This was a question I asked myself for years before taking the plunge this year fishing the Won Bass Pro Am tournaments.
Back to the beginning
About 5 years ago I fished my first draw tournament as a co-angler on Lake Oroville. This was an Anglers Choice event and a big move for me - I had never even fished a tournament before. I had owned a boat for years and fished 2 or 3 times a week, but I figured I would give it a try. Thinking back on that now makes me laugh. I walked into the casino up there and I don’t remember knowing a single person, I felt like the new kid at school.
A lot changed over the years, I fished enough on the co-angler side to where I started to get tired of it. I had done pretty well for myself and cashed a few checks, met some great people, learned a lot, and just kept my mouth shut for the most part.
After a few years of this I decided I did not want fish as a co-angler anymore. But I was definitely not ready to compete as a pro yet. I had a lot to learn for myself.
My friend Drew was just getting into bass fishing, so I asked if he wanted to fish team tournaments with me. I had only been fishing with him a few times and was blown away at how fast he picked everything up.
For me this was a great way to learn and force myself into the place of making all the decisions it takes to make it through a tournament day on the water. That year we fished the Won Bass Vineyard Series with my now friend Gary Watts as the tournament director. We ended up in third over all that year which I thought was pretty good for fishing against the caliber of pros we were fishing against.
I felt at this time I was getting close. The last hurtle for me was getting my equipment up to par. My 17 foot Stratos was not going to get me through what was needed to make it through and be competitive. Not that you need a boat that does 70 mph, but It was things like my 12 volt trolling motor and crappy graphs and such that were not up to snuff.
The problem was, I really did not know how I was even going to get into a new boat at this point. One thing led to another, and things just fell into place when I ended up getting a new 2008 Champion through Marine Unlimited in Santa Rosa, Ca. This was the last thing I felt I needed to really compete against the level of fisherman out here.
I will say this - I certainly believe I have got to put in some serious time and effort to even think about doing well. I think if you cannot put in at least three days of serious pre-fish time before any pro-level tournament you’re kidding yourself.
If the first tournament was not a mind game I don’t know what is.
Let’s just start with this: The worst storm this year was early January on Lake Shasta. More rain and wind than I would ever even think about going fishing in. I heard guys drove all the way to Shasta and turned around. About every other person called at the pairing was not there yet due to the road conditions. I had signed up with my friend Steve Skanderson and we were able to get a couple days of pre fishing in.
The Friday before, however, was just too insane to launch the boat. I spent half the day wondering how I was going to make it through the next two.
The First Pro Tournament
It was all or nothing for me, I spent the better part of the first day fishing a small swimbait that did not work out well for me as well as it had in practice. The lake level came up over 10 feet that weekend and I struggled, but was not ready to give up let me tell you. I had too much riding on this thing (mentally more than anything). I had been throwing a 6” swimbait here and there and that thing was just staring at me. I know after years of throwing swimbaits that all my best fish have come when I thought it was least likely. I have taught myself to pick it up when everything is telling me not to.
It was the last hour and I had one spot left that I had hit in pre-fish, but not the day before. I told my co-angler Don this was it: make or break time.
I hit a small clay point with 20 minutes left and picked that swimbait up. On the first cast I slammed it into that point and it felt perfect. I threw out one more time let it sink and began my retrieve towards the point, as soon as that thing hit bottom it was on. I set in to the biggest fish I have ever caught on Lake Shasta - a 6.64 spotted bass. Needless to say it was a 180 degree turn on the day for me, plus the big fish of the tournament. I ended up in 34th place and I could have not been any happier with my first tournament as a pro.
I still have a lot to learn, but going out and fishing where I want to fish, how I want to fish, is the best feeling in the world.