong choice and you could end up in a mess; make the right choice and you'll end up like me — a happy man.

Now that that's off my chest it's time to take a close look at the Open next week on the Detroit River. Stand by is all I have to say about it. It's likely to be wild. There's no telling what'll happen.

Over the past few weeks it's taken well over 20 pounds to win a one-day event. I know of a Friday night tournament — three hours — in which it took 24 pounds to win, and 20 pounds didn't make a check. Can you imagine what next week's fishing will look like?

The only thing I see that could mess things up is the wind. It's easy to make a 60-mile run to big fish when the seas are calm. That's another matter, however, when the wind is blowing 20 knots. It can't be done. If the wind blows we'll all learn the importance of having a second and third spot and pattern.

There's more to say about the Detroit River, but for now I have to go. I need to get my borrowed boat washed and polished and then get my tackle ready for tomorrow. I'm fishing the PAA tournament on Lake Norman.

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Aug. 4, 2010
Sick days

Back when I was a little tyke, spending my days in school and fishing in the afternoons, my mother had a rule that she strictly enforced. If I was too sick to go to school, I was too sick to go fishing. All the pleading and crying in the world didn't change her rule. I was probably the only kid in history who insisted on going to school sick. I don't think I missed more than a handful of days in 12 years.

Over the years I've tried to follow Mom's rule. I have a strict agreement with myself. If I don't go to work because I'm too sick, I don't go fishing. Need I tell you that I never miss a day at Signcom when I'm in town?

Last weekend I reached for a tacklebox — that's all I did, reach across my boat for a tacklebox — and went down like a rock. I pulled something in my back that isn't right yet. Regardless, I worked every day here in Columbus so that I could go fishing in the evenings. It was so bad at one point that I had to walk farm ponds. The pounding and jarring in the boat was just too much for me.

While all this was going on I spent a lot of time on the computer watching the doings down in Alabama. It occurred to me that we professional anglers have a tough situation when it comes to sick days. We don't have any!

All 12 of those guys fishing the postseason fished every hour of every tournament this year. No one asked them if they had the flu, if their back hurt or if they just didn't feel right. The tournament dates are set well in advance and they don't change. You fish or you come up short in the standings. That's the way it works.

At the same time, every angler on the tour has missed important family events because of how our business works. If you're in a race for a Bassmaster Classic spot, or for the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year, or just trying to make a check to pay the bills back home, you keep fishing. Family emergencies — within reason — don't count; neither do school or church events. You keep fishing no matter what.

That can be tough. Not everyone understands why you aren't there. It can — does — put a strain on family relationships.

Don't think for a minute that I'm whining or crying about my life or how I live. I'm not, nor do I think any of the other guys would either. It's just that there's a price to be paid for everything, and this is the one we pay.

This business is a lot of fun. There's no better way to spend your life than bass fishing. But it isn't free, not by a long shot.

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July 28, 2010
Is it my turn yet?

I'm back in Columbus after three tournaments in three weeks. I got a check in two of them and should have had one in the third. But, before I tell you that story, I want to say something about practice.

The week before the Open, I fished another tournament on Champlain. I only had one day of practice. Despite that, I had a pretty good event. That shows us that you can over-practice. It isn't necessary to have a dozen specific spots marked all over the lake. All you really need is an understanding of what the fish are doing and a little confidence in your abilities.

A lot of us fail to appreciate that fact. We worry too much about having enough spots when we should be worrying about what the fish are doing so we can make adjustments to our presentations when conditions change, as almost always happens.

The thing I really want to talk about, though, is the Open. I had a solid first day. I boated five bass that weighed 15 pounds, 14 ounces. I was in 45th place and figured I could move up and make the cut. All in all, I was in a pretty good mood.

A good mood that is until I launched on the second day and watched my co-angler boat all the fish. This has happened to me before, but this time may have been the worst ever. It's the worst I can remember, anyway.

I was on the trolling motor fishing and he was in the back dragging a Carolina rig behind the boat. How it all happened is a mystery, but I'll tell you it was ugly. Mostly, I just watched him use the balance beam. Do you have any idea what it's like to sit in the boat wondering when it's going to be your turn to catch one? I hope not, but suspect you do.

When we headed for the ramp, he had three bass that weighed around 11 pounds. I had five that went 12 pounds, 9 ounces. I missed the cut by 34 spots. How's that for frustration?

Now, let me be clear about one thing: My co-angler was fishing his water in a professional manner. I'm not saying he did one thing wrong because he didn't. (Which, of course, makes it hurt all the more.) Nevertheless, it gets old watching someone else cull fish, especially since I had control of the boat and had first crack at the water (and considering the fact that I'm supposed to be the professional).

I want to mention something else, too. Champlain's as good a bass lake as there is in our country. There's a never-ending supply of quality bass everywhere in the lake. A lot of the guys reported catching between 50 and 100 fish each day. How lucky we are to have it.

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July 21, 2010
Know your limitations

This week I promised to tell you how my car washing fetish — I don't like that word much — got started and why it matters to me as an angler. Here's the story:

Way back when I worked for McDonald's before I worked for, and ultimately purchased, Signcom. I didn't have much money. But, like most young men, I wanted a nice truck and boat. I bought one of each one time. The boat was financed for 10 years if I remember right.

At the time, the payments were sky-high. I was terrified I wouldn't be able to make them. I had a deep sense of guilt about the fact that the bank might have to take them back. I figured that they wouldn't want them back dirty so I washed them all the time just in case.

The repo never happened, but the habit has stayed with me all these years. I can't stand to know I have all that money tied up in a dirty vehicle or boat. Somehow it seems disrespectful to me and to the vehicle or boat.

It's also disrespectful to our fans. They have a right to see professionals fishing. Professionals don't show up with filthy vehicles and boats. It's just not right. What if some child wanted a picture? Am I supposed to back him up against a filthy boat, tell him to smile and then give him back to his mom or dad?

Because of that kind of thinking, I wash everything constantly. At home or on the road, rain or shine, day or night is of no consequence. I wash them. It's not what I do. It's who I am.

As different as that may be, it does have a positive influence on my fishing life. I'm the kind of guy who must have things in order and who must concentrate on the task at hand. That's especially true when it comes to fishing. Thinking about something else and trying to catch a big bass at the same time is not something I can do.

So every morning I make sure I do what I need to do to keep my business running, and I make sure my vehicle and boat are clean. That way when I go fishing I don't have to worry about either of them. I don't have to think about anything except the fish.

Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) in Magnum Force said, "A man's got to know his limitations." Harry had a point. He was a smart guy. Limitations are important. If you don't know what they are, you never know what to stay away from. If you don't know what to stay away from, something will jump up and bite you sure as the devil.

I most certainly know what to stay away from — dirty vehicles and dirty boats. I know my limitations.

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July 7, 2010
Hot weather holidays

I'm down in Tennessee prefishing Cherokee Lake for the first PAA event and getting ready for the first Bassmaster Northern Open on Lake Champlain. I'm telling you, fishing during a major summer holiday can get tough. There were boats everywhere last weekend.

It was a never ending stream of families and couples enjoying the water. And I'm not going to say they don't have the right because they do. It's their water just like it's ours. Nevertheless, it makes fishing tough. I don't think there was a stretch of water more than 100 feet long without somebody sunbathing, skiing or racing. Wild doesn't describe it.

While we're talking about wild, let me mention the Fourth of July fireworks I went to with Fred Roumbanis and his family. If you're a people watcher, this must be what heaven is like? Every kind, manner and description of human being was at the celebration. It was almost worth fighting the crowd on the lake during the day just to get to see the fireworks crowd in the evening.

The fishing's tough down here, and it's only partly about the holiday crowds. Cherokee has a 15-inch largemouth limit and an 18-inch smallmouth limit. Those are respectable size fish. It's not easy to catch a limit of bass that big, especially when the daytime temperatures are in the 90-degree range.

