Charlie Hartley's Bass Wars:Fun and frustration

Bassmaster Elite Series pro Charlie Hartley 

The Florida swing is history. Speaking for myself, I'm sad to see it go. I haven't caught a bass outside of the Sunshine State since before Thanksgiving, and that's just fine with me. I love it.

The bed fishing on the St. Johns was fun. It was also frustrating. I'm going to tell you a story from down there. I think you'll find it interesting. It says something about why I have so much love for Florida bass fishing.

The nights were cold all last week on the river. The bass were moving off the beds and then returning in the afternoon when the water warmed up. It was Friday, late in the day. I needed weight.

I looked over to one bed that had been empty earlier in the day. It had a couple of pretty good fish on it. I tried and tried to catch one of them. They were worth the effort, even though I was running out of time, because either one of them would have earned me a $10,000 check. I wasn't having any luck at all getting them to bite.

Then, all of a sudden, the bed erupted in a cloud of smoke-like silt. It was instant. In that same instant, both fish disappeared. I was stunned. All I could do was stare in disbelief at the empty water while the dust settled.

As I was standing on the bow of my boat with my eyes the size of small saucers, a big, dark mouth appeared on the bed. It sucked in my lure. (It was still lying in the center of the bed. I'd been too startled to move it.) I set the hook out of instinct. After a brief fight, I realized I'd hooked a big mudfish. In a matter of seconds my emotions went from exhilaration to chagrin.

On another bed I found a male and a female dancing around like there was no tomorrow. At that point I only had about a half-hour left to fish, so I did what I could. Try as I might, I never did get either one of them to bite. I finally had to leave, knowing that they'd won the battle.

Those are the kinds of experiences that make me love Florida bass fishing. That's why I refer to it as fun and frustration. You never know how things are going to turn out, but you do know you'll always have a chance to catch a big one. You can't ask for much more than that.

But that's all in the past.

I'm on Norman now practicing for the Open later this week. These things have taken on a different meaning to me this year. A win earns you an automatic Classic berth. That's no small thing. It's affected my fishing style, and I suspect it's affected some of the other guys, too. We're all looking for the big bite.