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Dec. 16, 2010
Hotel room decisions
I headed to south Louisiana last week to get ready for the Classic. I had been for a couple of days before, but, quite frankly, it was so cold I cut my first trip short and rescheduled. It wasn't worth hypothermia — not yet anyway. I learned a lot of things in the bayou that you don't learn from books and charts and history, even recent history of fishing tournaments in that part of the country. Sometimes you've just got to see things firsthand, and boy did I ever. Of all the things I learned about the waters of south Louisiana and how they will affect the upcoming Classic, this is the most important: This Classic is not going to be won with on-the-water skill. It won't matter how good you can catch them or how effectively you adapt to your surroundings after the tournament starts. That's usually the case, but not this time. This Classic is going to be won in the hotel room — the final decisions you make back in the room before you get on the water will determine your fate. I was talking with Kevin VanDam last night, and he made the same observation. So last week I spent three days in a stick cabin in the middle of a bayou taking a look at some of the terrain (so to speak) that I would be navigating in and around if I choose to take a long boat ride from New Orleans and go more than 100 miles to the southern tip of the Mississippi. Fascinating. I learned that there will be several choices to make. One is kind of obvious, and that involves weather. A critical element will be how much fog you're going to run into. When it starts warming up and that warmth hits the cold water, there's absolutely going to be fog. So will there be enough fog to be a factor? I don't know. In that regard, one scenario guys will have to think about is whether it's worth it to travel more than 100 miles only to get five miles from the area you're targeting and run into a fog bank that won't lift. You just lost an hour and a half getting there, and then you're stuck. Going right along with the problem of fog is the possibility of debris. There's lots of it. There are 20 million oil heads in the marshes down there. Some of them are old. There are wooden structures that Katrina just blew all to hell, so you never know what you're going to run up against in terms of obstacles. On top of that, some of the channels you'll be driving through are no wider than two boat widths. So what do you do if you run into a fog and you just can't see to run? I'll tell you what you do: nothing. There's a good chance of breaking something you don't want to break. I was kind of surprised when I went down toward Venice on my earlier trip. I stayed in a motel that was between an old refinery and an industrial storage yard. I kind of expected a few fish camps, but that's not the environment I found. I know I said in an earlier blog that I was pretty certain I would be fishing in the Venice area. Now I don't know. It goes back to hotel room decisions. You sure don't want to make the wrong choices, especially on the first day. You could turn right when you should've gone left, and there goes the Classic. Now I have no idea what I'm going to do. I've got until February to think about it, but, even then, I'll be making some decisions in the hotel the night before we launch.
December 9, 2010
Dear Kevin Short — I agree with you
I saw where Kevin Short responded to a blog I wrote several weeks ago, back when I had not yet talked with anyone "local" about what it's like now fishing below New Orleans — the water we're going to fish in the Classic. The purpose of that blog, and I hope this was apparent, was to give readers an inside look at what really goes on with big-time tournaments. So, I wrote openly and honestly about the fact that I was late getting local help for the Classic and was having trouble finding a knowledgeable person to help answer questions that I couldn't answer through traditional research. To prove how willing I was to accept advice, I even offered my Web site's e-mail address. And I stand behind what I wrote. Kevin took a little bit of issue with the fact that I said "we all" get help. He said he doesn't get help anymore, and I should not have said "we." Well, OK, sorry about that. I'll refrain from using "we" in the future. However, I will say that "almost everybody" gets help. But let me address another thing that Kevin said, because he made a great point. He said he would be happy if we, the pro anglers, could receive no information at any time about the bodies of water we're going to fish. No help from locals, in other words. I agree with that 100 percent. I think a "no help rule" would be outstanding — a great thing for our sport. In fact, I said something similar to that this past season when we had our Elite Series tournament at Fort Gibson Lake. You might recall that in June we were scheduled to compete on the Arkansas River, but flooding made the river unmanageable. So, BASS moved the event at the last minute to Fort Gibson Lake, where practically none of us (except Tommy Biffle and a few others familiar with the lake) had practiced or gotten local information. We had, essentially, one full day to get ready. Here's what I said in that blog: "…We'll be fishing on a body of water we haven't prepared for. Tommy Biffle and a few others from around here know this water, but for the most part, all the pre-practice everybody had done on the Arkansas River is down the drain. There is no local help; there are no waypoints to rely on. It's just old-fashioned fishing. I like it. I'm confident. Great anglers can catch them when they have to…" And great anglers did catch them. The Top 12 at Fort Gibson was an impressive bunch, including Skeet Reese, Kevin VanDam, Gary Klein, Mike McClelland, Davy Hite — a lot of familiar names, in other words. I finished 12th. It's also important to note that Tommy Biffle won the event. So I'm with Kevin Short on the "no help" suggestion. As difficult as such rules would be to enforce, I think it would be great if local help was off-limits, and I'd be willing to bet that most pro anglers feel the same way. Unfortunately, those are not the rules. And since the rules allow us to get help, it makes sense to me that I should gather as much information as I can. As all pro anglers know, a great deal of that information doesn't help in the long run. Some of it, however, is good. I look at it this way: If a football coach happened to believe in his heart that the game would better and fairer if you only had three downs to make a first down, instead of four, I doubt seriously that the coach would punt on third down just as a matter of principle. He's going to use every tool in his box. BASS allows us to get help preparing for tournaments. Most everybody gets help. I'll keep doing it, even though I think our sport would be more fair and interesting if local help were off-limits.
December 2, 2010
What goes around comes around
I'm heading to the Louisiana Delta tomorrow to fish. It's going to be my first look at the water for the Classic. I'm going to take a look at where I'm going to fish, and I don't mind saying that right now it looks like that's going to be in the Venice area. Getting to Venice will be a challenge because it's probably 110 miles or so of water travel to get there from where we launch below New Orleans. It'll be quite a trip, and a good part of the battle — if that's where I wind up fishing — will be getting there. But that's another story. As I'm rustling around trying to get my act together so I can leave, I'm thinking how odd the past few weeks have been getting ready for the Classic. Some of you might remember that I wrote a blog a few months ago about how much trouble I was having getting local information, the kind of information you don't get from Internet study and history. I mentioned that I needed help, and I got a lot of offers. Well, I can't begin to tell you how grateful I was for the response I got from that blog. People from all over volunteered to give me advice. I got e-mails and phone calls. Some people offered direct help; others said they knew someone who could talk with me. I appreciate every offer, and I hope I have the opportunity to get back to everybody that got in touch. In the end, here's what happened — and what happened is an example of another thing I've written about in the past, which is how close-knit a community our sport is. The guy that hooked me up with some local help is Tom Hamlin, an angler I met in 2002. I met Tom in the worst way an angler can meet someone. He beat me out of a spot in the Classic. It was the first year I had fished the Opens, and I pretty much had a Classic spot locked in going into the last event of the season. I had won one tournament, and I finished strong in another one. All I had to do was finish in the top 20 or so in the last tournament, and I would have a Classic berth. Tom Hamlin came out of nowhere on the last day. We were fishing on Lake Martin, a lake I know like the back of my hand. Going into the last day Tom was something like 25th. I wasn't even looking at him. I fished conservatively, and I thought I did what I had to do to secure the Classic spot. I finished 11th or 12th. But on that last day Tom came out of nowhere with a giant bag. And he shot right up to the top. When it was over, he beat me out of a Classic spot by two points. That probably didn't amount to more than an ounce or two. A whole season was over, and I lost by two points to Tom Hamlin. Funny thing is that the Classic Tom qualified for was in New Orleans. It was the Classic that Iaconelli won (2003). It would have been my first one. Instead, it was Tom Hamlin that fished. Since then, Tom and I have become friends. And now — this year, when I needed help — Tom Hamlin is the guy that stepped up. He introduced me to a fellow who's going to give me some south Louisiana advice. I'm meeting him tomorrow. It's interesting how things come back around.
November 18, 2010
Two's company ... except when it's a crowd
I've been at Pickwick Lake fishing in the Ultimate Match Fishing competition. As you might suspect, I can't say a word about how that worked out for me. In fact, I can't even say whether I'd like to disclose what happened. All I can say is that I was there with a great field of anglers for a show that will air sometime in the first half of 2011. I can say that the fishing at Pickwick was good. The weather was nice — highs in the 60s most days and even warmer for a day or two. There were a lot of 2- and 3-pounders, but not much in the way of big fish. It was competition with high stakes, but in a sense, it was a kind of relaxing time. Pickwick was busy on the weekend with a couple of local tournaments, but it was not crowded during the week. We had to deal with an interesting water change while we were there. In a matter of two to three days, the water level dropped a couple of feet, and it changed the dynamic. Several good flats and grassbeds became muddy fields. We had to re-find them. One other thing I can say about the UMF event is that, in one sense, it was like the Elite Series when we fish a tournament on a busy lake. We not only dealt with changing water, but those of us who fished on the weekend also dealt with a lot of boat traffic. And that's a double-edged sword. We're always happy to see a lot of anglers on the water because it means our sport is popular. At the same time, it offers a specific challenge when you work hard to find fish — and you're successful — then when you go to compete, you find a local angler is sitting right on your spot. We try to be polite, but it's not always the easiest thing to do when we're involved in a competition with high stakes. It's a delicate situation. One angler in this Ultimate Match round was particularly frustrated because of this phenomenon. As he pointed out to me, it's even more glaring in Ultimate Match, because you only have about two hours where you really control your destiny. This angler (I'll try to remember to come back to this story after UMF airs) had a spot he knew could win the match for him. The fish were there, but a local angler was parked on the spot during the morning and afternoon rounds. What do you do? Well, you usually leave the spot alone for a while. If the local angler won't move, you often try diplomacy on the second and third passes. We all have stories. This same angler had an interesting situation a few years ago. He was in the Classic, and he found a sweet spot. He went straight to the spot on the first morning and a local angler greeted him by holding up two 5-pounders, one in each hand. "You're going to like it right here," he said. "They're really biting good."
November 11, 2010
Off to another novelty gig — Ultimate Match Fishing
After a really cool week at the Fish and Chips tournament in Oklahoma (where my partner Sean Schuyler and I finished sixth), I'm headed for another of the novelty tournaments that we have in our sport: Ultimate Match Fishing. UMF is a product of Joe Thomas and the Outdoor Channel. If you've never seen it, it is match-play fishing. Two guys are in the same boat; one controls the boat for two quarters, the other guy controls for the other two. There is a line drawn through the middle of the boat outward to infinity, and if you cast in front of that line, you incur penalty points. One of the objects, obviously, is to position the boat where you can catch fish while the other guy has nothing to work with. Making things even tougher for the guy in the back is the fact that there is a camera boat and a referee's boat lurking behind, so the back guy really doesn't have much room to fish. I've been a competitor on UMF twice. I won in 2007, and I made the semifinals in 2008, so I guess my record is 6-1 in these head-to-head matches. I like fishing UMF. In some ways, it's the most pressure you can face on the water because one quarter is only an hour and a half long — and that includes driving time. I'll be in control for only two quarters, so that means that, including the time it takes to get to my spots, I'll have about two hours to catch enough fish to win. Fishing the Classic is incredible pressure, but at least you're not condensing your time on the water to three hours. I wish I could tell you who's fishing and where we're going to be, but contractually we just can't do that because these shows are not going to air for several months. I probably can say two things, though. First, it's the strongest UMF field I've ever seen. Twelve superior anglers are in this group. The second thing I can say is that my first-round opponent is one of my Duckett Fishing pro staff members, and he's a good one. I'm obviously excited that there will be white Duckett fishing rods in that first round and that one of us is going to advance.