I'm not the only guy having trouble, either. Several anglers have pulled up to me — big name guys — and asked me if I'm catching anything. They don't do that when they're on fish. It'll be an interesting tournament.

After it's over this weekend, I'll be driving directly to Lake Champlain for the first Northern Open. I'm really looking forward to that. BASS puts on great events, and the fishing is more my style. I'll be able to swap my heavy tackle for some lighter, open-faced tackle.

I'd much rather fish for smallies with jigs, spoons and drop shot rigs. I feel comfortable doing that, and we all know that at this level, fishing is a head game. It's not about physical skill. We all know how to cast. It's about finding the bass and having the courage to do what it takes to win.

I had to pack for both trips before I left Columbus last week. I don't like to do that, but there's no way I'd have enough time to go home between tournaments. So, my boat is loaded to the gills with tackle. Some of it I can't use here and some of it I can't use there.

It sounds like I'm complaining, doesn't it? Well, I'm not. Even if I was, there are darn few guys who would feel sorry for me — having to carry around too much fishing tackle and all.

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June 30, 2010
Fishing's different for everyone

I'm in Columbus working at a real job this week. One of my top salesmen is off, so I'm doing a lot of things in his absence, things I'm not used to doing. He works hard, you know that? Some things aren't as easy as they look. I should have asked more questions before he left.

No matter, I'm getting ready to go back on the road at the end of the week. That'll be a relief. I can't wait to fish the first Professional Anglers Association event and then start competing in the Northern Opens. It's a new season as far as I'm concerned.

All this does bring something to mind that a lot of guys don't think about, however. At this level, fishing never stops. It's a 12-month activity regardless of what else is going on in your life. It's full-time in every sense of the word.

As a weekender you might fish a tournament or two and then not even look at your boat for another couple of weeks. I never do that. As soon as I get home, I start repacking for the next series of events. It never ends, no matter what.

The first thing I always do is pack my maps for the next trip. They're not as important as they once were with the electronics we have nowadays but they still matter. There's something about unfolding a map that's a part of fishing. It seems like it's what you should be doing. Paper maps in professional fishing are like wood bats in professional baseball. It's a part of the sport that should never change.

I have at least five maps of every lake I've ever visited. Do I need them? No, not at all. My electronics will do me just fine. In fact they're probably better than my paper maps. (Actually, I know they are.) But that's not the point. Maps are the point. You can't fish without them, or at least you shouldn't be able to anyway. It's cultural with me.

After that, I start looking at what I think I'll need when I get to the next venue. It's as much a ritual as anything else. Packing and repacking is good for the soul.

I've been doing all that — packing maps and packing and repacking tackle — for over a week now. It's really refreshing to look at what I call northern smallmouth fishing. I love it. If there's anything you can catch that's more fun than a dark brown, northern smallie I haven't caught it, and I'm not sure I could handle it if I did.

It's time to go. I've got to get this work done here at the office and then head out to the house. I need to put the finishing touches on my spinning outfits before I leave. I'll need them in July for sure.

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June 23, 2010

My mother often said that I should be careful what I wished for. It might come true. Well, now I know what she was talking about, and believe me she was right on the money.

As you guys know, I love to fish docks. It's my favorite way to fish. There's nothing quite as satisfying as skipping a plastic bait into an impossible place and pulling out a keeper. Fort Gibson was my wish, my favorite way to fish — or so I thought. Guys were fishing the docks. They were catching them, too. It was a great pattern.

The problem is I outsmarted myself. I saw my fellow competitors catching them on certain docks. I thought why fish those docks when there are plenty of others that haven't been touched? I'll just move over a ways and fish fresh water. There's no reason to fight the pressure when you don't have to.

It turns out there was a good reason why those docks weren't being fished — there were no fish under them. Duh!

Regardless of that, however, I do have one great story about the docks that I'd like to share. I broke a fish off on the hookset. She took about 8 feet of line with her when she snapped my line, snapped it like sewing thread.

I continued to fish and caught a couple of other bass from that same spot. And then I somehow snagged my line from the previous break-off. She was still on the other end. What an experience. (No, I didn't land her. She escaped twice. Thank you for asking!)

BASS certainly didn't have my problems, though. They swapped venues with less than 48 hours preparation. Everything went off without a hitch. It was absolutely seamless, very impressive.

And the Elite Series guys, what professionals they are. There were several anglers vying for a Classic spot and another group trying to make the Top 12 in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race. The lake fished small. No matter the stakes, everyone conducted themselves like professionals. I'm not aware of any problems on the water. Every angler understood that he was the face of professional bass fishing and conducted himself accordingly.

I also want to say something about the Oklahoma fans. They are the best ever. We had a ton of anglers in boats following us around the lake. Not a one of them picked up a rod and reel. They didn't need to show us they could catch them just like us, from the spot we were fishing. These guys are a class act all the way. They earned our respect. Well done to all.

All that said, another Elite Series season is over for me. It's time to spend a few days at Signcom and then look towards the Opens. Maybe I can still make the Classic. I'll keep you posted.

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June 16, 2010
My dream (almost)

I've always dreamed about a big tournament where no one had any practice time. Well, it almost came true this time. I just got to the ramp and found out that our tournament has been moved from the Arkansas River to Fort Gibson Lake.

Almost true is the operative phrase here. We'll have one day of practice, or at least that's the way I understand things at this time. That's not the same as no practice, but it's pretty close, especially when very few of us know anything about Fort Gibson Lake. I'll have to check a map to see where the place is located. One of the guys said it was close.

It's kind of neat when you stop to think about it. We'll all have to fish, practice and learn at the same time. It's more like a real tournament, or an event when everyone is in the same boat, so to speak. Ray Scott is probably sitting at home smiling as he thinks about it. You know he approves.

There's a crazy side to this story, though. I was actually catching fish on the river. Yesterday I would have had a solid limit of five bass and today I would have had three good ones including a 4-pounder. Given the conditions, that's not half bad.

They were all over my Tiny Torpedo, smashing it. I even caught one with no hooks on my bait. She grabbed the bait so hard it stuck in her throat. I was on bass. Sometimes you can't win for losing.

Nevertheless, BASS made the right decision. There's stuff as big as telephone poles floating down the main river and the current is dangerously strong. It would be really easy for someone to get hurt. We don't need that. Actually, I hit something coming in and feel more vibration than I should. That might be a problem.

The lightening was so bad today that I parked my boat in a small cove and put my head down between my legs until it passed. A couple of other guys beached their boats and ran into a little camper up on the shore. It was serious stuff.

The water's high, too. The ramp I launched from this morning isn't there anymore. It looks like the parking lot drops directly into the water. In some ways all this reminds me of back home fishing the Ohio River when it gets nasty — except that if I was home I wouldn't have caught eight keepers in the last two days. And for sure I wouldn't have caught a 4-pounder.

We were all fishing on top of each other, and it was only going to get worse. There just wasn't much fishable water. These backwaters don't clear like they do in some rivers. They just keep getting worse.

Anyway, tomorrow's another day on another fishery. Wish me luck.

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June 9, 2010
Summertime blues

It's summertime on a Tennessee River impoundment, Kentucky Lake. We all know what that means. The little fish are shallow, the big fish are deep. That's good for some of us Elite Series anglers but not so good for others. I'm one of the not-so-good-for others. In my world, it's the summertime blues.

There are tons of bass up against the shore. The water is relatively high, and that makes for a lot of good fishing spots in shallow water. You can catch one on almost every cast. The problem is they aren't big enough for a check ... or even to keep in most cases.

