It was as close as I would get to an FLW trophy. I could reach over and touch it–although I knew FLW Tournament Director Robert Evans had to be keeping an eye on me since it was my first time on the “hot seat”.
There I was, sitting on the FLW stage’s hot seat the afternoon of the Day 2 Bulldog Super Tournament at Lake Eufaula, looking at the trophies that would go to the top anglers and co-anglers.
While I was close enough to touch the trophy, I knew I would not take it home.
I could have grabbed one of these trophies and run off the stage, but I knew I’d be tackled by tournament official Dave Mock (I would rather be hit by Green Bay’s Clay Matthews) so I just stared at them while I sat on the hot seat and waited for the inevitable bump.
But what a day I had on Saturday! Paired with Georgia Big Stick and three-time All American qualifier Bobby Padgett (more on Bobby later) I had caught 9-15, enough to take the Day 1 lead in the co-angler side, a position with which I was totally unfamiliar (Good Lord, I’d weighed in more than George Goodman, perhaps the state’s greatest all-time co-angler, and tournament favorite Harold Grizzle, a sure-bet every time he steps to the back of the boat, and who won the points standings last year and came in a close second in 2016).
Here I was, an aging, worm-tossing, 64-year-old co-angler who usually ends up being a ‘donor’ instead of a ‘check casher’, cast in the unlikely role as the overnight leader in the “clubhouse” or, in my case, the Lakepoint Lodge. After getting some high fives from my fishing buddies (including some I didn’t know were buddies) I went to my car, took a photo of the sheet listing the leaders, and sent a text to my wife and daughters saying “guess who is on top?”. I thought later how stupid I would have looked if any of the other anglers had seen this. It was my 15 minutes of tournament fishing fame and I was anxious to share it with my family. They were all so excited (if only it had been Sunday afternoon instead of Saturday).
After celebrating by treating myself to a KFC dinner in Eufaula (all white, Original, in case you’re wondering what an overnight celebrity eats for dinner). I sat in the parking lot talking to my wife about my one day at the top–then went back to my room, re-rigged for Sunday and went to bed by 8:30 (no stopping for a beer and a game of Eight Ball at the Hilltop Lounge, as there was a tournament to be won).
My “fame” actually lasted longer than 15 minutes–more like 20 hours. Technically, I was in first place all night Saturday night and all day Sunday, the second and final day of the tournament; however, I knew by mid-morning Sunday that my chances of holding onto my less than one pound lead were slipping away with every loud “punch” of my Sunday partner.
I was paired with Miles Burghoff, a talented young fisherman who drove all the way from California to fish the Eufaula event. He had less than four hours of practice time and was battling a major cold. Burghoff was representing Navionics, one of his many sponsors, which included a wrapped boat and tow vehicle sponsored by HUK. On his way to qualifying for the Elite Series by fishing the Central Division B.A.S.S. Opens, Burghoff has won two other BFL Super Tournaments, coming from behind twice to win.
Day 1 leader Miles Burghoff, waiting on the stage’s ‘hot seat’ for the Day 2 weigh-in to begin. Miles had a tougher day on Sunday (his frog and punched fish had left the building) but he still had a great tournament, having driven from California and only four hours practice on the lake.
He is young, but not inexperienced. Burghoff was a fishing star in college and even fished the All American on the Potomac River. He’s even got his own fishing show. So, when he ended up number one on the boater’s side, the FLW team from Benton & Tallahassee was not surprised, even though very few of these Bulldog anglers had ever heard of him. Burghoff bagged 15-14 that first day–frogging and punching–so we were paired together for the final day, both hopeful that we could catch a decent bag and stay on top.
Miles Burghoff after finding out he was leading the BFL Super Tournament on Lake Eufaula after Day 1. The talented California pro had a tougher time on Day 2, but still finished in the Top 10.
Let me say this about Miles: he is a tough competitor and no one will out work him. And he loves to fish a frog and punch mats–both patterns that produce tournament winning fish. In fact, when the second day yielded no blowups the first several hours on our frogs and topwater baits up the Chattahoochee, he reached for the punching rod–and I knew I was in for a long day.
The only other time I punched mats was when my boater and I locked through to Rodman Reservoir from the St. Johns River the first day of the regional tournament two years ago. We were punching mats that looked like cabbages. It was a totally new experience. I was lost with my Texas rigged Ole Monster. I got so bored I started looking for manatees. I tried to punch with a weight he loaned me (and then asked for it back at the end of day–which I thought was sort of cheap until I realized they were $12 apiece).
