Posted by Z3 MEDIA STAFF on 01/27/2012

Story by Matt Pangrac - Photos by Mark Jeffreys, Matt Pangrac, and Dave Rush

Moore, OK - Following each Bassmaster Elite Series, Bassmaster Open, and FLW Tour Open tournament during the 2012 season, The BASS ZONE will interview two anglers who finished in the bottom half of the field to find out “what went wrong?”

It’s easy to get the winning details from an angler who just lifted a trophy – It’s tougher to go one-on-one with an angler who just missed the cut by 20-pounds, failed to catch a limit the entire tournament, and dropped 10 places in the Angler Of the Year standings. 

The bass fishing media tends to avoid analyzing poor tournament performances. For some reason, when a pro angler finishes in 100th place, nobody stops to ask him, “What went wrong?” In other professional sports, sub-par performances by individual players become a major part of the storyline.  

When a PGA golf pro cards a triple-bogie on an easy par four, he is questioned by the media following the round.  When a NASCAR driver hits the wall on the second lap, he has to answer for his performance.  It’s not being negative, it’s just being real. 

The unique thing about bass fishing is that often times, poor tournament performances are looked at differently than a sliced 7-iron or a bad judgment call going into turn three.  Understanding the reason behind tournament struggles can lead to tangible lessons that every bass fisherman can learn from to become a better angler.  

The inaugural feature in this series focuses on the first Bassmaster Southern Open of the season which was held January 19-21 on the Harris Chain of Lakes in Tavares, Florida.   While Elite Series pro, Chris Lane, ran away with the title by nearly 15-pounds, fellow Elite Series pros Ish Monroe and Casey Ashley didn’t fare so well. 

After a solid performance on Day One, Monroe sat in 15th place with 15-6.  On Day Two, he failed to cross the stage with a single keeper, and he finished the tournament in 89th place, missing the Top 12 cut by over 14-pounds.

Casey Ashley never got things rolling at the Harris Chain.  With a limit weighing 8-0 on Day One, he sat in 83rd place.  On Day Two, he weighed-in just two fish for 5-8 to finish the tournament in 101st place with a total weight of 13-8.

Here’s how Monroe and Ashley explained “what went wrong” at the Harris Chain:

Ish MonroeIsh Monroe: 86th Place (15-6)
Tournament Practice:
“I started out having a really good practice. I really felt like I had the opportunity to win this thing because I was catching a few fish flipping, but I also found a really strong bite with my new River2Sea crankbait.

“Throughout practice, the crankbait was getting mauled.  I found the crankbait bite the first morning of practice when I had between 16- and 17-pounds in the first hour.  After I’d established the crankbait bite, I started flipping and was getting a bite here and there. 

Tournament Strategy and Game Plan: 
“After three days of really good practice, I felt confident that I was going to stick with the crankbait bite even though I’m an excellent sight fisherman and there were some sight fish around the area.

“I planned on hitting every irregular area that I could find on Lake Harris, Little Lake Harris, and Lake Eustis.  There’s a lot of Kissimmee grass points, eel grass points, docks, big holes in the grass, pads, and stuff like that.”

“On the first morning, I started running all my little holes and stretches with the crankbait, and it was ‘game on.’ I had 15 keepers and felt really confident going into the next day that I’d be able to duplicate that performance and make the Top 12 with a shot to win.

“On the morning of Day Two, everything seemed perfect for the crankbait bite to be hot.  The wind had picked up and it was warm.  I kept the crankbait rod in my hands for the first four hours and didn’t get a single bite.  I decided that I had to switch it up and switched back to the flipping bite that I had identified in practice.  After a few hours without a bite, I went back to the crankbait for the rest of the day and tried backing off a little bit thinking that the fish may have moved out deeper.”

What Went Wrong?
“When I fish a Bassmaster Open, my entire thought process is centered on winning the event.  I probably could have thrown a drop shot on Day Two and caught enough weight to cash a check, but I wouldn’t have given myself the opportunity to win.  I thought that the crankbait bite gave me the best chance.   

“If it had been an Elite Series tournament and I had been fishing for points to qualify for the Classic, I probably would have made a change sooner on Day Two and not stuck with the crankbait all day.  In all honesty, I have no regrets with how I fished or the decisions that I made.” 

Lessons Learned:
“The one thing that I discovered during practice and the first day of competition was that it was really important to make several casts to key spots where I thought there was a fish.  In Florida, the bass act differently than anywhere else in the country when a cold front blows through.

“I’m going to keep that in my mind when I go to Okeechobee for the upcoming tournament.” 

Casey AshleyCasey Ashley: 101st Place (13-8)
Tournament Practice:
“From the start, it was a really tough practice for me.  When you fish your tail off and still don’t get many bites, it’s hard to build on anything. 

“I was hoping that there would be some fish moving up on the beds.  Obviously, with the cold front, that didn’t happen.  From there, I did what I like to do – I flipped almost the entire time.  I knew that if I could find them, I could do really well.”

Tournament Strategy and Game Plan:
“On a lot of the Florida lakes, everything looks the same and it’s tough to find a rhyme or reason why a fish is in a certain place.  For me, it’s mind boggling because everything is so similar.  I’ve found that the best thing to do in that situation is to put your head down and just start fishing to find a few areas that are holding bass.   

“I’ve done fairly well at the Harris Chain in the past, so I decided to key on several areas where I’d caught them in the past during the same general time of the year.  Initially, it appeared as though this tournament wouldn’t be much different.”

“On the first day, I really slowed down and spent a lot of time fishing a patch of pads where I got a few bites in practice.  When I was only able to catch small keepers, I decided to abandon the area.

“On the second day, I completely changed my game plan and decided to stay close and flip.  My thought process was that I’d eventually run into a pod of fish somewhere and it just never happened.  I had four bites in the first 30 minutes and caught two of them.  I stuck with it for the remainder of the day but never got another bite.”

What Went Wrong?
“I think there were several reasons why may plan didn’t work.  When the bass are really locked on the beds in Florida, it’s a little easier to find the fish.  It wasn’t a full blown spawn so there weren’t a lot of bass up on the beds.

“The water level was also two-feet lower than I’d ever seen it before on the Harris Chain.  As a result, the areas where I normally catch fish had completely changed.  I guess this is where local knowledge of the fishery could have helped.  I just didn’t know what to do when the lake was at that level, so I had to try to find new water and I was never able to do that.   

Lessons Learned:
“In tough tournaments, it’s easy to make the mistake of slowing down and downsizing your baits, but sometimes that’s not the best option.  It really only works when you know for certain that there are fish living in the area that just won’t bite.

“When you’re practicing and the bite is tough, the best thing to do is to pick what you like to do and try to cover as much water as you can.  During my practice at the Harris Chain, I really didn’t do that.  I spent a lot of time in areas where I’d caught them before when I probably should have just picked a couple techniques and covered as much water as possible.

“If I had done that, I’m guessing that I probably would have found something and finished much higher in the standings.”

Note: The next installment of “What Went Wrong?” will be published the Wednesday following the first FLW Tour Open of the 2012 season on Lake Okeechobee.