Fishing is all about decision making. Isn’t everything? We decide to go fishing first. Then maybe pay an entry fee to fish in competition. After that are a zillion other forks in the road that lead to the result of the effort. None of the decisions are necessarily easy to make, but necessary to get to a result.
You always strive to make good decisions of course. If you put your thinking process to work alongside your intuitive ability, you get a “good” decision. It does not always lead to the result you wish for, but it is still a good decision.
I am probably guilty of trying to use intellect to make fishing decisions, more than intuition. My scientific background seems to lead me down that path. I try to make fishing logical, which it most definitely is NOT.
Those little green fish with the big old bulgy eyes have a really small brain that is incapable of logic or reasoning. They certainly do not plan to refuse to bite on Saturday just because that is the final day of the tournament. It just seems like it sometimes.
The beauty of tournament fishing is that somebody always figures out how to make some bites happen. That pretty much puts to rest any thoughts of “They just didn’t bite today”. That’s good news and bad news. Bad news if you aren’t the one who makes it happen. Good news if you are that guy. Pretty good news if you can later find out how “that guy” got it done. You put that little jewel of information in memory (or your computer) so you can remember what worked during this set of conditions in the future efforts. That’s how seasonal patterns are developed.
The tournament at The Chesapeake Bay last week was a good example. I made a decision to concentrate my efforts on a single spot. There were a couple of logical reasons for that. One, it was the only spot in which I had more than one bite in practice. Second, the bites were big.
It was a tidal current related place with a sunken wreck of some kind. Current swept across it during both tidal movements, but best during the incoming flow. It was the perfect winter to spring transition place for the conditions. It was pretty isolated too, and this gave me hope that no other competitor had found its magic.
First day, great plan. I caught my limit by 10:00 am and left the place alone hoping to conserve the school for later exploitation. That was a difficult decision to make. I struggled with it and consciously decided to go. As it turned out; bad plan. When I arrived there second day, another competitor was parked on “my” spot. OUCH! He had apparently found it too, and left me alone on it the first day until after I left. Then he caught the biggest bass weighed in during the whole event from the key spot. Again, OUCH!
No Harm, no foul, just painful. Was it a bad decision to leave? I don’t really think it was bad, just wrong. In hindsight, I obviously should have stayed and fished more, or at least guarded the spot.
You have to make a decision to stay or go many times every day in fishing. This was a particularly difficult decision with an especially difficult result, but it was still a “good” decision.
I will always wonder what might have been if I had taken the other route. I have made enough good and bad decisions in my fishing life to know that you cannot always get it right, but you can rest better that night if you believe you made a good decision based on your intellect, but also relying on your intuitive ability as well.
Still, I enjoyed my return to the Chesapeake Bay. It was especially rewarding to talk to so many fans who wished me well and many who remembered the day in August, 1991, that changed my life. It was a string of “good” decisions that got me there, and back again.
This week BASS travels to the Chesapeake Bay for this season's first Bassmaster Northern Open presented by Oakley. For most of the 200 competitors it's a venue chosen by someone else. For some that means a gift, for others it's a tough break.
For, Ken Cook, however, it's much more than that. It's his first tournament on the Bay since he won the 1991 Bassmaster Classic there, something that never really leaves his mind.
"Sure I think about it," he says as he reminisces about the past. "You can't help it. Every time I pass a landmark or a waypoint a memory of some sort is triggered. But you have to remember — that was then, this is now.
"I've only been back once since the Classic. In 2007 Tammy (his wife) and I had a couple of slack days. We stopped, and I took Tammy out to show her where I caught my bass. She was at the weigh-in, of course, but had never seen the actual spot on the water where I caught the winning bass. That meant a lot to both of us.
"But, let's get back to reality. You don't win two tournaments on one spot. It just doesn't happen. I will confess that I did go by my old spot on Monday, though. You know, just to look. I didn't fish it. They aren't there. Nevertheless, it was nice to see it — you know, just to look and think.
"These bass are holding in small, deep spots out of the current. They're not up on the grass like they were in 1991. There may be a lot of water out there, but most of it isn't holding bass. The field is crowded, and there'll be a lot of boats on the spots that are capable of producing a winning catch."
