Stren Series Optimum Baits Pro Ronnie Watts looks back at his 2008 rookie

The year is over.  The boat is idle in the garage.  The years notes
and logs have been filed. Now it is  time to reflect on this past
tournament season.  The end of my first full year on the FLW Stren series
brings some satisfaction and some disappointments along with the obvious

Lake Seminole brought huge conditional changes and fishing was just tough
on everyone so with a middle of the pack finish, I was content.  Eufaula
and Pickwick went well Bringing good finishes and no second guessing while
Santee, my home lake, was a terrible disappointment.  Falling prey to the
home lake jinks, hole fishing rather than pattern fishing knocked me out of
the top 50 and mentally made it hard to recover from, but I did.

Throughout the entire regular season I saw myself being able to control
myself mentally.  The most important thing for me was being able to turn
nervousness before a tournament into excitement and anticipation.
Secondly, not being intimidated by fellow anglers was very important.  The
anglers in this trail are all good and most are very accomplished in their
areas of the country, not to mention that there are more than a few tour
pros and several local ringers at every event.  All are very nice and most
are easy to talk to making it easy to overcome the intimidation factor.
One thing is sure,  none of them care where you are from or what you have
done (fishing) back home.  They don’t want to beat you.  The want to
catch fish!!  It is never about who you beat, rather than how you fish.

You have to catch fish before you can do well.  Every tournament that had
gone poorly for me in the past has been ones that I did not catch fish
well.  Every good one I have had obviously came when I had a good pattern
and caught fish.  The problem came after the regular season.  Finishing
15th in the points and having a good chance at making it to the next level
left me not nervous, but very exited and ready for the Championship on
Table Rock Lake in Missouri.  Being from South Carolina, the years schedule
was good for me keeping me on lakes that historically fished the way I
like.  I am a power fisherman who loves stained river fed lakes.

Man was I in for a big surprise.  After doing the research for Table Rock and
listening to too much dock talk,  I was ready for practice.  As soon as I
saw the lake, I knew I was in trouble.  The lake was very clear and very
deep.  After spending some time close to 20 miles up towards the river
portion of the lake and thinking how similar it looked to the lower portion
near the take off area, I chose to stay close and maximize my time close.
Nearly two days of beating the bank with standard southern tactics produced
only a few keepers each day.  I thought the water was too clear to do the
“bank” thing so rather than do the same in another area of the lake, I
chose to step WAY out of my comfort zone.  Throughout my search in the
lower portion of the lake, I noticed a lot of bait on the graph down to 60
feet of water.  After seeing the bait and fish on the graph at the same
depth every time I crossed a ridge or a point, I decided it was time to
pull out the dropshot and 6 pound test line.

Keep in mind now that I am from Santee where the average depth is less than 8 feet.  “Dropshot” is
not in my vocabulary.  Another day of practice produced several spots that
would produce 10 to 12 pounds of smallmouth per day. Struggling to stay on
the bait with the graph and see my bait fall to the fish proved to be very
time consuming yet productive when I was able to do it.  Keep in mind that
these fish were from 40 to 60 feet deep.  Back home in South Carolina, if
you could find fish from 10 to 20 feet deep, they would be there when you
went back to them.  Looking at the weather forecast for the days of the
tournament brought even more excitement for me, calling for a large front
to come through.  Thinking the deep fish would be less affected by the
front I went back to them.  The front proved to be too much with the wind
it brought to us.  My bait that had been there for 3 days was suddenly
gone.  When I did find some, staying on top of them in 2 foot waves with a
3/8 oz dropshot rig proved to be too much.

I was instantly, the most uncomfortable person on the lake.  I had no clue how to relocate or
readjust.  I kept telling myself that if I were home, I could hit that
windy pocket and whack them good, but never tried it there because of the
water clarity, all the while, there were guys a little further up the lake
(30 miles or so) in a little more stained water that were catching them the
way we all like to fish.

They were cranking, jigging and even buzz baiting in shallow water.  Something that I refused to do because I was sure I
could catch them like people in typical highland lakes are supposed to
catch them.  Boy was I wrong.  After catching only two fish in two days, I
was left stunned.  The 18 hour ride back to South Carolina gave me plenty
of time to wonder what I had done wrong.  I had left my comfort zone.  I
had very little experience using the techniques I had employed for this
tournament.  Obviously, being a versatile fisherman and strengthening weak
point are keys to success in tournament fishing but the Stren Series
Championship was not a good place to try and learn new tactics.

I guess my most important lesson learned was to always strive to stay in your comfort
zone.  If you run into trouble, you have basically two choices.  You change
to techniques that you may not be very comfortable with but do know a
little about, or you find and area of the lake and maximize the potential
of that area staying in the comfort zone.  I do realize that sometime you
may have to do a lot of searching to keep you in that comfort zone but
that’s what practice is for.  In the meantime, at every opportunity, take
the time to familiarize yourself with styles and techniques that are your
weakest and before long, you will always be in your comfort zone no matter
what lake you fish.

I would like to thank my sponsors , Optimum Baits (,
Marshall’s Marine in Lake City SC ( Mercury Marine
and CutMaker Lures ( Without their support, I would
not have been able to accomplish nearly as much as I have.  With their
continued support, I WILL succeed and continue to grow in this sport.