I woke up Monday morning in Kissimmee still feeling good about my performance at the TENvitational. Riding that high, I took my time packing up and loading the truck for the next leg of my journey. It was on to Lake Seminole for the first Hobie BOS event of the season. This was going to be an entirely different event. While south Florida was nice, warm, and sunny, and the bass were already moving up on beds; Georgia was 20 degrees colder and I expected the bass would barely be out of their winter patterns and only just moving into the prespawn.
My plan was to roll into town, explore a few ramps at the southern end, and maybe put in to graph around a little. My GA fishing license didn’t activate till Tuesday so I couldn’t do any actual fishing except in the FL waters. When I arrived however, that plan went out the window. A strong northeast wind had the main lake rolling pretty hard and a cold front had pushed in. It was only in the 40s and it felt more like a late October day in the northeast rather than a nice spring day down south.
After doing some work for the office, I decided to go get some dinner and search around for a small electric space heater to run in the truck. It was slated to be almost freezing that night and I was truck camping at a campground. I had upgraded from a tent to an RV site so I would at least have power to run a heater. After going to a Home Depot, Tractor Supply, and two Walmarts with no luck, I gave up on my search for the day. I got some dinner, and returned to the campground to try to get some sleep.
It was cold, and I had to run the truck in the middle of the night for an hour to warm it back up, but I made it through. The first step was to find a heater, because the next two nights were going to be even colder and heavy frost was expected. A Walmart about 40 minutes away listed a bunch in stock so I made the trip and finally got my heater. Next on the agenda was to get fishing! The wind was strong again from the north so I went looking for a ramp in the protected areas around Spring Creek. I decided to drop in at Cypress Pond and give it a go for a few hours. Not much was happening and I spent most of my time cruising around looking at the cover, water temps, clarity, and structure. The water was quite clear and I figured I probably should be fishing deep, but I didn’t have those rods rigged up with me so I just did a lot of scanning. I managed my first Lake Seminole bass skipping an Exostick under a dock. It was super skinny but scorable and I was officially catching fish in GA.
Having a quite uneventful day, I packed up and headed back to the campground to meet up with Simon who was staying there with me. He had been doing the same thing I was, exploring the area and we chatted about what the lake was looking like. We game planned and decided to hit the Jackson County Ramp near Three Rivers park in the AM. With the anticipated wind we figured it would provide good main lake access that wouldn’t get too rough and would have enough backwaters to fish if that proved to be more effective.
Wednesday morning we hit the ground running and got out looking for a pattern that might work for the tourney. I started in the back waters exploring the vegetation. What I found was thick weeds. I mean so thick I couldn’t get my mirage drive through it and needed to pull it out and paddle. I’m not sure if it was matted Hydrilla or Elodea, but it was like tangled baling twine and just gnarled everything up. But there were also deep cuts in it with no weeds that were 8-10-ft deep. I love flipping deep sharp weed lines like that so I grabbed a jig and went to work. I missed one bite pretty quickly and marked the spot. I worked my way around and back further into the creek and found a open area, maybe 1 acre in size with a sharp weed line all around it. I was working the jig along when I felt the distinct tick and set the hook. She pulled like a tank and I knew I had a good fish on. I wrestled her into the net and I was pumped. It was a new PB length for me. She went 21.25-inches even though only weighing about 4.25 pounds. Not a fatty, but long which is what matters in kayak tournaments.
I quickly got her back and left the area. I had missed one bite and landed a biggin. I didn’t need to spend any more time back there. I decided to head out and look for some off-shore stuff, which was what I originally expected to be doing. I went out and found there was a lot of off shore grass in the area. There were little nuances though in the bottom contours. The flat ranged from ridges up at 7-ft down to trenches that were 11-ft. I grabbed my cranking rod with a Demon DT-10 and started going to work. I quickly found the DT was just diving too deep and I was pulling up way too much weeds. I switched to a Berkley Digger 8.5 (also in a red craw color) and that was just the ticket. I started at the tops of the ridges and never got a bite. But when I moved out and started casting over some of the deeper trenches, I got bit. I nabbed a nice 18.5 and then started cruising graphing and marking. I found the ditch she came from and on my side imaging could make out a couple more fish in there. I spent the next hour just graphing the area, trying to find all the little depressions that might have bass in them and occasionally making casts to them. I managed one more bite, but that fish pulled off half way back to the boat. No big deal. It was a productive day. Four bites, two landed, and both were quality tournament fish.
