I went up and practiced for 4 days about 3 weeks prior to the tournament. Having never been on Sam Rayburn, I was intimidated by its size and diverse vegetation. When I decided to checkout a popular area known as "Veach" and realized it was as large as Lake Oologah which is a local lake back home which in my opinion is pretty BIG; I knew I wouldn't be able to practice the way I wanted to nor cover the amount of water I wanted to.
I began searching for my first bite which came within the first 10 minutes flipping the edge of some hay grass with a Gene Larew Biffle Bug texas rigged. I then went to the very back of a creek and found warmer water, but no one was home. Pulled back out to the middle of the creek and began getting bit again on the edge of vegetation. The size of the bass were all the same, about 2 to 2 3/4lbs which I knew wasn't the right size. So I pulled out a 7'-11" Extra Heavy Z-Bone by Kistler Rods and started punching a Gene Larew Punchout Craw with a 1 1/2oz Tungsten into the thick matted vegetation. Didn't take long to boat 3 fish between 5 and 6lbs. I then went searching for similar areas with the "right kind" of grass/vegetation. Females and Males were already paired up with water temps reaching 65 degrees in the afternoon and the amount of fish caught was unbelievable. I went from being worried about cashing a check to thinking I had found the fish to win the event.
I came back the Saturday before the event and checked some areas I had found 3 weeks prior. The fish were still there but for some reason the size had gone down. So I began searching new areas and began to found quality again. We endured a cold front that came in and pushed temps in the low 30's each morning of Day 1 and Day 2. On Day 1, I went straight for an area that had a lot of 4 pounders in practice, but the fish were biting funny and wouldn't commit (I presume the cold got to them). My Co-Angler seemed to be catching everything that bit him dragging a Carolina Rig, but when I'd hook up punching the mats of grass, they'd seem to get off about 70% of the time. Despite my frustration, I kept to my strategy and managed 19lbs 3oz with a 6lb 13oz for my kicker fish. I lost several fish that I estimated at 6 pounds or larger so to be sitting in 14th after fishing that dirty, I felt good about my chances the next day.
Day 2, I continued to run all new water just instinct fishing and found a small limit quickly. When I did find the larger fish, I went back to losing 70% of them. They were big strong Florida strain bass in thick heavy grass and despite all my efforts to pull them from the vegetation, they all too often would get away before I got my hands on them. I wore my Co-Anglers out asking them to help push the boat on top of grass mats in order for me to reach into the vegetation to see if I still had a fish on the end of the line or just hundreds of pounds of grass. In the last 45 minutes I ran to a new area and culled three times including my best fish of the day on the very last cast! I scrounged up 17lbs 11oz and finished the day in 9th place.
Day 3 I was swinging for the fences as I had nothing to lose. I ran about 12 miles in a totally different direction than where I had fished Day 1 and Day 2 to an area I fished 3 weeks prior. I quickly caught 3 keepers and two of them were the RIGHT KIND! I lost 4 good ones in that area all before 10am. I then made a long run back to the area of the lake I spent the end of Day 2 at. I quickly caught my 4th fish which was about 3 1/4lbs. I still had about 3 hours of fishing time and had 3 good fish and one small fish that I needed to cull. At this point both my co-angler and myself put on the worst display of putting fish in the boat that you could ever imagine! All the way up until the last 15 minutes, I was losing fish and several of them quality fish! Co-Angler lost one that I estimate at over 10lbs! I only brought 4 fish to the scales for 12lbs and fell to 10th place but still proud of my finish all things considered. The next two events are Grand Lake in April and Fort Gibson at the end of September. I look forward to these events since they are closer to home and I have a ton of experience on both bodies of water. Hopefully the local knowledge doesn't bite me in the butt!