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U.S. Bank Angling Team Qualifier Championships- Fort Wayne, IN
Let's start the recap of Saturday's U.S. Bank Angling Team qualifier heats by saying I made soooo many mistakes- the #2 mistake being overconfidence. This was not because I think I am the greatest angler in the world -I have to work at it to catch fish like all of you. We'll start by saying that I looked out across the lake to see 8 or 9 anglers practicing about 1/2 mile away on the West side of the lake.
Some have been practicing for 2 days at this point and would have a big jump up on me as well as the rest of the competitors. The whole time I was getting my gear ready, watching all the people fish across the way, I was getting anxious.
After making the walk with all my gear and talking to some anglers along the way, I got to my spot to setup. Before I did this however, I watched others who had been there. Their setups had been adjusted and watching is the best way to learn. Sometimes you can learn a whole day's worth of fishing by watching someone for 5 minutes. My teacher always told me to go watch anglers as they fished from shore to learn - it works.
With that- I had to get busy, putting up some rods and prepping my rigs on the 42-foot pole. The method for this venue would be fishing a smaller float on that 42-foot pole as every angler was doing as I walked by them. Many were playing fish with those 42-foot pole bent and lines of elastic shooting out from the tip. These poles are hollow and feature a shock-absorbing elastic to take that first big impact of the fish's hot first runs. WIth no reel, it is up to that elastic, the stretch in the main line, good knots, clean leader and a hook to keep that fish on the rig. One part of the system not working, will let that fish off. Foreshadowing... ?!
The first part of my strategy on the weekend would be to fish the slip float (slider float) in the 15- feet of water in hopes of gaining an advantage. The forecast the next day called for windy conditions and it was my first thought that the 42-foot poles might be rendered useless in heavy wind. Have you ever held onto a 42- pole in a decent wind? It's a lot like work. I got my rod, reel and line threaded and a float shotted up. I made my own slip float stop and then started to get the depth in front of me.
The King of Fish
The main target on the weekend and the fish everyone was landing during this practice would be the carp. In order to catch carp on most days- a single splitshot laying on the bottom to keep the bait still is essential to getting pickups. The carp they were bringing in were between 1.5 and 3 lb. This doesn’t sound like a big fish, but a wild U.S. carp is one of the strongest fish on the planet. They fight like bigger walleye if they were playing for the San Francisco Giants and chemically enhanced. Big fins, powerful tails, the carp gets a lot of it’s fighting power from its daily (& nightly) feeding workout. They are constantly working to find many tiny insect meals and have to tip themselves about 20 degrees to search for that food. They can grind you out and have one of the best bursts when hooks of any species - no contest. These small fish will shock you with their power-to-size and when you hook one, you will swear you have an 8-lb. fish on only to find a 2.5 lb. fish on your line.
I measured the depth with a plummet on my slider and got my splitshot set at precisely 14.75 feet from my float stop. On the deck, I would lay 6” of leader from that splitshot. My strategy with the rod & reel would be to control the fish and bring them in faster than I could on the pole.
Well, thinking gets you in trouble some times. As I got my ground bait balls in the water and sat, others were bringing fish in and I was just sitting there. To be fair- they had been there all day- the fish were attracted to their bait and they had moved in on that bait during the day. My spot was fishless so I sat, and sat without any movement on my float rig. Neighbors caught 6, 7 fish while I sat there in the first :30 min. of my practice session.
Friday Warm-up Heat
My neighbor called up and down the venue that we should have an impromptu timed challenge to see who could catch more fish in :30 minutes. I wasn’t all that excited to compete seeing as how everyone had attracted and caught fish all day long and I had nothing. So I fed in some bait and was working. Others put a 2 fish lead on in the first couple of minutes - me, nothing. Then my float moved for the first time and went quickly under. That first fish I worked in quickly and put it in the net.
I yelled out “one” as we were to call out the fish as we caught them. Someone else yelled out “three” - figures.
Practice during the warm-up practice contest continued like that only I was able to put some pressure on my fish and was catching up to the pack. “Four” I called out and someone else called out “five”. I was leaning into these fish and bringing them to the net “hot”, still with plenty of gas in them. They thrashed hard in the net and I missed s a few as they screamed by the net, but didn’t lose any. I landed another and called out “six”, I was tied for the lead and fishing really well.
It crossed my mind that I had found an advantage. I leaned on the next fish to take the lead, but I leaned a little too hard and the light size 14 hook gave way, bent out of the fish.
I straightened and rebaited the hook, cast the slider float out again.
I hooked up quickly and took a little more care this time to get the fish to the net “seven” - I was tied in the lead again.
With three minutes to go I had the rig back in the water and was trying to get a pick-up so I had time to fight and land a carp in time to win. One minute left and the float went under- it would be real close to get this one in, I leaned in on the fish and tried to get it to race into the net. No time left - my neighbor yelled “eight” and I snapped my leader about the same moment.