You can't win with little fish; I don't care where you're fishing. This is a tough business. In a lake with the weight potential of this one, you have to be on big heavyweights. Some of the guys are saying it'll take 100 pounds to win this week. That's the way it is on the Elite Series.

That's not good for me. I like docks and other shallow patterns. That's how I was hoping to earn my fourth check in a row this season. It's not likely to happen, though. But I have no intention of giving up.

I'm going to spend a little more of my practice time trying to find a shallow pattern that produces the weights I think I'll need. If that doesn't work, and I don't think it will, I'll have to move out on the ledges and do what I can with a deeper pattern.

It's not like I can't fish deep. I can. I know how to fish with deep-diving crankbaits, heavy jigs, big Texas rigged worms and heavy spinnerbaits. It's just that I feel more comfortable doing other things. It's a head game, really.

You think you're good at something like skipping plastics under docks. You catch a few bass doing it, maybe even cash a check or two. That reinforces the idea that you're good at it. Then you try something else. You don't catch a fish. Now you know you were right the first time.

If you're not careful, that kind of fishing becomes a vicious circle. As a professional, you have to break that train of thought and action. The only article of faith in this business is doing what works. You do whatever it takes to catch more pounds of bass than the other anglers. There's no other way.

That's enough for now. See you next week!

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June 2, 2010
Find your level

Last week was an exciting one for me. On Thursday I did a demonstration at a local pond here in Columbus for the Walnut Springs Middle School Fishing Club and my local high school club, the Hartley Hogs.

I spent about an hour going through my boat and telling them all about it. They must have been interested because I gave them the option of going fishing if they were bored and no one left. I guess that means they cared, or at least they were polite enough not to turn their backs on me and walk away.

One funny thing did happen during my presentation, though. I always tell everyone that there are no dumb questions. If you want to know something, you should ask. Well, one of the parents in the crowd asked if they could use my boat for a local tournament last weekend. I was forced to tell him that I was wrong. There are dumb questions. (I think he was kidding.)

After that, we all went fishing in the pond. They seemed to have a good time. There was one little girl there who had never caught a bass. I worked as hard as I could to help her. She finally hooked one, but it got off right at the bank. I think I was more upset than she was. It broke my heart.

I was reminded of something by that. Most fishermen and women just want to go fishing. They expect some of them will get loose. That's the way it is. They don't fish professionally, and they don't take things like that so seriously.

That's the beauty of our sport. You can participate in it at so many different levels. Here was this young girl who was happy to just hook and fight a bass. She wasn't at all upset — well, maybe a little — that it got away. On some level, I really admire that attitude.

Of course, it wouldn't work for me. I need to land them if I'm going to make any money and especially if I'm going to call myself a successful professional.

Speaking of that, Kentucky Lake is just around the corner. I think it'll be a great tournament this year. The water is in good shape and there should be some current. I'm guessing we'll really catch them next week. Don't forget, it starts on Wednesday. I think that's so we have an extra day to drive to Oklahoma for the final one out of Muskogee, Okla.

It's time for me to go. I'm writing this on Tuesday. I need to get some work done and then head out towards my Tuesday night club event. This week is especially important. I want to get back in the swing of things for next week. I want to make it four in a row.

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May 26, 2010
Looking up

Clarks Hill was reasonably good to me, all things considered. I was concerned after Thursday when I only caught 8 pounds, 7 ounces. I don't care how much you practice or how much you talk to the other guys, you never really know what it's going to take in one of these things to make a good showing until you see the actual weights.

Nevertheless, I knew that 8 pounds wasn't going to get it done, tough bite or not. Somebody's going to average better than a pound and a half per fish. Friday was better. I added 11 pounds, 11 ounces to my total.

That gave me enough to make the first cut. I was reasonably happy with that. On Saturday I had trouble. I caught a couple of good ones early on but then couldn't finish the day with anything that mattered. I ended up with four fish that weighed just over 8 pounds.

When everything was over, I was in 31st place. That was good enough for a check, and it moved me into 62nd place in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings. I'd like to be higher, but, given the way my season started, I can't complain.

This is my third check in a row. A writer asked me what I was doing different, why I was doing better? I really don't know. It might be that I was so far down after the first couple of events that the pressure was off me. I'm more relaxed on the water.

It could also be that I'm concentrating more on trying to catch bigger bass. That's hard for me. I really feel embarrassed when I don't have a limit at the weigh-in — try as I may I can't get that thought out of my mind. It's like a ghost hovering over my head.

I also know, however, that you don't win against these guys with little fish. They're just too darn good. Those two emotions — goals — are constantly at war in my head. It's a struggle, but I'm doing better. Maybe if I fish another 20 or 30 years I'll be able to put them in the proper order. Then again, maybe not. Ha!

This week off is refreshing. It'll give me a chance to catch up on my work at Signcom and do some other things around the house. Then we'll head for Kentucky Lake. I always look forward to that tournament. There might not be a better numbers lake in North America.

That's enough for now. It's Tuesday and you know what that means — my local bass club tournament here in Columbus. I need to get there early so I can change lures. Around here if you throw Super Spooks and Pencil Poppers, the bass run for the hills. They're smart enough not to try to eat anything bigger than themselves.

Later ...

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May 19, 2010
Tennessee River water

I'm practicing for the Clarks Hill event. This is a very different lake than the ones on the Tennessee River that we have been fishing. Monday was a perfect fishing day — or should have been, anyway.

It was cloudy, overcast and misting rain all day. Every so often there'd be a storm blow through. Yet, not much was happening. Bass were few and far between. From what I heard, the other guys are experiencing the same thing. Unless something changes between now and Thursday, this is going to be a tough one. At this point I'd have to say the weights will be down and the anglers will be separated by ounces, not pounds.

I think they should pump some Tennessee River water into the place. Maybe that would give it some life. Don't get the wrong idea, I'm not bad-mouthing the lake. Clarks Hill is a great bass fishery. This just isn't the best time.

What's especially frustrating to me, and most of the other anglers, too, is that there's no topwater bite. This lake is legendary for its topwater action. We all look forward to it. I don't care how you like to fish, or what you consider your specialty, there's no better way to catch a bass than on top.

And speaking of catching them on top, I stopped at Lake Murray on my way here and did something I haven't done in a long time — slept in my truck. The topwater bite was so good I fished late into the night. I couldn't leave. The action was nonstop. Finally I did get tired and slept a couple of hours in my truck. When I woke up I immediately went back out for some more action.

That sounds crazy, I know. I fish all the time and still I can't get enough. Fishing never gets old to me. I can do it all day long for weeks at a time — catching countless bass — and the next morning I want to go just as bad as I did the day before. It's like I haven't been in forever.

I honestly think it's an addiction. I mean, it isn't normal to feel that way and do what I do. I'm the first to admit that. But, I don't care. I love it. It's what I want to do all my life. Who knows, maybe I'll die with a big bass on the end of my line.

Come to think of it, that's probably the best way to go. I mean, what else would a guy want to do in his last moments on this earth? (Yeah, I know. Some of you are laughing and coming up with other suggestions. Well, you can have them. I'll take fishing.)

That's enough for now. I need to find some keepers before Thursday or I'll break my two-tournament streak of earning a check.

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May 12, 2010
Charlie's way

Hey, man, is this ever great. I've earned a check two weeks in a row. I know that doesn't make for a career year, but it sure does beat the alternative — three tournaments without one.

My ribs are bruised from setting the hook last week. I know that sounds crazy, but it's true. I have a big, brown-black mark on my chest from driving the butt of the rod back. I can't say I've ever caught so many fish in four days. It's a dream come true.

Look at it this way. In three days I weighed 15 bass for a total weight of 39 pounds, 7 ounces. I finished 37th. What's that tell you about the lake and the caliber of angler I'm competing against.