November 4, 2010
'Fish and Chips' and elections
I mentioned last week that we've got a bunch of anglers in Oklahoma for the Fish and Chips tournament. I'm writing this blog on Thursday morning before the Texas Hold 'Em tournament starts. We've been practicing for a few days, and now it's time to start bluffing. We play poker today and fish tomorrow. It should be a good time. This tournament is actually the first of two fun events that will be happening in the next couple of weeks. After I finish here, I'm headed to an undisclosed location in the Southeast to take part in a new series of Ultimate Match Fishing, the one-on-one match-play tournament that the Outdoor Channel hosts. We've got a great field in that tournament as well. I've competed in two Ultimate Match Fishing tournaments, and I won the first one back in 2007. What makes that tournament fun is the format, where you have two anglers in the same boat. If you've never seen it, one angler has control of the boat for two quarters, while the other angler takes over for the other two. You not only have to catch fish, but you also have to keep the other guy from catching them out of the back of the boat. Trust me when I say it's nothing like fishing an Elite Series event. Our Elite Series tournaments are big-time, first-class operations, and you have to be on your game physically and mentality all the time. The Ultimate Match Fishing events are mind games of a different kind. Greg Hackney's a great angler, but I don't think he's ever really forgiven me for some of the crazy stuff I pulled on him in 2007. You get penalized for casting in the other guy's water. I don't know what made me do it, but I threw into Hackney's water a couple of times and took penalty points just to try and throw him off his game. Like I said, it was a fun event. I wonder if I'm going to draw Hackney again in the first round. Before I go into the next part of this blog, let me assure you that I know B.A.S.S. is going to edit this part. (Editor's Note: Not true!) They will put one of those disclaimers at the bottom that says the opinions expressed in this blog are only mine. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of B.A.S.S. (Editor's Note: OK, that's true!) But here's the deal. Everybody who knows me knows how outspoken I can be about what's going on in Washington. Tuesday we had elections. The overall result was a victory for the people, I think. Before you get the idea that I'm die-hard Republican, let me say that's not exactly right. I'm all about making life better for small businesses, but I'm not strictly Republican. In fact, I have a big problem with what's happened to American people because of what happens in Washington. That's especially been true the past 20 years or so. I believe that whether they're Democrats or Republicans, every last one of them gets fat up there. Too many of them are corrupted by the power. I have a buddy in the Midwest that was working to get a conservative Democrat elected to Congress. He kept telling me that I would like this guy because he's pro-business and he's in politics for the right reason — to see if he can prop up American businesses and get Congress to reduce the national debt. I told him, well OK, I'll take his word for it. But I also kept telling him that it doesn't matter. You watch. If he gets elected, he'll go to Washington and the power will go to his head. The bottom line is that I'm happy about Tuesday night's elections, because we elected a lot of new people in the House that aren't part of political machines. I believe these new people will hold Congress accountable. That's good, because all forms of accountability left a long time ago. I guess now we'll wait and see. And, oh yes, these are just my opinions. Note: The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual commentator and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of B.A.S.S. or any of its affiliates or employees.
October 28, 2010
BASS changes, 'Fish and Chips' and a Swindle story
Two things are jumping out as I write this blog. The first is the changes that BASS announced for the Bassmaster Classic and the Elite Series. On the surface, the changes don't seem all that big — just different. But the more I look at it, the more I think it's going to have a significant impact on the structure of our sport. It's certainly going to bring more of a cross-section of anglers to the Classic. I'll be seeing a bunch of the anglers during the next few weeks. I'm curious how everybody is looking at the fact that only the top 28 anglers in the points will make the Classic. It also places a premium on winning events. I'm going to think about this a little. Right now, I'm not sure what to think. The second thing that I've been thinking about this week is less weighty and more fun. It's the Fish and Chips tournament coming up on Grand Lake and the Downstream Casino in Oklahoma. It's an interesting concept combining fishing and Texas Hold 'Em. What you do at this tournament is play with a partner, both fishing and in a poker tournament. You combine your scores in both events and see who wins. A lot of the guys in the bass business like poker. Rick Clunn, specifically, has really gotten into it. He's an intellectual guy, and I understand he's pretty good. He's played in a bunch of tournaments. I also believe Byron Velvick plays a good bit and is pretty good. You'd think I'd know that for certain since he's part of the Duckett Fishing group, but I'm not sure. Whether he's good or not, I'll probably try to pick up some tips from him. But I know Byron, and he might lead me astray, so maybe I ought to stay away from him. I haven't played a lot of poker. I haven't gotten to the point where I can look at my hand and automatically figure out the probabilities of what the other guy has. So my strategy is going to be pretty simple. I'll be an inconsistent bettor — just try to confuse them. That'll teach 'em. They won't know what I'm going to next. Good strategy, huh? I was thinking about who might be a good poker player on our tour. When you think about it, there are probably a bunch of them — as much lying and bluffing as we do with each other. We've also got some guys who don't give out a lot of information, and I bet they'd be good at poker. Take Denny Brauer, for example. He's a good guy, but he's quiet, and you never know what he's thinking. I'll bet he's a heck of a card player. Anyway, it ought to be fun. And speaking of fun, Gerald Swindle is going to be our entertainment at the dinner on Wednesday night. If you know anything about Gerald, you know he's a funny guy. He's good at standup comedy. I think it was a tournament at Table Rock one time when we were all pitching at docks. And, just like baseball pitchers, sometimes you have an off day and just can't hit your target. Gerald was pitching and he was clinking the dock so often that when he came off the water, he said, "I just left my insurance card on the dock."
October 14, 2010
Branson and Table Rock: Like Nashville and Percy Priest
I'm at Table Rock this week fishing a PAA tournament. We're just outside Branson, Mo., and it's funny how many memories are coming back. The memories aren't about Table Rock exactly. They're about Nashville, because Branson looks a lot like Nashville looked 20 to 25 years ago when I lived there. I don't know how many people reading this blog are aware of it, but I used to be in the country music business. I had a music publishing company called API (Affiliated Publishers, Inc.). We had a spinoff group called Songwriters Ink. Those were just two of the Nashville music outfits I was involved with. It was a great time. I was driving through Branson last night, and Gary Klein was with me. I was telling Gary what an odd feeling this was. Branson feels like Nashville felt, for a couple of reasons. There are all the music houses, for one thing. A lot of Nashville stars have opened theaters here. When you drive down the road and see Ray Stevens and the Presleys with theaters (I remember those two immediately because we passed them about the time I thought about writing this blog), it looks like Nashville did. Nashville is a little different now. Opryland is closed. There used to be all the shops and clubs, like Boots Randolph's on Printer's Alley, and all the music business that went on on 16th and 17th Avenue. It's still Nashville, but it just doesn't quite have the feel it once did. Nashville is still the business center of country music, but a lot of the live music has moved away to places like Branson. Another thing that made me think how similar Branson is to the way Nashville was is the fact that there's a great fishing venue right nearby. Branson has Table Rock. In Nashville, it was Percy Priest. Table Rock is a good lake. It's got some cliffs and deep water, and it reminds me of Percy Priest. We had some great fishing on Percy Priest when I was there. I did a lot of night fishing with Frank Dycus and Dean Dillon and Joe Stampley and John Anderson. Those guys loved to fish. I remember how every Friday night after the Opry was over, Porter Waggoner would go night fishing on Percy Priest. In fact, I don't think Porter Waggoner ever missed a night fishing tournament. It was a good time, but it was years ago. This week we're on Table Rock. I hope I can catch them here the way I used to catch them on Percy Priest.
October 7, 2010
It's a year-round sport
The other day a friend of mine said, "Well, I guess you're glad to be done with the tournaments this year. Now you can take some time off." I said, "Yes, time to relax for awhile." Well, no, not really. That was a tongue-in-cheek response. You wouldn't think this is an especially busy time of the year for pro anglers, since we're basically done with 2010 tournaments. There are a few exceptions. I'm fishing a PAA tournament next week at Table Rock, and a lot of anglers will be competing at the Fish and Chips tournament in Oklahoma, for example. But we're definitely winding down, and we've been out of the Elite Series pressure for months. "Winding down" means there is less pressure on pro anglers in some ways. We don't have to be concerned week-in and week-out about whether we're prepared to compete at the next body of water or whether all of our equipment is in good shape and our travel arrangements are made. We don't have that kind of pressure. So we all take a little down time away from fishing. Not much, but you have to take a little because fishing is no different than any other profession. Sometimes you need to get away from it for awhile to recover your mental focus. With that said, being a pro angler is definitely a year-round job. And now is the time that a lot of Elite Series anglers will be traveling across the country checking out venues that we'll be fishing next year. The anglers that made the Classic will need to spend time around New Orleans, even though the personality of the water and the bite will be completely different in February than it is now. It's kind of like this: As many of you might know, I used to play music on the side. Mostly country. But I had a partner, and we would play at bars around the state. And I can assure you that when you're playing music in front of a crowd, you're way more relaxed and confident singing something you know well than you are performing music you've only practiced a few times. Even worse would be trying to do a song cold. I'm not good enough to do much of that. It's the same principle in sports. If I were a golfer and I qualified for the first time for the Masters, I would want to go to Augusta National, walk around the course and take it all in, even if playing was off limits. You learn things. Between now and the end of the year, Elite Series anglers will be spending time at West Point and the Arkansas River and the other water that is on our 2011 schedule. Familiarity generally makes people comfortable, and the more time we spend on competitive water, the more familiar we are with the creek beds and coves and channels that give up some good bites later. I know that I would dearly love to spend a couple of weeks in Florida, so I could get more familiar with what we're going to see again at the start of the 2011 season. But because of business obligations, I probably won't be able to do it. And speaking of business, the business of being an Elite Series angler is the main thing that keeps this time of year from being relaxing. During the next few months, in addition to sneaking in some fishing, we've got to secure our business deals with sponsors or we won't be competing on the tour. Our anglers will struggle for the next few months to secure as many sponsorship dollars as possible, because every dollar counts. I know that a lot of pro fishing fans look at our boat wraps and think we might be swimming in sponsorship money, but that's just not the case. Every recognizable company in the world gets hit with thousands of advertising and sponsorship pitches every year. We have to compete for a limited amount of sponsorship dollars. Companies want to spread their message to as many venues as possible, so the reality is that there aren't many high-dollar deals for pro anglers. There are a few, but not many. To us, it's a great profession, but it's also a business. And right now, most anglers in our field are out there selling themselves and our tour in an effort to attract new sponsors to the sport.
September 30, 2010
Change — The angler's enemy
I'm doing this blog literally on the water at the Toyota Texas Bass Classic at Lake Conroe, Texas. The first thing that came to my mind as I started this is that I know why I'm a bass fisherman. I've been so busy at work recently that it seems I haven't stopped working in weeks. The economy is getting better, so my tank leasing business is going as good as it could go, and Duckett Fishing is selling more rods than I ever thought we would at this time. Business is good right now, but that means there's not a lot of time for what really matters. Fishing really matters. So here I am on the water, and I'm just thinking that I like this a lot better than being in the office. This is good. Finding fish is a challenge though. This tournament has a lot of the best anglers in the world, but no matter how good we are it's hard to find fish in the South in September. It's a transitional time. September means change. When we came here it was in the nineties, and today on the water it was 79 degrees. The weather is changing, the water temperature is changing, the oxygen level is changing, and the feeding patterns are changing. The fish are starting to feed, but the bait is scattered. For awhile they're in open water and the fish go out there with them; then you might find a bass in a foot of water. A lot of bass are following shad schools around, so you have to chase them. They also get funky because the water temperature is falling. You don't know what's going to happen next. Change is the enemy of the bass fisherman. It doesn't matter to us if it's 42 degrees or 92; if it's consistent, we'll catch the fish. But here, every day will be different. I'm sure guys will get on a pattern; I had one yesterday. But it was gone today. The pattern I found yesterday had me all fired up. I was on to something. But it was gone today. This should be interesting.
September 23, 2010
Change is on the way
In the fall of 2007, I was fortunate enough to win the Bassmaster Legends tournament in Arkansas. I didn't really think too much about it at the time, but it was the end of an era for BASS. It was the last "major" tournament — but that wasn't really what made it the end of an era, because the majors were only around for two seasons. What made it the end was the fact that the next year saw downsizing in BASS' top tournament trail. The majors disappeared and the year after that (2009), the Elite Series season was shortened from 11 to eight events. The pressure mounted on pro anglers to secure more sponsorship dollars. Those were a few things Elite Series anglers faced. I don't want to sound like I'm griping, because that's not what this blog is about. What I'm talking about is the reality of what happened in 2008. Two big things happened, and I understand both of them. One, the economy in this country had gone south, and that forced businesses and anglers to re-think their commitments. And two, bass fishermen who wanted to keep fishing, from the local tournament angler all the way up to the Elite Series pros, were going to feel the economic pain. It's tougher to be a pro angler now, but it's also tougher for equipment manufacturers to produce products and for working guys to buy boats and rods and bait. And it will be years before we get back to where we were 10 years ago. When it comes to ESPN's relationship with BASS, I've talked about this to people, and I've tried to explain that what I'm about to say is nothing against ESPN. I think ESPN has been good to us and for us. We've gotten a level of exposure through ESPN that we might not have ever reached otherwise. ESPN helped us go from one level of popularity to another. Ray Scott did that for bass fishing back when he started BASS. And when ESPN bought BASS in 2001, it created another upswing in attention that we needed. But the bottom line regarding ESPN and BASS is that ESPN started moving in other directions. We had, and still have, air time for our tournament trail, but there's not whole lot left for us with ESPN, compared to where we were in 2007. And so, in 2010 it came to a head, and the next round of changes for our business started. ESPN is in the process of selling BASS, and soon, in some respects, we'll be starting over. Change like this makes people at the competitive level a little antsy. What's going to happen? The good news in all of this is that BASS has been bought by a group that includes Jerry McKinnis, a person who has been in the middle of our sport for a long, long time. Jerry understands our business, and he sure as heck knows the creative side of our business. Even more important, Jerry is passionate about our sport and our industry, and I can't think of anyone more interested in seeing our sport thrive. So changes are coming, but that's not necessarily bad. We'll see what happens. Note: The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual commentator and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of BASS, ESPN Outdoors, its parent or any of its affiliates or employees.
