It has only been two days since the end of the "Big Easy Invitational," the third leg of the 2009 Redfish Cup schedule hosted in Chalmette, La.
Here it is 3 p.m. Tuesday and my cell phone has rung too many times for me to remember. Since Sunday, the phone rings and inevitably the conversation begins, "Mike, what happened?"
Of course, each conversation was referring to my lack of success in the tournament on my home waters, which should have led to a successful tournament. Of course, I had originally planned for, or I should say prepared myself for, a minimum of a top ten finish.
It was apparent that bad news travels fast as the amount of calls I was received almost caused my phone to fry. Bowman and Levi must have added my phone number next to my placement in the standings as I received calls from people I didn't even know.
Had a guy call from Illinois who said he got my cell phone number off my Web site, has followed me on the circuit and just wanted to see what happened?
Well, it would be very easy to say "my boat broke down, the waters were too high, the wind was too strong, blowing from the wrong direction," any number of other excuses I could come up with to save face, but bottom line I just called the wrong shot.
First of all, I am a very competitive person and I do not play anything to lose. Even when I play Wii with my wife and my boys, I play to win (and of course I don't).
Bottom line, when I begin a tournament, I play to win. Doesn't always happen, but I put in a lot of pre-fishing time, gathering information in order to make the best decisions when it comes to tournament time.
That being said, here is how I made my decision that was suppose to lead me to my success, only to find out by Saturday (really Friday) afternoon that it would lead to failure, or I should say lack of success.
Won't go into every day I pre-fished, as there were more days than I can cover here, but let's begin a week or so prior to the tournament.
Thursday, July 23
Fished the area of Point A la Hache, an area south of Delacroix that has an endless area of lakes, ponds, and bayous that are usually full of hydrilla vegetation, clear water and plenty of fish.
Well I could not find any really clear water and grass was scarce (last year Hurricanes Ike and Gustav really tore up our vegetation), but I did find plenty of redfish. Only one problem; they were skinny.
Several 26 ½-27 inch reds only tipped the scale at 6 ½-6 ¾ pounds. I did not even catch one in the slot that weighed over 7 pounds. Caught several over 27 inches that were as skinny, as a matter of fact one that was 28 ½ inches only weighed 7 ¼ pounds.
That folks is a Louisiana red that is totally anorexic. Ok, doesn't look really promising here.
Friday, July 24
Fished Delacroix Island area. Same results as Thursday, only seemed to be more fish but same results. Not one fish over 7 pounds that made the mark between 26 and 27 inches and a couple right on the line.
Shaking my head several times during the day, I just kept thinking of tournaments here in years past and I knew that it would take more; in fact much more weight than I was catching.
What was I doing wrong? Then the phone rang again and again. It was other competitors with the same question "what are you catching?"
After I told them, each one told me that that was all they were catching as well. Knowing the first rule in tournament strategy, I knew better than to listen, or I should say believe, what was being told to me, after all I knew they were just decoying. Panic was not setting in but I could see the button.
Saturday and Sunday, July 25 and 26
Covered the waters from Hopedale to Reggio with the same results. Plenty of fish but no FAT ones. Fished areas that in the past have rewarded me with several 15 ½-pound or higher stringers, only to find one thing that I was doing consistently, catching small upper end slot fish.
Knowing for sure that this could only be happening to me, I was certain that everyone else was catching the studs. Each evening the phone would ring with the same, the only one anyone was interested in: "What size are you catching?"
After several calls and everyone reporting the same results, I now felt like I WAS being told the truth. Wow, this really is shaping up to be a strange tournament.
Last year I think over 17 teams weighed in over 15-pound stringers on the first day and NO ONE that I spoke with had caught a 15-pound stringer yet. Several had not caught over 14 pounds. Ok, maybe I am in the hunt!
Monday, July 27
Only a couple of pre-fishing days left. The waters have been extremely low in Hopedale and Delacroix and with the prediction of more west winds it was not going to become any better.
Time to check out a couple of my deep water spots in Venice. The Mississippi river has come down and the waters are clearing up and the reds are moving into the River. I pulled up to one of my favorite "deep water" spots (NO, NOT THE JETTIES!!!) but a 15-foot hole with plenty of moving water and plenty of cypress stumps on the bottom, creating what could be at this time of the year "that perfect spot."
First cast. "Thump," that notorious bump that only a redfish produces when striking your lure. Wrestled him to the boat, slightly over 28 inches but he was FAT!!
Great looking fish. Next cast, "wham" fish on! And for the next 45 minutes it was fish after fish with most measuring between 26-27 inches and all FAT. Average weight was 7 ½ pounds with a couple in the high 7s and one going over 8.
OK, much better. These are the perfect ones. No question, two of these and I am in the hunt! Feeling better now. Let's just leave them alone, no reason to bother these perfect tournament fish.
Tuesday July 28
Venice is far and we know there are good fish there, but I need to locate something closer to Chalmette that would keep me competitive.
Fished Delacroix again, and again same results. The entire day, my mind kept singing that old Willie Nelson song "You were always on my mind."