I think my success has come from my finally realizing that I have to fish my way. In the past I've paid too much attention to what was going on around me — dock and tackle shop talk — and not nearly enough attention to what I felt I should be doing, fishing to my strength.

This week illustrates what I'm talking about. Most of the pros were fishing off the bank, out on the drops and ledges. They were catching fish, too. Maybe I should have done that. There's no arguing with success.

I didn't follow that pattern, however. I targeted the back of docks where the last of the postspawn bass were at. That wasn't the best pattern for some of the guys, but it was the best one for me. It worked. That's all I care about.

My 6-inch Salty Slingipede (Venom Lures) did the job. I skipped it way back under the dock with light line. Most of the time I was able to crank them out as long as they weighed no more than 4 pounds. Anything over that was a problem, though.

I used Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon line, 8- and 10-pound test. I wouldn't even consider using anything else that light. A 6- or 7-pound bass is hard — read that to mean darn near impossible — to move with tackle that light. You have to have the best line made. In my opinion that's Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon.

It's time to go. I need to put some miles in my rearview mirror so I can be at work Monday morning at Signcom bright eyed and bushy tailed. There's a lot of stuff backed up on my desk. I can't say I'm looking forward to it, but we all know where I'd be without that company.

After a week of that I'll head towards Clarks Hill. That'll be different. By then the spawn should be officially over and most of the bass will be settled into their summer patterns. That's not my favorite way to fish but with my new attitude I think I can handle it. Let's hope so anyway.

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May 5, 2010
Sweet success

Finally, I've had some success. Pickwick was good to me — not great but good. I fished on Saturday and cashed a check. That's what you're supposed to do as a pro. Halleluiah! It's about time after my slow start this year. It really feels good to have a little success.

And how about that Kevin Short? What a performance. I mean, when you catch two big ones while your lure is stuck to a tree you know it's your day. He's a nice fellow. I'm really glad for him. He earned his win fair and square. That little crankbait he throws is dynamite.

Anyway, I'm on Guntersville having the time of my life. The fishing here is even better than it was on Pickwick. Believe me when I say this is going to be one heck of a bass tournament.

I think every angler in the Elite Series is familiar with the lake. Most of us have fished it over and over again. In some ways it's darn near our home water. Add to that the fact that we all know what the successful guys have done here in the past to catch their fish and you can see where I'm headed.

Based on a short two days of practice, I'd say it'll take 25 pounds a day — maybe more — to win this one. I know that sounds heavy, but the fishing is awesome. There's no other word for it.

There was a local tournament here a couple of days ago — 25 boats. Eleven of them weighed more than 20 pounds. When's the last time you weighed in 20 pounds and didn't get a check? I'll wager you can't remember. Stand by for a shootout is all I'm going to say. It's going to get ugly.

If any of you are looking for a great place to go fishing, think about the Tennessee River impoundments, especially Guntersville. I've fished most of North America, and I can tell you that series of lakes is as good as it gets. They rival anything I've ever fished, and they're a lot closer for some of us than the exotic places in Texas and California.

I'm not saying anything bad about those places. It's just that these lakes are every bit as good. That's something to keep in mind if you're on a budget. I suppose that's all of us now, isn't it?

At the same time, I'm not saying you don't have to work to catch them. You do. They don't jump in the boat. And I'm not saying you can't come at the wrong time. You can. Nasty cold fronts haunt all of us. It's just that these lakes are as good a bet for a great trip as any place you can go in our country.

That's enough jaw jacking for now. Wish me luck come Thursday.

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April 28, 2010
It's a great day!

It's a great day to be a bass pro. I've taken a short break this evening (Tuesday) to write this blog, but I have to tell you it wasn't easy. The fish are biting like crazy. Catching a limit is basically a matter of throwing whatever you have tied on your rod. Topwater plugs, jigs, spinnerbaits and crankbaits are all producing. I even caught one on a Carolina rig.

Most of the bass are in their postspawn mode. The smallmouth are a little farther along than the largemouth, but, of course, that's to be expected. If we don't get a radical change in the weather, I'd wager that almost every angler out here will weigh in a limit the first day. The fishing's that hot.

The problem with that is that it'll take finding the bigger bass to make a check or do really well in this thing. I'd say that's what'll separate the winners from the also-rans. (That's not as obvious as it sounds. Sometimes just finding four limits will put you up toward the top.)

I'll give you an example of what I'm talking about from today. I had trolling motor problems. While I was waiting for the parts to arrive, I fished near the service ramp. Normally I would never do that. It's mostly a terrible strategy, but when you're waiting for parts, you don't have many options. You have to be available when the guys have the time to make the necessary repairs.

During a very short period of time I developed a solid morning smallmouth pattern. I already had an afternoon pattern, so it put me in pretty good shape. Maybe I can start digging myself out of the hole I am in after the first three events.

The only real problem so far has been the wind. It's been blowing like crazy. That means we've all been confined to the shallower areas of the lake near the bank or in the backwaters. None of us have been able to get out on the main lake, over the channel and fish the drops and the ledges. The water's just too darn rough.

That could make a big difference come Thursday. One or 2 pounds per day over the average will probably make the difference here. Assuming that the bigger bass spawned first — as they often do — they might be way out in the main lake by now. It's possible that'll be a big help to the guys who like to fish deep.

But, hey, I'm not going to complain. I really feel good. I've been catching bass all day long for the past two days. On top of that, I have a morning pattern and an afternoon pattern going into an Elite Series tournament. How can life get much better than that?

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April 21, 2010
You live, you learn

I had a really interesting experience on Friday at the Smith Mountain Lake tournament. I was fishing a dock when I happened to notice a 5-pound bass swim right past my boat. She didn't seem to have a care in the world. Then, a minute or two later, a 3-pounder did exactly the same thing.

Now, I don't claim to be the smartest angler around, but I do know when I see two bass do that it's time for Charlie to go bed fishing. It's not something I like to do — I don't see very well — but sometimes you have to take advantage of the opportunities you're given.

I caught the smaller male in short order. And then, to my amazement, I saw another 3-pounder swim into exactly the same area. One male replaced another in just a few minutes. I've never seen that before. Usually it takes a few hours, at the least.

Like a good Elite Series pro, I caught the second one, too. With no more males around, it was time to go for the bigger female. Like her boyfriends, she fell prey to my plastic worm rather quickly. In about an hour I had put almost 11 pounds of bass in my livewell.

The crazy thing about all this was the order in which the bass were caught. I've always been told that if you catch the male first, the female won't bite; or at least it's darn hard to get her to bite. That's basically an article of faith among bass anglers.

That didn't happen here. I took two males off the same nest in a matter of minutes. The female wasn't bothered at all by that. She was willing and able to fight with my plastic almost as soon as it hit the water.

I said before that I don't like to bed fish. Maybe a better way to put that is that I find sight fishing difficult because I can't see the fish under the water. I'm always amazed by guys who tell me about fish on beds that I never see, regardless of how big they are or how clear the water — or anything else for that matter.

Some guys say it's a matter of having the right sunglasses with the right polarization in them. Maybe, but I still believe it has something to do with your natural vision. Some people see better than others, pure and simple. I've always wondered if wearing glasses has anything to do with it.

Anyway, my experience at the dock last Friday leads me to believe that I'd better look more closely at sight fishing and the skills it requires. It seems like a pretty good way to catch bass to me.

Next week I'll write from Pickwick and give you a preview of what to expect. I'm thinking the fishing will be spectacular.

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April 14, 2010
Ready to pop

It's a great day to be a bass pro! I'm prefishing Smith Mountain. The water's 65 degrees, the sun's out, the air is 75 degrees and the fish are shallow. What more could a man ask for in life?

Days like this make me wonder if this is really a business. I know I preach all the time about treating it as such, but how can it be a business when it's so much fun? There's something not right about that. Business is supposed to be work, not fun.

