This post was going to be about the rough stuff but as I started thinking about all that's going on...the why's...the what does this mean stuff...etc...I realized that it's still been a blast going through it all and I hope that in reality I learned a lot from the absolutely terrible year I've been having.
With that said, just a note that these hard times are about fishing...not life in general. Life outside of my fishing world is great! The new baby - who is already 7 months old and the happiest baby you've ever seen and a major chunker - is stellar. My big guy is almost 4 and hysterical and sweet and so damn smart. My wife is pretty awesome as well. It's definitely been a learning curve that we have been revisiting for the past 7 months but like always, things progress. You learn how to function and prosper as a bigger family and how to balance all of things that each other need and have going.
Anyways, back to whats been going on in the fishing world. After all, that's what this site is all about!!
Going back, you may remember the horrendous coho season I had. It was truly terrible. As the weather warmed, I switched my focuses towards tournaments. My first tournament went completely wrong because I couldn't get out my own head. The next two tournaments were for bass so I switched up my focus once again to get my bass touch back. It didn't take long to get it back and I felt good going into the bass part of the year.
Tournament 1 - Hobie World Opens on Lake Kentucky. This event was huge. Some of the biggest names in the kayak fishing world were there and I knew I'd be fishing against some of the best out there. I had done a ton of research, got a ton of specialized tackle from sponsors like Biovex and StankX that I wanted for Kentucky Lake specifically, and practiced some techniques that I needed to understand in order to catch fish down there. There is nothing up here in the Chicagoland area that really fishes anything like the TVA Lakes like Kentucky Lake but I found the closest stuff I could.
Still, catching a bass on a nearly verticle ledge that sits in 15 to 25 feet of water is something that seems so strange to me. Reading about it, watching videos on the subject, and talking with others helped shorten the learning curve a lot but putting it all into practice is an entirely different story.
I drove down with another incredibly supportive sponsor - Lucid Fishing - and we got down there late morning on a Thursday. It was absurdly hot and even more humid. To make the experience even....better (?)...the cicadas were out in droves! We opened the doors of the truck and were instantly dive bombed by the strange creatures. I haven't seen this many cicadas at once since I was a very little kid. We unloaded all of our non fishing gear, set up camp, and by 12:30 or so, we were on the water for our first day of pre-fishing.
We scouted an area that someone had suggested and a fellow Hobie/Biovex/Lucid teammate of mine was at. As we pedaled our Hobie Pro Angler 14's away from the launch, I finally understood what all of these ledges were. There were tons of them! I spent the next 6 hours cruising, fishing, marking, and trying to understand these underwater walls as they related to bass. It was an effort that at the time seemed completely useless as I didn't even get a pick up.
Exhausted from the 6 hour drive and heat, I had enough for the day. I did a bit more research on how to eliminate a majority of the ledges and how to actually approach them.
The next day, we went to a completely different area of the lake. By the way...if you have been here, it's shocking how BIGGGGGGG this lake is!! It...is...MASSIVE! But yeah - rather than hitting the very south end, we headed closer to the northern tip of the lake. As I headed out of the bay that I launched from, I found some incredible sunken timber in 10 or so feet of water and had to hit it. This was more my speed and I got a couple hits there. I marked the spot so I could find it on tournament day.
I moved on from there to start focusing on ledges that were on primary and secondary points as some intel that I received suggested I do. The problem is that I only had a vague understanding of what that meant on this lake. As I got out to some of the areas that I thought were the right spots, I finally started seeing other boats in the same area. This was a good thing. It meant that I was in the right area. Now I just had to figure out how to catch a fish out there.
I tossed some super deep cranks and heavy bullet weights with worms and creature baits. I dragged up the ledges...down the ledges...across them...and every combination in between. I did indeed end up getting some bites which was fantastic. It was progress. The part I didn't figure out yet was actually getting the hook into a fish so far down and so far away from the boat. I didn't land a single fish out there but, like I said before, I had made progress.
The next day was tournament day and the weather had completely flipped on us. Extremely strong winds were blowing up the lake from the south end and really making it rough on the north end. I had read before I even went down there, that if the weather turns, then Lake Barkley is probably a better bet. So off to Lake Barkley I went.
When I got there, something amazing happened. My Lowrance fish finder's preloaded maps gave me zero information for Kentucky Lake. There were absolutely no depth lines anywhere. It made this ledge thing even harder to figure out. When I turned my unit on at Lake Barkley, I was shocked to see a TON of detail. While this all seemed great, I was so unsure of where to be on this new lake. This was a completely different lake that I hadn't had anytime to prefish whatsoever. I spent a bit of time going through the details on my maps and found some channels and points that looked like what I had seen on Kentucky so I spent a lot of time focusing on those.
Within a few hours, I was so frustrated. I had lost an insane amount of tackle. I was tired of retying, None of my 5 rod/reel combos felt at all right to me, and I was feeling incredibly defeated. On top of all of that, I was dodging super storms the entire time. By noon, I had gotten so good at getting my rain gear on and off while being in the kayak.
