Why I sucked at the Forrest Wood Cup
I’ve always taken the approach that you learn way more from a butt whoopin’ than a win. At this point in my career, I have learned far more than my fair share. Wounds have been licked, heads have been scratched and enough time of reflection has passed where I can put this recap together and move on with my life albeit much smarter.
The Forrest Wood Cup… The biggest payout every year in professional fishing and I had a one in fifty shot at winning a half a million dollars! That would be life changing for almost any one of the guys in the field especially those living paycheck to paycheck. Times are lean and sponsorship dollars are getting harder to find especially in East Texas where the oilfield industry is in a major downturn. Don’t get me wrong, winning a major event is what we all dream about but it is hard to pay for health insurance, truck notes and groceries with plaques and trophies. I fish to pay bills. My goal coming into this event was to win as much money as I could in this no entry fee event because that is potentially “get ahead money” or that extra cushion to help take a chunk out of debt. The best part about the Forrest Wood Cup is win or lose, I was still going to walk away with at least $10,000.
photo: FLW - Jody White
Let the work begin
For me, the story of The Cup had more to do with the time I spent on Lake Ouachita in July prior to the lake going off limits than the actual tournament itself. Knowing that I had a guaranteed ten grand coming to me, I was able to put the Elite Angler Academy on hiatus for the summer so I could focus solely on getting ready for The Cup. In the end, I did everything I thought I could do to gain a legal advantage for this event and had the attitude that the only way I would not be successful would be if I made bad decisions or I executed poorly. I came into the official practice days brimming with confidence thanks to all of the hard work that I put in to winning.
One common idea that has almost become a mantra for successful anglers is to “fish your strengths”. My success typically does not hinge on my fishing ability, but more so on my skills and ability to scout and gather information, at times to a fault. The Interweb can be a wealth of information if you know how to navigate it. I spend countless hours creeping around on aerial photography and maps. I utilize an extensive waypoint management system. Given the time and resources, I’ve never shied away from an opportunity to increase the habitat either. I’ve cashed quite a few checks in my career thanks to elbow grease, a bow saw and a few cinder blocks. Essentially, I use every available resource I come across to help me locate and catch fish.
During the 3 weeks that I was at Ouachita I meticulously took notes for every single brushpile that I had located or sunk. I knew all the sit spots and cast angles to be able to hit my offshore targets on the first cast every single time to maximize efficiency. I had notes such as “BP20 Top12” to indicate that the brush was sitting in 20’ and it topped out at 12’. Some of the piles were a lot deeper than others and I knew that I could possibly eliminate hitting those if they were positioned below the thermocline. Knowing the depths of all of my targets would enable me to put a possible pattern together based on this information. Most anglers neglect to factor in how tall a brushpile is when considering their productivity. Knowing this information enabled me to pull up and throw the optimum depth diving crankbait, a swimbait, counting down a fluke, etc to be able to work through the tops of the piles where suspended fish were sitting without getting hung up. Those piles that were closer to the sky would probably be better to throw topwaters over as well since those fish wouldn’t have nearly as far to come up the surface to feed.
Win or lose, I thought I walked away from my scouting trip as prepared as I could be. In actuality, I did very little fishing and it was one of the only times in the 8 years that I have been fishing full time where this really felt like a job. I was wore out yet the only regret I had after the prepractice was that I wasn’t able to drop as many green tops as I was hoping. I did manage to get out 64 fresh ones and I rolled out of Arkansas with over 1400 waypoints from that three week span. I was committed to the brushpiles…
The next two weeks flew by as I was making amends for being gone all summer. When it was time to head back to Ouachita I decided to take a detour to Lake Fork and booked a guided trip with my buddy Mark Pack (903) 520-8085. He had been telling me the past couple of years how he had figured out how to trigger big lethargic summertime bass that were suspended in deep trees into biting. We’ve all seen them on the graph and I had been trying his technique for the past couple of summers with little to no success… We absolutely crushed them when most other people on the lake were struggling! Sometimes it just makes sense to hire someone to help accelerate the learning curve. Loaded with some of his personal handmade prototypes and a new weapon in my arsenal that I thought could be a player the following week, I was off to The Cup to start practicing the next day.
photo: FLW - Jody White
The best way to summarize the first two days of official practice was disheartening. I thought going into it that I needed to figure out how to get bigger bites not just how to get bit and catch 13+ inch keepers. I spent the vast majority of the time checking piles and other oddball structure spots I thought would produce some fish. I knew I did not have to check every single spot I had, just a fair amount of them to determine what milk run or areas I was going to fish. In the end, I checked every single one of the brushpiles I set out and did not get a single bite from any of them. It was a major blow to my confidence! I could catch fish off of some of the old trash, but catching a keeper was not easy either. Coming off the water, I did an interview with the media folks at FLW talking about my initial practice day. I pretty much admitted that I didn’t catch squat yet it was a good day because it was helping me put the pieces together.