September 16, 2010
Story leads to offers of help
Last week I wrote a blog that I intended to be nothing more than informational. I wanted to share what it's like to be in the competitive world of pro fishing. I put information out there that I thought would help people see what we, as anglers in the Bassmaster Classic and on the Elite Series trail, go through to try and win tournaments of that magnitude. The Classic is big, and it's fun in many ways. It's also tough. In the blog I admitted that we all need help, and I described how I wasn't able to get any because it was beginning to look like I came too late to the party. I won a Classic a few years ago, and I won it because I'd spent a lot of time studying and learning on the lake — Lay Lake in that case. I also have won a few other tournaments away from my home territory, and I won those because I not only studied and learned the territory, I had some good advice from local anglers who knew the lay of the land better than I did. It's part of preparation. You talk with people. I thought it would be interesting and kind of funny to share what was happening to me because I let too much time go by before I was able to start gathering facts for the 2011 Classic in New Orleans. I've read, studied, and looked at about every Internet site you can look at to help me start getting ready. But I just couldn't find any local help. Every local guide and tournament angler seemed to have made a commitment to help somebody else. I started late because I've been really busy with other projects. Like most people reading this blog, I've got a job, and right now work has been my first priority. So, I just told it like it was. I was late. I seemed to be out of luck, but I found out the week after the blog ran that I wasn't really completely out of luck. Help was on the way. A couple of years ago I wrote a story on my Web site about how anglers are a fraternity. I said that I would guarantee you that if a bass angler's car broke down on the side of the road, another bass angler would be along pretty soon to help. That's just the way we are. Even at Elite Series tournaments, we scrap like crazy on the water, and we hold our secrets close. But after the day is done, we got out to eat and drink together, and we congratulate each other. If a fellow angler is down on his luck, chances are he'll get nothing but encouragement from the same people that a few hours before were trying to beat him. I saw an example of that spirit again this week. E-mails started coming in within hours after last week's blog was posted on Bassmaster.com. First, there were a couple, then it almost seemed like they were pouring in. I've gotten no less than eight to 10 a day. I got them through my Web site address and through Duckett Fishing's e-mail address. I've even gotten a couple through my e-mail address at Southern Tank Leasing, the tank trailer business I own. Every message — I mean every last one — is nice and helpful. They've come from Texas and Arkansas and all over the Southeast. The messages are all unique, but the sentiments are the same. The people writing either have offered to help or have served up a name of someone that knows the Mississippi River and the delta waters well enough to give me some guidance. I want to say I'm surprised, but when I think about it, I guess I'm not all that surprised at all. I can't even begin to describe how strong the fishing fraternity is, and I'm really proud to know that I'm part of that fraternity. I've been traveling most of the past week, so I haven't had much of a chance to write notes back to the people who responded. I'll get there. If you wrote, I'll be in touch with you to say thanks for your concern and your offers to help. And I'll be following up on the suggestions. And now I can also say that I think it's going to be a great Classic.
September 9, 2010
A behind-the-scenes Classic story
I was thinking the other day about the importance — when I'm writing this blog — of giving an honest look at what goes on in the world of pro anglers. We talk about fishing experiences and our lives, and I've tried to do the best I can to offer some insight about tournament struggles, other experiences on and off the water and about the business world that I work in. But I was also thinking that there are a few things we don't often talk about, and one of those things is coming into play as I start preparation for the Bassmaster Classic. This thing we don't talk much about has been on my mind because I'm dealing with a problem right now that has to do with the Classic. Here's my problem: I can't get help. I want somebody to talk to me about the water we're going to fish in the Classic, because the Louisiana Delta is a huge body of water, and it's almost impossible to figure out without some guidance. We all get help, but the well looks dry. Getting help is part of most sports. Every golfer has had a coach; every good hitter has a batting instructor. And, in our world, we need help when it comes to tournaments. We need it because we can't spend a lot of time at any one lake or river, so we like to pick the brains of the people who know the waters well. Local guides, local successful anglers, folks like that. We can't do that during the last few weeks before a tournament, but we can do it now. And it makes sense to go after it. Take the Mississippi River and the delta it flows into, for example. I'd like to talk with someone who could tell me that a 17-mile channel is not worth wasting my time with, because maybe there's been a chemical spill and the fish aren't there anymore. I'd like to have someone let me know that the fish are small on a certain creek because there's a heavier salt content in the water. Things like that. All I want it s starting point. I just want to know things like how to run my boat without beaching it. As you probably figure, you can only learn so much on practice week. So we go get help. I've done everything I can do on the Internet. I've looked at the water, mapped it out. I've looked at weights from past tournaments at every level. I've charted what the water temperatures should be at that time of year. I've looked at the moon phases. Everything you could get from reading, I've done it. But as far as getting live, really important local help, well, it looks like I'm too late. I've talked with all kinds of guides and local anglers, but everybody's committed to another angler. If I've heard it once, I've heard it a dozen times: "Hey, I'd seriously love to help you, but I'm already helping ..." I'm a late shopper, and everything's been bought. (By the way, that's just a figure of speech.) But, seriously, I did again this year what I seem to do at the end of every season, which is get so wrapped up in work that I have to scramble to catch up in my fishing career. And this year it's killing me. The Classic field sucked up all the guides. I feel like everybody in the field this year has help except me. So if anybody out there feels like he knows the water really well, don't hesitate to get in touch. (www.boydduckett.com) Right now, though, it looks like I'm going to have to try to win the tournament the old-fashioned way — show up and catch the fish.
August 26, 2010
Some thoughts about fishing and business
Most people who know a little about me know that I'm a businessman as well as a pro angler. I've owned and operated dozens of businesses in my life, and most of them were pretty successful. My latest business is Duckett Fishing. It's funny how many correlations there are between success in business and success as an angler. For example, in both worlds you have be willing to make decisions on the fly, but at the same time those decisions have to be smart ones — based on a track record of what works and what doesn't. You also have to be willing to be patient as an angler and as a businessman. Even though you need to know when to change directions, you have to have enough patience that you won't quit on a path too soon. But, of all the similarities between business and effective tournament fishing, if I had to name one area that is most important, it would probably be this: You have to pay attention to the details. When you don't focus on the details, big and small, you won't be successful I was thinking of these things a few afternoons ago while I was out testing rods near my home in Demopolis, Ala. We're trying to get things right as we go about expanding Duckett Fishing. And that brings me to another thing that's critical in fishing and business. You have to listen. You have to listen to the elements when you're on the water, and, in business, you have to listen to people. Listening might be the most important part of paying attention to detail. I'm extremely thankful that we've got a great pro staff at Duckett Fishing, and I'm trying to listen to everything this pro staff says to me. I don't think it's a big secret that we intend to make signature rods in the future. We want to be able to produce, for example, a cranking rod and a flipping stick that will work for people. But, when you're trying to do that, you have to listen to what the experts have to say. When we launch signature series rods — and we're planning to start these in 2011 — you had better believe that Kelly Jordon, Byron Velvick, Terry Scroggins, Jason Williamson and Pete Ponds will have offered a lot of input in how those rods are constructed. For example, it would be hard to find someone more suited to determine the perfect flipping stick than Terry Scroggins. Or, if a person wants to throw a deep diving crankbait or build products for offshore fishing, I can't think of anybody better than KJ. Byron Velvick is a swimbait expert. We went to a lake this year on the Elite Series that offered almost nothing but swimbait bites, and who do you think won that event? This is going to be an interesting long-term project. And it will be a challenge for us to make sure we stay focused on getting things right, one detail at a time.
August 19, 2010
A nostalgic trip to Charlotte
I mentioned in this blog last week that I was with a lot of the Elite Series anglers fishing a PAA Tournament on Lake Norman. What I didn't mention is that it was a truly nostalgic trip for me. Although my home has been Alabama for many years, I actually grew up on the south side of Charlotte and learned to fish on Lake Wylie, one pool below Norman. It was an enjoyable trip. I went early and visited with my dad, who is 89 and still in good health. He obviously struggles a little — he is 89, after all — but he still drives, and he goes way too fast. In fact, I probably shouldn't tell this story, but while I was there we went to a pizza joint in one of the local strip malls. We went in his huge, old, but sturdy Cadillac. That car still hums. When we got to the restaurant, my dad saw a parking place right next the entrance, and it was the only one anywhere in sight. We got there just as a driver had pulled out of the space. Well, my dad jumped in the space before this other car could get there. The problem was, the other car had been waiting before Dad got there. I said, "Dad, do you realize you just cut that driver off? I think he's pretty upset." And he said, "Ah, don't worry about it. I'll just look real feeble when we get out of the car. He'll forgive me." Sure enough, Dad acted like he was 99 when he got out of the car and walked into the restaurant. I also got to spend time with my brother, Errol. He's 52 and I'm 50, and we're probably as close as any two brothers could be. We have been since I was small. The bad thing about being around Errol is that he's a tournament angler, and he fishes Norman all the time. But he couldn't help me. He had given me some advice before the cutoff date, but all his places were below the Highway 150 bridge. I spent all my time above the bridge. Errol followed me during the tournament, and it was interesting talking to him about what he thought. He said at this time of year that 12 pounds a day would win the tournament, and he was just about right. I had a few other thoughts about Charlotte while I was there. Like anybody who grew up in a metropolitan area, I couldn't help but shake my head at how my hometown has changed. Charlotte is way different than it was in 1982, when I left. But there's still enough original pavement and a few old stores and buildings in place that I recognize it as home. This won't surprise people who know me, but even when I was young, I was always hustling to get businesses started. One of the jobs I had when I was a teenager was rebuilding shopping carts. I had a little shop up near Huntersville where I would sandblast them and weld and paint them. There were made of steel, so they were sturdier than the carts in stores now. At that time, it made sense to rebuild the carts instead of buy new ones. So I would go to the grocery store, pick up about 20 of them. Then I would take them home and re-build them. I remembered that when I passed the Huntersville exit. Man, times have changed.
August 13, 2010
Elite anglers on Norman
A lot of Elite Series anglers are in North Carolina this week fishing a Professional Anglers Association tournament. We're on one of the most crowded lakes in the country: Lake Norman. Lake Norman, which is just north and east of Charlotte, is a little like Lake Lanier, located just north of Atlanta, when it comes to crowds. Both are near major cities, and both get a ton of boat traffic. Of course, it wasn't the boat traffic that was eating us up today. It was the heat. I guess you could expect that; I mean it is August in the South. It was 98 degrees today, and it's been that way most of the week. So bites are hard to come by. You could tell by the weights that there weren't a lot of big fish to be caught. I'm in fourth place after the first day, and my bag was 12 pounds, 7 ounces. I think I had a couple of 3-pounders, but that was about the best you could hope for. Nobody had 15 pounds. I caught a grand total of six fish all day, and I wouldn't have caught those if I hadn't completely changed my gameplan this afternoon. I had been on the water and marked places all over the lake during practice. This morning, I went to every one of my areas and after I left them I had a grand total of zero. So I went up the river and started fishing brushpiles, looking for largemouth. That's what I did all afternoon, and that's where I found the fish. I've talked in this blog occasionally about how important it is to be able to change course when things aren't going your way. The great anglers can do that. They find a way to catch fish. So I had one of those decisions today. Should I give my gameplan a little more time and hope it works out? Or should I abandon what looked like a lost cause and try something new? Something new was the way to go today.
