February 11, 2014 by Brett Carlson
After competing in regional tournaments at a high level for many years, Greg Bohannan fished his first Walmart FLW Tour season in 2008. Each of his first three years on Tour was productive and concluded with trips to the Forrest Wood Cup. But instead of continuing that progression, Bohannan's last three seasons have largely been substandard.
When Bohannan quit his job in 2007 as a plant manager at Tyson Foods to pursue pro fishing full time, most believed the transition would be an easy one. In addition to being affable, Bohannan was known as a fierce competitor in the Ozarks - dominating on rocky, clear lakes such as Table Rock, Beaver and Lake of the Ozarks. The FLW Tour schedule features more diverse fisheries and Bohannan quickly learned he needed to improve his grass game.
"All of my success, with the exception of my Rayovac win on the Columbus Pool, was Ozark related," said Bohannan. "And even the Columbus win came on a buzzbait so I was real comfortable there. When I started fishing the Tour I was lost as a grass fisherman. I couldn't tell coontail moss from duckweed. I couldn't identify hydrilla or eelgrass. I didn't know what any of that stuff was. My first FLW Tour event was on Toho and it was very intimidating. Everything out there looked the same to me; it was tough to distinguish anything in terms of cover. I think I finished third from last; it was basically disastrous.
"By no means am I a grass expert, but I understand the environment now - things like edges and mats. For the last several years I've been picking the minds of guys like Rose, Tharp and Tutt."
While Okeechobee is one grass lake that has been kind to him over the years, this season's second-place finish was an impressive performance. After catching 27-2 on day one, the largest tournament stringer of his career, Bohannan brought in an average 13-pound, 11-ounce bag on day two. After he and other competitors pounded his area hard for two days, the Kellogg's Pop-Tarts pro was thinking it was time to call a mid-tournament audible.
Bohannan's area was located at the mouth of Uncle Joe's Cut and the vast majority of the top 10 was fishing up around the North Shore and Harney Pond. He was about to jump ship and join the party.
"I'm beginning to think I've exhausted the area," recalled Bohannan. "I only had 13 pounds and there are boats everywhere and I can see everyone catching them. I'm wondering if the big fish are going to keep coming. I started there the third morning and by 10 a.m. I only had three little ones that basically weighed nothing. At this point I'm battling if it's exhausted or not. I really thought about going up north. I actually started the tournament up there around the mouth of the Monkey Box. I had a spinnerbait bite going but I had zero in the first couple hours so I quickly ran back south. As I was debating leaving in my mind, I missed one on a Gambler Big EZ. I was upset I missed the fish, but more importantly it told me I would be dumb to leave. Staying there was the difference between being second or finishing somewhere down in the lower teens."
Bohannan's second-place finish wasn't about lures or presentation at all really. He fan-casted the Big EZ almost exclusively, which is perhaps the most common soft plastic used on Okeechobee other than the Beaver. His success was tied to that little sweet spot in Uncle Joe's - but more so about his decision making not to leave it.
"I only caught one 4-pounder there in practice, but I caught a ton of little 14-inch males. The one thing I've learned over the years in Florida is that if you get that many bites, there are big ones there too."
Exhibiting that kind of decision making over the course of a season is the next step Bohannan wants to take.
"The last three years have been tough on me as a competitor. I used to think I could close my eyes and cash a check. Then I went through a stretch where I couldn't catch five if you put them in a bathtub. I don't like excuses, but I think part of my slump had to with my son Brock. I felt really guilty leaving home after he was born. Now he's in school so I feel a little better about it, but being away still pulls at me. Through it all, my wife has been a rock. No matter what happens, she's always positive."
Bohannan doesn't view his second-place finish as any sort of breakthrough, instead simply a promising performance.
"I need to continue to just stay relaxed and have fun. I'm so competitive I've thought a lot about why I can catch them so well in the Rayovacs but I struggle on Tour. To me, slumps in fishing are a lot like hitting a baseball. When you're seeing it, you're hitting it; it's normal. When you start thinking about it you go down a bad road. That extra thinking made me so uptight."
Equipment wise, Bohannan is pleased with the performance of his Ardent Apex reels and Denali Kovert rods - two new sponsors. In the past, he thought he understood the power needed to pull Okeechobee giants out of the thick vegetation, but in hindsight he was "bringing a knife to a gun fight."
In addition, Bohannan credits a renewed commitment to time spent on the water.
"I now realize I wasn't fishing enough. I'm a guy that needs to fish more at home to feel confident. You're just more in tune with the conditions and that helps you make those critical decisions. I don't want this to sound like some sort of milestone. Finishing second is a great way to start the season, but my goal is to stay consistent and make the Forrest Wood Cup. Missing the championship the last three years has been so painful."
Bohannan thanked Al and Rosemary Purvis, a Missouri couple who retired to south Florida, for their hospitality.
"Mark (Rose) and I have been staying with them the past few years and they've become like family. In fact, two years ago Al took me out on Okeechobee and really taught me the lake. We didn't fish, but we rode around and he showed me all the different areas. It's easy to be intimidated on a lake that vast. Al really helped me dissect it.