Rodman Reservoir, famous for giant bass, giant manatees and giant mats. Don’t go there without weights the size of kettle bells (Courtesy fish-orlando.com)
On that day at Rodman, there were no bites to be had unless you slammed an ounce and a half weight through the cabbage (manatees beware). I could have thrown ten 1/8 ounce shaky heads and still had a lighter load. My boater got his limit that day and I zeroed. It was not his fault–but mine for not adjusting; actually, I never planned for a punching bite, because I’d never fished a place like the St. Johns River (as most of you know, there are very few mats at Lanier).
Anyway, like that day at Rodman, I got “punched out” at Eufaula this past weekend. I did not miss a fish on Saturday and never felt a bite on Sunday. You can’t learn to punch at a Regional and you can’t learn on the second day of a Super Tournament. So, I don’t blame anyone but myself–as I struggled all day to find a bite (throwing worms, rattle traps, frogs, crankbaits and, of course, Beaver-type baits with a weight resembling an Olympic kettlebell). You back-deckers know what I’m saying; when you don’t have anywhere to fish you have to adjust, and I did not. I went from hero to zero–and while it was nice to see the trophies up close, I knew sitting there in the co-angler hot seat that it would hardly be warm by the time I’d be bumped off. And it wasn’t.
From hero to zero. The author, unexpectedly leading the Super Tournament on the co-angler side after Day 1, managed (to fake) this smile while on the hot seat at the beginning of the Day 2 weigh-in. After bagging nearly 10 pounds on Day 1, he zeroed on Day 2. At this moment, he knew his 15 minutes of ‘fame’ were just about up.
I fell from first to ninth, but still picked up a nice check. And so did Miles for his efforts. He was disappointed, but still had the energy to drive four hours to a sponsor meeting in Alabama, with his HUK-wrapped tow vehicle (complete with a camo-kayak on top), pulling out of the Lakepoint Marina about 5 p.m. Sunday. His schedule would take him to Alabama and Texas before returning home to California–where he will get re-acquainted with his wife before he heads back east to fish the final Central Open.
While I was disappointed in my “zero”, every angler knows that feeling sooner or later. I had the chance to fish with a seasoned pro like Bobby Padgett on Day 1 and a gifted up-and-comer like Miles on Day 2.
Much of the success I had on Day 1 goes to Bobby (I know all co-anglers give their boaters credit–and they should). For those back deckers who don’t know Padgett (and most Bulldog and Bama anglers know he is a factor in every tournament he fishes), I hope you get the chance to fish with him. He’s won a lot on Eufaula and West Point, and finished in the Top 10 two out of the three times he fished it. He also holds the one-day record catch in any All American, pulling 27+ pounds out of Kentucky Lake on his first day.
Padgett, who must have a master’s degree in electronics and a doctorate in downscan, found fish in places I would never have looked. His experience and knowledge were impressive–and ended up being a lesson on the water for me (like Todd Goade teaching me the basics of drop-shotting, Tom Mann Jr. showing me the secrets of a tying on a double fluke rig and Clay Johns taking time to show me some deep-cranking) Padgett was a true Professor on the Water (not so much talking but demonstrating his skills as a deep water guru and GPS wizard).
Bobby Padgett has fished the All American three times, twice finishing in the Top 10. He still holds the one-day weight record of 27+ pounds on Kentucky Lake. Bobby owns Country’s Barbecue in LaGrange, one of the Georgia’s best barbecue restaurants. He finished ninth at Lake Eufaula two weeks ago in the Bama Division.(Photo courtesy FLW)
But while Padgett was often cranking for a big bite he encouraged me to fish for keepers that might give me a chance to fish on Day 2. I caught my fifth keeper, a 14 inch largemouth, on a Carolina rig off the main channel less than a mile from the weigh-in. As we idled into the marina, he said “you will be leading this thing, believe me, I know this lake.” And, he turned out to be right! Padgett, who owns Country’s Barbeque in LaGrange, Ga., was the ultimate professional, and when the bites weren’t there for him, he wanted to see me do well. Thanks, Bobby. You are the kind of angler FLW needs more of. I’m coming down to Country’s Barbeque for a dinner real soon.