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Cole Sands holding a bass on Bassmaster Elite Series stage
As a rookie going into my first Bassmaster Elite Series season, I was super optimistic and excited to get started. After coming in almost last place at the first event, however, I realized that it was going to take a lot of hard work to compete at this level of competition.
Cole Sand battling a bass to the boat
Now that I am five events in and have made three top 50 cuts, I feel like I have finally gotten my groove back. At the start of the season, I let a lot of nerves get to me which in turn clouded my judgment when it came to making good decisions on the water. I was fishing areas too fast and not fishing the way I did when I was fishing the Bassmaster Opens last year.
While I made a top 50 cut at Seminole, I felt like it was at Santee Cooper where things started to click. I made on-the-fly decisions that just seemed to work out. This past week fishing at Lay Lake was the same way. I wasn’t on anything special, but just did what felt right and it ended up earning me my first Bassmaster Elite Series top-20 finish.
After a super tough three days of practice on Lay Lake, I realized there were fish in all stages of the spawn. On the first day of the competition, I drew an excellent boat number and took full advantage of it by starting on a group of bed fish in a little slough. I ended up weighing 11 lb 10 oz on the first day and had pretty much all of that weight in the first hour, and it had me sitting in 47th place.  My two setups were a Texas-rigged small creature bait rigged on a Witch Doctor Tackle 7’2″ medium heavy action Shaman series casting rod and 20-pound fluorocarbon, and then a FishCo double deuce wacky rigged on a 7’2″ medium action Shaman series spinning rod with 10-pound braid to a 10-pound fluorocarbon leader.
After exhausting most of my bed fish, I knew I had to make a change for day two. I decided to start on a shad spawn and it was a great decision. My first bite of the day was a 5 lb 10 oz Lay Lake giant that came winding a swimbait on a flashy swimmer through submerged coontail. I then caught a small keeper on a frog. After that, I proceeded to watch 20-plus pounds of bass blow up on my frog without a single one actually taking the bait, talk about frustrating! For both the swimbait and the frog, I used the same Witch Doctor Tackle 7’2″ heavy action Shaman series casting rod. I then made a move down the lake and snatched a 2 lb bass off a bed with a creature bait. I was able to fill out the rest of my limit skipping a wacky rig around docks where I was using Active Target to look under them to find bass guarding fry. I ended up weighing 12 lb 12 oz the second day which moved me up to 34th place.
On the last day of the competition, I tried starting on the shad spawn but due to a long fog delay, it was pretty much over by the time we started. I caught one small keeper on the swimbait and then decided to run down the lake to look for bed fish and fry guarders with my active target. I ended up catching two off-beds, one guarding fry, and then several skipping docks with a wacky rig. My final day weight was 12 lb 11 oz which moved me up to 19th place and my first Bassmaster Elite Series top 20 finish.

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