He may have been away for two years, but he was never far away, and now that he's returning to BASS competition for the 2008 Bassmaster Elite Series, Mark Davis admits he's not only excited but also looking forward to the challenges he faces.
That may not bode well for his competition. After all, Davis is the only angler to hold the Classic championship title and Angler of the Year crown simultaneously. He qualified for this year's Elite tour by placing fourth overall in the 2007 Bassmaster Southern Open series. Had he placed third, he'd be in this month's Bassmaster Classic.
Davis won the 1995 Classic on North Carolina's High Rock Lake, climbing into the winner's circle after erasing a deficit of more than four pounds the final day. Overall, he's competed in 13 Classics, so he knows well the joy as well as the heartbreak the event can bring.
"Of course I'm disappointed not to have made the Classic," says Davis, long considered one of the most easy-going anglers in the sport, "but I'm also very happy to have qualified for the Elite Series.
"When I began fishing last year's Southern Opens, making the Bassmaster Classic was my only goal, and going into the final event at Lake Wheeler, I was in third. All I needed to do during that tournament was to catch one larger fish, but I didn't do it and missed the Classic by one position. That entire week I never caught a bass over three pounds, which seems hard to believe, but I never did, and only the top three qualified for the Classic.
"There is only one Classic. It's always been that way, and for anyone in our sport, it's easy to understand why just qualifying and competing in that event is every fisherman's goal."
Davis admits fishing the Opens was a different experience from what he's accustomed to, and that it is extremely difficult to consistently finish high, not only because of the skill of the anglers but also because of their own strong desires to move up into the Elite field.
"They're young, and they're hungry," Davis smiles, "but they're also very, very good. If the anglers I fished against last year represent the 'changing of the guard' for the future, all of us old-timers should be concerned."
For the record, he finished 6th at the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, 13th at Santee Cooper, and 19th at Wheeler.
The Elite schedule includes four bodies of water Davis has not previously fished — lakes Falcon and Amistad in Texas, as well as Erie and Oneida in New York. He hopes he can practice on each of them in advance.
"I know I'll fish on both Falcon and Amistad," he acknowledges, "but it may be July before I can get to Erie. One of the things I really like about the overall Elite schedule is that we're visiting many of the lakes during the postspawn season, which tends to fit my strength of crankbaiting.
"Of all the lakes we're going to, I'd have to say I'm looking forward most to fishing Amistad and Falcon because right now they're both such world-class fisheries, and Kentucky Lake, mainly because I've never fished it in June when it can be a really good crankbait lake."