That, of course, meant Venice. And it was getting louder. Talk of how the weight was off, even those running to Venice only to find the same results: upper slot fish but SKINNY.
Was I about to hit a Home Run? Had I found the right spot? Starting to look that way.
Wedesday July 29
Last day of pre-fishing. Worked my way from California Point all the way to Delacroix, only to again find the same results. Any upper slot fish were skinny, a lot of oversize fish and nothing that could really put me in contention. At least that's what I thought. Again spoke to several anglers and all were disappointed with the weight of their fish.
Thursday, July 30
Off limit day. Preparing tackle, boat, equipment, just getting ready for BIG day. Laid all results out on paper as I keep extensive notes or a log daily and review all the details at the end of my pre-fishing.
Conclusions: Could stay close, catch plenty of fish. If I get lucky, real lucky, might wind up with 14-14 ½ pounds. Have to be real lucky because I certainly didn't do that any day pre-fishing close, but I DID do that and more in Venice.
Stay close or run far? That is the million-dollar question. At this point of the game it's a no brainer. Prepare to RUN!!!
Thursday night was miserable as I could not sleep. I just knew the perfect reds were waiting for me two hours there, two hours back, leaving four hours of fishing. That's all that will be needed.
Checked the tides and knew I would be there at the end of the incoming tide and the tide would begin falling about 11 a.m. Perfect. I would be able to fish till about 12:30. Right two fish and I am in the game.
Friday, July 31
Take off begins and I'm off, Venice-bound. Pulled up to the spot exactly two hours later and got set up. I was so excited as I knew what awaited, or so I thought.
First cast, nothing. Second, third, fourth, fifth, one hundred and so after that and not a red. Flounder, trout, cats (yes catfish, I admit it) none of which we caught during the slam fest of pre-fishing. Fear began to set in as time was drawing down.
At 10:30 a.m. I checked the tide charts again and sure enough the tide was slowing, about to fall. Perfect time and conditions for deep water fishing.
Talked it over with my son Michael and we both decided to stay put, as it was just great fishing a couple of days ago. After all, 13 to 14 pounds was not going to cut it.
The clock seemed to pick up speed as the minutes raced by and still no action, then at 11:15, Michael yelled, "I'm on, Dad." Three minutes later, in the net was a good looking red.
Only one problem. He measured 27 ¼, but he weighed 8 ¼ pounds. Great, we have 1:15 to fish and they are starting to bite. Or were they?
Obviously not, as for the next hour, not another bite. My heart was racing. It was setting in -- it was not going to work.
This was my hometown, my area and on the first day of the tournament I was going to fail. Early predictions had the Frenette's as a possible top five. Reality set in. It wasn't going to happen.
Then I told myself there is a difference between failure and not being successful, and today I just was not successful. We had made our decision. Stuck to our game plan. Executed our game plan. It just didn't work.
Winners don't quit and I told Michael, "Hey, I know a small flat that is only about 20 yards wide just a couple of minutes from here. There are always a few small reds there. Let's stop for one minute on the way back, as that is all we will have.
Pulled up and sure enough I could see five small reds cruising. Inside I chuckled to myself as the only thing I could think of was this will be embarrassing at the weigh-in. Then another thought crossed my mind.
No it won't be embarrassing as these two fish represent pride. The fact that we could have just given up, quit, just made a variety of excuses as to why it did not happen.
And then in less than 40 seconds I jerked two whopping reds all of about 2 ½ pounds apiece and headed back to Chalmette for the Big Show.
As we were walking onto the stage, Rob (host of the weigh-in) built us up.
"And here they come, one of the favorites, locals TEAM FRENETTE."
Oh boy, this is going to be a shocker I thought as the crowd cheered. Bob Sealy pulled the bag out and a blank stare, a frozen look came across his face as he stared at our fish, then the jaw dropped as he turned and glanced at me.
The scale locked in and it was final: All the preparation, all the hard work, the long hours, dawn to dusk for several days, the long run, yielded a whopping 4.78 pounds
As I walked off stage thoughts began to circle in my head. One was the 13-14 pounds from Delacroix sure would ease the pain about now.
Saturday, August 1
Change of game plan; must regroup and battle back as EVERY pound will become extremely important. No chance of winning or even making the top five.
Now it is all about saving the season, gaining back points that I lost yesterday, points that I will need to become eligible for the championship. Delacroix today, need to catch two good fish. Caught several fish between 26 ½ and 27 inches but again, were still SKINNY. End result, weighed in two fish that weighed 13.85 pounds.
We started this tournament tied for 11th place for the Academy Team of The Year race and only about 12 points out of first place, so a top five finish would have been interesting. Instead we fell from 11th to 26th and now will be fighting to make the championship. We are 7 points out.
No predictions here except that as of right now and until the Biloxi tournament, which begins Sept. 28, I will be working extremely hard, locating and catching the "right" fish. And on the morning of Sept. 28, on the waters of Biloxi, I will be playing to WIN!
And guess what, I CAN'T WAIT!!
Capt. Mike Frenette is a Redfish Cup angler. For more information, visit his Web site, www.venicefishing.net or e-mail him at email@example.com.