I flew back to DC and arrived Sunday around 7 am. I got my rental car and drove the 45 minutes to the hotel. It was only around 9 am and I couldn't check in until 3 pm. I saw my rods, which I shipped to the hotel, standing in the corner. I put them in my car and drove to the local tackle store. After getting the fishing licenses ( Maryland & DC) I needed, I drove to the launch ramp. After putting some rods together I fished from shore for about 4 hrs. I threw a dropshot (Baby bass RoboWorm) and a Zoom Fluke. The fish did not show me any love but I saw a guy catch one about 16" on a live crawdad. He put the fish on a stringer with two other bass the same size. There were also about 5-10 bass boats fishing the area. I didn't see any of them catch anything.
I left and located the Wal-Mart where the finals would be. I then drove to the hotel and got my stuff organized. Chris showed up later that night. He told me he caught around 8-10 keepers that day but all were around 1.5 lbs. He caught them all on a soft plastic creature bait called a Paca Craw. We both wanted to get on the water early so we could get a full day in. Finally got to bed around 10:30.
We got up at 4:30 am and started the 30 minute drive to the launch. We got in the water and started fishing. The wind was blowing so I took off the popper I had on and I threw a LuckyCraft Sammy. Chris threw a buzzbait. After about 15 minutes I stuck a 1 lber. We fished some more then left to a dock he had seen a 3 lber the day before. I caught a keeper on a popper then started throwing a fluke where he said he saw the fish. After saturating the area with the fluke he tossed in a Senko and caught the 3 lber. We then worked the area towards a point with me throwing a popper and Chris throwing a shallow crankbait. I stuck a small keeper then he caught one about 3 lbs. We moved around and covered a ton of water. We caught fish on frogs, crankbaits, creature baits, and poppers. One area we fished was some structure next to a bridge. I threw a dropshot a ton but only caught one small keeper. Chris smoked me and caught about 8 keepers on the Paca Craw. All his fish were 2+ lbs with two of them just over 3 lbs. My confidence in the dropshot was not very high at this point. We ended up getting on a good frog bite right at dusk. The mosquitoes made us pay the price for staying out late but it was worth it.
Tuesday morning we got out at about the same time. We fished some laydowns and some old shipwrecks on the main river. After coming around a corner and starting into one of the creeks we saw a ton of great looking frog water. After about 2 hrs we only had four blow ups. We left and went closer to the launch site where we found some more grassbeds. An hour later we had three blow ups. We then got off the water at 1 pm. Our hotel was about 30 minutes away and we wanted to go get our stuff ready for the next day. We ended up grabbing all our fishing tackle and taking it to the check-in site.
FLW treats you great. At registration they give you a goodie bag with hats and some tackle. They then have a huge buffet. We checked in right at 3 pm, ate, and then started in on our tackle. I rigged up a frog rod (80lb PowerPro braid), creature bait rod (15lb P-Line fluorocarbon w/Paca Craw), popper rod (15lb P-Line CXX w/Rico), Senko rod (15lb P-Line fluorocarbon w/5" Senko), heavy dropshot rod (15lb P-Line fluorocarbon w/6" RoboWorm), and a light dropshot rod (10lb P-Line fluorocarbon w/4" RoboWorm). It was now time to wait until partner pairing.
At the partner pairing/boat draw they went over the off limits, boat flight times, and some other rules. When they were done they started in with the partner draw. I ended up drawing boat 20 with Nick Grebb. Nick is from California also. He was staying in the campground at the launch site and told me to meet him there around 5 am. He told me he was probably going to be fishing rip-rap in a marina since we had early boat number. I drove back to the hotel and got to bed around 10:30.
I met Nick in the morning and got him in the water by 5:30 am. We then waited around until the morning prayer and the national anthem. They then blasted us off at 6:30 am. Nick ran us about 5 minutes across the river to another launch site. It was protected by rock breakwalls. Even though we were boat twenty we were about the 5th boat there and the boats just kept coming. Nick set up on the tip of the right breakwall. It had a little piling about 15 feet out from it. Nick threw a Senko and I threw the Paca Craw. He got three keepers in the boat in about 20 minutes. After getting no bites I tied on a fluke. The tide was slack so I deadsticked it over the rocks. On about my second cast I got bit and stuck a 2.5 lber. Nick got several more and I saw lots of other fish caught. There must have been 30 or so boats in this area. About 15 minutes after the first fish I caught another one about 2 lbs. The tide started moving and I could no longer fish the fluke weightless. I switched to a dropshot with a 4" RoboWorm. First baby bass then baby bluegill. I finally switched to Aaron's magic. After about 15 minutes I got bit and stuck a 3.5 lber. 20 minutes later I got bit and set the hook into my fourth keeper. It ended up weighing 4.12 lbs. At 10 am I scored my 5th keeper around 2 lbs. These five fish weighed 14 lbs and were the ones I ended up weighing in. I did catch one other keeper that didn't help. I also had some excitement when I got bit on the fluke around 2 pm and stuck a big fish. It ended up being about a 10 lb channel cat. We headed back to weigh-in and I was the second co-angler up on stage. After hearing my weight I felt it was pretty strong. I figured I would be in the top five. I later found out how wrong I was.