Tuesday, the final day of practice, I started gaining my confidence back. I absolutely hate going into an event with a negative attitude about catching them. It took me stepping away from my game plan to figure out what I needed to do. I just went fishing and then I got dialed in.
photo: FLW - Jody White
The key was all the fish I could see on the graph were suspended in 8-12’ of water. It didn’t matter if it was 20’ or 100’ deep, all the fish were sitting in that range thanks to the thermocline that had established in 20-22’. The other variable I was looking for was any sort of surface activity that told me the fish were active in my areas. They didn’t necessarily have to be schooling on the surface, but I did need to at least see active bait working in the standing timber, quality fish breaking on them were simply gift fish. From what I saw on the last day of practice, I honestly thought I could easily catch 12-15lbs every day from the different areas I knew had quality fish busting and that was without a bonus kicker that I thought I might get lucky and catch off of any of the 200+ brushpiles that I had lined up. I never caught any giants but I caught enough 3+ pound fish to know I was on to something.
And then we had Wednesday off…
And a front rolled through with a nasty storm…
2015 Forrest Wood Cup
I have no other excuses why they didn’t cooperate during the tournament.
I just can’t explain it other than the weather because for the most part, there was very little activity in any of my areas on both days of the tournament. I can only assume that they fed like crazy the day before with that severe weather and front. I was left scratching my head and so were several other anglers in the field that were banking on quality schooling fish. I ended up catching a 3 pounder first thing in the morning and grinded out a couple more keepers. I did catch a ridiculous amount of 5”-11” bass that would swarm your baits like a bunch of piranhas. Day two was no different and I thought I had to gamble for a big bag to make a comeback. I hurled a big swimbait for a good part of the day and mixed it up with a topwater plug. And like a dumbass… fished some more unproductive brushpiles on the main lake. I ended up in 40th place with five bass for 9lbs 4oz.
There were several other pros that had the same idea that I did and they fell on their faces as well. I spoke quite a bit with one of them that spent his entire practice dropping an Aquaview camera into piles to see what if anything was holding on them. He said that every one of them was loaded with fish (I could see that on the 2D and DI) but he could verify that most of them were 6”-10” spotted bass and catfish. He only saw two 4lb class largemouth in all of practice and very few other keeper largemouths. He was kicking himself in the weigh in line because he still tried to make it work and he died with it as well. Another pro I know sank about 25 tops during prepractice and he also could not get a bite off of any of them.
The difference between the pros that struggled fishing brushpiles and those that were fishing on Sunday seemed to be the location of the brush. The main lake bite was dead. It seemed like all of the traditional summertime structure spots like points, humps and ledges did not produce. The shallow brush in the backs of creeks and pockets was the deal and unfortunately, I fell victim to over thinking what should be happening and not doing what was actually going on. Bream beds did not really seem to be a factor either especially for the amount of guys that tried to make that pattern work. The preconceived patterns from Forrest Wood Cups of the past did not seem to materialize for most of the anglers.
What guys did catch fish off of wood were fishing way up the river arms and towards the back ends of creeks. They caught them junk fishing in shallow water. The trick was to hunker down in areas where you thought there was a population of fish and mine it for all it was worth trying to grind out a limit. Some guys got lucky and their topwater schooling fish cooperated as well. Unfortunately I put all of my eggs in another basket. That’s just how tournament fishing goes.
A huge congratulation goes out to Brad Knight for his historic win. Although I do not know him as well as some of the other guys on tour, I can tell you one thing about him that speaks volumes about his character, I have never heard a single negative thing about him. No rumors or speculation of getting info during restricted times. No confrontations on the water. No hole jumping. Not a single word to offend someone on or off the water. In today’s pro fishing environment those anglers are getting harder and harder to find. At any weigh in finale, especially the Bassmaster Classic or the Forrest Wood Cup, a common subject amongst anglers and industry professionals a like is who we don’t want to win more so than who we want to take home the trophy. Brad Knight is one of the good guys.
Lastly, I am still waiting for a bite on one of the fresh green brushpiles that I put out. It was a gamble that did not pay off on what I thought I needed to do to win. Looking back, I would not have done anything different other than sunk even more brush at other locations especially off the main lake in shallower water. In spite of my loss, I still took my ten grand to the bank!
After taking the summer off for the FLW and Forrest Wood Cup, I am now starting to book Elite Angler Academy classes as well as guide trips for the remainder of 2015. Last fall and winter we had some phenomenal trips typically catching 30-100 bass a day using our electronics. If you would like to learn how to break down water quickly as well as how to utilize available resources to make you a better angler, I would love an opportunity to teach you. Feel free to call or reach out on any of the social media platforms I contribute to. 2016 Partnership opportunities are available as well.
They make me feel like a winner!