August 5, 2010
Changes in the industry
It looks as though we're in for some serious changes in the bass fishing industry, starting with the pending sale of BASS. For us on the Bassmaster Elite Series tour, we had a good run with ESPN. Of course, if I understand the terms of the sale, we'll still be airing some programming on the network, so it looks like we're not breaking all ties. I don't know whether this will ultimately be a good thing or a bad one. But, to be honest, things in the industry have stagnated. We had good years in 2006 and 2007, but then the country had an economic downturn in 2008, and it just seems like it has been falling apart since then. From a business standpoint, I understand what happened with ESPN's relationship with the tour. Everybody has been hurting. Sales have been off in many areas. Sponsorships are down. In boat sales alone, the industry is 70 percent down. You can't go on like that. The economic downturn hurt all of us. I noticed the difference in the fishing industry and in my tank-leasing business. There just isn't the money floating around that there had been in past years. So now, it appears that BASS is being sold to three individuals. I think it's positive that one of the owners is going to be Jerry McKinnis. No one walking has more personal interest in our success than Jerry, so I think we'll have a rejuvenated drive in leadership, and that's what we need. But it's still a major change. We'll have to see how it works out. And, speaking of changes, I mentioned how boat sales have been down. We had another major one with the sale of Triton Boats. Triton will be moving to Flippin, Ark., where the company, Fishing Holdings, will be able to produce several styles at the same manufacturing facility. It's a sensible business move. I hope they will continue the sponsorship deals with the anglers who are now with Triton — that includes me. I guess I should also mention there was one more change that took place last week. It involved KVD and me. I've said in this blog many times that KVD is the best angler of our generation. It amazed me earlier this season when a lot of the media dismissed him. They discussed what an awful year he was having. Well, it ends up that he had the greatest season, from a money standpoint, that any angler ever had. I suppose congratulations are in order, but the congratulations are bittersweet since it was my mark from 2007 that he beat. Oh well, congratulations Kevin.
July 30, 2010
A fun way to finish
What do you think about Russ Lane's rise to the top? He's only five points behind Skeet Reese going into the final postseason event this week. It looks to me like it's going to be a great finish. I'll have to admit I've got some mixed emotions about how this postseason is playing out, but there's no doubt you've got three great anglers that have to be called the favorites going into the final event. And, in some ways, all three of them would be deserving as Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year. There's no doubt Skeet is where he should be, and that's means he's in first place. A lot of people are truly wondering how this could be so close in the end after the unbelievable season Skeet had. Then there's Russ in second place. A few weeks ago in this blog, I said that I thought Russ Lane would have a great postseason because — not only is he a terrific angler — he's more familiar with the Alabama water than anybody else in the postseason. A good many people remember on the last day of the regular season, at Fort Gibson Lake, Russ and I were fishing the same area on the final day of that tournament. We were both having some success, but in the end, we were essentially competing for the same fish. Russ was trying to secure a spot in the postseason — he needed to finish 10th or better — while I was just finishing out my season. I wasn't going to make the postseason, but I had already secured my spot in the Classic. So I thought the sportsmanlike thing to do was move out of the way and let Russ have a shot at the fish. He ended up making the postseason and now, because Skeet fell back the first postseason week and Russ won the tournament, it's a dogfight. Of course, the other angler in the picture is KVD — the best angler of our generation. Enough said. So what you have in the end is a battle that involves the best two anglers in the world against another great angler who's hot and is fishing on what amounts to his home water. This is probably what BASS has in mind with the postseason tournaments. I still think that if Skeet doesn't win the postseason, it's going to be a shame. If he loses AOY, he lost because of the format BASS has established. Instead of one long season, it's now a regular season and a postseason. But, as they say, it is what it is. No matter. It should be a lot of fun to watch this weekend.
July 22, 2010
A few thoughts about ICAST and our industry
I got back a few days ago from ICAST. As always, it was a great show. I noticed that Skeet and Alton offered a few of their impressions on their blogs, and I'd like to add some thoughts of my own, both about ICAST and about what's happening in our industry. I've tried to go to ICAST every year that I've been a pro. This was my fifth straight year. As you probably know, it's one of the two biggest expos in our business, the other being the Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo show. The two shows have different feels. The Classic expo is a consumer show; it's geared toward selling to the public. ICAST, on the other hand, is directed more toward retailers. ICAST is definitely a lot of fun. I could walk around for days just looking at all the new products that are out there. I've seen baits that I never knew existed. As pro anglers, we're like kids in a candy store. This year, the show had a little bit of a different feel for me. In the past I've been there primarily as an angler and to support sponsors who were at the show, but this time I was there as part of the industry. We were displaying our Duckett Fishing rods, and I was blown away by the response. We're still considered a small company, but it was gratifying to sign on about 30 new retailers. I can't tell you how happy and grateful I am for the response that the MicroMAGIC rods are getting. Another thing that was gratifying to see, in a way, was how many companies actually came out with microguide rods after we introduced them last year. I'll repeat what I've said in the past: The technology has always been out there, and for years people have been making individual rods. But until we did it at Duckett Fishing, nobody had taken the leap to actually put the rods on the market. After we launched the MicroMAGIC rods, I told Sean Schuyler, our operations manager, that I bet there would be six companies introducing microguide rods by the time ICAST came around. There were nine. While we were at ICAST, Duckett Fishing also signed on to sell the rods at Cabela's. In a few weeks, I'll be meeting with Gander Mountain. That means that pretty soon you should be able to find the rods at Bass Pro Shops, Academy, Cabela's and Gander Mountain, as well as in a whole bunch of local stores around the country. Obviously, we're pleased about the way sales are going. But this year's ICAST was different in a couple of other ways, too, and those ways seem to be reflections of where we are right now as consumers and as a country. One impression I have was that this year's show was a little smaller than the shows in past years. Part of that, obviously, is because of the economy. Our industry has suffered, just like so many others, because we're still hurting from the downturn. Another thing I found interesting was that you could just feel the effect that online shopping has had on our industry. The online retailers were certainly there, and I think our industry is changing overall because of online sales. Ten years ago, our industry's buying public would hardly have recognized online sales. We were folks that wanted to see and touch what we were considering buying. And to a certain degree, we're still that way. I'm one person that likes going into a mom-and-pop shop and put my hands on the products I'm thinking about buying. If I'm going to buy a new rod, I'd like to hold it first. But a lot of anglers are different now. They can be on their boats and run out of a favorite product, and replacements are just a phone call away. All an angler has to do is pick up his or her cell phone and place an order. It's a new world, economically and technologically, and you could see that at ICAST.
July 8, 2010
Fishing another event
Many of the Elite Series anglers are in Morristown, Tenn., this week at Cherokee Lake for a Professional Anglers Association tournament. The PAA has anglers from several series, but a sizeable number of Elite Series guys are here. The tournament has a different feel from Elite Series tournaments, but I'd have to say that no tournament trail really compares with the Elites. It is, however, good to be fishing. Since I didn't make the 12 cut in the Elites and therefore missed the postseason, it's nice to have a few more tournaments to fish and the PAA offers that. Economically, a lot of the anglers are happy for a few more chances to place in a tournament. Although this is different from the Elite Series, one thing is the same. It's a fishing tournament, and if the fish aren't biting, you have problems. That's what we've experienced so far this week. We're on a lake in July, and temperatures have been around 100 degrees. I know I'm not the only angler who's out there searching for ways to catch a fish — any fish, anywhere. The only hope for the bites getting better would be for a little wind and cloud cover to come in and give some movement. I spent one day roaming the lake for 15 hours and didn't catch a single fish. I looked at every possible place fish could be gathered. I might have passed right over the best areas on the lake without knowing it.
July 1, 2010
Wish I was there
The Elite Series postseason is going to kick off soon, and it was my goal at the start of the season to be in these two events. I thought that if I made it, I would have an excellent chance to do well with the two events being in Alabama on water I know pretty well. Unfortunately, I didn't make the top 12. I'm glad to have qualified for the fifth year in a row for the Classic, but I'm a spectator for the postseason tournaments that will ultimately decide the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year. I also think I'm in position to do a little analysis. I should start by saying I believe the favorite is the obvious choice: Skeet Reese. Skeet had a great season — another great season, I should say — and he has a pretty solid lead in the points race. However, the lead isn't so solid that he can't be caught, especially considering the accelerated points system in the postseason, Skeet could actually have two solid events and still not win AOY. For example, if Kevin VanDam was to place first in both events — and everybody on the tour knows that's possible — and Skeet finishes a respectable fourth in one event and fifth in another, KVD wins AOY. If that happens, BASS might want to take a hard look at how the postseason is set up. I'm not saying one way is better than the other, but the question is do we want to have a season-long points race or do we want to have a regular season that essentially is just a qualifier for two final playoff events? Again, Skeet had a phenomenal year and put himself in an enviable position. He's out front. But he's not a lock, because every one of those 12 anglers can catch him. Edwin Evers is a great angler, and he's not far behind. He probably has the best chance to catch Skeet just because he's closer than anybody else. Cliff Pace always seems to be in the hunt. He flies a little under the radar, but he's been solid for years. Derek Remitz and Terry Butcher had really good years, and John Crews was lights out most of the year. You've also got some solid veterans in Tommy Biffle, Gary Klein, Greg Hackney and Aaron Martens. They know how to fish those Alabama waters. I also think Russ Lane will have a couple of good tournaments. He's on his home water. He's fished those bodies of water 50 times more than almost anybody in the field. He's got a long way to go catch up, but I think Russ will do well. But back to Skeet and KVD for a minute. There's no doubt that they are the two stars in our world. They are to us what Magic and Bird were to the NBA a couple of decades ago. We're all trying to reach Skeet's and KVD's standard. I've said recently on several occasions that Skeet's the best angler in the world right now but if he is, KVD is a close second. It's been interesting to me this season to see how many people — particularly media guys — have discussed the subpar season that KVD has had. But that only goes to show what a standard he has set. I mean, look at what he did. He had two wins, including the Classic, and he finished in the top five again. It's tough to do much better than that. It should be an interesting postseason. I still wouldn't bet against Skeet, though.
June 24, 2010
Could have been better
At the end of every Elite Series season, I take a look at what went right and what went wrong with my performance. And, looking back at this past season, that kind of analysis is easy. There was good news on one hand and bad news on the other. The good news is that I earned a trip to the Bassmaster Classic for the fifth year in a row. I'm pleased with that. There aren't a whole lot of anglers that can say they've made five straight Classics. I was able to do that because — when the pressure was on — I caught fish. I had to have two strong finishes at Kentucky Lake and Fort Gibson Lake. I did that. I started Kentucky Lake outside the Classic cutline and finished 19th there. I was 12th at Fort Gibson to move up to 25th in the AOY standings. The Fort Gibson tournament was especially nice. When the high water on the Arkansas River forced BASS to move the event from the river to Fort Gibson, we were on a reservoir nobody was prepared to fish. What struck me about the Fort Gibson tournament was that we were all on a level playing field, and the cream rose to the top. There were exceptions, because a few terrific anglers had bad tournaments. That happens. However, generally, if you check the leader board after that tournament was over, look at the names in the top 20 to 25. Those are some sticks. Did you see, for example, Skeet Reese and Kevin VanDam and Gary Klein on that list? Yes. They were all in the top 12 as a matter of fact. That was a fun tournament. But back to analyzing my own performance for the year; whereas I was happy to finish 25th in the standings and make the Classic again, 25th is not where I want to be — and I can thank two lousy tournament performances for not finishing in the top 12. I understand a lot of anglers can probably say the same thing: "If I had done better at this tournament or that tournament, I would have had a much better finish." But in my case, I had an 88th-place finish at the California Delta and 73rd at Smith Mountain Lake. I had no chance at the top 12 after those performances. On a tournament trail, consistency is the key. All tournament anglers know you're not going to be on your game every week. There are just too many factors involved. Take my tournament at Smith Mountain Lake. That's a place I've fished well in the past. I'm comfortable there. But I got in a bad rotation on the water and nothing worked. I had good areas, and I knew where the fish were. There were only so many bites to be had, and I was always in the wrong place at the wrong time. As I said, that kind of thing happens. I wouldn't change my approach there if I had to do it again tomorrow. The point is you have to overcome obstacles and be consistent. I could have made adjustments at Smith Mountain that might have helped me finish in the top half of the field. If I had finished 40th at Smith Mountain and the Delta, instead of 73rd and 88th, I'd be fishing in the postseason. You have to be consistent, and you have to address your weaknesses. I've used the following example several times. I think Skeet Reese would be the first to tell you that a decade or so ago, he wasn't even close to being the angler he is today. Comparatively, he just couldn't catch them. But he did something. I don't know exactly what he did, but I know for sure that he eliminated his weaknesses. One by one, he overcame the things that were holding him back, and the result is he's now the best angler on our tour. That's my challenge. Get more consistent. Eliminate the weak events.