I met my next day partner Cody Bird before leaving. He told me he was fishing bridge pilings then flipping grass and throwing a spinnerbait. I left the weigh-in and went back to the hotel. I called the wife and kids back home to tell them how I did. I then got my stuff ready for the next day. When I finished my tackle I used Chris Koester's computer to look up the standings. I was stoked seeing Chris' name on top of the leader board. Yikes! Where's my name. I couldn't believe 14 lbs put me in 12th place. 9 co-anglers had 14 or so pounds. I knew I needed to grind out a good 10-12 lb limit on the second day to make the cut. I also learned Chris got his better fish on the Zoom Horny Toad. I made sure I had a rod rigged with that bait before going to bed.
I met Cody at his hotel and put my stuff in his boat. We were boat 182 so we had a long wait. The wind was blowing and had been all-night. We launched and ran down river. Boy was it rough. Sure was thankful to be in a big boat (Skeeter Z250). We ran to the bridge and I found out it was the exact place Chris Koester and I fished on Monday. Cody started with a jighead worm and immediately hooked a fish. It came unbuttoned 2 seconds later. We fished this area for about 3 hrs. He caught two keepers on the jighead worm. I ended up getting one fish that barely measured and two just over 13". We left and went to another bridge. Cody caught 3-4 more fish here for his limit. The area was a creek that narrowed near the bridge and had some rip-rap down stream of the bridge. As Cody re-tied and drifted away from the bridge I stuck one about 2 3/4 lb on a dropshotted 4" Aaron's magic RoboWorm. We ended up fishing this for the next 20 minutes the tide went out and I caught 5 keepers which culled out the 3 I had in the live well. This gave me about 8.5 lbs. Cody then went to another creek to flip some lily pads. There was another boat working the other side. Everyone I saw was flipping. I picked up a white Sumo frog and started working on a big bite. About 20 minutes later I got a 2 lber and culled up to 9-09 lbs. Cody got several small fish here. We were in the last flight and I when I weighed in I stood in 7th place. After day two was all over that is where I stood. My roommate, Chris Koester, had also made the finals in 9th place.
I was to be fishing with the legendary lure company owner, Gary Yamamoto. We were going to be fishing out of the Energizer boat. I asked Gary what we would be fishing and he told me pilings. After getting back to the hotel it seemed like I took forever to get my stuff ready. I finally went to bed at midnight.
The 4 am wake up call really hurt. Chris and I drove to Wal-Mart and met all the finalist there. I put my stuff in the sponsor wrapped boat and laid down in the car. I tried to get a little sleep but couldn't. FLW has drivers take you to the launch and put the boat in. We then sat around to blast off. There is a camera boat assigned to each competitor. The boat must stay with you and it is also your backup boat if the one you have has problems.
At 6:30 am they started with boat number 1. We finally got the go ahead and started running out across the river. We drove about 15 minutes before entering a no wake zone. Gary said we would be fishing several marinas all in this no wake zone. As we started fishing the camera boat came along side and the camera man (Bo) got in the boat. Of course I have to share the backdeck with him and all of his equipment. This takes a little getting used to but you just have to adjust. Bo tried to stay out of my way as best he could.
The first marina didn't produce so we moved to the second. Gary was throwing a Senko the whole time. He was also only pitching to the pilings and nothing else. I was throwing a 4" RoboWorm in Aaron's magic on 10 lb test P-Line fluorocarbon.
The second marina produced 2-3 fish for Gary. I didn't get a bite. Gary was a little surprised to catch fish so early since he did not get his first keeper until 10 am the day before. We went to the third marina and Gary caught a couple more. I finally got my first keeper at 9 am. it weighed about 2 lbs. Gary ended getting one between 4-5 lbs and had a limit. We then fished some laydowns towards a fourth marina but did not get any bites.
We headed back to the third marina and Gary caught another solid 3 lber. Around 10 am we made it to the second marina and I got my second keeper about 2 lbs. We went to the first marina and Gary caught another solid 3 lb keeper. I think this was his 8th fish and he had 14.13 lbs. We again fished the second marina then onto the third. It was around 1:15 pm and I had not had a keeper bite since 10 am. I decided to switch to a 6" Aaron's magic RoboWorm. This turned out to be a good decision.
We started down a boat dock in the third marina fishing the pilings. Gary had previously told the camera man that this was a big fish area. Gary had said he just hadn't got a huge bite from here. Well, after fishing the pilings down one side Gary started up the other side. I started casting across to the pilings we had just fished. About halfway up the pilings I got bit and set the hook on a good fish. A couple tense minutes later I got the fish in and it would go between 5.5 lbs and 6 lbs. This was at 1:30 pm and I knew I had a good shot at winning if I could just fill out my limit.
