Tough lessons on Lake Okeechobee

The 2014 FLW Tour kicked off last weekend down at Lake Okeechobee in Florida.
After spending the past few weeks in Florida, essentially preparing for this event, my results in the tournament ended up being quite disappointing.
My three-day practice for this tournament went okay but not great. I did catch a few nice bass, but they were random and I was not able to put much of a pattern together on where I was catching fish.
Going into the tournament, I felt my best chance to do well was to focus on the areas where I was catching the most fish—regardless of their size—and hope that I would be able to connect with a big fish or two each day.
As it turned out, I was delusional to believe all the small fish I was catching somehow would turn into big ones and my results showed. My Day 1 weight of 10.3 pounds landed me in 127th place—not exactly where I wanted to start.
There is a large field of 180 anglers fishing the FLW this year, so money was being paid back to 90th place.
Going into Day 2, I felt like I needed to change up what I was doing to try and catch some bigger fish and make a comeback.
But after trying some new water to start the day and not catching anything, I ended up having to run to the area I had fished the first day so I could get my five fish in the boat.
Once I had my limit, I again started fishing some new water and ended up catching a few better-sized fish. Alas, my limit—weighing 12.11 pounds—was not enough to move me up into cheque range at this event.
My 115th place finish was not how I wanted to start the season off.
The eventual winner of the tournament, California angler Brett Hite, started off with a monster limit weighing 34.15 pounds and then hung on for the wire-to-wire victory.
He and many of the other top finishers were fishing open-water weed beds located offshore.
The big mistake I made was not being open-minded enough to fish some of this open-water stuff during the practice period before the tournament. It’s so easy to fish all the thicker weeds that are visible around the lake and fish with techniques that have been successful in the past.
I knew that the fish I was catching were not what I needed to be catching to be successful, yet I stuck with it anyway. Usually I’m a lot more open-minded, but I had too many preconceived notions about where I should be fishing and what I should be doing during the practice period.
I was able to stick around Lake Okeechobee for a few days after the tournament before I headed home this week because I had made arrangements to take some sponsor people fishing for a couple of days. So it was a good chance to get back out on the water and learn something.
It took a couple of days but this past Sunday, my friend, Blair Dingwall, and I finally found some big fish and figured out how to catch them.
Blair, who is from Dryden, is the younger brother of my good friend, Scott. He is going to school this winter down in south Florida, so it was nice to get out in the boat with each other.
We caught a bunch of nice bass on Sunday, including a six- and eight-pounder.
Our five biggest fish tipped my scale at more than 26 pounds, which was what we want to see down here.
Though it was too little, too late, it was great to learn how to catch some of these fish when they are not in traditional locations. And hopefully, if I get to fish another tournament here at some point down the road, I can use some of the things I learned after the event to help me out.
After being away from home for the past few weeks, I’m happy to return to Sunset Country and get out on the ice to catch some fish.
I’m going to try to bring some of the warm Florida weather back with me!