UPCOMING EVENT: PHOENIX BASS FISHING LEAGUE - 2020 - Sam Rayburn Reservoir

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Living the Dream: Clarks Hill, Part 5

Living the Dream: Clarks Hill, Part 5
TBF Living The Dream winner Dave Andrews shows off his catch at Lake Okeechobee.

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Editor's note: This is the fifth and final piece in a series of journal entries from Dave Andrews, winner of the 2007 TBF National Championship, detailing his fourth stop on the 2008 FLW Series Eastern schedule. Clarks Hill Lake marked the final event of his "Living the Dream" season. Entries were published at FLWOutdoors.com throughout the course of the season. As winner of the Living the Dream package, offered by FLW Outdoors through The Bass Federation, Andrews had his entry fees paid to test his club skills on the pro tour with the use of a fully wrapped boat and tow package. Georgia's Clarks Hill Lake was the setting for Andrews' final event of his "Living the Dream" season. (Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4)(Read his Lake Champlain journal; this links to the final entry, which provides links at the top for each preceding part)
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Walmart FLW Series BP Eastern Division
Stop No. 4: Clarks Hill Lake
Oct. 22-25, 2008

Competition: Day three
Oct. 24

Up the final day, again before the alarm went off, I busied myself with the normal morning activities, but allowed extra time to pack up the Chevy Tahoe prior to leaving the hotel for the final time. On the way to the ramp, Scott checked the weather again, hoping for a change. No such luck. The forecast called for it to be cloudy with steady rain, tropical downpours and wind gusts to 40 mph. I had mixed emotions about the weather. On one hand, I was happy not to face another day of blue skies, passing fronts, a rising barometer and strong north winds, but I wasn't sure what the ominous forecast for today would do to the bass bite on Clarks Hill Reservoir. It would be the first day since practice began that would feature clouds and rain, and on that day, the bite was off the hook, but the high temperatures that day were in the 80s. Today, the forecasted high was not supposed to get out of the 50s.

The weather was cloudy, about 50 degrees, with a freshening northerly breeze as we dropped the boat into the water at the Spring Creek launch. Scott was again with me; in fact, he would be with me all day. Yup, that's right: I drew out with my travel-mate, Scott Leppanen, for this, the final day of the "Living the Dream" year. It seemed fitting somehow.

Like a familiar morning commute, we followed my GPS track over to Wildwood Park in the predawn hour and waited around with the rest of the field for the National Anthem, prayer and 8 a.m. takeoff. I took note as FLW Series Tournament Director Chris Jones warned the field of the forecasted weather conditions and urged anglers to be safe above all else.

We were in one of the early flights and due in at 3:30 p.m. I had my two spinnerbait rods strapped on the front deck, along with a topwater and a Rat-L-Trap rod, as we took off toward our start spot. I chose a point near the nondescript little pockets where I had boated fish each of the first two days. It started raining almost immediately after I pulled up, and it wouldn't stop for the entire day.

I burned the ¾-ounce shad-colored Buckeye spinnerbait along the series of points and pockets and quickly had my first keeper of the morning. It was a small bass, barely the mandatory 12 inches long, but an important fish nonetheless. It got the skunk out of the boat and raised my level of hope that the changing weather would turn the fish on, not off. I bladed through my best little section and soon came upon Von Kinsey, with whom I was sharing water. As I approached him, he set the hook and boated a solid 2 1/2-pound largemouth that had grabbed a Carolina-rigged Brush Hog, dragged slowly on the bottom in 20 feet of water. I didn't let that fish influence my decision-making in the slightest. I was convinced that the bass would be on a feed today, and I was intent on power-fishing shallow cover for the balance of the day.

I stuck with the spinnerbait, as Scott fished a Rat-L-Trap behind me. We moved around, trying some new points and pockets without much success. A few pickerel slashed at our offerings, then Scott set the hook on a nice bass, only to have it come up and jump off as I went for the net. A short while later I was watching my spinnerbait bulge the water's surface, when I noticed a nice largemouth tracking the bait. I was running out of room as the bait neared the boat, when the bass suddenly sped up and lunged at the bait. The water exploded right beside me, and I reacted accordingly. I swung my rod to the side, hooking the fish for a split second before the bass pulled off and disappeared. My spinnerbait shot out of the water and clunked into the side of the boat.

Scott asked, "How big was it?"

I responded, "Two, maybe 2 1/2 pounds."

I didn't let the missed opportunity bother me. I've learned that you can think about lost fish the whole ride home and sometimes all winter long, but you have to shake them off while the tournament is still going on.

By 11 a.m., the weather had worsened. It was now blowing a steady 20 mph and raining sideways; the temperature felt like it hadn't moved either. We were still stuck on just the one fish. It was decision time again.

