Mississippi Major Wake Up Call

On June 11, 12, and 13 the Elite Series held the Mississippi Major out of Gulfport, MS at the Island View Casino. Of course, I was looking forward to it and felt like it was going to be a chance to combine what I had learned about the area during the first three tournaments for a decent finish. What I found was a chance at some self examination, and a wake up call.

Let’s Get Some Good News Out of the Way…

I didn’t break anything! Well… that’s not true. I didn’t break anything that took more than a few seconds to fix. I did have to wire my battery cable back to my main switch with a #1 Kahle hook on day 1 and I had to bum a 40 amp fuse from Power Pole to get my jack plate working again. Other than that, smooth sailing. No getting stuck, no hitting submerged objects, and no freak equipment malfunctions.

So What Happened?

I practiced like a bum. That’s what happened. I hit some spots in practice and found a lot of fish. One area had fish that were the right length but as it turned out, were way too skinny to get me to the dance. I checked a couple and they weighed around 8 pounds, but I didn’t want to go all crazy and stick every fish I saw during practice. When I came back for tournament day, I was finding 7 pounders. They were 26 to 27 inches and looked like they had been starved.

A Fish from Practice

A Fish from Practice

I didn’t practice for more than 4 or 5 hours on any of our practice days for various reasons. A couple of the days I killed my trolling motor battery. One day a storm looked imminent and I took my boat out and called it a day. I took one day for boat and gear prep so that I wouldn’t have to stay up until midnight again before day one.

What I should have done, was buy an “on the go” charger for my trolling motor batteries during the month we had off after the Boomtown tournament. That would have kept me on the water longer during practice. The fact is, that if I wanted it bad enough, I should have come back, charged up, and headed back out again and practiced till dark. 3 spots will not last 3 days. 3 spots won’t last one day if you find that the fish are actually too skinny.

the skinny fish that I weighed in

the skinny fish that I weighed in

I also should have gone back out after the storm. Why didn’t I? Well, I’ve said it before, I love the social aspect of these tournaments and I ended up socializing instead of keeping my head in the game. I hate to say it, but I gotta keeps it real.

I should have taken advantage of every possible minute of practice time and dealt with the boat and my gear later.

Would it have made a difference?

Who knows. There were some big bags weighed in and there’s no guarantee that I would have found a better area or areas. The thing is, that I needed to find more than I had so that I could at least have given myself a chance. When you do everything that you can and it doesn’t work out, it’s much easier to live with. When you let something that you can control become a part of your demise, it’s not cool. I had control of my time and how I used it, and I didn’t use it well.

The Worst Part?

There are a couple of guys that have pulled in around $90,000 in winnings this year. I’m not so naive as to think that I would be at the top in my rookie year, but it would be nice to be on the board. I feel that things within my control have kept me out of the money more than once this year.

So What Now?

I’m going to do what I feel is right and dedicate a lot more time and energy to this sport. I’ve spent years of pure dedication to becoming a successful and respected fishing guide. I have to apply the same ethic and focus to my career as a pro angler. There are no handouts, and everybody has the same goal. There is only so much room at the top and competition is fierce.

That is why I have already started preparing for next year. We still have Galveston left as the last major tournament for 2015, but my eyes are set ahead of that. I’m moving forward in finding the right boat company for next season, working on an engine sponsorship, and putting all of the little things together so that when the 2016 Classic rolls around I have the right rig and equipment. Getting stuck, dead batteries, and broken line will be no excuse. I’ve gotten a taste and I know what it takes now.

I’m also taking steps to simplify my charter business so I can focus more on promoting myself and my sponsors. This year I’ve had as many as 4 boats to keep booked. If I’m going to focus on being a pro angler and not just a fishing guide, I have to be able to be more flexible with my time. I can’t have the stress of the business taking my focus off of the prize.

I have to work harder. Finding two or three spots won’t cut it. I have to practice till it hurts and come back when the street lights come on.

Some people say that you can’t make a living as a pro Redfish angler. If you can’t live off of $90,000 a year, God help you. People told me I couldn’t make a living as a fishing guide and that was the greatest favor they could have ever done for me. Proving them wrong was a lot of fun. Having something to prove again makes me feel good and I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

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TJ Cheek
TJ Cheek is a professional angler and fishing guide. Traveling from the east coast to as far as Texas, TJ represents the sport of saltwater fishing in all forms of media from print to video. TJ is also the Southeast Regional Director for the Recreational Fishing Alliance.
Posted in Blog, Just Talking, Tournament News.

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