I wonder sometimes if there are others out there competing in a sport at a professional level who love what they do as much as me. I suppose there are, but I have no idea who they are or where they can be found.

This will probably be a wild event. The water temperature is in front of the fish. By that I mean that we went from winter to spring in a matter of days. It looks to me like the bass are trying to do their prespawn eating at the same time they're moving toward the beds. Everything is happening all at once.

Along with the weather, it looks like Mother Nature has changed this lake a little, too. I'm guessing there were bad ice storms and high winds around here over the winter. The shoreline is covered with new trees and brush that's blown into the water. Add that to the high number of docks on the lake, and there's no limit to the shoreline cover a guy can target.

I don't have to tell you what that means to us fishermen. Every piece of wood is full of forage and the bass are right in there with them. They're all at less than 8 feet and some are even schooling. You can catch one on almost every lure in your boat — topwater, spinnerbait, crankbait, plastic or jig. It makes no difference.

This will be a different tournament than last year. We didn't expect that when we were driving here, but it's obvious now. You can target big prespawn females, or, by tournament time, you'll be able to catch them off the beds, if that's your thing.

That's a dynamite combination for a group of Elite Series guys. Everyone will be able to fish to their strengths. That means high weights and an exciting finish. It'll take around 15 pounds a day to be a player this week and maybe 17 or 18 to win. That's heavier than last year when VanDam won with a little less than 62 pounds.

It's time to go. I need to calm down — no easy task under these conditions — and develop a pattern that'll get me a strong finish this week. I'd like to find a big fish prespawn pattern that'll hold up for four days. I'll need that if I'm going to make the Classic.

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April 7, 2010
More good memories

I fished the Good Friday tournament and did we ever have a ball. It was great. To be honest I'd forgotten how much fun it is to fish competitively just for the heck of it. There wasn't the pressure of trying to win big money or worrying about the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings.

There was a lot of pressure on the bass, however. That's something we don't see in the Elite Series, or at least not to the extent we see in recreational tournaments. We fish bigger waters and only have about 100 anglers out there, so it's a lot different.

The boats were stacked on top of each other from the beginning of the tournament until its end. Fishing that way is difficult. You have to fish your spots, but at the same time you have to try to be respectful of the other anglers. It's a tough balancing act.

To be fair to Indian Lake, however, it was a really active weekend with perfect weather. On Saturday, immediately after Good Friday, there was an icebreaker event I fished. While our bass tournament was underway, there was also a crappie tournament, a sauger tournament and a walleye tournament going on.

It was a little frustrating at the time, but in the grand scheme of things it's pretty good news. Fishing as a sport is strong, and even if we prefer to fish for bass it's nice to know that other guys are able to pursue their fish of choice. A little variety won't hurt.

There's another thing I want to mention, too. The Bassmaster Marshals program is great. If ever there was something that brought its positives to light, it was this past weekend. It reminded me of how great it is to fish without worrying about another angler in the boat catching your bass.

Now, I'm not saying that the guys in the back of the boat don't have the same right to the fish that I do, because they do. They paid their entry fees just like I did, and they have the same rights that I have. It's just that it's really nice to know that you're the only angler casting.

I'll spend most of this week getting ready for Smith Mountain. I'm a little worried about that perfect weather I mentioned. I said a week or two ago that I wanted to fish prespawn bass, not bedding bass. I think I may have jinxed myself. With this weather the way it is, it's possible a lot of the bass down there will be on the beds.

Nevertheless, I'm really looking forward to this tournament and the two after it. These are familiar lakes that we've all fished before. Our tour should settle into a more traditional pattern.

I'll write next week after I've practiced a couple of days.

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March 31, 2010
Good Friday, good memories

I'm back in Columbus working at Signcom waiting for Friday to get here. Every year on Good Friday they have a big tournament on Indian Lake here in Ohio out of Acheson's Resort. The lake is a great bass fishery, and Acheson's offers good food, lots of fish pictures and plenty of big fish lies ... I mean stories.

Way back in my youth, maybe 25 years ago, I was a kid from the city with very little tournament experience. I started going to Indian Lake to learn how to compete. I met a couple of guys — Don Kraft and Bob Mosher — who helped me get started.

They were involved with the Trophy Bassmasters and the North Side Bassmasters, a couple of local clubs in the area. Everyone sort of adopted me and helped me get going. Those were great days filled with bass, laughs and learning experiences. I wouldn't trade them for anything.

I can't say enough good about Kraft and Mosher, two men who were willing to help a struggling kid learn how to fish under the clock. They were my heroes then and still are today. It's no exaggeration to say that they own a part of everything that's been good about my career.

Anyway, I'm going to fish the Good Friday tournament this week for the first time in about 10 years. I really don't know why I haven't been back, but I haven't. This is the year to correct that. There'll be at least 100 boats entered, and I'll know the guys in 90 of them. It's going to be a great day.

Indian Lake is also the place where I once fished a tournament in which no keepers were caught. In all my years of fishing, involving hundreds and hundreds of tournaments, it's the only time I've seen everyone in a tournament blank.

Here's how it happened:

It was early in the year. The night before we had a snowstorm blow through that dumped 18 inches of snow on us. As my partner and I were driving toward the lake, I commented we'd be the only ones dumb enough to show up.

But, to my surprise, when we arrived at the ramp there was a long line of trucks and boats waiting to launch. Some of the guys were out shoveling snow off the ramp. I actually thought there'd be some bass caught, but that was not to be. We ended up dividing all the money into five equal parts and drawing for them.

Next week it'll be time to get ready for the Smith Mountain event. I hope this good weather doesn't put them on the beds. I'd rather fish for prespawn bass than try to catch them sight fishing beds. Don't get me wrong, Smith Mountain is a great bed fishery. It's just that bed fishing isn't my thing.

I'll give you the Indian Lake update next week.

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March 24, 2010
I need more docks!

This is my second trip to California without coming home with a check. It's getting old. Clear Lake is the most beautiful place in North America, but I wish it was a little more generous.

My dock strategy needs some serious adjusting. Don't get me wrong; I love to fish docks — pick them apart one cast at a time — but my fish haven't been holding up on them. This tournament is a prime example of what happens and how it hurts me.

I had a solid pattern going into the first day. I fished my docks with a jig and a Venom Salty Sling for a total of 16 pounds, 2 ounces. Friday looked good when I went to bed Thursday night. A limit looked like a sure thing. If I could push my weight up just a little bit I'd be in good shape to make the cut and fish on Friday.

It didn't happen. I wasn't even close. My fish just didn't hold up. The frustrating thing about that was the three keepers I did catch were the right size. They weighed over 11 pounds. If I had caught five of them I'd have been in much better shape. Six or 7 pounds would have put me well within the first cut weight.

Even more frustrating was the fact that I didn't fish them out, or stayed too long in one place, or didn't try to manage my fish. The mistake I made was counting on them to replenish. They didn't do it.

That's probably because my docks were the last staging spot before they went on the beds. I figured they'd be moving all day, every day from the docks to their final spawning destinations, and then other bass would take their place. That didn't happen.

The weather had a lot to do with that. It warmed up nicely during the day but the nights were cold. The bass didn't move as fast as I thought they would. (Actually, a lot of the guys were experiencing the same thing. We let the weather fool us.) Next time I'm going to have to find more docks. It's my only viable option.

I honestly don't think I can fish a dock any more thoroughly than I already do, and not fishing them is out of the question. It's a matter of pride with me. I fish docks, period. When I leave one there's nothing left. Every spot, from every angle, is covered. Like I said, my only viable option is more docks.

Regardless of all that, however, California is in my rearview mirror. Smith Mountain Lake and Pickwick Lake are my next challenges. They're different fisheries — the bass are smaller and the fishing's tougher — but they're still two of my favorite places.

