Decent end to a mediocre year

As most folks who follow the Elite Series already know, the event scheduled for the Arkansas River in Muskogee, Okla., was changed to nearby Fort Gibson Lake because of high water on the river.

Whether or not the event could have been held on the Arkansas River is forever debatable. Was it fishable? Yes. Were there big, submerged logs floating down the river? Yes. Regardless, here’s what I do know:Tournament Director Trip Weldon has the most thankless job in bass fishing. No matter what he decided in that situation, someone was going to be unhappy about it. So for that reason, I respect Trip’s call on this one.

I will say that section of the Arkansas River is an untapped fishing gem. There are plenty of fish in that system and it’s a fun, shallow-water fishery. I think most of the field would have had between 11 and 14 pounds per day and we’d have seen some 17- to as high as 22-pound bags.

The move to Fort Gibson was unique for a couple of reasons. One, we had just one day of practice, which when it was all said and done, was pretty cool. And second, since we had just one day of practice, the fish did not get beat up for three days preceding the event, which made fishing a lot better as whole.

I’ve never had just one day of practice for an event before, so that was kind of a new challenge and personally, I kind of liked it.

Instead of fishing, I just rode the lake for the first few hours, just to see what was available to fish. The water color was stained everywhere and the lake was about four or five feet low. After a mini lake tour, I decided I liked the looks of some of the shallow, natural rock up the river as well as the docks on the main lake the best.

Finally I decided to sample the fishing. I cranked a Bandit 200 on rocks for a while, then went down the lake to flip docks. I got a couple of quality bites flipping docks so I decided that was going to be my plan. But instead of fishing some more, I spent the rest of the afternoon riding the lake, looking at just about all the docks on the lake. Then I put my boat on the trailer and decided I would figure the dock fish out during the tournament.

The first morning things did not get off to a great start. I had not had a bite by about 9:30 when I went around the backside of a dock and made a skip-pitch way up under the walkway and bingo, I got my first bite. From there I figured out that the backsides and walkways were definitely the key places on the docks and I caught 15 pounds.

I fished most of the tournament flipping a Zoom Trick Worm with a ¼-ounce Tru-Tungsten weight. I really like that thin, straight worm in the summer, especially when fishing behind other anglers on docks.

On day two, I did the same thing, but I was not the only one flipping docks and the pressure was starting to take its toll on the fish. The first day getting the bait far up under the dock was not as critical, but the second day bites were harder to come by and every one I caught was WAY up under the dock.

Despite the fewer bites, I caught 15 pounds again to make the cut and fish on day three.

And as you might imagine, day three was even tougher, simply because so many people were fishing docks. I could still catch some on my Trick Worm, but the quality was not near as prevalent. I ended up with 11 pounds the final day and finished 25th.

In all it was a decent end to a mediocre year. I cashed four checks and didn’t make the Classic and I really hate missing that benchmark.

It was the shortest, most intense fishing season I can remember and I’m fried right now.

I ended the year stronger than I started, which is good. I’m more comfortable with my last few tournaments than I was with my first few. I made some horrible decisions at the Cal Delta, I simply panicked at Clear Lake and at Pickwick, which is such a rookie mistake. Clarks Hill was horrible and Smith Lake was so-so. I really didn’t get my comfort level back until about Lake Guntersville. At Kentucky Lake and Fort Gibson I felt like I was fishing decent again – not great, but good, as in my decisions were solid and my fishing was clean with hardly any missed fish.

So pulling out three checks at the end of the season at least allows me to live with myself during the off-season. Speaking of which, our off-season is now 7 months. Is there any other professional sport that has such a long off-season?

Flipping equipment from Fort Gibson

Lure: Zoom Trick Worm (green pumpkin) tail dipped chartreuse

Hook: 4/0 Xpoint offset round bend

Weight: Tru-Tungsten ¼-ounce

Line: 17-pound test Vicious Ultimate Fishing Line

Rod: 7-foot, 6-inch American Rodsmiths Mag Casting Rod

Reel: Ardent XS1000 6.3:1

Scent: Carolina Lunker Sauce Crawfish flavor