Mark Tucker began the year with renewed confidence after finally overcoming an injury that had plagued him for the past two seasons.
"I've fished the last two years with a torn rotator cuff and a torn bicep," Tucker said after weighing 10-2 on the first day of this week's competition at Lake Dardanelle. "Last year at (Lake) Oneida, I couldn't even hold the rod."
The damage to the left shoulder and bicep, he believes, developed over years of pouring concrete for a living and lifting heavy weights even after giving up a 13-year stint as a body builder.
"I still trained like I was 20," Tucker said.
The pain took a heavy toll on his fishing, and he finished 67th in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points race.
"I couldn't set the hook," Tucker said. "I had to just reel up and hope the fish hooked itself. In practice, I'd try to keep the rod in my right hand and save my left arm for the tournament."
As soon as the 2008 season wrapped up, surgeons repaired the shoulder injury and removed the long head of that arm's bicep.
Recovery was tough, pretty much confining him to his house.
"I had never been in the hospital before. I had never had an injury that didn't heal itself," Tucker explained. "This traumatized me."
The prognosis was for a long recover.
"The doctor told me I couldn't train for 6 months," he said. "He told me it'll be a year before it's 100 percent."
Tucker pushed it, returning to the gym as soon as the pain subsided and quickly learned that he still needed healing time.
"I haven't been back in the gym since then," he said.
While he misses the workouts, Tucker was excited with how the surgery has helped his fishing.
"Now I can go out there and fish from daylight 'til dark, and I don't have to ice my shoulder down," he said. "I can do things that I want to do and not have to worry about it."
He said the experience is evidence of just how demanding tournament fishing can be.
"Physically, mentally, you just wear your body down," Tucker said. "You're up at 4, 5 o'clock in the morning and you don't go to bed until 10 or 11 that night. And people don't realize it, but holding that big old flipping stick with that big old jig is demanding."
He finished 16th at the opening stop of this year's Elite Series trail, and is in the top 50 of this week's Dardanelle event after the first day.
"It's meant everything to be able to go out there and fish," Tucker said. "Out here, it's all about confidence," he said. "If you're healthy, you feel good and you can go out there and do what you need to do."