Going fishing

Whose bright idea was it for me to spend the day fishing when I should have been working?

Whoever the dunderhead was he deserves a kick in the Netherlands. Of course that would be me. And I did get that kick, straight up where it hurts most.

I should always remind myself — there is a reason why practice is an essential part of every tournament.

There's just so much you need to learn. There are things only your mind will catalog in a way you can understand. For instance, water color. My definition of dingy water might mean mud to you. And just getting a lay of the land, or water, is critical. You can gain all sorts of knowledge just by looking and casting.

In the case of Grand Lake, that would have been learning that the fish on this lake are a little finicky about size. It hasn't been too terribly long since they've left the nest. But they are past that guarding-fry stage where they'll kill anything that comes close, not quite to the opportunistic stage where they'll hit any free meal you roll past their nose, but squarely in the middle of that time period when they are feeding on the fry of everything else in the lake. And they are pretty picky about getting the right-sized bite.

You've got to spend a few hours on the water to figure that out. Me, all I knew was it was May when I got here and June when I went fishing. Typically in this region of the country that means Gilmore Jumper time. That's Wood Chopper time for those unaware of the wonders of a Jumper in May.

So I started my morning by winging a Jumper with visions of grandeur filling my head. Brooks Rogers had one of those little bitty Yellow Magic poppers. And we were covering water. He was catching them, I wasn't.

All I needed was three bites and if I could get a good one on the Jumper early, I would be set. But after Rogers put a limit in the boat in less than an hour, I was downsizing from a Jumper to a Chug Bug.

Didn't know it at the time, but that was still too big. Rogers continues to boat them, I continue to go without a sniff. Now, this type of fishing is pretty stupid stuff. Throw it up there, jerk it a few times, add a pause or two, start it all over. Pretty easy, nothing fancy. It certainly doesn't require any hard-core practice.

But these Grand Lake fish didn't think much of my Chug Bug, either. At least that's the way I have to rationalize it. By about 11 a.m. Rogers finally felt sorry enough to throw me one of those little poppers he was casting.

Slow on the draw

Within the next 20 minutes I was hooked up four different times, including a 3-pounder that spit the little popper back at me. I had to remind myself I was enjoying the day fishing in the middle of the cussing spinning around in my head. The other hook-ups didn't make the 14-inch minimum. Just my luck. Made only worse by the fact that by that time the topwater bite was over, at least where we were fishing,

There were four hours left, plenty of time to smoke me up some keepers. That didn't happen either. It's hard to dial in on a confidence lure when you haven't had a chance to build any confidence. The only thing you can do is chunk and wind and try to figure out things on the run, hoping all the time you guess right.

Windy banks, throw a spinnerbait. It worked, but only for 13-inchers. Flooded willows, flip a jig or tube. That worked too, but only for 10-inchers. Get close to ledges, drops, or rocky banks, pick up the jig. Which worked really well, but when you haven't fished but once in eight months, the first thing to go is your reaction time.

I had two really good bites that I knew were really good bites the second they hit. The kind that go "tick," move off and feel heavy. The kind you know are keepers. The kind if you don't set the hook almost immediately, they are going to swallow the jig, spit it out or wrap you around something. Trust me I know this.

I watched the wrap-you-around-something deal happen twice, each time in slow motion. Enough time for me to set the hook three times, but in my slow out-of-practice shape I set the hook only once each time and it was too late. Both times, I got the see-saw of a good fish pulling and the snap of line breaking.

That was my life for the first day of this event, where more co-anglers caught more fish than any Elite Series event to date. At least that's what Scott Cooley says. But it was one where I, with all my visions of grandeur, failed to boat a keeper.

It happens. It'll happen again. Hopefully not on Friday.