When the 2011 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open at Lake Norman came to a close last year, I could only think about one thing. To be honest, I had no idea how much money I would get for winning.
All I knew was that I was going to be fishing in the 2012 Bassmaster Classic. I was barely able to cough up the entry fee to fish that Open. To say that I wasn't worried about money would be an understatement, but that was the last thing on my mind on the tournament’s final day. Fishing in the Classic was something I dreamed about since I was very young, before I took on motocross racing for 10 years.
I raced professionally from 2006 through 2009 when I finally gave it up due to a shoulder injury. It was back to fishing for me shortly after when I purchased my first bass boat in 2009. I had no idea what was about to take place in the next very short couple of years. To compete in tournaments for only two years and realize I would be competing in the "Super Bowl" of bass fishing was almost unthinkable.
After the Southern Opens, I set a goal to qualify for the Elite Series through the Northern Opens, and I managed to achieve it. I felt this allowed me to relax a little more while fishing in the Classic. I had more than just one chance to take a shot at the top anglers in the world.
I spoke with many of them throughout the year and most told me how difficult it was to keep focused at the Classic, that there is so much going on that it’s hard to think about the most important aspect, the fishing. I thought that was ridiculous. Man, was I wrong!
To get to the position that I'm in now is due to one thing, hard work; Countless hours of research and planning before, during and after events. Even though it didn't seem like it at the time, very little time was actually spent mentally preparing for what was about to take place once the tournament started.
Before the off limits, I spent two weeks on the Red River, and there isn't one place out there that my Ranger and I hadn't checked out. I felt my chances at doing well at the Classic were good, especially after winning a local tournament there during my pre-fishing trip. With all my hard work and planning, I firmly believed that few, if any, of the top anglers in the world would find the areas I had found. Yup, wrong again.
The first morning of practice couldn't come soon enough. I thought how perfect it was to be going to my best spot, and how I would soon be shaking off quality fish. After a long idle through one of the treacherous backwaters at the Red River, I got within sight of my first spot that I thought could produce quality fish.
The closer I got, something caught my eye. A red and black boat was sitting on my main area. It was none other than KVD! I fished around the area for a good while with only a few bites. KVD at that point was out of sight and I decided to move to another "secret" spot.
I was able to navigate into the small area on plane and shut down. I then looked to my left and guess who it was – KVD. At that point I was a little embarrassed, but I went about my business fishing in the area. He then left, and shortly after I did the same.
Still shaking my head in disbelief, I pulled into my third stop of the day and began to fish. I worked my way around the corner and … You guessed it. KVD. AGAIN!!
I quickly commented to him how I was sorry it appeared I was following him, but I really wasn't sure he believed me. He was very nice about it and assured me it happens all the time at the Red River. Feeling guilty, I told him where I would be going next and he said that he would see me there. It was definitely a funny experience and made me feel like I was practicing in the right areas.
The morning the tournament started, I analyzed and reanalyzed every possible scenario that could possibly take place, more so than in any tournament I’ve ever fished. I thought about the weather conditions and the boat pressure where I needed to go.
Deciding to lock down to Pool 4, I had a few minutes to fish before the lock closed, so I ran into McDade Lake to try for a keeper. I quickly missed my first bite but then landed a solid first fish. The next flip, I lost a 3- to 4-pound fish and then lost another within a few minutes. My mind went frantic.
My practice notes had nothing to do with anything McDade had to offer. I had written it off because I felt the area lacked quality fish, but here I was getting quality bites. I knew the next decision would make or break my Classic. Worrying about boat pressure and fishing time in my spot in Pool 4, I decided to stay in McDade. I second-guessed my game plan. My Classic was over right there.
I later began to think I could go to my spot on Day Two to try to move up in the standings. Later at weigh-in, I realized that Day One leader Keith Poche had claimed the area and that pretty much sealed the deal for me. I grinded it out in McDade on Day Two and tried to make the top 25 cut, which I fell short at 32nd.
I’ve learned quickly that fishing at this level is all about finding fish and then making the right decisions. I firmly believe that every person in the Classic field was capable of winning if they made the right calls. The reason why the same names keep reappearing at the top of the leaderboard is because they've learned when to zig when they need to zig and zag when they need to zag.
I’m still learning and one day I hope I’ll be able to make the right moves. There’s one thing that I learned from motocross racing that will stick with me for life. The best part of a climb to the top of a mountain isn't standing at the top. The best part is the journey along the way, even if it doesn't seem so at the time.
Congratulations to our new Classic champ Chris Lane and to everyone who did well at the classic! See you guys this year on the Elite Series.