I was really liking what I found so I decided to leave it be, and spend the next day at a new area that I thought might be similar. However, I couldn’t have been more wrong. What I found on Thursday were deep main channels and flats that were consistently 7-8 ft deep. No depressions or ridges. I spent some time on the deep main channels working an A-rig and football jig around but it wasn’t paying off. I got one hard bite on the dropshot but didn’t manage to land it. I don’t know if it was even a bass because it felt more like a striper. Cruising along the main channel I stumbled upon an underwater point sticking out. I cast across it with the crankbait and pulled in a great 18-in bass. It was stark white and cold. You could tell these were main lake fish and not yet ready to be up shallow. I cruised back around the point and scanned the school on my side imaging. Clear as day I could make out 6 nice marks sitting on the point. The problem was this is a small school and I had found nothing else in the area. If I was in a bass boat, I would have certainly added this to the rotation. But in a kayak, you can’t just up and leave quickly if things aren’t working. I still marked it, but I knew I wouldn’t be coming back. A school of 6 fish is not something to bet the farm on.
Friday I knew I needed something closer to my main deal if things went sour. I went a little further up the Chattahoochee river looking for anything. I didn’t manage a single bite until I pulled up on this island. I had watched bass boat after bass boat drive by, scan around the downstream side of the island, maybe fish a little, and move on. I went the other way. I went to the upstream side, cast my crankbait up current, and pulled it down along the break where the current splits around the island. Bang a 13-in largemouth. I tried it again. Bang an 11-incher. OK, one more cast. Sure enough, Bang and a 14 was in the net. They were schooled up on that point and I found the cast. This was the back-up I wanted. I could drive to the launch in 10 minutes from my main area, and while there weren’t big ones here right now, there were clearly numbers. I loaded up and my prefishing was over. I liked what I found, I was as ready as I figured I could be, and I was excited for the tourney to begin.
Friday night I pulled all my gear into the hotel I was now staying at and got everything re-tied and rigged. The plan was simple, crank off shore and jig the weedline. I didn’t bother messing with the drop-shot or the A-rig. I did rig a punching set-up and of course put on a fire-craw jackhammer because that’s still a hot bait. But I tried to keep it simple. I didn’t want too many options.
Tournament morning came and I was pumped. On the drive to the ramp I decided I would start my day flipping. I thought I had a good chance at bigger fish and I felt like it would be a more fun way to spend my day. I wanted to start back in my pocket where I caught the big one on Wednesday. I figured it had been long enough, she might bite again. But when first launch came, two other kayaks in front of me made their way back into that area. That was ok though. I had other spots I could work, and eventually I figured I could make my way back there.
At first cast I started pitching the jig around. It was still a bit dark and I didn’t expect to get bit much until it got a little lighter. It was about an hour later when I flipped back to where I missed the bite on Wednesday and sure enough got bit again. I swung hard and felt her briefly but then she pulled off. Still, that bite was confidence. I kept at it. It was about 45-minutes later when I got my second bite of the morning. I set the hook and nothing. I reeled up and she had pulled the pants down on my trailer and skirt. I fixed the bait and kept at it. I was still wanting to go in the back pocket. One of the kayaks had come half way out from there, but then quickly returned when they saw the front area was filling up with bass boats from the high school tournament. I figured those spots were taken so I didn’t bother heading that way.
I got one more soft bite but it dropped it before I could even set the hook. It was three hours in and I had gotten three bites. That was about what I expected, but I was already starting to recycle water and didn’t know what kind of bites I could expect the rest of the day. I decided instead of continuing the same thing, to pack up and head out to my cranking water which would take me about 20 minutes to pedal out to.
As I cruised out off shore I was looking ahead and down at my waypoints. There was a kayak a ways out and I was heading right toward them. As I got closer and closer it was clear. They were sitting right on top of my main trench. It’s amazing just how many people can find the exact same fish. My Plan B was officially a bust. I went to some of the other offshore stuff I marked in practice but there were no bass on them. I fished around for about an hour and at that point I had decisions to make. There were 3 hours left. Do I go back flipping, crank around and try to locate more fish, or maybe check out more neighboring areas?