June 17, 2010
Fishing without preparation
By the time you read this, the Elite Series anglers will be doing something we don't get to do often — almost never, in fact. We'll be fishing on a body of water we haven't prepared for. Tommy Biffle and a few others from around here know this water, but for the most part, all the pre-practice everybody had done on the Arkansas River is down the drain. There is no local help; there are no waypoints to rely on. It's just old-fashioned fishing. I like it. I'm confident. Great anglers can catch them when they have to, and I'm going to have to do what great anglers do. I think BASS made the right call by moving this event from the Arkansas River to Fort Gibson Lake. They had the floods not too far from here, and it's bad on the river. I was in my boat the first day of practice on the Arkansas River, and I've never seen so much trash. I hit a line of trees so thick that I literally couldn't cross the river. Changing venues like this threw us all off, but it was the right thing to do. This is going to be fun — I think. We had one day of practice — actually not even a whole day, because we had our anglers' meeting that took up part of the day. During the practice time on the lake, I ran the whole thing, doing very little fishing. I didn't have a lot of success, but we're all in the same situation. From what I have seen that's available on the Internet, it's supposed to have some pretty good fish. It's heavily stained right now, so that will come into play. I also know there should be a deep bite, but I didn't find it because I didn't know where to go. My plan early in the event is to go up the river because they're pulling water. I'll put myself in that environment because it's one I'm familiar with. After that, we'll just see how it goes. It's no secret that a lot anglers are nervous because there are plenty of people on the cutline. In my case, I need to make the cut to make the Classic, so this is by far the biggest event of the year for me. So again, I'm going to catch them because I have to. We're in a pressure-filled event, and it's going to be hard. Obviously, I can't guarantee that I'll fare well, but I think it's going be interesting. I like that.
June 10, 2010
Battle in the Gulf
Like every other angler on the Elite Series, I'm focused on doing well during the last two weeks of our regular season. We're involved in an important week at Kentucky Lake. I'm right on the cutting edge for the Classic, so I certainly need to do well. That's on my mind. But something else has also been on my mind lately, and that is the mess we've got in the Gulf of Mexico. This blog space is probably not supposed to be a forum for political ideas or national issues, so I'll try not to do this often. But I just can't believe that we are looking at the possibility of seeing the destruction of the Gulf of Mexico. We won't truly know for five or six years, but the Gulf could be gone as a fishery. Several things coming out of this oil spill disaster are obvious. One is that our ecosystems are fragile. They're certainly way too fragile to see as much as a million gallons of oil a day dumped into any body of water, no matter how big that body of water is. And that's what was happening up until about a week ago. Crude oil is not like refined oil. It has more chemicals. We have dolphins floating up to the surface. It just doesn't get much worse that that. You know, diluting chemicals is what we did back in the sixties and seventies. No matter how bad a substance is, our solution was to dump our waste and chemicals into the river because we figured the water would dilute them. And we're still doing it. It seems like we might not be treating this oil spill as a big problem because people have the idea that this will be OK in time. It will dilute. Well, maybe it will and maybe it won't. But right now all that contaminated water is just lurking out there. Mostly it's staying off the shore, but for how long? There's no doubt that BP is responsible. And they will pay. But the thing that bothers me even more than what BP did is the response — or lack of it, I should say — that is coming from our government. Let me explain what I mean by that. I understand that we have a lot of problems in this country, and we've got a lot of issues that need to be addressed. But we've also got access to the greatest minds and the greatest problem solvers in the world. So why couldn't our government have sized it up on the third or fourth day, not the 30th or 40th day, that we've got a catastrophe on our hands? Why couldn't our president have said: "OK, we've got a problem that needs to be solved right now. Sometime later, we'll sort out whose fault this is. The lawsuits can be filed later. But right now, and I mean right now, let's fix this problem. Let's pitch in together. I don't care who did it, let's clean this mess up." I'm not blaming any specific administration. It wouldn't be right to point fingers just at the Democrats, because we saw the same thing from a Republican administration after Katrina. Then and now, the government seems to only care about pointing fingers and protecting its image. Meanwhile, the problems keep getting bigger and bigger. What good is being politically correct when you're not doing anything to fix the problem? I'll throw out one example. After the earthquake in Haiti, within hours our government had committed a billion dollars in assistance. I'm not saying that was the wrong thing to do. I'm just saying that it looked like the right thing to do, and that's what our government did. I understand that the problems in Haiti and the Gulf of Mexico are different. But they were both serious. We're looking at the possible destruction of one of the primary bodies of water in the world. Who knows what the economic impact of this oil spill will be? So what if, in this case, after the third or fourth day, our government had sized up the problem and committed a billion dollars of our resources to help fix it. You think that might have done some good? You think that might have saved the Gulf of Mexico? Maybe. And let me ask another question. What if this weren't the Gulf of Mexico? What if we have a huge toxic spill in the Tennessee River or the Ohio River? You think our government will act quickly? I know I don't have a lot of confidence. One last thing. I don't want people to think that I think it's the government's responsibility to fix all our problems. It's not. In fact, I want as little government interference in my life as possible. But what I am saying is this: BP is a private company; they're in it for profit. The BP's of the world are going to make mistakes. But when they do screw up, why can't we work together to fix the problem before we start deciding who screwed up and what the punishment should be? I think the government should be our grandfather, the guy we can call on to help when there is a problem that's too big for one company to fix. We should be able to trust our grandfather. Our government has the resources to be that grandfather. The government shouldn't run our lives, but we pay a ton of taxes. In return for those taxes we pay, we have a right to expect the government to step in and help when there is a problem that's too big for us. And contamination of the Gulf of Mexico is way too big for BP. It seems to me that we've lost our way. Fixing problems doesn't seem to be a high priority anymore. I hope the Gulf survives. Note: The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual commentator and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of BASS, ESPN Outdoors, its parent or any of its affiliates or employees.
May 27, 2010
The best kind of fishing
I'm going fishing this weekend, and I think I can honestly say that the type of fishing I'll be doing is my favorite. I'll be fishing a local Kiwanis tournament on Lake Demopolis (Alabama) with my 15-year-old son William. First of all, it's rare to get a chance to fish a tournament close to home. If I were a local angler, I wouldn't want Elite Series anglers coming onto my turf. I understand that. But I can fish a local event in Demopolis because it's where I live. I know all of the anglers who will be in the tournament, and they understand that it's a great opportunity for me to be able to fish there with William. It's certainly great to be part of the Elite Series. Just about every week on the tour is exciting, challenging and usually fun. But for sheer enjoyment of the sport, nothing beats fishing a tournament with your child. I have three kids. There's William and his brother Jack, who is 12. My daughter Anna Belle is 9. Jack and Anna Belle aren't so much into fishing, at least not now. But William is getting into the local tournament scene. He's placed at a few events, and he was proud of that. I'm proud, too. As I said, the best kind of fishing is with your child, but we on the tournament trail have to be especially careful how we bring our kids along in the sport. In William's case, he's developing at his own pace. I like to encourage him and teach him, but I'm also trying to give him some room to see things for himself. Some things he will just have to experience first-hand before he'll fully grasp them. Most anglers, at all levels of competition, seem to be like me — they're proud of their kids and they'd like to see them fish competitively. But there's always a temptation to push them, which creates a risk of seeing them burn out early. Although we want to teach our kids, I think most of us on the tour are conscious enough not to put much pressure on them too early. You know how most kids are. When the temperature is in the 90s, spending 13 hours on the water in that kind of weather can work on their enthusiasm. When the enthusiasm is gone, so are the "teaching moments." On the other hand, it's outstanding to see the kids of some our Elite Series anglers as they start to make their way into the competition level of our business. I'd love to see William continue to fish tournaments and get better and better, if that's what he wants to do. But for now, all I know is that on Saturday we'll be fishing together in the Kiwanis tournament, and I'm happy about that. Speaking of being proud, I have to congratulate Jason Williamson on his victory last week at Clarks Hill. This is Jason's second win in two seasons, but it's his first win as a member of the Duckett Fishing pro staff. Terry Scroggins, another Team Duckett member, placed third at Clarks Hill. We've had plenty of opportunities this year to have the Duckett Fishing white MicroMagic rods on television. Byron Velvick won the Clear Lake tournament in California, so we have two wins under our belts. In addition to their strong finishes at Clarks Hill, Jason had a second-place finish at Smith Mountain and Terry was fourth there. I have one top 12, a ninth-place at Clear Lake, and a 15th place finish at Pickwick. I have a feeling that Kelly Jordon is going to get into a groove soon and finish strong. Overall, there have been six Elite Series events, and Team Duckett has two first-place finishes. Not bad.
May 20, 2010
A tough place to stay on track
Clarks Hill. This is a heckuva place to try and figure out a way to make a cut. It's a tough lake. The past few weeks I've been slowly moving up the in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings. I've moved from way, way down in the standings up to 43rd, but I've got to move up a few more spots to secure a place in the Classic. And I'm not the only angler here that's in that boat. There are some really good anglers near the cut line that also know they need to move up a few places. But Clarks Hill presents a problem for all of us. It's a blueback herring lake. It's a school lake. The bass don't get in stumps, they don't get on ledges, they don't go into the grass. They just chase those herring. It's like they're not even bass. So what do you do? Well, you've basically got two choices. You can either try to find some other pattern somewhere that might work, or you can get out there with the masses of other boats where the fish are schooling and try to work your way in. The problem with trying to find another pattern is that, even schooling, they don't congregate in a lot of places. This is a big lake, but it will fish small. That means there will be a lot of boats on top of each other, and that can get uncomfortable. You hope there aren't protests filed, but it's happened here in the past. The first day of practice I fished for more than 12 hours and found one 13-inch keeper. Other guys had the same deal: one fish, two fish, some guys didn't find any. There were a lot of struggling anglers the first day. Jason Williamson was about the only person I talked to that seemed to find fish, but this is his home lake. He knows some spots. At most lakes you have a lot of options. Here, it's like there are no options. There's probably some way to catch them, but I haven't found it yet. I would predict that the top 10 on Day 1 won't be the top 10 on Day 2 unless somebody gets on a school and catches a big enough bag to hang on. Your boat number will be important this week. If you get out there early, you might be able to get a jump. But even that's not guaranteed. I was talking to a friend the other day, and I told him all of the above. I said that I need to have a good week, but I'm not sure how that's going to happen. He said, "Well, you're not sounding encouraged or hopeful." I said, "Oh, I'm hopeful. I'm just not encouraged yet." Then he asked me what I thought Skeet was going to do this week. I told him that I don't know the answer to that either. I'm curious myself. But he'll probably find a way to catch them.
May 14, 2010
First there were Dance and Martin
It's an off week for the Elite Series. I was thinking last night about what I should offer in this blog, and I just can't get away from one thought. In fact, I could almost start and finish this blog with one sentence: Skeet Reese is the best angler in the world. I have said on many occasions that Kevin VanDam, a friend and a person I respect immensely, is the Tiger Woods of our sport. Of course, I'm probably not the first and certainly not the only one to have said that. It's almost a cliché now. KVD's longtime consistency and his ability to come through time and again under pressure make him the closest thing we've got to Tiger Woods. But staying with that thought, Tiger Woods might not be the best golfer in the world right now. It's probably Phil Mickelson. It doesn't mean Tiger's finished or that he's even struggling, it just means there's somebody out there better. And right now, in our world, Skeet Reese is the man. That's not rocket science. In fact, it's kind of obvious if you look at the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points race. If I've got my facts right, Skeet could take his boat out on Clarks Hill next week and "zero" in our tournament, and he'd still be the points leader. That is amazing. What's also amazing is the way Skeet's doing this. He's done it in river water, big lakes, creek beds, shallow, deep, rock ledges, open water. There's nothing the guy can't fish. And like all the truly great anglers, he's intense and focused — but he's cool under pressure. I'd like to point out that as early as 2007 I said that Skeet was looking like the best angler on tour because he was becoming so consistent and so versatile. And since then, he's only gotten better. In our sport, like all sports of passion, there are people who follow the pros to see who's on top. And it's fun to watch players (in our case, anglers) reach their peak and dominate. In bass fishing, a lot of us thought there would never be another angler to accomplish the things Roland Martin and Rick Clunn did. Then along came KVD. And now we're seeing greatness again. Skeet has had five top fives in a row. Great as he still is, Kevin's never done that. Who knows how long this will last? But it's fun to see what Skeet's doing, and it's an unbelievable challenge right now for us other anglers to try to beat him. But here's one more question. Out there in the Elite Series field, is there a next great dominant angler? And, if so, who would that be? Well, who knows? Maybe Iaconelli will get on a roll. Or maybe Alton Jones will hit another streak. Maybe one of our Duckett Fishing guys — Terry Scroggins, Kelly Jordon, Byron Velvick, Jason Williamson or Pete Ponds — will find a groove and start dominating. Terry and Kelly have been pretty close to that in the past. Or, since this is my blog, maybe the next one to dominate will be a businessman from Alabama who starts spending a little less time on business and a little more time working on his fishing game. That would be sweet.