Until then I'll be in Columbus working at Signcom trying to make enough money to keep this career going.

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March 17, 2010
Clear Lake — It's extraordinary

I'm with Wade Grooms. We're getting ready to launch at a small lake near Clear Lake so we can work on our swimbait tackle for tomorrow. (I'm writing this on Sunday.) We need to get that done, but it's hard to keep our minds on business. This has to be one of the most beautiful places on earth. I can see why so many people like California.

From my motel room I can see snowcapped mountains in the background, and palm trees along the bank of the lake in front of my room. It'll take your breath away. And remember who's writing this — a guy who has spent most of his adult life traveling around the United States. I've seen a few things. This is one of the best.

The Delta is about the same, except different. It might not have the scenery of Clear Lake but where else can you fish for bass with an 8-foot sea lion swimming around your boat? It's crazy. You work your way back into a canal without a bite wondering why. Then, all of a sudden, out of nowhere one of these things surfaces right next to you. You can't blame the bass for hiding. Heck, they make me nervous.

OK, let's get back to reality. We'll be able to practice tomorrow morning. Wade and I need to get our tackle ready. Heavy swimbait tackle can be a problem for some of us.

Coming from the Midwest I don't have much experience throwing big lures. We just don't do it in my neighborhood. Giant bass lures require special equipment and a lot of practice if you expect to catch fish with them. It's not a spur-of-the-moment thing.

I need to decide which rods I'll use with which reels, spooled with which line. The baits we're using are big and they're heavy. Some of the plastics are over a foot long, and some of the hard baits weigh 4 ounces. You don't throw that kind of stuff with Ohio bass tackle.

This place we're going to is supposed to be just like Clear Lake. We should be able to rig what we'll need to get started. Once we're fishing the real thing tomorrow it'll be a matter of adjusting to the current conditions. Basically, that means finding the right giant lure to throw in the right place to catch a giant bass.

A lot of us will be fishing with local baits. If you're ever out this way, make sure you check out the tackle shops. A lot of them specialize in handmade lures. They're bad to the bone.

The very best ones can be described as works of art rather than fishing lures. The attention to detail is extraordinary. They aren't cheap, either. The finest ones will cost you a pretty penny.

It's time to go to work. I'll write after the tournament.

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March 10, 2010
California dreamin'

I'm on the Delta practicing for the first 2010 Elite event. This place is something else. We haven't been here for a while. I'd forgotten what it was like. It's bigger than I remembered and about as "fishy" a place as I've ever been on.

It's basically a series of canals or narrow waterways — thousands of them — that extend into backwater areas. No matter where you stop there's shallow water with deep water nearby. It's perfect for bass fishing.

It's extraordinary. Check it out on Google Earth. Imagine every blue finger you see filled with shallow water habitat and a channel that's 30 or 40 feet deep. That's what I'm fishing, and it's never ending.

They have reeds out here that they call tulles. All you have to do to catch a bass is toss a plastic stickbait into them and let it fall naturally. It'll be "fish on" in a matter of moments. The problem is those fish won't be big enough to win, or at least the ones I've been catching haven't been big enough.

I don't think I've fished anywhere that I haven't caught a keeper bass. That's a two-edged sword, however. It's great if you're out fishing for fun. There's no way to complain about nonstop action.

But it's real trouble if you're a professional angler fishing against the best. There's no pattern ... or at least none I've discovered yet. To win at this level you need that pattern, something that'll separate you and your fish from the rest of the guys. Without it you're dead meat.

Somehow I've got to figure out a way to isolate the bigger bass and increase my odds of catching a few of them during competition. Even then, however, one or two big ones won't help. It'll take all big fish plus a giant or two to turn heads at the weigh-in and put you in the running.

The weather will be a factor, too. What we're seeing now will be nothing like what we see on Thursday and beyond.

Sunday, the day before we were allowed to practice, it was gorgeous. Then on Monday it rained all day and the temperatures dropped steadily. Today (Tuesday) it's sunny but cold. It's supposed to get to 39 degrees, but if that's going to happen it had better get moving. We've got a long ways to go.

It's supposed to get better, though. The forecast says we'll have increasing air temperatures all week and through the weekend. If that happens, the water will warm a few degrees every day. Warming water means moving, active bass.

No one needs to tell you what that means with 95 of the best bass anglers on the planet out there after them. I'd guess we'll see triple-digit weights before all is said and done.

Stay tuned! It looks like this one's going to be a real slugfest.

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March 3, 2010
Green shoots

Those of you who watch the news know that the economists in our country argue about whether or not there are green shoots showing up around the country. A green shoot is a small patch of growth and prosperity. It's supposed to be a sign that better things are on the way.

I'm here to tell you that I saw some green shoots this weekend. I was at the Bass Pro Shops in Cincinnati and a couple of other tackle shops in the Midwest on behalf of Venom Lures. The crowds were extraordinary.

Bass Pro Shops was having their spring sale and it was packed. It was refreshing to say the least. It's one of the few times I haven't complained about having to look for a place to park.

It didn't look like the high-end items were moving, but I have to say that the less expensive items were really selling. There were crowds in front of every sale rack, especially in front of crankbaits, topwater plugs, plastics, line and hooks. There were long lines at every register.

Even more heartening was the fact that I saw lots of father and son combinations. Hopefully, this is a sign that the fascination with electronic games is on the wane and that people are starting to look towards the outdoors for their recreational fun. (Frankly, I doubt it's that extreme, but we can always hope.)

Anyway, I didn't see this kind of thing last year. The crowds were thin, and the few people who were in the stores weren't buying much of anything. All they did was look. It seems to me that things might be picking up in the fishing industry. That's a good sign for everything, I think.

The harsh winter helped, no doubt. The weather here in Ohio has been awful since December, cold and snow. Most of the rest of the country has experienced the same thing, even through the Deep South. Cabin fever is rampant. Everyone wants to get out and catch a fish.

That's good for the fishing industry but can be hard on fishermen. It's tough to remember that no matter how warm and sunny the weather, the water is still cold. The fish are moving slow so your bait needs to move slowly. Otherwise it looks unnatural and the fish will ignore it.

I fish all the time. I have a hard time with slowing down. I can imagine how tough it is on a youngster who's waited months to wet a line. Nevertheless, it's a requirement, not an option. Don't forget that.

That's enough for now. I still have about half of my 40-hour drive to California in front of me. Next week we'll talk about my plans for the 2010 Elite season. I'm going to make a real effort to improve this year. I'm tired of watching the Classic on my computer at work.

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Feb. 24, 2010
I owe my friends an apology

By now everyone knows that I did fairly well with my Classic head picks, and that I couldn't have done much worse with my Classic heart picks. Before we talk about that, however, I need to apologize to my Ohio Federation Nation friends and fellow anglers.

Jody Adkins, North Canton, qualified from the Ohio Federation Nation. It was his first Bassmaster Classic. Let's face it — that's an extraordinary achievement. No one wanted him to win more than me. Nevertheless, I left him off my list.

I think what happened was that he was so obvious to me that I just didn't think when I wrote the blog. Let there be no doubt — I rooted, and always will root, for a fellow Buckeye. I fished the Federation for years, and I was on the State Team. I support them all the time, all the way.

It was a careless omission — on the blog, not in my heart. I apologize to Jody, his family and friends, and all the Ohio Federation Nation members. I'll do my best to see that something like that never happens again.

Now, back to my picks: VanDam won — nothing else needs to be said about the man — and Iaconelli finished sixth. Iaconelli is an excellent example of what I was talking about when I said these guys figure out a way to win. (We'll skip over the rest of my head picks.)

He had 17 bites during three days of fishing. He landed 16 of those bites. He averaged over 2 1/2 pounds per fish.