Gary said we were leaving and told me we would go fish a bluff bank between the marina we were at and marina number 2. He said the area had some keepers on it. It was hard to fish since I was still shaking from catching the kicker fish. We did not get any bites in about 20 minutes so Gary idled us up to the second marina.
Gary was mainly fishing one boat dock in this area. We started on the front of it with both of us fishing. We then moved to the backside. This was our fourth time fishing these pilings. Gary told me I would probably win if I got a limit. Gary also said he felt there were only 2 lbers on this dock and they wouldn't help him. Gary then did the most awesome thing! Gary put his rod down on the deck and stopped fishing. Gary Yamamoto, who was fishing for $200,000 dollars, ran the trolling motor and let me cast to all the pilings. You talk about pressure to catch a fish! I don't think I have felt more pressure in my entire life!
I fished down the pilings, about 10, without a bite. We then started fishing them back towards the front of the dock. Gary had started fishing again. We got to the front of the dock and I got a bite. It was a good solid 2 lber. Gary then put his rod down and let me fish the pilings on the other side. We had a spectator boat watching us and Gary explained what was going on and why he was not fishing. It took me to about the 15th piling before getting a bite. This bass measure 12 1/4". Just barely a keeper but this was my limit fish.
It was now around 3:05 pm and we had to leave for the weigh-in by 3:30 pm. Gary then idled over to the first marina. Gary started fishing again. We started fishing down one boat dock and then back up the other side. When we were going back up the other side I started casting to the pilings we had just fished. About halfway up I got a bite and it ended up being a 2 lber. This culled out the 12 incher I caught 10 minutes before.
I knew I had 13-15 lbs and would probably be in the top three. I stopped fishing the last 5-10 minutes. I figured I would try and show Gary the same respect he had shown me. I also figured if I didn't win it was not meant to be.
We made it back to check in and after about 20 minutes we loaded up the boat. They came around a checked your fish and then it was off to the weigh-in at Wal-Mart.
When we got to the FLW tent at Wal-Mart and they had the co-anglers bag up their fish. The bags they give you are black so you can't tell what the other anglers have. They then have you put your bags in large plastic tubs with aeration. The FLW guys then tell you they will start with the 10th place guy and work on back. You are backstage so you can't see anything. They motion you over to the weigh master to measure your fish. They then tell you to bring your fish up to Charlie Evans on stage. You are supposed to bring out one fish at a time and hold it up for the crowd/camera before putting it in the basket. After weighing in your fish if you are the leader they have you stand over to the side until you get bumped.
Everything is sort of a blur after they started. I couldn't really hear what was being said on stage. The next thing I know is I'm told to take my fish to the weigh master. He empties them out and sticks them back in my bag. I am then directed to the back of the stage as Charlie talks to the previous co-angler.
My name was announced and I walked up on stage. The tent was packed and people were hooting and hollering. I stood next to Charlie and he asked me about Gary not fishing during the day. I said it was true and was an awesome gesture. I then started bringing my fish out one at a time. Four of my fish were solid 2 lbers. The crowd was cheering pretty good as I brought out each fish. Charlie also announces the weight you have after each fish. He said my weight of the 4 fish and asked me if I had another one. I reached in and grabbed the 6 lber. I pulled it out and held it up for the crowd to see. All I remember is the thunderous roar and camera lights flashing. Charlie grabbed my arm and ushered me in front of the weigh-in table telling me told hold the fish up for the crowd. After about 30 seconds he motioned me back to the table and I put the big fish in the basket. My total weight was 14.06 lbs good enough to take over the lead.
They had me stand over to the side with another announcer. After all but one co-angler weighed in I was still in 1st place. They tell you to move to the right of Charlie in front of the stage as the last co-angler weighs in. I was a wreck. I thought I had the win but you never know for sure. You can't tell what they other guy has since the bags a black. Charlie reads off the weight as each fish is weighed and says approximately what is needed to take over. After the 4th fish Charlie says he needs about a 7 lber to take over so I knew I had it. He weighed in his last fish and I was still in the lead.
Your name is announced as the 2005 Wal-Mart Chevy Open Co-angler champion and they moved me to the front of the stage. I was then presented with the check, trophy, and several contingency prizes (Xtools, SolarBats, Castrol). The rest of the co-anglers are brought up on stage in the order they finished after a couple minutes. Charlie told me he would hand me the cardboard check and for me to hold it over my head when I'm announced as the winner. You are then free to go and they start with the pros.
It's all such a blur since then. I called my wife and told her. I then went out to dinner with Chris and his family. I packed my stuff up and headed to the airport. I made it home the next day and tried to rest. It was then time to go back to my real job on Sunday.
It's still so unreal that I won. This was the reason I only fished two big tournaments this year as a co-angler. I had some serious doubts of what I was doing after eating a big slice of humble pie at the Beaver Lake FLW in April.
Well, I hope you enjoyed the story. It seems like just yesterday I was fishing my first tournament out of my float tube with the Sonoma County Belly Boat Bass Club. I encourage all of you to get out there and fish the FLW/Everstart/BFL. They are the best run and best paying back circuit out there. See you on the water, Pat Wilson.