I've been asked a thousand times how it feels to finally put a win on my résumé. I have to tell you it's more relief than it is excitement. I don't want to holler or dance. I want to lie down, relax and take a nap. It's a lot different from winning the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title or passing the million-dollar mark.
There have been a lot of close calls over the years — more than I care to count. It's like well, you know, here we go again. Only "again" didn't happen again. This time it ended different. This time I maintained my composure and put things together. It was weird, really, on Friday night and Saturday morning. I knew I was in first place with a solid — but not insurmountable — lead.
I also knew that I had guys fishing from behind who knew how to fish Florida waters. They're the kind of anglers who can beat you even if you have a good day. In a crazy way, that gave me comfort. There was no pressure. It wasn't anything like Smith Lake last year. I knew I could win there. I was expected to win.
So when I ended up in good shape on the last day, it was all pressure. It was like a massive weight on my back. I couldn't shake it lose. When things started going bad — really, I just lost a fish or two — I fell apart. It seemed like every mistake made the next mistake more likely. Pretty soon I was in that dark zone where negative thoughts rule your fishing and confidence is a thing of the past.
Once that happens, the mistakes never end. They rule your day. It's one stupid mistake after another. Those kinds of meltdowns are ugly. Everyone wants to know what happened. All you want to do is get away from it, but you can't. There's no explaining anything. Unless you've been there, it's hard to understand the pain.
Here it was different. I lost several big bass, but that didn't bother me. I shook it off by telling myself that I was catching 8-pound bass on a lipless crankbait. They're going to get loose. It's part of what that bait is all about. It's not me. It's the way it is with big bass and the bait I was using. It's no big deal. Go fish.
And I meant what I was saying. It wasn't like I was saying that just to say it but not really believing it — like I did on Smith. I knew inside me that it was true. Fate wasn't after the G-Man. My destiny wasn't to lose again. My destiny was what I made of it. I did get shook early on Saturday morning, though. I have to admit that.
My partner caught a 9-pounder on his second cast and another 9-pounder on his fifth cast. I hadn't had a bite. When I lifted the second bass into the boat, I wondered if this was going to be a repeat of all the other times.
Editor's Note: In part 2, Swindle tells how a fortuitous event in Framingham, Mass., helped him overcome those two big bass and win on Toho.