Think about that for a minute. The fact that he only had 17 bites during the entire Classic tells you he didn't develop a strong pattern. On some level he was struggling. The fact that he landed 16 of those 17 bites tells you he was careful in how he handled his fish; he didn't panic, or get sloppy, or give up. That's the mark of a winner, pure and simple.

As far as my heart picks are concerned there's not much I can say. None of them made the cut. That doesn't change the facts of why I picked them, or why they are sentimental picks. It is what it is. I'd pick them again, and root for them just as hard.

Enough about the Classic, it's time to start thinking about California. I have a few things left to do here in Columbus and then I'll finish my packing. Once all that's done it'll be time to start the four-day drive out there.

I can't say I'm looking forward to the drive, but I can say I'm looking forward to the tournaments. I want to get started back fishing the Elites. I miss the competition, and I miss seeing my friends.

I'll bring you up to speed on everything next week while I'm on the road.

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Feb. 17, 2010
Head and heart picks

OK, I know it's even worse down there than I thought it would be when I wrote the blog last week. Lows in the 20s and highs in the 30s make for some difficult fishing, even for Bassmaster Classic qualifiers.

If it's any consolation to you, however, here in Columbus we've got over 12 inches of snow on the ground with more on the way during the actual competition in Birmingham. To make matters worse, I'm working a Signcom, not out fishing somewhere. It's killing me.

Anyway, here we go — my head picks are Kevin VanDam, Skeet Reese, Mike Iaconelli, Aaron Martens and Boyd Duckett.

I pick these guys not because of their fishing skills — although they have many — but rather because they're winners. Each of these men has proved that when the chips are on the line they can produce. They always find a way to catch them, no matter what.

They don't complain, and they don't give up. They put their heads down and go to work. In the end, that pays off. They win more than their share, and cash checks on a regular basis. Never count them out, not ever, and not for any reason. When the smoke has cleared and the dust has settled, those are the names you'll see on the leaderboard.

My heart tells another story. I like Gary Klein, Steve Kennedy and Jami Fralick. Each has a story to tell, and on some level each deserves a Classic win.

Klein is obvious. He's fished long enough — 28 Classics — without a win. I like Kennedy just because he's a nice guy and has been good to me over the years. He's a true professional.

Fralick is included because he's experienced a tough third day in a Classic, something I can certainly relate to as a fellow competitor who experienced the same thing. We have a painful kinship in that regard.

Now that that's out of the way let me say something else. Tough conditions put a premium on experience. Longtime competitors didn't get that way by accident. You don't survive in this business if you can't fish. Almost anyone out there is capable of winning.

On some level this sport is like the Olympics. There are favorites, and some guys are clearly better than other guys. But, if the favorite stumbles or has problems, don't think for a minute that one of the other competitors isn't capable of winning. They are. At the Classic qualifier level there isn't as much difference between these guys' fishing skills as you might think.

That's enough for now. It's time to go to work and then, in a couple of days, eat my heart out as I watch the Classic on my computer while I mess with sign stuff. By Sunday evening we'll know how I did with my picks.

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Feb. 10, 2010
Classic ruminations

Like most of you I've been thinking about the Classic. What I'd like to do over the next few weeks is talk about the venue, give you my thoughts about the anglers and then we'll see how I did.

Let me start off by saying that Lay Lake in Birmingham, Ala., is a fine Classic venue. It offers diverse fishing habitat which will allow the anglers to fish to their strengths. Given the quality of the competition at this year's Classic, that almost certainly means an exciting event.

I suspect that the water will stay cold. That means that spotted bass will play an important role in the tournament this year. Because they bite better in the cold they might be the dominant species.

But that's not for certain. Largemouths tend to bunch up at this time of year. If somebody gets on Lay Lake's green bass — and knows how to make cold water largemouths bite — they could bring in some serious weight.

I do have one additional thought about it, though. Lay Lake has been the site of several major tournaments over the years. A few of the guys have history there, and a handful more can darn near call it their home lake. Other anglers have never seen the place, much less fished it. That seems a bit unfair.

Now, I know the first thing I'm going to hear — that the home field advantage doesn't exist in bass fishing. In fact, it's traditionally been a jinx. That may have been true in the past but it seems to be changing. A number of guys have won on their waters in recent years. Modern anglers are much less susceptible to history. They don't allow yesterday to trap them.

I confess to longing for the old days when the anglers got on a plane, flew to someplace unknown to them, and fished as best they could with a few rods and minimal tackle. That seems to me to be a better test of fishing skill. I sometimes fantasize about doing a little of that in the Elite Series.

At the same time I'm a realist, as well as a businessman. That system worked in the early days when Ray Scott had a handful of anglers and there was almost no press coverage. At the time, it might have been the perfect system. There's no way to do that now with all the money and press involved, however. It just wouldn't work.

Can you imagine a Classic without a year of preparation; without the print and film media involved; without a place for everyone to stay; without a word of sponsor publicity; and with guys dragging stringers of giant largemouths — dead as a doornail and stiff as a board — up on the bank towards the scales?

Next week I'll give you two groups of anglers to watch — one from my head, the other from my heart.

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Feb. 3, 2010
Gary Klein — A class act

I've noticed a lot of stuff is being written by and about Gary Klein lately. It's well deserved, and I'm going to take this opportunity to contribute by two cents' worth.

When I first made the grade and started fishing professional BASS events, Gary was one of the legends of this sports who took the time to talk to me. He treated me like a serious competitor, not the young upstart that I was at the time. Not every angler did that. It mattered, to me anyway.

As the years have gone by I've grown to respect him even more than I did back in the early days. Sometimes I think too much is made of the fact that he's never won a Classic. It's true that he lacks that title. It's also true that he's accomplished some extraordinary things in his career.

Here's a man who has qualified for a Bassmaster Classic in all five decades of its existence and will be fishing his 28th in a couple of weeks. That's an extraordinary accomplishment. I mean he's had 28 seasons where he's finished high enough on the tour to compete in the grandest event of them all.

If you measure a man's success by consistency — and many people do — Gary Klein is one of the all-time greats of professional bass fishing. He's shown he can compete regardless of all the rule changes, venue changes and equipment changes. Most importantly, he's continued to be successful as the level of competition has increased. Life has not passed him by that's for sure.

I think one of the reasons for his success is his work ethic. No one out there works harder at having fun than Gary. And he's never been afraid of new things. I remember when the drop shot first came on the scene. Some of us — me included — were hesitant to add something else to our arsenals. After all, we had plenty of fish catching techniques to use.

Not Gary. He was at the forefront of learning how to use it and when to use it. He was always messing around trying new line, new sinkers, new baits and new designs. He proved that old dogs can learn new tricks. (I say that with affection. I'm an old dog, too.)

He's also a generous man. I remember back when fluorocarbon was first introduced. The early stuff didn't perform like what's being produced nowadays. We were breaking off fish because of our poor knots. Gary took the time one morning while we were waiting to launch to show Paul Elias and me how to tie a secure knot in this new product. It was invaluable advice.

I don't know if this is his year or not. We'll have to wait and see how things shake out. I can tell you, however, that if he does win it won't hurt my feelings one bit.

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Jan. 27, 2010
Back to basics

I was in Rhode Island last week doing seminars and promoting Ranger Boats. I have to say it really refreshed my attitude about bass fishing. The crowds were pretty good, and the anglers were really enthused about bass fishing.

Woo Daves, the 2000 Bassmaster Classic champion, was there, too. He offered some interesting comments about fishing that I'd like to share with you. They're worth thinking about.

First, we need to take a step back and look at the real world. Most bass anglers are doing it for fun. At most they're fishing local club tournaments. We don't ever want to forget that.