Instead I totally panicked, and went off script. I decided it would be quicker to pedal the 3.5 miles upstream (and up-wind) to the island I found Friday rather than go back to the ramp, load up, drive around, and relaunch. I booked it north periodically stopping to fish a piece of cover that looked good. An hour later I arrived at the island and my heart sank. There wasn’t one or two, but three kayak around the island and two bass boats nearby. One of the kayaks was right next to where I wanted to be. My hour gamble blew up in my face and I was totally spun out. I turned around taking a different arm of the river back. as I fished laydowns, weed lines, logs, and everything I could find. I flipped, cranked, threw the chatterbait, but never got a bite.
When I got back down to my main cranking spot it was empty so for the last 30 minutes I tried to make something happen there. I pulled up to my waypoint and started casting. I was reeling too fast because I felt like I was in a hurry. I moved up and down the trench quickly, I know it was too quickly but I couldn’t force myself to slow down. It all got to me and I wasn’t executing properly at all. My phone alarm went off and the day was over.
What had started as high hopes and being well prepared, ended in total disaster. Day 1 of a two day event is crucial. You need to catch enough to position yourself for Day 2. I skunked. I was an emotional wreck. But I had an important decision to make. Being completely out of the running, do I just pack up? Leave, go home, and give up? Or do I stick it out, fish the final day, and prove to myself that I can persevere? I wasn’t going to let my failure on Saturday determine my fate on Sunday. I got back to the hotel, showered to refresh my body, went to dinner with Simon to refuel myself, and then did some meditation to reset my mental state.
Sunday I was not going to spin out. I brought even fewer rods than on Saturday. I didn’t even bring the cranking rod. I was going to stay in the backwater and fish all day. Whatever happens, happens. Again at the launch, an angler in front of me made their way toward the back pocket. I wasn’t concerned. I stayed in the front and went to work with my jig. Sunday was a lot different. After 3.5 hours I hadn’t gotten a single bite, but I was undeterred. I kept at it. I finally made my way back into the back pocket I had been dying to fish all tourney. It was empty. I never saw the other angler come out and they may have just gone straight through and out the back. This whole time I might have been able to fish my best stuff. I was a little upset at myself for not trying it sooner, but that was ok. Half way through the second day I was where I wanted to be.
I was working the jig around and still not getting bit. There was some flooded timber back in the pocket, and a few of the trees were just beyond the weedline. I attempted to flip my jig in there, but the ½ oz just wasn’t heavy enough to get through the tangled mess of weeds around the timber. I looked behind me and my Heavy+ flipping stick was just staring me in the face. I had rigged it up Friday knowing I might need it and never even gave it a try. I pulled it out, put on a Sweet Beaver, and flipped it into the tree. The 1.25 oz weight punched down into the grass, and as I felt the bait go down through the tree limbs the line jumped and I swung hard. The drag slipped a little as I pulled the beast of a bass back up through the grass. It was a struggle getting her to the boat, but she slipped into my net and I was finally on the board. It was another 21.25-in bass, not 20 yards from where I caught the one in practice, though this was clearly a different fish. It made staying to fish worth it. I didn’t give up, worked, and was rewarded with tying my PB.
I figured maybe there were more fish on the tree and flipped right back in there (after I cranked the drag and locked it down). Again, my line jumped but this time a smaller 12.50 came right up through hole the previous fish had made. Didn’t matter though. This was another keeper and I was putting something together. They were back in the thick stuff now, not on the edge as they had been.
I spent the next hour with the big punching stick in my hand. I missed a couple bites and sent one bass that was probably 14-inches flying up into the air on the hook set. Unfortunately that one never got hooked and came off mid flight. I was having fun though and that was all that mattered. With about an hour left I had made my way back out near the front. I looked and there was a nice point with some scattered grass. I literally said to myself “I bet every angler coming through here all day today has tossed a chatterbait up onto that point”. I threw mine up there anyway and sure enough a 14.25 hit it.
That was the last bite I would get. The day ended and I only managed a simple 48-inches over two days. It was good enough for 97th out of 175. It was a long grinding weekend filled with ups, downs, collapses, and redemption but that’s fishing. Those experiences will make me better, make me stronger, and prepare me for the undoubtable next time when things go awry.