I felt we'd spent enough time along the little points and pockets near the mouth of Keg Creek, so I A final shot of the Living the Dream-wrapped Ranger boat, operated by TBF National Championship winner Dave Andrews throughout the 2008 FLW Series Eastern season, taken just prior to leaving Georgia.decided to take a ride. The question was, In which direction? I wondered about the little pockets in Parksville and the main-lake points farther north. I hadn't had a chance to fish them yet in the tournament, but it was a pretty long run in rough conditions. Since the weather pattern matched with our first practice day, I opted to head back up the Little River and fish the rip-rap of the highway bridge, then zip into Grays Creek to try the shallow grass again.

The wind and waves pounded the rip-rap on the front side of the bridge, but we were able to hold position and fish it somewhat effectively. I threw the shaky-head worm again, and Scott alternated between a drop-shot and a small crankbait. We worked the area hard, but never had a tap.

After an hour or so, we moved on toward a few small pockets that were empty of boats and exposed to the wind. I picked up a chrome-blue Rat-L-Trap and fished the mouth of the first little pocket. I caught a big pickerel, then a largemouth that was just short of keeper size. Occasionally I could see shad scatter across the surface, and it was clear there were some fish working here.

A few casts later, I hooked up on a nice bass, only to have it come up and jump off. I composed myself, fired another cast to the spot and hooked another fish. This one made it into the net, a small keeper. When the action died off, we zipped over to the next little pocket and began burning the Rat-L-Traps again. Scott soon connected with his first keeper, and I caught another that was just short of keeper length. It was obvious that we had found a viable pattern, but the size wasn't really there; I would need more than a small limit today to get a check, so we left this area and drove into Grays Creek.

We fished the same section that had produced so well on our first day on the water. I watched my Lowrance and hit every number that marked where Scott or I had previously caught a fish, but today there would be no magic. Neither of us had a bite in there, so we strapped down our equipment and made the long run back toward Keg Creek. There was only a few hours left in the day, and I knew I needed to fill my limit with the size of fish that I had been catching in that area.

The wind was pounding that side of the lake, and the water had turned muddy. I switched to a white-and-purple-colored Rat-L-Trap for its increased visibility and worked it along the deep weed edges. Not long after pulling in, I had a bite and boated my third keeper of the day, another small fish.

Throughout the day, as I try to do with all my partners, I positioned the boat so Scott would have a decent shot at casting to the fish. Scott is used to fishing up on the front deck with me, as is our style in team tournaments. FLW rules prohibit the co-angler from fishing form the front deck, so I teased him relentlessly throughout the morning about having to stay in the back of the boat. At one point, I felt a sharp thump on the back of my head, and it took me a few seconds to figure out that Scott had hit me with a ¾-ounce spinnerbait on one of his casts. Good thing I had several layers of clothes on and my raingear hood up. The hook didn't penetrate, but I saw stars for a few moments. I laughed and asked him if he treated Clark Wendlandt and Larry Nixon that way when he fished with them. I figured maybe I wouldn't tease him any longer about being stuck in the back of the boat.

I fished hard until the final gun, but could land no more keepers. Scott dumped his one fish before we checked in, and he began the arduous task of breaking down our equipment and preparing to load it into a rental van following the weigh-in. As we idled past the check-in boat, the wind picked up in an instant, and whitecaps quickly formed in the creek. The trees bent sideways, and the rain pelted us. I bagged my fish and headed for the weigh-in line.

The storm intensified and ripped the tarps protecting the camera equipment off their stands. The bump board and check-in table were literally blown away. Trash cans, chairs and everything else that wasn't anchored down blew across the parking lot. The weigh-in was halted temporarily, as FLW staff scurried around trying to secure equipment. It was complete chaos. Across from me at the tanks stood Jason Quinn; we looked at each other, shrugged and both laughed. There wasn't anything else to do. We are fishermen. It's what we do, and to us, it was just another day at the office.

Meteorologists call it a microburst, a short, intense burst of damaging wind, similar to a tornado. I'm not certain that this is what we experienced, but the worst of it was over pretty quickly. Order was restored, and the weigh-in continued.

My three keepers went 3 pounds, 11 ounces and dropped me back a few places in the standings. I finished up about 5 pounds out of the money. Weights were low again Friday, with many pros struggling to catch a limit. There were only a handful of double-digit limits checked in.

Scott and I were now on a mission. Once the worst of the storm had passed, we got back in the Ranger and headed out toward Spring Creek to load the "Living the Dream" boat for the final time. As we idled out of the creek by the launch, we passed a Chevy-wrapped boat with David Fritts driving; he was soaked, and his equipment was thrown about everywhere. I checked my watch, and it was 3:59 p.m. He made it with a minute to spare. We'd later find out that many boats did not make it back. The intense storm had whipped up the main part of Clarks Hill and caused sharp, rolling 8-foot waves. Indeed, we had our hands full just getting back to Spring Creek, and this part of the lake was mostly protected from the strong north winds.

