Sandbagging. We are all familiar with the concept. It’s a bit of posturing that occurs before a contest. Competitors downplay their expectations in hopes that their opponents buy into their charade and consequently lower his or her own expectations.
Indeed, sandbagging has been a part of tournament fishing since the very first bass tournament was held. Lately, though, it seems sandbagging has reached new levels in pro fishing. In the age of pre-tournament reporting and practice debriefings, pros seem to use the pre-tournament platform as a handy propaganda tool to spread the word far and wide that the fishing at the prescribed venue is really not all that great. The practice reports from pros have become predictable: It’s been tough…I’ve only had five bites in three days…I haven’t caught a fish over 2 pounds yet…spot me 10 pounds a day and I’ll stay on the bank…It’s going to be worse than last time.
Yet, when the scales open for business at the weigh-in, the 20s start dropping in the basket. At the end of day one, guys are shell-shocked because the top-10 cut is 20 pounds and the check cut is at 14 pounds – a far cry from “10 pounds a day” it was supposed to take to get a check.
So far this season Okeechobee and Harris Chain have provided good examples of the sandbagging strategy. Before the Okeechobee event started, reports put Okeechobee in dire straits. As it turned out, the Big O was not as epic as it has been, but it was by no means circling the drain as some predicted. In all, there were 18 limits over 20 pounds weighed in, including Chris Johnston’s massive 28-1 limit on day two, and it took nearly 15 pounds a day to get in the top 30 cut.
Harris reports were also less than spectacular and yet tournament weights were impressive. It took slightly more than 15 pounds a day for the top 30 and there were 27 limits of more than 20 pounds each caught during the event.
In defense of the pros, however, most of them honestly have no idea what they’re going to catch in the tournament. This lowballing is not as intentional as it might seem.
The way pros practice these days has become extremely discreet. Getting a bite or two in practice means pulling up the trolling motor and leaving the area immediately. The goal is to avoid pressuring the area and not to get spotted in productive water.
Shaking off fish, bending over hooks and cutting off hook points have become tools of the fine art of pro fishing. In some cases, pros don’t even need to make a cast. Thanks to today’s amazing electronics, they can just blaze through an area with sidescan and downscan and learn all they need to know.
Thus, when pros talk about a severe lack of fish-catching in practice, it’s mostly because they shook off bites and never stayed around anywhere long enough to get any more bites. In fact, pros don’t really mash the gas on potential areas until tournament days. Sometimes they don’t even know the intricate details of an area until they get in there and really start bearing down.
In the modern era of the sport, pros don’t necessarily fish in practice the way they do in the tournament; they scout for potential and potential is a slippery slope. As the old saying goes, winning practice doesn’t pay very much.
When the 2018 FLW Tour schedule came out last year and the second stop read: Harris Chain of Lakes, February 23-26, everyone automatically assumed it would be a sight-fishing fest in the usual Harris honeymoon suites of backwaters and canals. However, Harris turned into an offshore tournament that stunned many – including certain reporters covering the event on FLW Live.
It’s February in Florida and the fish are off the bank? What gives?
Pros believe a few factors contributed to this contrarian phenomenon this time around. One, both Harris and Griffin have become inundated with offshore grass and consequently the water in those two lakes has become much clearer.
As well-known local John Cox reports, “They are completely different lakes than they used to be; the grass has completely changed the way the fish live.”
“There is no doubt that a majority of the fish are now spawning out off the bank in those gaps and holes in the offshore hydrilla,” he continues. “That’s why there are so few beds up shallow and in the canals – they don’t have to go there anymore. Plus, that quick warm-up just made the shallows too warm, too fast; the surface temp shot up to 75 degrees in a week. It’s cooler and way more protected out there in five to seven feet of water.”
There is little doubt that one of the primary factors contributing to such an increase in offshore fishing in recent years is the fantastic improvement in anglers’ equipment. The mapping and GPS accuracy of today’s electronics are extraordinary. And more recently, the advent of MinnKota’s spot lock trolling motor has literally become a modern day fishing miracle. By simply hitting a button, pros can now “lock” onto an offshore spot and make the same exact cast consecutively for hours on end if they choose. Twenty years ago, that type of consistent accuracy was unobtainable. As a result, pros are no longer intimidated by the great unknown out behind them off the bank. With today’s advancements, they can dissect and search offshore areas just as easily as going down the bank.
The first two tournaments of the 2018 FLW Tour season have seen Canadian domination of sorts. This comes as no surprise to the fishing fans from the Great White North who have stood behind their fellow countrymen Jeff Gustafson and the Johnston brothers for the last six years on the FLW Tour.
During the first several years on Tour, the Canadian comrades took some lumps while they learned their way around U.S. waters. Now their hard work and dedication is paying off in a big way.
At the first Tour stop on Lake Okeechobee this year, the JoBros – Cory and Chris Johnston – finished 9th and 10th, respectively.
This time around at the Harris Chain, Chris Johnston took his first FLW Tour win while Gussy took runner-up, making it Canadian sweep. Nice job, eh?
All during the 2017 season, Glenn Browne had to sit on the sidelines of professional fishing and watch the sport he loves unfold on the Internet and television.
While he endured surgeries and treatments for colon cancer, his peers were sacking up bass on the FLW Tour. And just when it looked like he could jump back into his beloved game at the Okeechobee Tour opener this year, he was sidelined once more by cancer, this time in his liver. Again, he sat from the bank and watched his buddies punch mats while he took punches to the gut.
“Last year was pure torture,” Browne says. “Not only did I have physical pain, but not being out there doing what I loved added insult to injury. At times I couldn’t even watch the live or real-time coverage of tournaments because it was too much to handle. I had to wait a few days before I would look at the results of a tournament.”
Browne says the worst was the Okeechobee opener last month that he had to miss.
“Chad Morgenthaler is a good friend; he and I are running buddies,” Browne says. “And to see him and McMillan make the top 10 punching those mats in South Bay drove me nuts. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy for them; they are great friends and great fishermen. It’s just that I know that’s exactly where I would have ended up fishing, too. I’m not claiming I would have won the tournament, but I felt like at the very least I left a $10,000 check on the table there.”
Browne admits that a lot of drive and determination built up inside of him while he was sidelined. He has fished the very tournaments he missed a thousand times over in his head, conjecturing on how he would have approached them.
This past week was Browne’s return to the water on the FLW Tour where he experienced the greatest medicine he could receive: boat-flipping 5-pounders in tournament competition once again and earning him a fourth-place finish. Welcome back Glenn!