Hi Gang, Rick here again at Used Pontoon Boats. Fisherman gearing up for another exremely competitive Bassmaster fishing tournament. Home Waters, Home fans. Nights at home instead of a hotel. Home pressure? Not really, according to one of the Putnam County professional anglers fishing this week’s Bassmaster Southern Open.
“Terry (Scroggins) and I have fished for $500,000 before. That’s pressure,” said Palatka’s Preston Clark on the phone Wednesday night, hours before he arose for Thursday’s first round. “This is one of the more relaxing tournaments for us.
“I want to do well and we’re going to fish as hard as we can. I’ll have a lot of family and friends there, as Terry will. We’ll fish as hard as we did when we were fishing for $500,000.”
Top prize this week is a good bit less — $45,000 in cash and merchandise — but the competition is just as keen. Most of the country’s top bass fishermen are on hand, here from as far away as California and New England.
Clark couldn’t help feeling a little hometown pride during the anglers’ pre-tournament meeting Wednesday night. “We fish all over the country and at every meeting, we have a local government group welcome us here. It’s usually the same-old, same-old. Usually one of them tells the joke about fishing with dynamite,” he said. “Mayor (Karl) Flagg and (county commissioner) Chip Laibl were both short and sweet and they were both interesting. It makes us proud.”
Clark was up at 4:30 Thursday morning, as is typical on tournament days. He’ll adjust the time if his boat is to be out particularly early or late, but Thursday Clark was No. 99 in a field of 200 boats. The launch order is to be flipped today, meaning he’ll be No. 101 — again right in the middle.
“First place I head (after a shower and coffee) is straight to the gas station, gas up my boat and get cold drinks and water and ice them down,” Clark said. “I’ll pick up my co-angler at 6 at the Quality Inn and get him situated.”
Then it’s down to the City Dock to get in position to launch at safe light — around 7 a.m. this time of year. It takes about 45 minutes for the entire field to get away. The time to report for weigh-in is staggered in the order in which the boats left, giving the anglers the same amount of time on the water.
It is under unsettled weather such as that of recent days that the locals have an advantage.
“I know where not to waste time looking for fish,” Clark said. “From Lake George to Green Cove, I’ve got about 19 spots. I’m going to hit every one of those spots unless I’ve got a good bag of fish and I don’t want to use the others up.”
This is where Clark had to make the biggest adjustment from amateur angler fishing one-day tournaments to professional working in a three-day event. The idea is to bring in a respectable stringer every day rather than wear out all of one’s “hot spots” in a scramble for first. It is somewhat like the transition a sprinter makes to long-distance running.
“(In) a three-day tournament, you’ve got to manage your fish. You don’t go try to catch everything you can in one day,” Clark said. “Most of the time, the guy who has a solid stringer every day is the one who will win.”
One of the most important adjustments to be made for the weather is dressing for the conditions. “You have to stay dry,” Clark said. “You can’t go out there in a $5 rain suit. If you get wet, you get cold and lose your concentration.”
Windy weather muddies the waters, changing fish patterns. “They’re right on the edge of spawning. Last week, they were just up for a day. We need good weather,” Clark said. “We’ve got more grass in Lake George and Crescent Lake than I can remember. The lakes are so healthy. The rivers are so healthy. Somewhere out there, there’s a 100-yard stretch where you could win the tournament.”
Nevertheless, he calls the St. Johns “a difficult river to fish.” Lunch? Not really, even though Clark is out on the water a good eight hours. “Usually all I bring is a Snickers bar and a Mountain Dew, but my wife’s been on me to eat better,” Clark said. OK for one’s own tank to run empty, but a day seldom goes by without having to refuel the boat.
There’s nothing wrong with heading to the scales a little early if one is comfortable with the day’s catch. Or if an angler is concerned a fish may die before it is released, it’s permissible to come in early in time for the fish to be released alive, thereby avoiding a penalty.
“There’s a chemical we use in the live well that turns the water to a different color and puts the slime coat back on the fish. Where you touched it, there’s no slime and that’s where bacteria can set in,” Clark said. “It also calms the fish down.” Tournament organizers use something like it in the giant containers in which fish are kept until returned to the waters in two giant pontoon boats.
The end of the tournament day n unless it is the final day n begins the process of getting ready for the next. After dropping off the partner, Job One is to recharge the trolling motor. “Most of the boats now have four batteries n one for cranking your big motor and three for the trolling motor,” Clark said. “Then you organize your tackle for the next day. I might start the day with three rods and finish with 20. It takes about an hour to an hour and a half. Finally, it’s supper, maybe a little TV (or a phone conversation with a reporter) and it’s off to bed.
It’s been said that a bad day of fishing beats a good day at the office. Hard to say whether that applies to those whose business day is out on the water, though Thursday was pretty good for Clark, who stands in third place. This much is certain: It’s a full day.
Thanks to Andy Hall, sports editor of the Palatka Daily News for this.
Used Pontoon Boats, By Rick Ostler
Used Pontoon Boats-North American Waterway
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