RIDGELAND, Miss. — After an extremely tough 2013 season, the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open on Ross Barnett was my last chance at making something happen. It was all or nothing.
This is my third year fishing in the U.S.A. on the Bassmaster Open circuit. My dream since I was 15 was to be the first Australian to fish against the best bass anglers in the world on the Bassmaster Elite Series and to eventually fish the Bassmaster Classic.
In 2010, after 10 years of competitively fishing in Australia, I sold everything I owned, saved for a year and made the move to the U.S.A. I devoted every second of the day learning these lakes and totally new species — largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass.
I was very lucky to have Fred Roumbanis take me under his wing and speed up my learning curve. Over the past three years, he has been a great mentor and friend. I watched Fred on ESPN for years. He was known in Australia as that bloke who won $100,000 on a frog.
In 2012, I fished the Northern and Central Bassmaster Opens, where I had a great year and almost fulfilled my dream. I missed the Elites by one spot — finishing ninth in the Central Opens points — just behind James Elam.
It was a crushing blow for me — coming so close — but it has only made me tougher mentally and has improved my fishing in every way.
I don’t think I was ready for the Elites. I knew another year of learning was needed, and after my 2013 campaign, I knew I was right.
This year was a lot different.
At every event, I came across situations that I hadn’t seen before and had a string of bad finishes. I got caught in a mental slump I couldn’t shake until the final Bassmaster Open of the year at Ross Barnett, where I finally put everything together and made a change.
I am faced with many hurdles and challenges every day in the U.S.A. while coming from Australia and adjusting to a totally new culture.
On the first day of the pre-fish for Barnett was no exception. News spread that one of the Opens anglers had been shot and killed that night trying to stop someone breaking into his boat. I didn’t know Jimmy Johnson, but I had seen him on the water and at the weigh-in on the Red River where he led the first day. I instantly felt saddened, like I had lost someone very close to me. I knew he was just one of us doing what he loved and he should have been out on the water that day fishing with us.
It was hard to stand up and make a cast while I tried to process the reality of what had happened. As a fisherman, I knew he wouldn’t want anyone to not fish.
It was an eerie day and a struggle on the water. Shivers ran up my spine as I made long casts, watching my frog fly through the air, thinking about Jimmy and how easily that could have been me checking on my boat.
There wasn’t another angler out there who wasn’t thinking the same thing. We all check our boats hundreds of times at night throughout the year.
Back at the ramp that night, there were groups of anglers crowded around their boats. I could hear the talk of what a great guy he was and stories being told of Jimmy Johnson.
As hard as it was the next day, I had to clear my mind and get to work. This was my last shot at a good finish before having to head back to Australia to work on the 2014 season.