This was a year that most of us would just as soon forget. The pandemic fell upon us in March and we saw the country go into somewhat of a tailspin. For those of us outdoors, it slowed us down a little, but not that much.
As most of you know, I really enjoy tournament fishing — so much so that this past year, I jumped into the professional ranks and gave that a try with the MLF/FLW Toyota Series. It’s only three tournaments. But between them and the club that my wife and I fish in, it is safe to say that I still logged plenty of hours on the water this past year. I even managed to find time for three or four open tournaments as well. Throw in the countless hours of practice and that adds up to a lot of time on the water in 2020.
There were challenges. Because of the threat of the virus, state parks were getting shut down. Since we launch some of our tournaments out of those parks, things did get a little crazy. For the first time ever in the history of our club, we canceled a tournament to keep the membership safe. The last of three tournaments in the FLW Toyota Series was pushed from April all the way back to November, which considerably changed the complexion of the fishing for that event.
Through all of this, Missy and I managed to catch some very nice bass throughout the year. For a stint this past summer, Lake Parker (which is just a few miles from home) simply caught fire. It was nothing to go out and whack a bunch of bass between six and eight pounds. And the way we got to catch those bass proved to be a very exciting method: Buzzing Gambler Big EZ swimbaits over thick pads.
The pro-style tournament fishing was interesting. I finished quite poorly in all three competitions, but not without having an opportunity in the first two events to actually produce some solid weights. Funny thing, though — hooking them doesn’t count, only the weight at the end of the day. Who would have ever thought that?
Those tournament failures led me to some upgrades in the rods and line that I was using to do my worm fishing with. Ordering up a couple of new Reaper Rods from right here in Florida allowed me to custom design what I wanted. And the boys at Reaper delivered. I can cast longer and get a solid hookset much better than I used to. Switching to Berkley Vanish fluorocarbon line also allowed me to use a heavier line but with a smaller diameter and reduced stretch.
These changes have led to landing more bass. Switching our equipment up helped us put an exclamation mark on our season. In our Classic tournament for the club, we managed 10 bass averaging 3.69 pounds apiece. Missy catching the big bass on each of the two days (7.52 and a 6.45 pounds) just made that weekend even more sweet. We didn’t win it, but we managed second place roughly three pounds behind the winner.
Now it’s back to the grind. With the new MLF Big 5 Toyota Series coming up fast and starting in my neighborhood on the Kissimmee chain of lakes, it won’t be long before I’m weighing in bass on that stage again. With improved tackle, I’m looking for a much better result this time around. Also, it’s only an hour from my house to the ramp on three of the lakes on the chain, and I expect to put in some heavy time to get ready for this opening event.
Nothing would make me happier than to land some solid weights the first two days and see where I land overall. Based on the practice time I have put in thus far, things are looking good. I have already landed a couple of big ones, including one over 7 pounds. We’ll see what happens.
I hope all of you have made some plans for fishing in the new year. Here’s looking at a better 2021.
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.