That's why he thinks there'll be a huge advantage to local anglers. He theorizes that the locals know the winter patterns better than the visitors. That means they'll spend less time looking and more time developing a bite.
That theory has been intensified by this week's practice. Monday and Tuesday were miserable. There was wind and rain and bitterly cold conditions. That makes looking even tougher and makes water that fishes small fish even smaller.
The weather is supposed to improve by week's end, however. Sunny skies and fair winds are predicted for Friday and Saturday. That'll likely start the fish moving and make local knowledge even more valuable. All in all, it's likely to be a tough tournament, with conditions, fish and patterns changing daily.
Still, Cook is optimistic, if guarded, about his chances.
"For some reason, over my career, I seem to do better in the tournament when I have a tough practice. This year's Elites are an example. I had good practices everywhere except Dardanelle. My performances, however, weren't very good at all. I didn't catch them in competition the way I did in practice.
"This event is shaping up differently. I haven't had a very good practice, so maybe I'll have a good tournament. It seems like if you only know a little, you know it well. You can go out and work the details of what you do know and put fish in the boat.
"It's funny, this one is starting to look like the 1991 Classic. In 1991 we had a hurricane blow through just before the tournament. Our practice immediately before the Classic was cut to one day. In the early practice, I found good bass on wood. I went back to that pattern and spent most of the one day I had trying to develop it.
"But my fish were gone. It wasn't working. Late in the day — at the last minute, really — I found a grass bed that was loaded. I fished it in competition because it was all I had. I worked it to death and it turned out real well for me. Maybe this tournament will be the same."
Cook certainly hopes so, anyway. He's announced this is his last professional season. He admits that he desperately wants to fish the 2010 Classic. As of today that goal is in serious jeopardy given his slow start in the Elites.
"I'd really like to do well here and in the other two Northern Opens. That might be — probably is — my best shot for a Classic spot. I won't kid anybody. I want to go to next year's Classic. But some things are meant to be and others aren't. I've had a wonderful career. I'll never complain. We'll just have to see how it goes."
No matter his tough practice, and implied lack of knowledge about the bite, Cook believes it'll take a fair amount of weight to cash a check. He predicts a 25 pound cut weight to fish with the Top 30 on Saturday and thinks it'll take 50 pounds to win. His big bass prediction is 8 pounds even.
"This is a good fishery. Don't let the fact that this is an Open fool you. There are plenty of good anglers here, many of them with local knowledge. Somebody'll whack 'em."
That somebody, in Cook's opinion, is likely to be Mike Iaconelli, Dave Wolak or Rick Ash.
"Iaconelli probably knows this water as well as anybody, and his style is well suited to what we'll be doing this week. I'd sure watch him. Wolak's the same. And Rick Ash — he used to fish the Elites — is really good here, too. Any one of them could bring home the bacon."
The glaring omission in Cook's list of top contenders is, of course, Cook himself. When asked about that he says, "Some things are better left unsaid. I don't even want to think about it much less talk about it." Read More
After an event like that, it is helpful to recall the details of an event that produced a better result. The better result that comes to mind this week is the 1991 Bassmaster Classic that was conducted on the Chesapeake Bay near Baltimore, MD. That’s the one I won, of course and as usual, there is an amazing chain of events that led to the win.
There was a pre-fish period about 30 days before the event and I spent several days running around and fishing the Bay. I identified two potentially effective patterns for the competition. One was targeting laydowns in a tributary creek in the upper bay. This worked best on low tide. The other potential pattern involved the submerged vegetation in the upper Susquehanna flats. This seemed the more reliable pattern because it appeared to be less dependent on the tide level.
I had to write this on Saturday at Dardanelle while the feelings are raw and fresh, because I know they will change over the next couple of days.
After two of the last eight Elite Series Tournaments in my career, I have experienced feelings at or near both ends of the spectrum. Neither of them are exactly the best nor worst of feelings, but samples of both to. It could be better, but also could be worse.
I left Amistad feeling pretty good due to my ability to adjust and make something positive happen in spite of a poor opening day start. I made big changes in my fishing attack and it re-affirmed one of the best reasons I love this sport so much. It’s the feeling of solving the puzzle at every turn and surprise. Not the top of the feelings pile, but still a reminder of what it feels like to effect a positive outcome.