If you ever had thoughts of trying to fish in a bass tournament, an open tournament is the way to go. You can pick a tournament hosted on a lake you know well, then fish against others with no long-term commitment to a club or tournament trail while still getting a sense of what tournament fishing is all about. My wife Missy and I entered an open this past weekend at Lake Parker, just five minutes from the house.
You might think that if a good bass fishing lake is that close to home, we must be on it all the time. But we don’t. Because the lake is a bit smaller than the lakes we fish our club and FLW tournaments on, we simply don’t get a chance to go there very much. Lake Parker is in the northeast corner of Lakeland. The boat ramp is across the street from the back of the property where the Detroit Tigers have their spring training.
This is a great lake to fish, and we have caught several big bass here. When I got word that there was going to be an open tournament here, I decided to give it a shot. We went out the day before just to check the water level. Like the rest of the state, we have not gotten much rain until recently. As expected, the water level was very low.
I ran to a few old spots only to be disappointed by my results. I had started to second-guess even entering the tournament, but after running to the top end of the lake, I thought we might have a shot. There were far more lily pads here than I was expecting, and as we worked around and through the pads, we raised roughly 10 big bass. We managed to catch one that was over 6 pounds, so I figured that there were more big bass in there.
The beauty of fishing an open tournament is there are no points involved for an angler of the year award. These one-off events don’t lead to a huge time investment like a series can. I have done a couple of them this year, since the pandemic caused our club miss a tournament. Fishing open tournaments helps me stay on top of my game.
I had to admit, fishing so close to the house was a nice change of pace. Some tournaments, I’m on the road for five hours just to get to the lake — not that I mind. But the short drive allowed me to sleep in.
We worked those pads all day. We used weedless baits to keep us from getting hung up such as popping frogs and Big EZ swimbaits. Actually, the day was a lot of fun and funny at the same time.
I caught one of our keeper bass by allowing the bait to sink through the pads and then swimming it past the pad that I knew he was under. How did I know he was under that specific pad? On the cast before that, I parked the swim bait on top of a pad to take a break and have a look around. As the bait sat on the pad, a bass came up underneath, nudging the pad to get the bait to fall into the water. After seeing this, I made sure on the next cast my bait swam right past that pad. Sure enough, he was there and found his way to the livewell.
We had fish exploding all over in the morning hours. Missy had one hit about a foot from her bait. The blow-up was so big it looked like someone threw a concrete block in the water. She was a little disappointed that it didn’t find her bait successfully, but that’s the kind of fun we have when we get into some bass up under the pads.
I had one hit my frog that I know was big, maybe close to double digits. Unfortunately, she found the only pad between where I hooked her and the boat, and managed to lodge the one free hook from the frog into the stem of that pad and slip off the hook. The hook that was not tucked in the pad had been straightened, which is how she got off. Would love to see that big girl again someday.
Our results? Well, let’s just say we were respectable. We managed a limit of bass that weighed close to 16 pounds. It took more than 23 pounds to win the tournament. Still, 16 pounds on this smaller size lake is a good bag of bass.
If you’ve ever had an inkling of trying to fish bass competitively, look for an open tournament. They’re a lot of fun, especially if you can find one on a lake that you already enjoy fishing.
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.