May 6, 2010
Fishing under pressure ... again
Seems like I've had to write and talk a lot during the past few seasons about fishing under pressure. By that I mean under pressure to catch them. Pressure to perform well. This is the third year in a row I've been in the position where I have to finish the season strong. If I don't, I could be on the outside looking in at the 2011 Bassmaster Classic. Just like this year, I had a few bad events in 2008 and 2009, and they put me in the pressure cooker. Now I'm in the same spot. If I'm going to make my fifth straight Classic, I'd better catch them the next four weeks. Going into Guntersville, I'm 48th in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points race. That's waaaay below where I wanted to be. But that's what happens when you have two bad tournaments, which I did at the California Delta and Smith Mountain Lake. You counter that with two pretty good events, at Clear Lake and Pickwick, and I'm sitting in the middle of the pack with four regular-season tournaments down and four to go. Most of the anglers on tour have three goals for the Elite Series season: (1) win Angler of the Year; (2) finish in the regular-season Top 12 and make the post-season tournaments (giving yourself a chance to win Angler of the Year; and (3) qualify for the Bassmaster Classic. I might have those in reverse order, but what I mean is that there are three sets of goals. I've said many times that the year will probably come when I don't qualify for the Classic, because it seems to happen to all anglers, even the great ones. It's hard to qualify for the Classic every year. But once you go, you never want to miss it again. So right now I'm one of the anglers in the bottom two-thirds, not the top one-third. So that means I'm outside the cut line and fishing under pressure to perform. Where I stand right now — 48th — isn't too bad. In fact, two years ago I was 51st in the points with two events to go. I finished the season in 33rd and made the Classic because I had two solid finishes — at Erie and Oneida. I went from 51st to 42nd after Erie and 42nd to 33rd at Oneida. It was nerve-wracking. I have to be honest and say that in some ways it's no fun to fish when you know that if you don't catch them you're out. You're off the island. But at the same time, I kind of enjoy it. It's what we live for, going out to fish a tournament with the season on the line. That'll get your adrenaline going. So what all that means is that I'd better catch them this week at Guntersville. I'd better focus. I'll need to do what the top anglers on our tour do almost all the time: fish with urgency but stay calm. Decisions need to be smart decisions. One other thing about this week at Guntersville. We have helped make Guntersville one of the most popular bass lakes in the country. It's a great place to fish, and when ESPN and BASS come to town it puts a spotlight on how good some of these lakes are. That's what has happened at Guntersville. Every time I fish here there are more bass boats on the lake. And the anglers are talking this week about how these folks on the lake aren't necessarily going to be watching us, they're going to be fishing — and some will be in our areas. They certainly have that right, but it adds another dimension to our tournaments. It should make for an interesting week.
April 29, 2010
Music, fishing and business getting in the way
The Elite Series is at Pickwick Lake in northern Alabama this week, and this is one of my favorite areas of the country. This part of Alabama is famous for two things near to my heart: good music and good fishing. People my age (getting close to 50) who have followed the music business know something about the history of Muscle Shoals, which is close by and where some of the anglers are staying. There are a couple of great recording studios in Muscle Shoals. People like Aretha Franklin, Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart, Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers have all spent time recording here. The studios were hot back in the '60s, and they're still in business, making recordings for all types of music. But this week it's fishing on one of the country's great fishing lakes. There are a lot of fish in the lake and it's a good time of year, so I doubt that catching a limit is going to be much of a problem. Size might be, but finding enough fish probably won't. I wish I could feel really good about this week, but it's hard to feel completely confident about tournaments these days. I don't like to talk too much about why I don't feel as confident as I'd like to feel. When I actually say the reason out loud, it sounds like an excuse, and I don't want to make excuses. But the truth is I'm spending too much time these days working my businesses and not enough time fishing. The good news is that business at my truck-leasing operations is good. And my new business, Duckett Fishing, is also going extremely well. People seem to like the microguide rods we're making, and that's gratifying for all of us at Duckett Fishing. But the bad news is that being so busy with Southern Tank Leasing and Duckett Fishing hasn't helped my fishing career. I've had two awful Elite Series tournaments and one good one. It's time for another good one. More than anything, I'd like to be a fulltime angler. For example, I would love to have been at Kentucky Lake last week getting in some practice time before our cutoff date hit. But it just wasn't in the cards. No matter how important it is to fish well at Kentucky Lake, there was just too much going on with the other businesses to get away. But, hey, we make choices in life. So I'm going to have to make the best of my practice days and hope things turn out well. Fortunately, I'm pretty familiar with Pickwick, so it could be a good week. Sometimes, though, I just wish I had a few extra days. And I also wish all these other anglers around me weren't so good.
April 22, 2010
Sight fishing musical chairs
Sometimes tournament fishing is musical chairs. It was that way last week at Smith Mountain Lake, and, unfortunately, I was the guy left standing. What I mean by that is that a high percentage of the field was sight fishing because the conditions were right for the bite. The water was clear and fish were gathering near beds and docks. Of course, before I go further, I have to say the obvious. Skeet Reese won the tournament by 15 pounds, and he didn't win by sight fishing. He won it with a swimbait. It was a gutsy move for Skeet, but he got on a pattern and he played it out to the end. I feel like I've said this a hundred times, but I can't begin to tell you how much respect I've got for what Skeet has done in the past few years. He's gone from being a really, really good angler to being great. He and KVD are the best on the tour, and Skeet's on KVD's level. There was a time I didn't think anybody could get there. But back to my sight fishing problems at Smith Mountain. With sight fishing, you have to be at the right place at the right time. There are some tricky things about sight fishing. First, a lot of anglers on our tour do it well. That wasn't always the case. Six or seven years ago, I always felt I would have an advantage in a sight fishing event. Not any more. Seems like everybody's gotten good at it. With sight fishing, there are some tricks. One thing is you've got to be careful how you approach them. Get too close and they spook, but at the same time you've got to be there and be ready when they're going to bite. Sight fishing is a chess game. You can catch bucks all day, but they won't help you win a tournament. You've got to catch the female. We all could have caught 2-pound bucks all day long. What we needed was a 5- or 6-pound female, and that's tricky. The females are fickle. Sometimes they aren't ready to come off the bed. Then, if you catch a buck, the female is liable to swim away, never to return. On other occasions, you go for the female and sometimes the smaller male will grab the bait, and you've got to shake him off. At Smith Mountain, if you caught a female early, you were in good shape. If not, you could spend your whole day looking or waiting and watching. I was in a rotation with Jason Williamson, one of the Duckett Fishing guys. Jason finished second in the tournament. He and I hit some of the same holes and saw some of the same fish. But early on Thursday the female moved for him and bit. Jason got a huge bag on Day 1 because he hit it just right to get a couple of big fish early on the first day. After that, he was set for the tournament. There weren't any huge bags from sight fishing after Thursday. There were good ones, but not huge. I watched him catch his fish on Thursday, and I knew early that I was in trouble. And speaking of being in trouble, that's where I am again when it comes to the big picture. Since I didn't get the big ones, I'm down in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points. It's going to be a long road back to the Classic.
April 8, 2010
Advice to myself
Next week the Elite Series heads to Smith Mountain Lake, a beautiful body of water in Virginia. And not to keep hammering on the same theme I've brought up a couple of times before, but here it is: Everybody in the field is going to have to fish smart. And I sure as heck better be as smart about what I do as anybody in the field. I've got to be smart because I came out of the gate with an 88th place finish in the California Delta. That kind of finish does a lot of damage when you're trying to finish the season in the top 12 in Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points. That's a lot of ground to make up in a short amount of time. You might think that a bad finish like I had at the Delta would encourage an angler to throw caution to the wind, to "swing for the fences," as we say. You'd think it would take a few strong top 10 finishes — with a win thrown in — to get back in the game in a hurry. But I'm suggesting that, as much as I'd like to do that, it's not the smart way to fish. I need to move up in slow increments, because this is more like a marathon than a sprint. It's all about points. The way I see it, smart fishing takes a lot of different paths. In this instance, I'm going to have to fish defensively. As I said, I hate it, but that's what has to happen or I'll find myself with another 88. You swing for the fences, you might miss entirely and then the season is shot. I took the cautious approach at Clear Lake, the week after the Delta. I don't really know that water, but I had to get comfortable in a hurry. Then, even though I was hurrying to find fish, I had to force myself to be patient and grind. It worked. I started in 33rd after Day 1 and before it was over I ended up in ninth place. Focus and patience, that's what I had to have. (In fact, those are two attributes that make Kevin and Skeet and Ike as good as they are.) I've been looking at the weather for Smith Mountain. The water has moved into the mid 50s, but we're in an odd moon phase and it will be one of the worst phases for spawning. Here's what I think will happen. Some of the fish will move early onto beds, but we'll pick them clean in three days. We're not going to be able to sight fish for five days at Smith Mountain. I was talking with Gary Klein, and he believes the same thing I do. We were kind of thinking that if we knew we could catch 55 pounds in four days, we'd sit on the dock at the end of the tournament and swear we're happy. Some of you might remember that three years ago there were some big bags at Smith Mountain. I had more than 20 pounds the first day and led the tournament. Casey Ashley eventually won it, and he was solid for four days. But that was a June event and a whole different style of fishing. This time, we're all going to have to be patient. As far as I'm concerned, I'll try to develop a prespawn pattern and go get what I can get early. I want to pluck what I can get on the first day, but that's not going to be enough. Speaking of sight fishing, that's something I've always done well. But it's a funny thing about our sport. We evolve as anglers, and the Elite Series forces you to get better. Ten years ago I think I had an advantage when sight fishing was going to be the thing that helped win a tournament. But now everybody's good at sight fishing. I can go into a creek bed and pick off three or four good-sized fish, but I'll also know that if I'm getting three or four, so is everybody else. On another subject, I'd like to follow up something from last week's blog. I'm pleased to say that Duckett Fishing has come to an agreement with Bass Pro Shops. Pretty soon those terrific stores will be stocking our MICROMagic rods, and I couldn't be happier.
April 1, 2010
Mixing business and fishing
Well, it's 83 degrees today, the sun is shining and I'm in Vidalia, Ga. After a lot of early cold-weather fishing this year, the warm sun is nice. I'm here on business, but one thing I enjoy about pro fishing is that sometimes the business end of what we do can be a pleasure. I've got the privilege the next couple of days of working for two of my major sponsors: LaserLure and Duckett Fishing. While we're in Vidalia, we'll be shooting a commercial and a television show for LaserLure and a commercial for Duckett Fishing. We'll also produce a "reel" for Bass Pro Shops. Along with shooting the commercials, we'll also host a tournament. I'll be in the event along with Mike Iaconelli and Scott Ashmore. Our team partners will be some of the folks at Stanley Farms, producers of Vidalia onions. We'll be on Vince Stanley's lake, a beautiful, peaceful 88-acre lake that, I hope, is full of bass. LaserLure has been a great partner, and it's a pleasure to work with Ike and Scott. I've told a lot of people this, but you get a different perspective off the water of Ike. He's a great guy, a thoughtful and trustworthy person. Nobody was more pleased than I was when Ike joined our LaserLure team. I'd also like to mention that it's going to be interesting shooting a commercial for Duckett Fishing. And, speaking of Duckett Fishing, I should probably offer an update on where the company stands. It's been rewarding to get to where we are with Duckett Fishing. And where we are is a good news/bad news scenario. (Fortunately, it's mostly good news.) The part that truly pleases me is that we put our heart and soul into the creation of Duckett Fishing and the MICROMagic rods. And now we're seeing that people like what we've produced. In fact, the rods have been so well received that we can't build them fast enough. The feedback we're getting is that people generally are enthusiastic about the innovation that has gone into the rods, and they like the feel, the weight, the action and the look. I'm sure not everybody likes the white rod look, but most of the feedback we've gotten about the look has been positive. So that brings me to the bad news. Orders are piling up, and we're not getting them to buyers as fast as we'd like. All I can say is that we're working on it almost nonstop, and the rods are coming. Since this has been sort of a sponsors' page and a travel log, I'll add that I also had the pleasure of traveling to meet with the folks at Bass Pro Shops. We hope that the day comes soon when you'll see our Duckett Fishing rods for sale at your nearest Bass Pro Shops store. We were there to tell them about our product, and the folks at Bass Pro Shops were welcoming and highly professional as we discussed the possibility of bringing Duckett Fishing products to them. Yes, it's been a busy, productive week. And it was fun, too.
