Favorite Fishing pro Zack Birge during the first day of MLF’s Bass Pro Tour Stage One in Kissimmee, Florida. Photo by Phoenix Moore

Like a lot of guys on the Major League Fishing Bass Pro Tour, this is my first experience with the MLF format. I’ve had my ups and downs with it early in the season, but overall I’ve been pretty happy with where I’m at after the first two stages.

Before we got to Florida and the Kissimmee Chain, I was pretty nervous. For some reason I’m never confident when I fish in a Florida tournament, and I’m not sure why that is. Still, it went pretty well for me and I was excited with the way it turned out.

I hit the water with upwards of 30 Favorite Fishing rods on deck and ready to roll at all times. They allowed me to tackle any situation I may have ran into on the lake.

The best part about that tournament for me was catching that 6-pound, 6-ounce fish that secured my spot in the Knockout Round. I hooked him on the tail and I got really lucky to get him in the boat. It’s very rare that a fish hooked like that stays on because they usually pull off.

I finished the tournament in 39th place and went home with some money, but I knew I could have done better.

Taking my First Shot at Lake Conroe

I knew I was going to have to be at my best when we arrived at Lake Conroe because a lot of the guys on tour had experience and success there. I had never even seen Lake Conroe, and after the first day of practice it was just overwhelming because there were really only two options: 1) You could go up the lake and deal with the sticks; 2) You could fish miles and miles of sea walls. I decided to stay shallow and take my chances with that strategy.

During the Elimination Round 1 was flirting with the Elimination Line for most of the day. Then, all of the sudden, they started biting. I reeled in seven bass to jump from 21st all the way up to seventh place and make the cut.

That was probably the coolest moment of the tournament for me. I was able to catch some big fish on a Yo-Zuri crankbait when it mattered the most that day.

In both of the first events, I feel like I did okay. I got paid and got some points, but I’m really disappointed I didn’t make the first Cup event. That was one of my goals I was really trying to get to and I came up just short. Hopefully with the next two events I can earn enough points to lock up a spot in the next one.

Zack Birge’s wife Kristina and daughter Emma cheers on Birge before the Knockout Round take-off at Lake Conroe. Photo by Garrick Dixon

My Family on the Road = A Difference Maker

One thing that’s been really nice for me during the first couple of events is to have my family on the road with me. My wife Kristina and my daughter Emma have been there for me every step of the way. It’s a blessing for them to have the flexibility to travel and be with me. It definitely keeps my stress level down when I can get off the water, go to the house we’re staying and eat a family dinner together.

When I look at the locations for the next couple of stages for the Bass Pro Tour, nothing really jumps out at me as some place where I can absolutely dominate. I think that’s because with this format and how I’m adjusting to it, I’m just so focused on the next event and being successful at that event before I even try to look ahead.

I feel like I need to be on my A-game 100 percent of the time and focusing on the task at hand rather than looking two or three tournaments down the road. However, I’m more than ready to get to Raleigh and get started up again.