We pulled out and headed back to Wildwood Park by road. It was eerily quiet following the passing of The severe weather on day three at Clarks Hill caused a lot of damage. Trees were down all around the area.the storm, but there was damage everywhere. Along the main road back to the weigh-in, a fairly large pine tree had fallen across the highway. Emergency sirens wailed in the background as we drove around the pine tree and soon pulled the rig alongside the service trailers at Wildwood Park. FLW had gotten me a rental car, so the plan was to strip the boat and truck of all of our personal items, then leave the rig there in the parking lot, where FLW staff would then drive it back to Kentucky following the tournament. I had use of the "Living the Dream" rig until the end of the year, but since this was my last FLW Series tournament and the weather had turned cold back home in New England, it just made sense to leave the rig there and return home in the rental car. It took Scott and I another two hours to transfer all of our equipment into the rental. I took some extra time to make sure that everything that belonged with the boat and truck was organized and left where it should be. Following a final cleanup, we took off in our rental van and headed north.

We were looking at an 18- or 19-hour drive home to Massachusetts, so we wanted to chew up some mileage that night to make the final leg of the journey on Saturday more manageable. We drove long into the night, catching the worst of the storm in South Carolina, where we pulled over in Fayetteville to sleep for six hours before continuing on our way early the next morning. They had flash floods in parts of South Carolina from the storm that dumped over 6 inches of rain in some parts of the state.

The long drive on Saturday was fairly uneventful, as we essentially followed the storm up the Atlantic Coast. We arrived in Massachusetts at 8 pm, just as the storm system slammed into our area. Strong winds, lightning and even some hail greeted us as I unpacked the rental car to prepare it for drop-off the next morning.

That pretty much wraps up my final event of the "Living the Dream" year. I feel truly honored and humbled to have been the first "Living the Dream" angler and to be able to represent all Federation members and club-level anglers during this past year. TBF and FLW offer a wonderful program, and all bass anglers should be involved. I started in the Federation youth program when I was 14 years old and have been a part of either the BASS Federation or, now, the TBF ever since. Winning the TBF National Championship and earning the "Living the Dream" prize was the culmination of all of those wonderful years spent as a part of the New Hampshire Bass Federation.

So where do I go from here? Well, after having a taste of big-league professional fishing, I have a greater appreciation for the men and women that choose to make bass fishing their full-time career. It involves a lot of travel; a lot of living on the road; long, hard days on the water; multiple sacrifices from your family; and a single-minded dedication to the sport of bass fishing. It is rarely glamorous, it is physically and mentally demanding, and it can be lonely and heartbreaking too. That said, looking back on the year, I loved every minute of it. I have a lifetime of memories.

I learned a ton about fishing in different areas of the country and got to see some unique and beautiful parts of the United States. There is no doubt that I am a better fisherman now then when I started this journey last year. I'd love to fish the FLW Series again; I really feel confident that I could take what I learned in this first year and steadily improve my performance and compete at this level. Perhaps the timing isn't right for me with my busy life back home, and I would need significant sponsor backing, which will be hard to find during the current recession, but I'd like to take another shot at it in the future.

For now, I'll be content to fish local events and an occasional BFL or Stren Series tournament. And, of course, I'll continue to be a part of the New Hampshire Bass Federation and the TBF. Just making the Federation National Championship is an honor and a high achievement for any weekend angler, and I'd love to qualify again.

Before I sign off for the final time, I have some folks I'd like to thank. First and foremost, I'd like to thank my wife, Kathleen, and my boys Liam and Owen for supporting me and allowing me to chase this dream. Also, thanks go to my parents for always encouraging my fishing "addiction" and being there to help out while I'm on the road. A big "thank you" to my longtime friend, fishing partner and chief mechanic Scott Leppanen for coming along with me this year. Thanks also to Gary Mortenson and Patrick Baker at FLWOutdoors.com for their assistance in posting this journal, as well as Robert Cartlidge at TBF and David Simmons at FLW for all their assistance over the last season. I'd like to thank my sponsors: Daiwa, Netters Inc., Gamma and Gambler. Also thanks to Chris Gist and Chuck Faremouth and all the great people that I met along the way.

Most of all, I'd like to say thanks to you, the reader. I've gotten great feedback and encouragement wherever I've traveled from friends, old and new, fellow TBF members, co-anglers and several pro anglers too. This journal took countless hours to write and prepare, and there were many highs and lows during the season. I got used to paying attention to the smallest details during these events so I could go home and write about them. This journal was oftentimes very therapeutic for me. I appreciate all of the comments, and I thank all of you for taking the time to read it.

- "Living the Dream" Dave, over and out.

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Editor's note: The staff at FLWOutdoors.com and FLW Outdoors at large would like to thank Dave Andrews for the tremendous contributions he made to our organization, the sport of bass fishing and fans everywhere by writing about his "Living the Dream" season. We appreciate not only his efforts as an ambassador of the sport, but also his sportsmanship and professionalism.
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Tags: dave-andrews  article 

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