I was really excited because my ground bait was working, and my rod & reel seemed like they could outpace the 42-foot poles in getting fish to the net. Finishing 2nd in the practice contest, I thought I had the method and setup to take this thing in the morning session when it would count.
2nd Place Practice
That evening I put all the data into my fishing brain and figured I needed to go up 2 notches on the leader & hook so I could just crank these fish in for the victory. I tied some new leaders with the heavier hooks and went with a stronger size 12 hook, double the power of my light 14 hooks I was fishing in practice - this will work.
If you remember back at the beginning of this recap, I said I made the second worst error in overconfidence. I was certain I had the method and setup. I got ready for the first heat and had made a big error (only I didn’t know how big this calculation with the hook and leader would be). Along with that I had all my gear at water’s edge after the setup whistle sounded and could not locate my sunglasses. It was nuclear sunny with no clouds and we were fishing the West shore- looking East. Between 7:30 a.m. and 11:30 I would be fishing facing East. As I write this, my eyes are reminding me of what I did - the worst fishing mistake I have ever made.
Fast-forward to the end of the session and I am exhausted - I do find my sunglasses for the second afternoon heat- but the damage was done. I toasted my eyes. I am feeling sick right now remembering how the weekend went - or my body is reminding me how the weekend ended.
The setup period ended (without sunglasses) and the starter’s whistle sounded to start fishing. Time to put a whoop’n on the field with my setup. O.k., my neighbor lands a fish within the first two minutes- fishing was going to be really good. I was getting really confident my heavier hook and leader would help me destroy the field.
Gentlemen Start Fishing
Well, my strategy melted away, faster than the back of my eyeballs in that hot sun without the sunglasses. My neighbor now had at least 10 fish, and my float hadn’t even so much as moved on my rod and reel. He was fishing the pole with a small float. Mine was a slider waggler and was 4 times the size. I just sat there. I had two fans show up to watch behind me and had plenty of time to talk with them. There weren’t any fish to bother me. Catherine & John were more nervous than me. They were starting to say they were bad luck. I told them no and then it happened- the float moved. After a couple of seconds, it dipped under and I hooked up - a great feeling of relief! As I played this first fish I leaned into it to start working to catch up. I will put this one in the net fast and go get another one. The only trouble with that- I get this fish to the net hot and lean into it to finish the deal and the hook pulls free. LOST.
My fans were really feeling bad for me as my neighbor put his 11th fish in his net. I went back out and hooked up again- leaned on it again and replayed the scenario- lost another one right at the edge of the net.
It's a Rout
As in any contest where the home team gets blown out- my fans headed for the exit. I had destroyed the first hour of fishing in a three-hour contest with an empty total. Zero.
I spent the second hour of the session feeling horrible and was trying to make some changes to get back in this thing or at least keep from being embarrassed. I went to the 42-foot pole at this point. Good news, I landed the next two fish on the pole and was feeling a little better- but still awful.
I worked the pole, but then started to loose some more fish! Something wasn’t right on my setup and my pole is one of the oldest on the venue- if not the oldest. It is heavy. My elastic was old and I wasn’t confident in any of it. I went back to the rod and reel with the slip float and worked very hard. I had a good last hour and put some fish in the net.
When the whistle sounded, I felt like left-overs.
The weigh-in crew came and my neighbor had a truckload of fish. My weight came in at 16.7 lb. I left a lot of fish on that spot, some I lost at the net and a bunch I left without a hook in them at all. I had fished horribly, maybe the worst I have ever done. I made up all my weight in about :45 minutes of fishing where I didn’t make any mistakes - I was trying to focus and catch-up. The thermometer was hitting the low 90’s and my bake was complete. I was toast in the standings and actually toasted from the sun damage hit to my eyes. Bad, bad, bad decisions and fishing.
Out of It
In part 3 of my update, I will tell you just how much damage was done and if I had any shot at all of making a dent on the field. I was really disappointed because I thought I had it all figured out.
My neighbor had nearly triple my weight which meshed with how I felt and my assessment that I had fished only a solid 45 minutes out of 180 for the 3-hour session. Instead of 16.7 lb., I should have had closer to 35 - 45 lb. of fish. My neighbor’s spot was good for 2nd place in the first session of three. My first session - a blow-out and not in a good way. 94 degrees now, eyes toast and fishing from behind the whole way. Things were worse and not as bad as I imagined. Stop back in for my final update. As a prelude to that, just know that it is a full week from the event, and I am just now feeling better from not wearing my sunglasses for 5 hours on the water in that sun and heat.
Hydrated But Gassed
Two empty large Gatoraide bottles, 4 water bottles and I am feeling spent. Gone. “Heat” 2, starts in a matter of hours at the 4:00 whistle.
I walked the 1/2 mile back and had some pizza at lunch. I wasn’t feeling well, I thought maybe food would help me. Fishing better in heat 2 would probably help all that... we’ll see how I feel for the afternoon session. Also, can I make a run at 1st place? More to the point- can I survive the heat and make it to heat 3 alive. Serious.
Thanks for reading, catch you next time.