Coaches, chiggers and confounding fishing

I spent some time fishing with my friend Scott Drew this past week. Scott is the head coach of the Baylor Bears men's basketball team, and in April they won the NIT basketball tournament. Now, in the very early preseason for 2013-14, ESPN has them ranked 21st in the nation, so they're a strong program and Scott has done a great job.

If you don't know Scott, you couldn't possibly know what a serious bass fisherman he is, but I assure you he's a good stick. When his schedule permits, he fishes quite a few tournaments and is a regular at the Wednesday night pot tournaments in our area.

I mention my fishing experiences with Scott because thinking about them almost makes me laugh out loud. Scott's a college basketball guy who loves bass fishing. I'm a bass fishing guy who loves college basketball. Our conversations in the boat are like a ping pong match. I want to talk about basketball, and he wants to talk about fishing. If you were to listen in without knowing either of us, you might think we were in some sort of tug of war to change the subject.

And everything you've ever heard about college coaches being incredibly busy is true. Fishing during the season is absolutely out of the question for Scott. Even now, as he's planning Baylor's recruiting efforts, his phone seems to ring all the time. His caller list looks like a Who's Who of college basketball. Last time we were out, he took a call from the head coach of the University of Kentucky, John Calipari.

I also bring up my fishing experiences with Scott because there's a fellowship with bass fishing that brings people together and bonds them as friends when they otherwise might never meet. It's one of the things I love and appreciate most about our sport. Not only has bass fishing provided a career for me, but it's been the cornerstone of many of the friendships I've built in my life.

Changing gears just a little, I want to thank everyone who posted a chigger remedy in response to my last column. The itching and irritation is much better now, though I can't say I've discovered a cure just yet.

This week, I'm preparing for the rest of the Bassmaster Elite Series season. I'm doing some scouting for both the St. Lawrence River (Aug. 8-11) and Lake St. Clair (Aug. 22-25) tournaments. I've never been to the part of the St. Lawrence where we'll be launching, so that's a clean slate for me, and I have a lot of work to do to get ready.

With three tournaments left, I have to admit I'm a little surprised to be in fifth place in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race. After finishing 83rd at Bull Shoals, I didn't think I'd be in the hunt. Fortunately, I've had a very good season except for that tournament. I was eighth at the Sabine River, 13th at Falcon, 17th at West Point and fourth on the Alabama River. Add it all up and I'm 50 points behind Edwin Evers, who's having a tremendous season.

I'd be kidding myself — and you — if I said I thought I had a great chance of catching Edwin, but I'd be doing myself a disservice if I don't give everything I have to catch him. Realistically, a lot will have to happen for me to get into the race. I'll have to close out the season with three really strong finishes and Edwin will have to stumble. In addition to that, the anglers between me and Edwin — Ish Monroe, Kevin VanDam and Skeet Reese — will have to open the door a little so I can pass them, too, and those guys don't have many bad tournaments. So, like I said, it's a long shot, but I plan to do my part.

Thinking about AOY and looking back on the season, it's easy to see missed opportunities. When you realize how close the race can be, you understand that a decision to turn left instead of right or locating a key group of fish on Thursday instead of Friday can make all the difference. At the Elite level, you might be able to recover from a bad day and win AOY, but you probably can't afford a bad tournament.

The thing I'm going to remember about the 2013 season is how confusing it's been. The late spring and cooler weather really jumbled things up for us. Ordinarily, there's a pretty straightforward transition from winter to prespawn to spawn to postspawn, but not this year.

We caught the Sabine River during the prespawn. At Falcon, the bass were postspawn. The Bull Shoals bass were prespawn or in the earliest stages of spawning. At West Point, they were late in the spawn, and at the Alabama River they were postspawn. Our next stop will be the Mississippi River out of Wisconsin, and I won't be surprised if a lot of those bass are spawning when we get there. It's enough to make you dizzy.

Whoever wins AOY this year will deserve it! He'll have overcome some serious obstacles and strange fishing to win fishing's most prestigious title. That's probably the way it should be.

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