I learned a valuable lesson in my first professional fishing tournament on the FLW Costa Series circuit: Before you worry about getting the bass to the boat, you better make sure you drive that hook home. If you don’t, it can cost you dearly.
I’ve had some pretty good success with fishing on the St. John’s River. I have won a tournament or two, and also caught a lot of bass on many occasions fishing with my wife. During all those previous trips, I never experienced losing bass the way I did during this FLW tournament. And when you lose bass in an event like this instead of bringing that weight to the scales, you plummet down the standings board in a hurry.
On day one of the event, I lost four bass and only managed to get one to the boat. On day two of the event, the bite was better. However, I only managed to bring two bass to the scales — because I missed eight others that I thought I had the hook planted firmly in their mouth. What went wrong?
After thinking about this a lot on my drive home the next morning, the only conclusion I can come up with is that I was simply too impatient. I have talked numerous times about giving bass a second or two to grab the bait and get turned before trying to plant that hook in their mouths. I think that I simply started swinging before I gave the bass time to get turned before setting the hook.
The water was pretty clear. The water on the St. John’s River has a tannic tint to it. But even with that, I could see my white flukes and gold swimbaits very easily in the water. That also meant that I could see the bait disappear into the fish’s mouth as well. I believe this was my downfall. Seeing that bait vanish made me set the hook a little quicker than I normally do. The excitement of being in a big event and knowing that I had enough quality bass to collect a check probably didn’t help.
I have to go back to what I have discussed many times in the past: It’s necessary to exercise a certain patience when it comes to fishing. Whether it’s finding, hooking, fighting or landing fish, rushing the process will decrease your odds of success.
It’s another lesson learned the hard way. The bass didn’t know it was a tournament and acted how they always do. I, on the other hand, got excited and rushed the process. You could say the stage got to me. You must be patient in your approach to catching bass. If you have put the time in to find them, put that same time in to catch them. There is no rush in those situations.
At least my baits were doing well. Most of you know that I have become a very big fan of the swimbait. That bait was crucial in most of the bites I had. When you rig it on a belly hook with an underspin blade, you can almost see the point of the hook being exposed. That alone should make it easy to set the hook, especially if you’re fishing this rig on braided line. It’s almost a slam dunk as far as getting a good hookset on the bass.
But you can’t take anything for granted. Exposed hook or not, give that bass enough time to get turned so that hook is the right position when you set it. If you don’t, you get a poor hookset. You may feel them for a second and even get them to jump, but once they turn and dig away from the boat, that hook will come free. That’s what I experienced this past week.
In all my years fishing this swimbait rig, I can remember three days that this has happened to me. All three were in tournaments, once on the Winter Haven chain and twice on the St. John’s. All three times I have missed quality bass. I would like to say it will never happen again, but considering my track record, there may be a fourth in my future. I just hope that it isn’t in another big event.
Greg Bartz is a tournament bass fisherman based in Lakeland. Greg fishes lakes throughout Florida’s Heartland and enjoys RV travel around the Southeast with his wife and tournament partner, Missy. Contact him at Greg.Bartz@SummitHoldings.com.