I've been asked several times about the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race and what it means to me. The short answer is that the AOY title is my goal every year, no matter how many I win, don't win or have won. It's the most prestigious title in all of bass fishing. To win a fifth one would be an overwhelming honor.
A more realistic answer, however, is that it's too early to tell what's going to happen this year. I was in first place after two events but had a tough tournament at Wheeler — which really disappointed me because I usually do well there — and dropped into fifth place before my win at Smith Mountain. I'm back in the lead now, but that can change in a hurry.
Add to that the fact that the race is governed by a different format this year and you can see what I'm talking about. First, I'll have to be in the Top 12 after all eight regular season events to even qualify for the last two events. Again, that's my goal, and I'll do everything in my power to meet it.
But doing everything in my power doesn't mean it'll happen. The Elite Series is a tough, competitive environment. Winning is never a given at this level. Any one of the guys fishing is capable of a win.
Let's face it; you never know what might happen. I mean, look at Wheeler. Three of us got food poisoning, and it really affected our performance. My last day was miserable. I was sick as a dog. I'm not making excuses. I'm simply stating a fact.
And assuming I do finish in the Top 12, we don't know where the final tournaments will be held or when they'll be held. That's tough. We don't know any more than the fans know at this point. All any of us can do is our best.
It's going to be more important than ever this year to be at the top of your game toward the end of the season. Having a few good tournaments early might help you qualify for the final AOY events, but it won't help you win when all the marbles are on the line.
That doesn't bother me, though. That's pretty much the way I've always approached this sport anyway. I concentrate on every day of every tournament — one at a time. I always do the best I can no matter where I'm at in the standings, up or down makes no difference to me as far as my effort is concerned. That's the only way I know how to fish.
The truth is none of us knows what the future holds with AOY. We'll do the best we can, when we can. When everything is said and done, it's all about the attitude anyway.