It’s hard to believe we are already two tournaments deep into the 2013 Bassmaster Elite Series. It’s amazing how extreme the highs and lows of this sport can be.. But after a short taste of the tour, I’m ready for another serving.
Three weeks ago, I left Gilbert, Arizona with John Murray and drove to Orange, Texas for the Sabine River Challenge. John has been one of my fishing role models since I was young. It was great to have him around for my first Elite Series event, he kept me on the right track all week. When we arrived to the Orange Holiday Inn Express, the first reality check hit when Kevin Vandam was escorted by a local police officer into the hotel parking lot where he parked directly next to me. Kevin had just installed a set of Rigid Industries Lights on his Nitro, so we chatted about their many uses and on he went.
Going into the event on the river, it was no secret that we were going to encounter tough fishing. The Sabine River, along with every other piece of water connected to it, is known for harboring lots of bass, but very few keeper sized bass. Tournament rules allowed us to fish any piece of water directly connected to the Sabine, excluding anything we had to run through the gulf to get to. My primary area was about 70 miles from takeoff, a good ways up the Calcasieu River. Getting to this area meant running down the Sabine, through 30 miles of the intracoastal waterway amongst giant barges, through two saltwater locks, three no wake zones, and up the windy Calcasieu River. With run time, I was only making my first cast at about 9:00 AM each day, and having to pack up and head back around 1:30.
Day one of the Challenge went fairly well, with three keepers for 6.9 lbs I was sitting in 32nd place. I was happy with the result, yet amazed with the talent of the rest of the field, many of whom who had brought in limits on a fishery where many didn’t think that would be possible. The bass I was catching were spawning on stumps along a long dead end slough full of lilly pads. The fish were hitting a black and blue chatterbait tipped with a Berkley Chigger Craw on a 7’3” TFO Tactical Series Rod and 17# Triline 100% Flourocarbon. I felt as if there were enough fish in the area to catch a few more the next day, and survive the tough tournament. Unfortunately, day two was one I would rather forget. The fish were starting to feel my pressure along with some changing conditions. I had roughly the same amount of keeper bites, but I was unable to put them in the boat. The final result was a 67th place finish out of 100 anglers. It was disappointing, but the first event was out of the way.
Rather than drive strait to Falcon, my roommate Clifford Pirch and I decided to stick around and work the tournament expo in Orange. The following that fishing has in that part of the country is absolutely awesome. 17,000 people came out to the expo and weigh in that day, and we were excited to talk fishing and sign autographs for many of the great fans. As the Saturday expo came to a close, it was time to refocus and prepare for the Rigid Industries Falcon Slam.
After a humbling tournament on the Sabine, being able to turn around and have a shot at redemption was a total blessing. Falcon is a lake that laid out much more like something we would fish out west, with a good amount of offshore structure, and less variables than a place like the Sabine River had to offer. Going into the event, the goal was to find a school of big post spawn fish that might last for a few days of fishing.
Two days into practicing dawn to dusk, I was again scratching my head. The bites were coming, but the quality was missing. At this point, I had picked up only one fish over 3.5 pounds, and it was a swimbait bite that I couldn’t duplicate anywhere else. It seemed like most of the fish on the lake were most likely post spawn, and it was hard to figure out why I couldn’t find any big fish off shore. Overall, the general consensus was that the bite was much tougher than normal. Even with a tough bite, there was no doubt that these guys were going to catch them which made for a few stressful nights knowing I hadn’t found anything big.
We were greeted by strong winds and rain on the final day of practice. Exactly what you hate to have to deal with when you are desperate to find some fish.. I had decided to try a new creek that I had idled through during my pre practice period in January. Most of the spots I had fished in practice consisted of a piece of structure with a good drop off and some type of cover such as rock, brush, or a foundation. As I usually do, I had been keying in on the drop-offs with my casts. After side scanning a long point leading into this bay, I again fished the break and only picked up one 2.5 pounder. With the overcast conditions, I decided to try further up on the slow tapering point, about 100 yards away from the actual drop off. My first cast up higher on the point, I could feel my Power Worm drag through some rocks, then a tree, and finally…a bite… which was an eight plus pounder. After un hooking the fish and making one more cast, a five pounder is in the boat. Finally, I felt like I had something worth fishing.
Day one of the tournament went extremely well. I started on the point, and watched Edwin Evers, Kevin VanDam, and Mike Iaconelli pull up to similar spots within a mile of where I was fishing. At that point, I knew I was on the right type of stuff, and the fish slowly came on board through the day. Alternating between the 10” Berkley Power Worm and a Spro Little John DD in Citrus Shad I was lucky enough to manage 30.5 lbs. off of the point, good enough for 3rd place.
As the tournament days wore on, I continued working the same area with the same general baits. If you could hit the isolated trees just right, you would get a bite. After three days of competition, I was thrilled to have snuck into the top 12 cut but only one ounce. Going into the last day in 12th place, all you can do is swing for the fence. As I walked out of the hotel room on the final day, fellow competitor Cliff Crochet walked over and gave me a little pep talk. Cliff was sitting in 10th place, and told me “Listen Josh, I’m hard as a rock right now… You can’t break me.. This is Falcon, and anything can happen out here. You are 11 pounds back, that’s one bite. Last time the Elites were on Falcon, Paul Elias and Terry Scroggins were in 11th and 12th going into the final day. You know where they finished…”. Cliff’s talk had me so pumped and ready to fish…
The final day went extremely well, and I was able to expand a bit and find another set of trees another 200 feet up the point that was full of bass. The Little John DD was the ticket on the final day, the fish needed something a little more eratic to react to as it plowed through the trees. I have to mention how important it is to have good gear on a lake like Falcon. The fish are so big and strong, and with the wood and rock laden bottom, they will break your heart if you fish with inferior equiment. I fished the crankbait on a 7’9” TFO Tactical Series Crankbait rod with an Abu Garcia Winch baitcast reel and 12# test Trilene 100% Flourocarbon. Two of the big fish I landed day two had me buried so deep into the trees I didn’t think I stood a chance of landing them. The line miraculously held up and the fish both eventually swam out and made it into the boat. The tally at weigh in was 27 pounds, enough to jump into 4th place for the tournament.
I can’t say enough about the kindness of all who helped me through these first two events. My family’s support, my girlfriend holding down the fort as I was away, the other pros who gave me advice and helped me when I needed it, and my sponsors who give me the opportunity to do this. We are early in the season with some tough tournaments and tough competitors ahead. I’ll take these two weeks at home to do some guide trips and research some of the upcoming tournaments. It’s nice to home..