First let me say that this is going to be a long post. I am still freaking out at how awesome this day truly was. Bear with me. I have to get this out! I had the opportunity to fish a tournament with my Dad (John Bennett) this past Sunday (April 24th) and what a magical day it was. We fished the Joe Bass Team Trail on Truman Lake where there were about 50 boats or so. The tournament was out of Sterett Creek and it was a beautiful morning. I hadn’t fished a tournament in a long time so I was definitely excited. I was even more excited to fish with my Dad who is one heck of a fisherman and is a blast to fish with. We had a pretty solid idea of what we were going to do throughout the day so we were both fairly confident that we were going to catch some fish.
However, if you have ever fished tournaments you know that it is a totally different animal than just going out and fishing. Why? I believe that one of the major differences is that when you are fishing a tournament a lot of people have the tendency to over-think. It’s easy when you are just out fishing for fun because there is nothing to worry about. If you want to try a certain spot; you just try it. You’re loose, you’re just fishin’. In a tournament it’s different. You have money on the line. You’ve paid an entry fee. Now, in my opinion what makes the best tournament fisherman successful is the fact that they mesh their “free” fishing mentality with their tournament mentality. Most of the good tournament fisherman I know are just out fishing and if they catch em that’s fine. If they don’t, well that’s fine too. Sure they are competing, but in the end they just love to fish. You can’t be too analytical and over-think in tournaments. It can cause you to leave biting fish, make a run and waste time that you didn’t need to waste. All of these things that you don’t even worry about when you’re just fishing can creep into your mind when money is on the line.
Back to the day, we took off and headed to our first spot. It was a spawning pocket that had a nice pea gravel bottom and lots of laydowns and stumps. I was flippin’ a jig most of the day and my Dad was throwing a spinnerbait and crankbait. Dad caught our first keeper early. A solid 2.5 pounder to start the day. Not long after that, Dad threw his squarebill towards a stump and a fish ate it but Dad did not get a hook in it. During this time of the year when the fish are spawning you can actually catch these fish that missed the previous thing thrown at them. They may be on a bed, protecting fry or cruising around waiting to spawn. I flipped my jig in there right after and caught a 5 pounder! We were feeling good. Anytime you catch a fish like that early it can keep you going for the rest of the day. The water was warming up and the fish were up on the bank trying to do their thing. Not long after that we had to deal with some adversity for the first time in the day. I flipped next to a stump and felt the fish pick it up and swim off with my jig. I reeled up the slack and set the hook just as hard as I normally do. Snap. Line broke. Did I really check my knot well enough? Did I miss a nick in my line? Either way, something like that could be costly in a tournament. That could have been another big fish that we could use. I had that in my mind for the rest of the morning. Would that cost us the tournament? I kept asking myself that question.
Dad was putting on a clinic with the spinnerbait. It was a joy watching him have so much fun just casting and nailing every spot perfect. He filled our limit up and we began culling by about 9:00 and had about 16 pounds or so. This is what makes Dad so successful. He literally thinks he is going to get a bite every cast and that intensity and that drive keeps him casting with precision like accuracy. Not to mention, it keeps him strong mentally throughout the tournament. Dad also has always taught me that tournaments are a team event. He was out-catching me 2-1 with the spinnerbait while I continued to flip a jig and creature bait with minimal bites to show for it. In my younger days I would have wanted to pick up a spinnerbait so I could start catching some more fish too. This is a fairly common mistake among tournament anglers that can really deter teams from winning tournaments. I kept grindin’ because I knew that I had to figure out another way to catch a big fish or two. I had already caught a 5 pounder which was the biggest fish in our bag at the time so that kept me going.
With about 16 pounds or so in our bag we decided we had fished the pocket long enough and went to our next spot. It’s spring fishing and this was the time of the year when people brought in big bags. The previous week it took 22 lbs to win. We needed some big “kicker” fish and we were confident we would get them to bite. We arrived at our next spot which was another spawning pocket. When getting there we fished one bank where we had some success while prefishing. Dad caught a couple of keepers but they weren’t big enough to cull out any of the fish we already had in the livewell. We moved on to another bank in that same pocket and had no bites at all. I’m not going to lie I was starting to get a little nervous because this was a spot we really thought we would get some big fish to bite. We had 16 pounds or so but would that be enough? Not long after that dad threw a great cast right down a laydown like I have seen him do millions of times. BAM! He stuck this fish and I knew it was big but we both thought it looked like a rough fish like a drum or a catfish. Then it came up to the surface and I made a mad dash for the net! It was another 5 pound bass! A true stud. It culled out one of our 2 1/2 pounders we had and we estimated it put us at around 18-19 lbs. We were creeping closer to that 20 lb bag that we wanted. We were already having a great day just because we got to go fishing but now with a potential 20 pound bag on our hands. Wow! After a minute or two of fist bumping and hollering we decided to fish again. I am not kidding you it couldn’t have been 20 minutes later Dad sticks another 5 pounder or so. Another 2 1/2 pounder was culled out. Now it was getting interesting, now we had around 21 pounds or so. We knew we had a great chance at possibly winning the tournament but we kept our heads down and kept fishing. We wanted to get that other 2 1/2 pounder out of the livewell. We fished back through a bank that we had not had a bite on previously. I flipped my jig right on the bank next t0 a stump and right when it hit the water this fish swirled on it! I stuck him and said “big one”. Dad got the net and we landed him. Another 4 1/2-5 pound fish! I remember Dad saying “get that dink out of that livewell”. We had 4 bass in the livewell that were studs. We knew they were in the 4 1/2-5 1/2 pound range at least. I looked in the livewell and said Dad a 3.1 pounder is our smallest fish!
We fished for another hour or so and decided we needed to start making our way back to the marina. We knew we had a big bag. It was the biggest bag I had ever been a part of in a tournament and was probably a top 5 day for my Dad. Putting the boat on the trailer I couldn’t help but smile. It was an incredible day, and I got to spend it with my Dad fishing! How awesome is that? We got some pictures of the 4 biggest before we weighed them in. As I walked to the weighing scales with Dad he asked me how much our bag was going to weigh. I said I think we have 23.80 or something like that. As Dad dumped our fish in the basket we had to decide which one we wanted to weigh for big fish. I could tell he was struggling to choose one because we had 4 studs. I walked up there and looked in the basket and we both immediately pointed at the same one. We weighed it and it was 5.46 pounds. Good for 2nd big bass on the day. As the director of the tournament yelled into the microphone “We’ve got ourselves a big bag here folks” I couldn’t wait to see what we had. The scale showed 23.26 pounds! A huge bag of fish on any lake! As we walked back to the boat we began celebrating. I don’t even believe we were celebrating the fact that we could win the tournament it was more of a celebration of just how awesome the day of fishing was. We ended up getting 1st place and winning by 6 pounds or so.
I’ve had a lot of good days fishing but getting to have a day like this with my father is something that I will never ever forget. Even as I am writing this now, I can’t believe we won that thing and had a day of fishing like that. It was the first tournament I had fished with Dad in quite some time. I loved it everything about it: the preparation, the chats on the water, Grandma’s home cooked meals before the tournament and after. It was all awesome. I am truly blessed to be able to fish and I owe it all to my Dad who taught me very well. I’m completely humbled that I have the ability to go out and enjoy something that is a passion of mine. It is because you taught me Dad, and I will continue to learn and grow as a person and as a fisherman.