"IT'S A GAME OF INCHES, THE MOST IMPORTANT ARE THE SIX INCHES BETWEEN YOUR EARS"
5 years ago, I walked to the scales holding 2 redfish in a clear weigh bag at my very first tournament. Chad Lyden and Tom Stubblefield were looking for a third person to fish with them in a local tournament, so I decided to join. I met them at the ramp and paddled back to some flats that we knew were holding quality fish. It was not long and we had 2 fish on the stringer and we were done.
The only kayak team that entered the tournament arrived with what would of been a landslide victory of 17+ pounds for 2 redfish. We go for the W with a chance at $1500 and throw the 2 biggest fish we have. The first one measured just under 28" and was the big fish of the tournament. The other fish, which was much heavier than the other, stretched over the 28" mark on the check-it-stick by what seemed to be a 1/32". Our fish busted and just like that, we were back at the bottom. Ever since then, tournament fishing has appealed to me and our loss that day made me realize that this is not as easy as I once thought.
This past week was the start of the Elite Redfish Series and the first stop was in Kemah, Texas. Me and 16 other anglers anxiously awaited for the beginning of the new series and we all had high hopes of being able to win some good money. Unlike the last tournament, I did not have an opportunity to pre-fish like I usually do. I got one day of fishing in before it started and was happy to find a few fish.
Even though Arnold is talking about Golf, I believe the same goes for fishing. The mental aspect of the game is a major factor that most people tend to neglect. No matter what happens with the weather conditions or any other factor, you have to have a game plan and never veer from it. You have to be confident in your lure selection, the area you are going to fish and every decision you make that day; plan B does not exist for kayakers. The 6" between your ears are the most important and will always lead you in the right direction.
Fortunately, I had my mind made up a month prior of exactly what I was going to do. I planned on driving back to my home waters, hitting an area hard and hope that I could find 2 fish for 2 days in a row. I never had an opportunity to search for fish in other areas, so I was dead set on my plan. Kind of a 'Damned if you do, damned if you don't' situation.
One of the reasons of why I love tournament fishing is the thrill of searching for that perfect fish. Having a slot limit makes it a difficult task because you are looking for a fish that is within 1-2" of the 28" mark. Fish that are within that length are great tournament fish but the perfect one's are hard to come by. I have always found it wild that 1/16" can either make you or break you. 1/16" short of the mark is perfect and 1/16" over will put you out of the runnings for a check.
On day 1 I was fortunate enough to find a perfect tournament fish. I stuck to my plan, covered a lot of water and stuck a fish that would hit the 28" mark. Perfect! I continued to fish and stuck another one that was just under 27" and I knew that it was time for me to head to the scales. After weighing them, I had 16.52 lbs for both fish and was sitting in first after day 1. I had a 5 lb. lead and the game was good to me on that day.
The next day was completely different. A cold front came in with temperatures dropping, pressure rising and winds blowing 20 MPH+. I knew it was going to be tough to paddle in and less than ideal to fish where I was the previous day. My gut instincts told me to go back and find the same fish. I kept telling myself not to veer from my plan; my decision has been made for more than a month now and that morning was not the time to change it.
That day of fishing for me was a prime example of the game that we play.
"TOO SHORT IS JUST AS BAD AS TOO LONG"
I started off by hitting a school of redfish and landing a heavy fish. After putting him on my stick, he measured a 1/2" too long. The next 2 fish I landed were on the complete opposite side of the slot- I had 2- 20" fish on my stringer and I knew I needed more than that. Chad and I had a monumental day of fishing but every other fish I landed was too big. I went to the scales and both fish weighed 6.4 lbs. My smallest fish from the prior day weighed more that both of them. I ended up falling short by 1.7 lbs to Fishman Fil Spencer, who came from behind with 2 great fish on day 2. I took home 2nd place and could not be any happier about it. I executed my plan flawlessly and never once did I have a second thought or regret about my decisions I made on both days. I had the right 2 bites on day 1 and the wrong 2 on day 2.... that's fishing!
The game got me that day but that is exactly why we play. The uncertainty of where that fish will land on a measuring stick is why we gamble on it. On day 1, everything that could of gone right did and it was in my favor. On day 2, it was the complete opposite. That is part of the game and is exactly what makes it so exciting!
The first time my team and I threw a redfish on a weigh master's board is a moment that will always stand out to me (my heart is actually racing while typing this). Since that day, my adrenaline still kicks in when I throw 2 redfish on the table to be measured and weighed, no matter the size. I have had fish be just over the mark and bust, some that were just under and others that would barely cross the legal 20" mark. This is why I play though and exactly why I keep coming back. The uncertainty of coming up short, being to long or hitting it perfectly is the game we play.... the game of inches.