Finally, I gave in and headed to something that looked incredibly familiar to me - rip rap. It basically separated a bay from the main lake. It made sense to me. It is more in line with what I was used to. I worked much of that wall for the rest of the day and finally managed to get a fish on the board. It wasn't a big one but it was a fish. The frustration quickly returned though as I had managed 4 more takes and either blew the hook set, broke off, or just couldn't get the fish to the boat.
Embarrassingly, I registered one fish that day and was out of the money before day 2 even started. Of course, the loss of tackle continued along with the thunderstorms the entire time. As frustrated as I was and as embarrassed as I was, I thought about day 2 with a somewhat different view. Even if I wasn't in the money, I wanted to have a good second day. I wanted three fish on that leader board. They didn't even have to be big. Just three fish.
I hit a local tackle shop to restock on jigs since I had lost pretty much every jig I had. I also asked the guy working there if he knew any spots that were similar to what I had fished today. Sure enough, he told me about a spot that sounded perfect. There was rip rap that had some good current flow ripping through it. It sounded fantastic but it was a bit further than the last spot.
I hit the road pretty early so I could be on the spot as soon as it was legal to fish at 5:30am. When I got to the launch, my powerpole wasn't working for some reason. I mean what else could possibly go wrong?
I didn't have time to screw around it with because some other competitors showed up to that same launch so I left it in the truck and got to the spot I wanted to focus on.
And then a stiff breeze of cold air came rushing across the boat and shut that hope down completely. For the rest of the day, I had one more bite and I snapped it on the hook set.
Did I mention yet that I also managed to break a rod tip? Well yeah....I did that too.
I went back to weigh in feeling completely dejected. I didn't get it. I used to be good at this fishing thing. I used to trust my equipment. I used to have fun doing it.
In the end, with my embarrassing sum of 3 fish total for a 2 day tournament, I ended up in 53rd out of 73 anglers. Not even on the top half of things.
Tournament 2 - Great Lakes Kayak Fishing Series - Stop 2 - Bass
The lingering doubts from Kentucky still weighed on my shoulders. I wasn't amped up about this event even though I took 3rd here last year and even though it was at my sponsor Quest Watersports' front door. I still felt lost with my equipment. I knew the tackle I wanted to use and I knew the area I was going to fish. It's worked before and there wasn't any reason that I could think of that the fish wouldn't be where they were last year. The one pole that I really wanted to use was still broken and I was replacing it with a loaner rod from my rod builder.
I had received a stake from Power Pole to replace the one I broke in Kentucky just in time for this event so I was completely flabbergasted when the motor itself didn't work. It had power but it just wouldn't cycle the stake itself up or down. This is an area that screams power pole. I was counting on it. I gave up trying to figure it out. I've placed 3rd here without it...there is no reason why I shouldn't be able to do the same again.
Twenty minutes later...take, hookset, airborne fish, flying jig.
A while later...take, hookset...broken line.
A while later...take...hookset...missed him.
I was done. I just didn't understand what the problem was. As I halfheartedly continued my search for that turn around moment, I wondered why I was even here. I could be home hanging with the family. I could be fishing with my little dude. I realized that I needed to take a break from fishing as it simply isn't fun right now.It felt more like a chore than something I normally can't wait to do.
I paddled around to talk to some other anglers and made an uninspired toss of my jig towards a wall and almost as soon as it hit the water, it got hit. I set the hook and got the fish in the boat. OK....maybe this is it.
A few casts later, I got a gooood hit and set the hook. Sure enough....line broke.
At the end of it all, I went 1 for 11. On bass. HOW DO YOU GO 1 FOR 11 ON BASS?!?!?!?!
I loaded up the kayak in the truck and instantly declared that I am taking at least 2 weeks off. I am just done. I absolutely need this reset.
That evening, my friend called - knowing how dejected I am with fishing right now - talking about doing some fun fishing and I didn't even want to hear it. For the first time in I don't know how long, I didn't even want to think about fishing.
Now, if I had written this article on that same day or even the next, it would have ended right there. Since I waited a while to actually let things settle, let the details filter, and let my emotions settle a bit, it's going to continue for just a few more thoughts.
I don't hate fishing. I still love it. Maybe I need to take a break from tournaments for a while. I was going to fish another Hobie Qualifier on Lake St. Claire but have decided not to do that one. I do indeed just need to do a bit of fun fishing. Maybe it was the pressure of the tournaments that did me in? I don't know. What I do know is that I am competitive by nature and even when I am "fun fishing" there is still competitiveness on my mind. Maybe it's not the competition aspect?
I have started to think constructively about my equipment and what I need to change to get it to where I want it to be. I am having a lot of problems with lines right now so that is going to be one of the first places I start. I've already been talking to my rod builder about adding a few rods to the line up so I can fill in gaps where I feel like I am lacking. There isn't a lot wrong with where I am and what I have right now...it's just missing a few key details that will make it all click.
I am still taking some time off of fishing but I am thinking about it excitedly again - well at least mildly excited. I want to get back out there but I'm going to wait until I really miss it. My first trip back will be with my oldest son. Having him on the back of my kayak was a blast even though we don't actually do that much - if any - fishing.
After that, the tentative plan is to fish a stop or two on the River Bassin Trail and I'll go from there! Here's to hoping for a much MUCH better 2nd half of the year!! Once it does, I'll be able to look at the first half as a pure growing experience and as part of the ride to get there.