Now that the 2013 Bassmaster Elite season is over, I'm looking forward to Toyota All-Star Week, Sept. 27-29. I fished the first postseason back in 2009, and this one's going to be very different.
Back then, the postseason counted toward to the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race; we were still fishing for points. This time — actually, beginning in 2011 — that's changed. The AOY race is over. I finished sixth, and I'm pleased with that, though it obviously would have been nice to do even better.
With points out of the way, the 14 anglers involved in the competition can focus on winning. It'll be like a miniature Bassmaster Classic — winner take all (though everyone gets a payday) — with a lot less pressure.
At this year's All-Star Week we'll be fishing Muskegon and White lakes in Michigan. I don't have a lot of experience there, but I'm looking forward to the challenge and hoping that I can find a way to fish my strengths. When I win a tournament, it's usually because I'm able to fish to my strengths.
What are my strengths? Well, I really love working soft plastics and jigs around shallow cover and structure. I also like throwing crankbaits around weedlines. I feel like I can do a multitude of other things well when I have to, but if I get on good fish doing those things, I always feel I have a chance to win.
After a couple of tournaments up north where smallmouth bass carried the day, you might be surprised to hear that I think largemouths are going to be more of a factor at the All-Star event. That's interesting for several reasons. First, it's a change after tournaments on the St. Lawrence River and Lake St. Clair. Second, because I left my boat and truck in Michigan, both full of smallmouth gear. I don't have a lot there that I plan to use in the tournament.
It's really not that bad, though. I do have some largemouth gear in my truck ... and I can ask my sponsors to ship some stuff to me in Michigan so it will be waiting when I arrive, but all that adds to the challenge of packing and preparing for an event. My plan is to get there a day early so I can rearrange and reorganize my tackle. Most of the stuff currently in the boat is going into the truck. I'll replace it with stuff from the truck and gear my sponsors send me. It'll take the better part of a day to go through everything and get it in the shape I want.
Fishing in this year's All-Star competition is going to be a lot more fun than I've had in recent years when I was watching things from home. Nothing against the Bassmaster.com coverage — it's great — but when you feel you should be out there competing, nothing less than that will make you feel better.
And I have to say that the voting element has been exciting. Seeing the fan favorites get voted into the tournaments is terrific. The problem from my perspective is that they're all great fishermen. Skeet Reese was making a run at AOY until he caught a bad break at the St. Lawrence. Brandon Palaniuk went on to win that tournament. Mike Iaconelli is fresh off a win at Lake Erie, and Gerald Swindle is strong everywhere we go. Add them to the mix of the top eight from this season plus the Classic champ (Cliff Pace) and the Rookie of the Year (Hank Cherry), and there are simply no weak links. The competition should be off-the-charts strong.
I've got my work cut out for me!