In 1785 Scottish poet Robert Burns penned one of the most famous lines of all time: “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men gang aft agley.”
Maybe you’re not into old Scots-language poetry (and I wouldn’t hold that against you), but you know this line. Translated it means, simply, the best-laid plans often go awry.
Coming off of a less than stellar showing at the first two Kayak Bass Fishing (KBF) Trail events of the season down in Kissimmee, Florida, I looked ahead to late February and set my sights on Lake Murray, South Carolina, host to the second set of KBF Trail events of the year.
To maximize my time pre-fishing, I made the near thousand-mile drive down a week early. I took the Sunday before the event off to travel, with the intent to pre-fish in the morning that Monday and Tuesday, work from the rental the rest of the day, pre-fish all day Wednesday and Thursday, and then, providing I was lucky enough to have found a productive spot for the tournament, work Friday to save a vacation day.
That was my best-laid plan, and…well, you guessed it, things went awry.
I got a late start leaving, so I pulled onto the narrow, aptly named Slice Road at 4 AM Monday morning and found myself at a dead end, having gone too far, looking for house number 233. I tried in vain to turn around. It was still dark—country dark, not city dark—and I couldn’t see a thing behind me. I got out, unhooked my trailer, hauled it down the road a bit, then successfully turned my car around and reconnected it.
I rolled slowly down the street, passing number 248, number 211…
I got out of my car once again, walked back to the first mailbox to see if I’d misread it. Nope. Still number 248, and the second was still number 211. I stood there, mentally and physically exhausted, illuminated by my vehicle’s headlights—and then I saw it, far back off the road, nestled in darkness and tall grass, wedged between million-dollar homes (numbers 211 and 248): a horror-movie mobile home with plywood additions sprouting from both sides like mangled ears.
This must be it, number 233, I thought. This is where I die.
I’m not sure if it was exhaustion or that one simply must abide by the tenets of all horror movies, but…I went down there. Cellphone in hand, built-in flashlight on, I made my way through the field to the house (if you could call it that), searching for the lock box. It wasn’t there. I shined my light all over the house, in the windows, around the back, even on the house next door. Then I remembered that I was in South Carolina, where most people had guns, and made a quick retreat back to the road, and proceeded to curse fellow Jackson teammate Jason Gardner for renting the place, wherever it was.
I walked farther down the road and came upon a sign: CAPT. BOB’S RETREAT. I remembered the name. I’d found the house, which was number 203, not 233. Cursing myself now (though I still blame Jason because it feels better), I jumped back in my car, pulled away, and heard an ominous scraping-thumping sound. Assuming something had gotten caught in my trailer, I found nothing there. I circled the car, and what little energy I had left completely deflated, like my rear passenger-side tire.
Back in the car, flat tire flopping under the rim, I made my way slowly to the house, fumbled my way inside, and stumbled my way into bed for a few hours of sleep.
I woke just as I’d gone to sleep: exhausted. But I had work to do, so I set up my laptops and—hey, look at that, no Wi-Fi! Who rents a house with no Wi-Fi?
Luckily I had a hotspot (wish I could have said the same thing about the fishing that was to come).
An hour later, I went out to get a fan from my car, and came back inside with a Megabass Vision 110 hook jammed into the joint of my right index finger. Seriously.
Inside, staring at my throbbing finger, things came into painful focus: my car had a flat, I was alone until Wednesday, I was hungry and had no food in the house, I was supposed to be working, and I was probably going to have to call an ambulance or an Uber and go to the ER to have the hook in my finger removed.
Not wanting to do that, but knowing I wouldn’t be able to yank out the hook with my weaker hand, I grabbed my pliers and tried to slowly work it free. Briefly. Thoughts of the one hook coming out while another hook or hooks took its place swirled inside my empty skull, so I went to work removing the other two hooks. Miraculously, with the table looking like the kind of bloody massacre you’d find inside the horror house a few lots over, I managed to do it.
Two (or six since they were treble) hooks removed, I got to work on the one still in my finger, which was almost roaring in pain at that point (those Megabass hooks are sharp). After a while, I decided to push instead of pull. Grabbing the pliers tight, I braced my left arm on the table and pushed with my right. Nothing happened, so I increased the force, increased it more, and then it popped free. Literally. Like a balloon. POP!
When I stopped whimpering, I called AAA to assist with a tire change because, having just had them rotated and balanced, the tires were on so tight I couldn’t loosen the nuts. That evening, I got food, cooked a steak and shrimp dinner (because you’re damn right I deserved it), and was back in business.
The following morning, I fished, launching from the rental…and caught nothing.
The next day, Wednesday, I got up early and headed west to the Kempson Bridge Boat Ramp, where the Saluda River begins to widen into Lake Murray proper. My focus was on some of the backwater areas there, and while everything looked juicy, I pedaled away with nothing to show for it, packed up, and moved to another spot.
I hit Rocky Creek next, where I ran into Derek Brundle and reigning KBF National Champion Matt Conant (we Massachusetts anglers always gravitate to the same spots). I fished there for the rest of the day, but just couldn’t put anything together. As promising as the area looked, I could only manage two small bass.
They made their way up Buffalo Creek, while I made a long run out to the main lake to fish a cluster of offshore humps at the mouth of a creek. Yet again, besides one solid whack on a rattletrap (which was probably a striper), I came up empty. I worked my way to the back of a nearby creek and the pattern repeated: no fish.
