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Your Guide to Tournament Fishing, by a First Year Tournament Angler
Part Two
Jerry Corbett


The evening hours after the day one weigh-in were used to discuss and plan how to attack the second day of fishing. We knew that we could catch small fish and likely finish close to the money, but our decision came down to an all or nothing attitude. We didn’t fish all year long not to give our best shot at the Ranger. We had one area that was giving us decent size fish, but the action was pretty slow, so we didn’t spend a lot of time there on day one. Our reasoning came down to starting there and then spending a larger portion of the morning waiting on the good bite. Unfortunately, when we started going through our tackle and getting everything adjusted for Sunday we realized that our bait that was getting us the biggest bite was in very short supply, so luckily for me, my partner stepped to the plate and said he would hit the road toward the bait shop.

Three o’clock A.M. on the second day seemed just a little earlier than the first day. After spending all day on the water Saturday and having to deal with the wind apparently wore me down. As we headed out we started noticing the thick pockets of fog that were settling in on northeastern Oklahoma. We swung by the Jimmy Houston Outdoors Store for more ice and to double check the standings and then we were back off to launch ramp. Upon arriving at the Elk Creek recreation area we quickly realized that the fog had definitely set in on the lake. As we motored over to the Cherokee landing side we discovered it was difficult to see many boats in front of us, even with the lights on with the dense fog. Luckily our Lowrance GPS unit came in handy and helped guide us in the right direction.

Obviously, the fog was going to be there for a while and Mr. Carl Woods the tournament director announced that the take-off was going to be delayed due to the fog. No angler likes sitting around waiting for the chance to wet a line, but fortunately for us the staff at Jimmy Houston Outdoors take safety as a top priority and didn’t want to risk anything. As it turned out the wind started to pick up just a touch and with the rising sun the delay lasted around thirty minutes. As soon as Mr. Woods declared the area safe, the countdown to our boat number began. One of the difficult obstacles facing the anglers on Lake Tenkiller this weekend was extremely low water level, with the lake at least seven foot below normal. This not only caused problems with catching fish, but with safe navigation in certain areas. Anglers were reminded numerous times not to cut the corners while running to prevent any unexpected stump or sandbar to derail your fishing weekend.

As we arrived at our first fishing hole we broke out the fishing equipment and went to work. Luckily not long after our arrival a decent size Kentucky bass found its way into our livewell. We were still pretty happy about that when another fish hit and it seemed like a pretty good one, as my partner played it back to the boat I stood by with the dip net. He got it up to the boat and I swung the net under the bass and in the boat it came, a “smallie”. Now we had another problem, the smallmouth was close to the 16” mark but close is all we could get. We decided to go ahead and put her in the livewell cause earlier this year we had an experience of a few fish being real close on our board and making it on the official board. We maintained a good attitude about it though, saying that we would “cull” the fish later with a better one. After a few more passes with the action slowing down we finally had another bite and shortly another small bass in the livewell. We decided that there were fish holding in this area without a doubt and we were going to try and play the patience game. It paid off one more time with another small bass which made four in our livewell, but with that one smallmouth we knew we needed some more good fish.

After many more passes through our prime fishing location and a few bites and near hookups the action began to slow even more, but patience was our game and we were playing it well, to my surprise. But unfortunately for us, the wind kicked back up and giving us one more reason to try another pattern we made the decision to try a few different spots. By this time it was already afternoon and we were sure the pattern was going to be a little slower. One thing was for certain, we weren’t catching the numbers of fish on Sunday as we did the day before. Did the weather change the fishing? Was it our call to come looking for bigger fish? What about the fishing pressure? All we knew for sure was that we needed some huge leaps and bounds if we was going to have a chance.

As we looked for calmer waters we couldn’t come up with a solid back up plan on our second day of fishing. On the first day we had 4 different areas to catch fish with 3 different techniques and then all the sudden we were stuck with trying to decipher what to do now. One of the biggest hurdles in competitive bass fishing is when the conditions change and when the fish that were in one area on one day are gone the next day, then what? Putting together one good stringer of fish is hard enough, but putting together consistent good stringers raises the skill level to a higher echelon.

As it turns out we were only able to scratch out one more fish for the day, another Kentucky bass caught in open water. We caught only five fish on day two and all five were in our livewell heading back to the weigh-in. The big nagging question that remained was whether or not our smallie was going to make it into our bag of fish or not. We secured our gear and cranked the 225 Optimax up and headed back to the check boat. As we neared Cherokee landing we noticed the boat in the distance with the white flag, the check in boat, as we came down off a pad and motored towards the flag we began to realize that our fishing day and weekend was coming to a close. We knew in our minds that our decision to go for broke didn’t pay off for us today, but the lessons learned during any fishing trip is worth their weight in gold the next time you head out for some competitive fishing.

At the weigh-in we double-checked the smallie on our board just to see if the fish added any length while riding around in our livewell, and to our surprise it didn’t. So we decided to go ahead and bring it to the “bump board”, an official Jimmy Houston Outdoor board that gives anglers a courtesy bump, and make one last check before bringing the fish to the scales. When we got to the bump board we tried to stretch the fish every which way, but it was obvious that she wasn’t going to make it, so we reluctantly turned her over before heading on to the scales. With only four small swimmers in our bag we knew that not only was the chance for a boat way out the window, but our opportunity to finish somewhere in the money was probably gone also. When the scales rang up we had a little over three pounds for four fish and our two day total was just over ten pounds.

There are always what-ifs in tournament fishing, but you can’t dwell on them to long, just put them in the back of your mind and learn from your experiences. What if that smallmouth would have measured? Our weight would have been over the twelve-pound range and we more likely than not, would have finished in the money. It wasn’t our goal for the day, but something to show would have been nice. Looking back do we regret our decision to play the waiting game? Yes and no, because the grass is not always greener on the other side, but on this particular day it apparently was. We learned to always keep an eye on the conditions and the changes that the bass may make and what kind of game plan is needed in order to compete. You must always have a few other patterns or areas to fall back on and if not, things will be tough. Wind also played a pretty big factor both days, with the wind on Sunday gusting even stronger than the previous day. Wind is a blessing in disguise sometimes but other times it can devastate a hotspot, and both days the wind affected our fishing styles. But its just part of the exciting game of tournament bass fishing, being able to put the right pattern together for the right conditions.

Lake Tenkiller, located in the Cookson Hills of eastern Oklahoma, lined with miles of scenic steep bluffs and forested hills can be considered as one of the prettiest lakes in the state, and without any doubt one of the most unique. It was a great place to wrap up an exciting year of fishing with the Jimmy Houston Outdoor Team Tournament Trail.

Take it easy, and good fishing!
Jerry Corbett





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