Daves pointed out in his seminars that the surest way to catch a bass is with a simple Texas rigged, straight-tail plastic worm. He's right. Too often we (professionals) convey the idea that you have to have a lot of fancy — and expensive — tackle to catch bass. Even worse, we sometimes leave the impression that without all the latest professional techniques and tricks, a trip is doomed. Why bother to go at all?

Obviously, that's not true. Fishing is supposed to be fun, a day on the water with friends and family having a good time. Sure, it's about catching fish, but it's not about doing it the hard way.

Most anglers need to know how to make their Texas rigged worm hang straight so it doesn't twist. They need to know how to tie a knot correctly and how to choose fishing line wisely. Without those basic skills, 15 of the newest and best baits will be of little or no consequence. They certainly won't help anyone catch a bass.

Most important of all, however, anglers need to know how to find the fish. They need to understand seasonal patterns and the factors that make bass move as the weather changes. The best lures in the world, along with every fancy trick known to man, won't catch a bass if he isn't there.

Too often we professionals ignore that fact. It's obvious to us so we don't bother to talk about it. That needs to change. All of us need to get back to basics — find them, catch them, laugh and then turn them lose so another angler can do the same.

I guess what I'm trying to say is let's not get too carried away with ourselves. Sure, it's great to be a pro and treat this as a business. No one can deny the thrill of fishing for big bass on big water while chasing a check. Neither can anyone deny that high-end tackle and equipment are nice things to have, indispensable at my level.

But that's not the case for most anglers. It's possible to have a good time, and still catch bass, without busting the family budget at the local tackle store or knowing every trick in the book. We need to keep that in mind.

Jan. 20, 2010
One for a good guy

Once again I proved that practice time doesn't correlate positively with tournament success. In fact, it might be just the opposite, at least in my case. The more baggage and memories I bring to a competition, the more likely I'll be to make bad decisions. Mike Iaconelli has it right — fish the moment.I'd been down there so long that I didn't see the changing patterns. I got stuck in the cold water, no-bite mentality. Obviously, that didn't work for me — or any of the other guys who did the same thing. I should have recognized that the water was warming and the bass were moving.

No matter my disappointment, though, I had fun down there. It was really good to see so many of the Elite guys fishing. It seems like everyone is really enthused about the schedule and the fishing opportunities it offers. Almost every angler feels there's someplace on the schedule that suits his style of angling.

Anyway, since I didn't win I'm really glad to see Chris Lane win it. He deserves it. There isn't a kinder, more thoughtful, more generous or more professional angler fishing the Elite Series than Chris.

I can't tell you the number of times he's helped me or given me a few words of encouragement since he's qualified for the tour. I'm sure there are a lot of other guys in this business who would say the same thing. In fact, I know there are. He would literally give you the shirt off his back.

Congratulations, Chris!

I came home after the tournament, and I'm working today at Signcom. (I need to make some money so I can keep fishing.) Shortly I'll be going to Providence, R.I., for seminars on behalf of Ranger Boats. I like the seminar part, but I can't say I'm looking forward to the cold.

After that I have several boat shows to attend — more seminars and demonstrations — and then it'll be time to head for California. Again, I'm looking forward to the fishing, but I can't say I'm looking forward to the drive. The Delta and Clear Lake are a long way from Columbus, Ohio.

That's really the only part of professional bass fishing I don't like — driving. They say you get used to it, but it hasn't worked that way with me. Years ago it didn't bother me. I could drive all day and all night and then fish 10 or 12 hours.

Lately, however, I find the long trips to be a grind. It seems like every road I'm on I've seen 100 times before. Actually I probably have seen it 100 times. I'm not complaining, though. I could be stuck in the office all the time instead of just part of the time.

Until next week ...

Jan. 13, 2010
The other half

I took a break from prefishing last week to do a little saltwater fishing. We went kite fishing for sailfish. It was absolutely fantastic.

First we had to catch our bait. The boat captain gave us small, light spinning outfits and we went after blue runners and google-eyes. They only weighed about a pound, but they fight like the devil on that light tackle. I had a ball just doing that.

After we caught our bait, we headed out toward somewhere — I haven't a clue where we were — where the sailfish are supposed to live and eat. On the way I got to climb the tower in the boat and watch a great big sea turtle swimming around. That was neat. I've never seen a turtle even close to that big.

Anyway, here's how kite fishing works: You launch a kite and let it get up into the air. Then you attach your fishing line to the line holding the kite. As the kite flies around you adjust your fishing line so that your baitfish stays just on the surface of the water.

It takes a while to learn to manipulate the kite and your bait at the same time. The altitude and direction of the kite changes constantly. That means you have to constantly adjust your fishing line to keep your baitfish where the sailfish can get to it. That'll wear you out in no time flat.

When a sailfish sees it, he comes up, grabs the bait and dives back under the surface. This puts tension on your fishing line which causes it to release from the kite string by means of a clip. The whole thing looks like a giant Zara Spook bite underneath a kite.

In our case, that only happened once. For whatever reason the sailfish wasn't hooked. I guess he missed the bait or something. All I saw was the explosion. Still, it was one heck of an experience. It certainly got my attention. I heartily recommend it to anyone.

I'll tell you something else that got my attention. We launched out of Fort Lauderdale. The homes — mansions — along the waterfront, and the boats — yachts — moored in front, are something to behold. It'll give you a quick lesson in how the other half lives. I mean if you think a camper and a bass boat are expensive. ...

Let's get back to reality: This water down here on Okeechobee is cold. I'm seeing several species of tropical-type fish swimming around in circles on top. I don't think they're going to make it. This will be an interesting tournament.

Some of the guys are saying it'll warm up as the week goes along, and all the fish will head for the beds at once. Maybe. Then again, this could turn into a really difficult three days. We'll know by the end of the week, won't we?

Jan. 6, 2010
Cold and colder

I'm still at Okeechobee, and is it ever cold! It was 27 degrees this morning when I launched the boat. Now, I know you guys back home — or even in the Deep South this week — aren't going to feel very sorry for me. This Artic blast has been tough on everyone.

Nevertheless, I tell you that so you don't think all is perfect down here. The fish aren't jumping into my boat.

Florida cold fronts are tough ... on the bass and on the anglers. The water is shallow. The bass have nowhere to go to get away from the high barometric pressure. They tend to shut down. The only way I know to make them bite is by punching mats or deadsticking a Venom Salty Sling.

I'm not all that good at punching mats, so I usually go with deadsticking. For better or worse, I have a lot of patience. That helps. I can let a bait sit still longer than almost any other angler on the planet. Sometimes I think the bass pick it up simply because they're tired of looking at it.

The weather has had a real effect on my practice. I've found some good ones, but that was back when it was warm. Even if they stay put they'll be hard to catch. I try not to let that negative thinking affect me, but it's hard. Confidence is a fragile thing.

All this bad weather will probably have an effect on the actual tournament next week, too. I see one of two things happening, depending upon what the weather does to us.

It may stay cold, and that'll hold the weights down. Most of the guys are just starting to arrive down here, so practice is going to be tough. That usually means a difficult tournament. I don't care where we're fishing, a slow bite and a tough practice take their toll.

On the other hand, if the weather warms quickly, it could open the floodgates. There are a lot of bass waiting to spawn. This cold weather has held them back. If it warms quickly, they'll all rush to the beds where they are more vulnerable. That could mean really heavy weights.

To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, consider what this cold spell has done to water temperatures. When I first got here, the water was around 64 degrees. Today it's at 54 degrees. In another few days it'll be in the high 40s. That's a sharp drop. Of course, if this thing blows through, it could rise just as fast.

Anyway, there's no sense worrying about it now. The weather will be what it's going to be, and we humans can't do anything about it. Besides, I'd rather be fishing in Florida under difficult conditions than working in my office in Ohio.