Everyone I spoke with—from kayak anglers to locals—was struggling out there.
Heading in, I managed a striper and lost a decent bass on a Z-Man Jackhammer. The muddy water just wasn’t producing as I hoped it would. My best guess is that the fish were still a bit lethargic, not aggressive enough to chase, so unless you dropped your bait right on top of them, your chances of catching them were very slim. I fished deep, shallow, humps, rocks, docks, boats, wood, channel swings, points, throwing every bait that made sense and many that didn’t, and I just couldn’t coax them into biting.
That Friday, instead of working, I fished. I should have worked.
My plan was to head east, to cleaner water, but I remembered another spot I wanted to fish, so that’s where I went, launching from Little River Landing at dawn. I worked my way about seven miles down the creek, fishing some of the sexiest stuff an angler could ask for: laydowns, weeds, mats, stumps, rocks. It all looked amazing, but all I caught was my first-ever gizzard shad.
Hey, new PB! Small victories, right?
That evening at the captain’s meeting, I asked John Ferreira—who’d been fishing the cleaner water with some success—to point out some ramps from which he’d launched. I looked them over, decided to roll the dice, and just picked one that looked good.
As disappointing as things were, I stayed positive knowing I wasn’t the only one struggling to find fish.
Tournament morning, I pulled into the ramp, and out of shadows comes Matt Conant. Of all the ramps on the lake, we once again found ourselves at the same one. We had a good laugh about it, especially because of a text he’d sent me the night before…
At the end of the day, we were still smiling.
With no knowledge of the area, I made my way south from the launch toward three islands. That was my starting spot. After two hours and no bites, things weren’t looking good. I made my way to the shore and started fishing riprap and docks. In the back of small pocket, I skipped my jig up under a dock, and laid into my first big bass of the week—a 20.50-inch fatty!
Possibly the grossest bass I’ve ever caught, I had to send Amanda Brannon a video of it for fear the judge would think it was dead.
For the next hour and a half, I focused on the jig and docks with no luck. The wind had kicked up at that point, and when I pulled up to the windblown side of a marina, I changed things up and pulled out a Z-Man Big TRD, green pumpkin. On that side of the marina, there were eight double-slips and nine wooden pilings at the end of each parallel dock. A few casts in, I caught my second keeper, a 16-incher. The bass were stacked on those outer pilings, and over the next few hours I made my way back and forth, plucking bass off of them on each pass. I caught most, but lost a few.
I tried the rest of the marina, all the slips and pilings, the boats, and the bass weren’t there. They were only on that windblown side. I wish I’d had more time, but I was sitting in fifth place when I started back. I caught one upgrade off a dock on the way, lost another that I simply wasn’t prepared for (I think it grabbed the ned when it was snagged), that would have bumped me up at least one spot, maybe two, but that’s just how it goes sometimes.
When all was said and done, I finished in seventh place (three others who launched there found themselves in the top ten as well).
After the horrible week I had, seventh place was just fine.
Matt Conant had an even better day, finishing in second, which he would go on to repeat the following day. I wish I could say the same for me, but I just failed to put it together. A shift in wind direction told me that my marina bite would not be there, and I was correct in that. But my day began to go sideways nearly from the start.
That morning, I began again near the islands, then slowly made my way to them, with fish busting all around me the entire time. Tossing the Megabass Vision 110 (much more aware and respectful of its hooks), I quickly netted my first bass, a 15- or 16-incher, only to realize I’d forgotten to write the identifier code on my identifier. Typically I have at least one Sharpie with me, usually more. But this day? None. I had Gorilla Glue, though, and tried to write the code in glue, then sprinkle some dirt from the island onto it. In theory, not a bad idea, I guess (though I’m not sure if that would have been legal), but the island was all wet clay and didn’t have the effect I’d hoped for.
Not wanting to keelhaul the poor fish thirty minutes back to the ramp, possibly killing it in the process, I let it go and kicked the Flex Drive-E into high gear.
Frustrated, I kept it together, got the identifier sorted, and headed back to my spot. At this point the wind was howling, nearly doubling the time to get there. With the marina bite dead, I turned my focus to windblown docks, but if the fish were there, they weren’t eating.
Eventually I came upon a big laydown at the back of a creek. I plucked two small bass from it, and watched an absolute monster (or maybe multiple monsters) swimming in between its submerged boughs. But guess what I didn’t have with me that I’d had with me every other day that week? I flipping stick. I’d left it in the car to make room for another finesse setup.
I spent the remaining hours trying to coax more bass from wood (and everything else), but those two dinks were all I could manage. Not quite a “hero to zero” event, but seventh to sixtieth is pretty close. I’m happy with the results, though. Six tough days weigh a lot less than one good day, especially on the mind and soul.
In the end, I could have easily let all the negative elements from that week eat away at me and leave my mental game rotten like that bass from day one, like it did down in Kissimmee, Florida, weeks earlier. I’m not saying it didn’t get to me a bit; it most certainly did. Shortly before catching that first fish on Saturday, I’d texted my wife that I was leaving Sunday morning if I didn’t catch any fish.
Not sure if I would have left, but I know I would have at least seriously entertained the idea. Things turned around for me, though, and quickly. All it takes is one fish. Then hopefully a few more.
The lesson here is a simple one: hang in there, stay positive. Because even when the best-laid plans go awry, sometimes no plan turns out to be the best one of all.