March 25, 2010
An interesting week at Clear Lake
I'm feeling a lot better this week than I was last week at this time. After two terrible tournaments, last week at Clear Lake I had a ninth place finish. To start the season, I had my worst Classic then finished 88th at the Delta. So four good days of fishing and a ninth place finish at Clear Lake definitely can help a person feel better. After I got back from California, I was thinking about our two tournaments out there. Several things struck me. The first thing is that Guy Eaker is my hero. Guy finished third at Clear Lake, and a week earlier in the Delta he was 24th. The fact that Guy is 70 years old gives every one of us on tour hope. I'm 49 years old, and I hope Guy is the standard that I can base my career on. I'd be pleased to fish another 20 years on the Elite Series. In fact, I'll guarantee you that if you talk to any angler on our tour that's at least 40 years old, he'll privately tell you that he has questions about how many years he'll be able to fish at the highest level. I think it's safe to say we're all happy for Guy. Another angler I was impressed with at Clear Lake was Matt Herren. Matt is young. But he showed some remarkable class and sportsmanship at Clear Lake. Matt and I were in the same channel at Clear Lake. It was a small stretch of grass not more than 75 yards long. I was in there first, but Matt came in my hole and wanted to fish it. After a little while, it was obvious that we both wanted to stay. He would like to have had the area to himself, and he certainly knew I didn't want him there, but instead of getting into a confrontation, we got together and talked about what we wanted to do to stay out of each other's way. He asked me what I wanted, and I told him that I would like to take the left side. He let me have it. He didn't come in on me and I didn't go in on him. In fact, when I left the area to let my fish rest for awhile, he never made the first cast on my side. And I gave him the same courtesy. I was impressed with that. The anglers that have been out there awhile, like Ike and KVD and Skeet, understand that you've got to conduct yourself that way to keep people's respect and set yourself up for a long career. And now, I promise you, there will be a day when Matt Herron will need some room — and I'm going to give it to him. Another important thing is that we both fished better because of the way we handled the situation. We counted out fish on the last day and figured that on that 75-yard stretch we caught between 110 and 120 fish. And, by the way, he was fishing on Sunday, too. I'd also like to congratulate Byron Velvick. I'm happy Byron won. And I'm real happy he won throwing Duckett Fishing MICROMagic rods. Another thing about Clear Lake is that, as far as strategy goes, I did what I had to do. A lot of people don't consider that you have to take into account where you are in the points. And I decided that I was going to have to grind it out. Fishing the area I was fishing, I didn't really put myself in a position to win. To win, you were going to have to be out there in water you knew, and you were going to have to throw a swimbait. I could've done that. I could have swung for the fences, but, if I had missed, it would have cost me the season. My goal is to get into the top 12 before the season's over, and the secondary goal is to make the Classic. In order to do that, I was going to have to grind — to catch enough fish to get into the top half on the first day and claw my way up the next two days. And that's what I did. It was a psychological relief to work that tournament the way I did and get into the final day's fishing, but at the same time it's frustrating to not be able to leave the spot and go try to catch fish that were big enough to help me win the tournament. But the smart thing to do was to stay anchored in that 75-yard stretch, cull like crazy and hope that at the end of the day the persistence would help me add another pound or two to my bag. I'm going to have to do the same thing at Smith Mountain. I'd like to be in a better points position, where I could go out and try to catch the biggest fish in the lake, but I squandered that luxury the first event. At Smith Mountain and at the next few tournaments, I'm going to have to make sure I get the limit secured first, then I'll make a decision on whether I can gamble for bigger fish. It's all about the points. And one last thing. It also has to do with the points. At Stockton (the Delta), I zeroed on the first day. So as disappointed as I was to have zeroed, the first thing I did on the second day was go out and catch a little bitty keeper. The reason is that you have to catch a bass to get any points. If you zero, you don't get points at all. That little bitty fish was worth 105 points. When the end of the season rolls around, how important do you think that little fish will be? Last season, it would have been the difference in making the Classic and not making it. I want to win. But you have to fish smart, too.
March 18, 2010
Two bad events — Time to change?
Two of the last things I told people before we started our two-week Elite Series California swing were:
I could have a bad tournament in the Delta because I'm not familiar enough with the water — and my schedule never allowed me to do any pre-tournament fishing there.
And if I have a bad tournament, I need to finish 60th instead of 90th. You can recover far quicker from a No. 60 finish.
Well, I had an awful tournament at the Delta, and I almost finished 90th. Nothing like going into the second Elite Series event knowing I'll be digging out of a hole all season. If you include the Classic, we've had two interesting events so far. In some cases they were mirror images. Cold weather leading up to the tournaments was the theme. As a result, there were not many places where the fish were biting. It happened at Lay Lake in the Classic, and the same was true last week in the Delta. I certainly never got on them at either place. In fact, I left the Delta not feeling any more confident after two days of tournament fishing than I felt five days earlier when we started practicing. I just never found them. I wasn't alone, but that doesn't make me, or the other guys that weren't catching them, feel any better. So with a terrible start at the Delta, now I'm in a deep hole. So what's the best way to dig out? That's what I've got to deal with this week at Clear Lake and, quite frankly, at probably every Elite Series event this year if I want to reach my goal of finishing the regular season in the Top 12 in Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points. I understand that when you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to think about is whether you did something fundamentally wrong to get there. And, in a way, I did. I made some choices that didn't work, so that means I made mistakes. But if you look at it another way, we were all victims of the elements. And when weather conditions, cold water and an unnatural spawning pattern limit the bite, there's only so much you can do about it. Now we go to Clear Lake, where Steve Kennedy won three years ago when he bagged almost 123 pounds. Huge fish. For me, as simple as this might sound, what I've got to do is just keep my head straight and go fishing. When I talk to anglers I usually encourage them to get out of their comfort zones and figure out how to catch fish in different water and different conditions. Experiment. I tell them. We should all occasionally change what we're accustomed to doing, because it's good to be diversified. In my case, I might have to do some adjusting at Clear Lake. I won't really know for sure until we start the tournament on Thursday. Pre-tournament cold weather will still be an issue, but we don't yet know how much of a factor that will be. But instead of starting from scratch and creating new game plans, I've got to just forget all the scrambling I had to do the past two tournaments. Forget the frustration. Now it's time to get back to basics. I have to find some fish and catch them. This week I've got rely on the knowledge I have about Clear Lake, and I've got to effectively use the tools and techniques I know. I need to make it happen.
March 11, 2010
Thoughts about the Delta
The Elite Series starts this week, and we're in the land of the giants — California. Giant fish! This should be fun. Most of the Elite Series guys remember three years ago what it was like to fish the two places we're going to see during these next two weeks: the Delta around Stockton for the first event and then Clear Lake the next week. Three years ago I had a bad event and a good event — bad in the Delta and good at Clear Lake. While I'm obviously hoping for two good events this time around, here are a few thoughts about what we're all going to encounter. (And then I'd like to add one final word about the Classic.) The thing we all know is that we're going to find big, big fish the next two weeks. Aaron Martens won the Delta event in 2007 with more than 85 pounds. It could be the same this time around if the weather settles down. But weather is an issue. It's been colder than usual in Northern California, the same as it was in Alabama at the Classic. Cold weather, wind and cold water will give us challenges, just like colder than normal weather did at Lay Lake. And you've probably read that we've been facing cold and serious wind. If you're not familiar with it, the Delta is a tidal river system. It's massive, and in some areas it's a big, muddy basin. You have places where the tides move 4 to 5 feet. You can go in sometimes and there will be plenty of water, but then you come back at low tide, and it's a sandbar. We'll all be paying attention to the tide charts. I'll be at a disadvantage because I don't know the system. The Delta is so big it would take two weeks to learn it. I had never been out here before when we went in 2007, and I haven't had an opportunity to spend any time here since then. So I'll do the only thing I can do. I'll learn what I can in two and a half days and try to stay within my limits. Mike Iaconelli is a great angler, and he said he tried to fish too much water three years ago. He's probably going to restrict his movement this time. I'll probably do the same. One thing about pro anglers is that they're so good they usually don't make the same mistakes more than once. I had two or three good areas in 2007, and it's possible that I'll try to capitalize on those areas this time. We'll see. Another thing I was thinking as we head into this event is how we all try to avoid having a really bad event. One bad event can kill your chances for a Top 12 finish in Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points. For example, if I have a bad event at the Delta — and it could certainly happen because I'm not nearly as familiar with this water as other anglers — I've got to make sure I finish somewhere around 60th and not 90th. If you finish around 90, you've got a whole lot of ground to make up. One last note, and this time I'd like to go back to the Classic. I've been so wrapped up in what I did wrong at the Classic that I neglected last time to say one important thing, and that is: Congratulations to Kevin VanDam. I've talked a lot the past several years on my Web site blog about my admiration for KVD. I admire the way he prepares, the way he executes and the way he carries himself on our tour. And while I was griping about the way I didn't execute, I failed to mention what a masterful tournament he and the other anglers in contention on Sunday fished. They found the right area, they stuck with their game plans, and they finished the tournament the way I wished I had — in contention on Sunday.
March 4, 2010
Can't get it out of my head
It's going on two weeks now since the Bassmaster Classic. I'd like to tell you that I've taken the advice I've given other people after they had a bad outing, which is "Forget about it and move on. Don't dwell on the negative. Focus on the next event." I have to be honest, though. I'm not there yet. I'm still disappointed and frustrated. I'm angry at myself for the way I fished in the Classic. I know I should be thinking about our first Elite Series event because fishing in California will be a challenge but, honestly, I can't get the Classic out of my head. I just finished some seminars for Bass Pro Shops. I did weekend events in Louisiana, Alabama and Florida. I drove many miles going to these events, and while I was on the road by myself I kept replaying the Classic in my head. It never got any better. To review, the Classic was a great event, but not for me. After winning in 2007, I fully expected to be fishing for another title on Sunday. But I zeroed on Saturday — and I take no comfort at all in the fact that I wasn't the only one to do that. I shouldn't have struggled the way I did because I know the lake well, and I usually know how the fish are going to react. Overall, the Classic was certainly an interesting event. A bunch of outstanding anglers was in the hunt on Sunday. But, if you were a contender on Sunday afternoon, it meant that on Friday and Saturday you probably spent a lot of time fishing in Beeswax Creek. Two things stand out about that. The first is that I'm kicking myself for not joining all the anglers in that creek. I stayed out because, frankly, when I went into that area it was just too crowded. At the time, I didn't see the reward of joining the crowd. It was a bad mistake on my part. I was confident that Beeswax couldn't be the only place they were biting. But the second thing that stood out about the Classic is the physics of what happened on the lake. The fish were biting good in Beeswax Creek but almost nowhere else. I pitched all over the lake: under grass mats, on ledges and points, near docks. Nothing. I know how to catch fish on that lake, and I got nothing. So why were they biting in Beeswax? Well, the most obvious answer would be the water temperature. Apparently, it was about 48 degrees in Beeswax when it was three degrees cooler everywhere else. Nevertheless, I still haven't heard a really good explanation why it was warmer in that creek. Oh, well, at some point soon I'm going to have to let this go and move on. Maybe tomorrow.
