Making The Cut
2005 Bass Master Central Open Norfork Lake Arkansas
By Steven Smith
I recently returned from participating in the 2005 Bass Master Central Open Tour on Norfork Lake in Arkansas. Competing on the non-boater side was something I normally don't do. I like to fish out of my own boat. However, the chance to fish with likes of Gary Klein, Tommy Martin, Mark Davis, Ben Matsubu, Jimmy Mize, Randy Dearman, Chad Brauer and let's not forget Takahiro Omori, was a rare opportunity to see and learn from some of the biggest names in bass fishing. Unfortunately I didn't draw any of them as a partner during the tournament.
I woke up 1 1/2 hours early on Wednesday morning (guess 4:00 A.M. wasn't early enough), kissed the wife as she slept and headed out on the road. After driving from Chicago, I arrived in Mountain Home, AR and checked into the hotel. Then I went in search of the marina to survey the area.
At the registration and partner pairing was where I first noticed all the pros that were attending. My jaw dropped as I surveyed the room and saw them all. Even Jerry McKinnis was here.
That night as I talked to my wife I was as excited as a little kid in a candy store for the first time.
Day one started out great; I caught two fish in about 5 minutes. Since the water was clear I decided to start out with ¾-ounce Storm wild-shiner swim bait. My first fish was an 11 inch smallie (too short to keep); on the next cast I caught a 15 inch spotted bass. I thought I was onto an early pattern and would have my limit within an hour or so. Unfortunately they seemed to not want that bait after catching that keeper. My partner was working the early top-water bite without any success. After a few hours we tried some different areas but they only produced short fish. Finally my boater was able to put some keepers into the boat.
At the weight-in I was again excited to be in the presence of all of these pros and waited for my turn up on the stage to weigh my only fish. After weighing my only fish, I was currently ranked 23rd on the non-boater side. This was great but surprising news. I knew the fishing was tough, but surely I'd drop in the standings and have to have a much better day tomorrow in order to make the cut and fish on Saturday.
Thursday night I was up talking to the desk clerk at the hotel and checking the standings. I only dropped 7 places and was now in 30th place when up walks Gary Klein. I said hello and congratulated him on being one of the finalists in the greatest angler debate, to which he said it was an honor to even be considered. We talked briefly and he asked me how I did. I told him how I thought it was going to be a good day, but that it went south. Gary then told me how he was catching some of his fish, and mentioned I might want to give it a shot if I get the chance, WOW! Gary Klein giving me advice! This was the pinnacle of the day for me.
Day two I drew a local and I thought to myself "This is great. I was going to get the chance to move up in the standings." After about a 2 ½ hour fog delay we finally got to our first spot. My partner told me that a jig and trailer was working here for him the past few days, so I took his advice and tied one on. I lost one fish, broke off another, and ended up only bringing in short fish after that. My partner didn't fair any better. Now I'm starting to get anxious because I'm not catching any fish and we lost 2 ½ hours this morning. We made a 30 minute run way up North and fished a creek for awhile. The water was stained, which is what I am used to fishing. I broke out my trusty chartreuse spinnerbait and proceeded to work the shallows where bass were busting the shad. I landed a 10-inch largemouth, which I quickly released and a few minutes later hooked what I thought was a keeper. After bringing him to the boat in record time I threw him on the measuring board only to find out that he just barely over 14 ½ inches ( too short ).
We finished up in a little cove about 5 minutes from the marina where with about 20 minutes to spare, my partner finally caught a keeper and I again caught some short fish.
Disappointed as we headed for the weigh-in, I noticed that today there was no line for bags to weigh your fish and the line at the stage was very small. Maybe everyone had a rough day due to the fog and I might stand a chance of making the cut.
I stood around the front of the stage and chatted with some people who were staying at the same hotel as me. As the anglers were waiting in line, I eagerly held my breath as they announced whether they were a boater or non-boater. On the non-boater side it was only taking 1 lb 9 oz. to make the cut. I now had to endure waiting for the rest of the field to come in and hoped that I didn't get bumped. After what seemed an eternity, they began to announce the names of those that made the cut. When they got down to number 47 and said my name I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I had made the cut and I get fish one more day.