Feb. 20, 2010
Not the outcome I wanted — to say the least
Let me get this part over with. On the second day of the Bassmaster Classic, when I was hoping to get back into the picture, I had one of the worst days of my career. In fact, I can't remember one any worse. I fished all day today and didn't get a single bite. I'd by lying if I said I wasn't disappointed. In fact, it might be more than disappointment. I feel frustrated and put out. Just like at Hartwell two years ago, I prepared the way I thought I should, but in the end I got beat because I didn't execute a solid enough plan. I'd also be lying, though, if I said I didn't enjoy having the opportunity to be part of the Classic again. It's the greatest show in fishing. I'm glad I qualified, and I'm glad I had the chance to fish for two days. I went down swinging, but I can't really blame anybody but myself. I made a bad decision right out of the gate, and I never recovered. As I mentioned yesterday on this blog, I chose to start the Classic by getting in a boat on a 24-degree morning with an all-but-new engine and running that engine as hard and fast as it would go for more than 30 straight minutes. Mercury, my sponsor, makes an outstanding engine, and I had confidence that running that hard right off the bat wouldn't be a problem. But I didn't spend enough time running the engine before the Classic, and I absolutely pushed too hard. I was running 77 miles an hour upriver and forced myself into engine trouble. I said it before and I'll say it again; no matter how great your engine is, you've got to spend time breaking one in properly. I didn't do nearly enough. Engine trouble was the start of bigger problems. I was still able to fish on Friday. Running in a borrowed boat (my brother Errol's Triton), I tried all day to find something that worked. Nothing did, and at the end of the day I had only one fish. But that one fish was one better than I got on today. I can make this explanation short and simple. I flipped all day, looking to grab a few big fish that would get me back in the competition. Nothing worked. I'm not exaggerating when I say I didn't get a bite all day. I ran all over the lake. I flipped on shorelines and in channels that had worked in the past and I suspected would bring bites today. Not so much as a nibble. So here's my four-year scorecard at the Classic. Great first year at Lay Lake. Bad execution and a bad showing in my second year (Hartwell). Strong third year with a pretty good finish at the Red River. Then there was this year, and it was terrible. I wish I had produced today and gotten back in the mix. That's an amazing leaderboard, and I'd love to be fishing with those great anglers on Sunday. So. I guess I should say: There's always next year.
Feb. 19, 2010
Nothing like blowing up your boat
Needless to say, having my boat blow up on the first trip up the river wasn't in my Bassmaster Classic gameplan. But that's what happened today. I'm trying to keep perspective and understand that worse things could happen than this, but it's frustrating to say the least. I came into this tournament hoping to win another Classic. The reality is that there are two more days of fishing, and you never know what might happen. I could whack them tomorrow and get back in the picture, then catch a couple of giants on Sunday and maybe a miracle will happen. But the other reality is that today I caught one fish that weighed a little more than a pound. The other reality is that some guys caught them good and will probably keep catching them — and one of those guys that caught them was Kevin VanDam. KVD doesn't make a lot of mistakes, so I wouldn't expect him to have a bad day on Saturday or Sunday. Here's what happened to me. I was running a new Mercury engine, and I'd used it through my practice days. But this morning, right off the bat I ran it hard for 30 miles in the cold. I really pushed the engine, and it was just too much for the conditions. The lesson for all of us is that you've got to make sure an engine's good and broken in. I put too much pressure on it and paid for it. After the engine blew, I did the only thing I could do. I idled and cast for awhile as I tried to find out whether I'd be able to get the boat to a place somebody could get the engine rebuilt in a reasonable amount of time. I wanted to get some fishing in. Eventually, we determined that wasn't going to happen. There were some spectator boats out there with me. Everybody around me offered to let use their boat for the rest of the day, and I can't tell you how much I appreciate those gestures. But it so happened that my brother Errol was one of the spectator boats, and he insisted that, if the rules would allow it, I should take his. So we called BASS to determine if this was within the rules. BASS discussed it and said that it was indeed ok for me to finish the day fishing out of Errol's boat. With that ruling, we transferred my gear into his boat, and I determined that the only way I could have a save any part of the day was to go the shore and try work flipping bites for the rest of my time on the water. But the bites just weren't there. For all I know, I might have ended the day with one fish anyway. I'd like to think I would have done better, but who knows? Oh, well. As they say, tomorrow is another day.
Feb. 18, 2010
Approaching the Classic
When I'm offering a blog, one of the goals I have is to give stories and information that are either interesting or new or both. Well, I hope this is interesting, but I certainly don't think that what's on my mind is new. What I'm thinking about this week, Bassmaster Classic week, is what every angler here in Birmingham is talking about — weather. It's cold. Really cold. Cold air temperature is nothing new for anglers. This time of year we hit cold weather all the time. When you put a boat in the water about the time the sun comes up you can't run from freezing weather, even in the South. Cold water, though, is a different story. I'm talking about water in the thirties, and that's what we've got. So what does it mean? For one thing it means that even if the weather warms up later in the week as it's supposed to do, it probably won't change what's going on with the fish. It's too late. The fish are sluggish, and it works on your mind trying to figure what they're going to do. A lot of people are saying it's going to be a spotted bass tournament because of this, and that might be true. But it's a gamble to line up a game plan based on catching spotted bass, because those of us who want the largemouth bite would be giving up time fishing for that big bite if we spend all day chasing spotted bass. Funny thing. The anglers are generally saying the same thing: It's a tough bite this week. But we've also got some rumors floating around. We're hearing that that a few folks have found spots where they're biting and they're hauling them in. But no one's actually owning up to whether it's true or not. Generally, the anglers at the Classic get along real well. We respect one another, we believe in the abilities of other anglers, we respect boundaries, we help each other out when a competitor is short of lures — we do those types of things. But we're also trying to win. So if, for example, my friend Kelly Jordon tells me he heard Iaconelli caught 30 in practice today, I would say, "Man, Ike must be on them." But then in my head I would say, "Um-hmm. Maybe. I wonder if he really did get 30." This is, after all, water chess. It's a mind game. But back to the weather. The general approach many anglers take at any tournament is to catch a limit as early as possible — then go after the big fish. It's logical that the earlier you get your limit, the better off you are, because catching the limit is important. But the colder the water is, the longer it could take to catch a limit. Even if you've got a fish that only weighs a pound, you might need that pound on the third day. When I won the Classic the last time it was at Lay Lake, I won by 6 ounces. What if I had missed a limit one day because I didn't pull in a 1-pounder? All I know at this point is that I still plan to fish the whole lake, dam to dam. I'm hoping to run mats, to find a place where I can get a big one. But I know for certain I'll be all over the lake, and I hope I can duplicate what happened in practice a couple of days ago. As sluggish as the fish are, I caught a 10-pounder. It was the biggest fish I've ever caught at Lay Lake. It was a fluke, but I wouldn't mind running into another fluke like that. Because of the conditions, several writers have suggested during interviews with me that this could be anybody's tournament. They're suggesting that maybe the top-level guys could get knocked off. Well, I guess that's possible, but I wouldn't say it's probable. I believe that when the final day rolls around you're going to see KVD, Skeet Reese, Ike, Alton Jones, folks like that right in the thick of it. I certainly hope I'm there with them. I also think Aaron Martens will be a player in this. He's good on this lake, and he's good with spotted bass. But, then again, who knows? It's water chess. We'll see.
Feb. 11, 2010
Classic crunch time
It's crunch time. It's time for the Bassmaster Classic and, beyond that, the start of the Elite Series season. I'm feverishly trying to close out some projects and set directions for my businesses, Southern Tank Leasing and Duckett Fishing. This is part of what starts my season: closing out immediate business and moving full-time into fishing. Here are a few random things I've been thinking about as I get ready for the Classic. First, there is physical preparation to take care of. Just like every other angler in the tournament, I've got to make sure my boat, motor and electronics are all ready to go. We've all got to make sure our lure orders are done. We've got to start preparing our tackle. There are lots of details to take care of. Another aspect of getting ready is setting your schedule. As I said, I'll wrap up work things, then I'll go to an L&L Marine boat show at Academy Sports in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Saturday, February 6. After that, Sunday starts my serious getting ready time. And by getting ready, I mean the psychological preparation starts as well as the physical. I'll probably go practice at Mitchell on Monday, the 7th through Wednesday. Mitchell is not off limits, and it's a lake where the conditions are similar to Lay Lake. While I'm at Mitchell, I'll try to develop a pattern. I'll be creating one on a lake similar to Lay so I can get in the groove of thinking and reacting fast in conditions like I'll face in the Classic. We haven't been doing much tournament fishing, so early in the season we're a little slow with our reactions sometimes. I have to get past that and start getting in the habit of being efficient. When you haven't fished, it's like coming back to work after a week's vacation. The first day back you're inefficient because everything takes too long to accomplish. After Wednesday, I'll take a day off to rest, and then the whole Classic cycle starts. Practice, practice, practice, then compete. It's a long, tough, exciting, fun week. I'm looking forward to it. One more thing about the Classic I should mention. Gary Klein and I were talking the other day about how the cold weather could affect the fish. I pointed out to Gary that in the past 20 years, I don't remember a time before this winter when French Creek on the Warrior River (near my house in Demopolis, Ala.) was frozen over. The water is in the 30s, and many times this time of year the water would be in the 50s. What Gary and I were discussing was what effect this might have on the development of the fish's egg sacks. Will the fish truly have the same urge to spawn and will they still head for the shoreline? Or could it be that the bass on February 19 will physically be reacting like it's only February 5? Just a little food for thought — and another level of planning we've all got to do.
Jan. 28, 2010
A new look at rod selection
A couple of days ago I got back from a trip to China. Wow. What an experience. I'm a Southern boy. I grew up in Charlotte, N.C., and have lived most of my adult life in Nashville, Tenn., and Demopolis, Ala. In my life, I've also been involved in businesses, all based in the South and all doing business in the United States. I've never had a reason to go to the Far East. As many of you know, I recently started a new company that is producing a microguide technology rod. We call the rods MICROMagic. I took the trip to visit our Duckett Fishing manufacturing facility. Three of us made the trip: Ken Whiting, our rod design specialist; Sean Schuyler, our operations manager; and me. The trip was not what I expected, and I came home with several interesting impressions. The first impression was that it is amazing to think that an airplane can stay in the air for 16 hours, which is the length of time it took for us to fly the first leg of the trip from Atlanta to Seoul, Korea. Counting a layover in Korea , the trip took a total of 26 1/2 hours. The trip home took 32 hours. The second impression was that I have serious doubts about global warming. About the time our plane flew over Chattanooga, Tenn., the ground turned white. Nothing but snow-covered turf. And the ground was white the rest of the way. Every state we flew over was white. So was Canada, so was Japan, so was Korea, so was Russia. And so was China. A third impression was that my body is not prepared for a full diet of Chinese food. As much as I enjoy Chinese food occasionally, I couldn't take an everyday diet of it. An order of Peking duck the second night we were there sent me over the edge. They had McDonalds, KFC and Pizza Hut, but even those restaurants served food with a native Chinese style. My fourth impression was probably the most surprising. Our plant is located in a city of 8 million people, and that's more people than we have in 38 of our states. It's practically New York City size. And the city looks new. There's an industrial revolution going on. The buildings and the streets are clean. There were street cleaners everywhere — people with brooms and dustpans keeping trash off the ground. (Kind of like Disney World.) And the people we ran into were friendly. They were courteous not only at our manufacturing plant, but also around the city. Didn't expect that. I've been asked why most fishing rods are made in China. Here's a little background on that. I went into the Duckett Fishing venture knowing what most consumers aren't aware of, and that is that most of the fishing rod production industry has moved outside our U.S. borders. There are some rods still made in the United States, but those are generally high-end rods with a high price tag. That's not what we're trying to do. It's not that we can't do it here. The fact is that the market has shifted, and if I were estimating, I'd say that more than 98 percent of the rods sold in the U.S. are made in other countries. Everybody involved in the production of fishing rods understands this. Ken Whiting, who's an award winning designer, gets it. So do the folks at American Tackle, who worked with us to create our proprietary microguides. (In fact, our first production run of MICROMagic rods was almost pushed back to June. Our manufacturing company is so busy building rods for other U.S. manufacturers, we had to jump through hoops to fit in our production.) To put it in its simplest terms, we had to make a choice. We could stay in the U.S. and make high-end fishing rods that would cost American anglers considerably more money, or we could go where the manufacturing base is and make a high-quality rod that we can sell at a far more reasonable price. I was convinced this is a better choice for the average fisherman. Don't get me wrong. We want to make money because we want Duckett Fishing to survive. But the sales percentage we get on the rods — the money we use to reinvest in the company — would be the same if they were made in the U.S. or China. Our choice was whether we would employ a relatively small number of people in this country to make rods that would only benefit wealthier anglers or to make a much larger volume of rods that can be sold at a price more anglers can afford. The way we chose allows us to grow and employ more Americans in our Demopolis office and distribution center. I believe we made the right choice for anglers in the United States.