I’ve said it before that the 2018 Bassmaster Elite Series season has been a tremendous improvement over my rookie season. Making it to the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship ranks high on my season’s measurement because the ultimate goal is making it to the Bassmaster Classic, and if you don’t make the AOY Championship, you’re not likely to make it to the Classic.
I’m very fortunate to have had a great season and, even if I finish last at the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship, I should still qualify for the Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK'S Sporting Goods. Obviously, there are still points to be had and there’s Angler of the Year money to be had, but knowing I have my Classic berth secured really takes the majority of the pressure off.
Looking back at my season, I can see there’s definitely room for improvement, but I’m very excited to be fishing the AOY Championship because it really was not fun to watch it last year on Bassmaster LIVE.
I have to say that qualifying for this event in a year when my dad did not is a little bittersweet. Certainly, I wish my dad had qualified; we always root for each other and I know he’s extremely happy that I made it.
But, at the end of the day, we have our own rivalries going and, with me making it and him not, it’s kind of a milestone in my career. In some regards, this accomplishment is my way of stepping forward into my own identity as a professional angler — not only at the AOY, but at next year’s Classic.
I never take anything for granted. I am where I am today because of him. But I think this is an important step for me to be on my own out there.
That being said, I’ll be the first to point out that my dad has several years of competition ahead of him, and he has some wins ahead of him. This is in no way, shape, or form a changing of the guard.
As far as the AOY Championship venue, I’ve never laid eyes on Lake Chatuge, but it looks like it has a lot of fish in it. I believe there will be a lot of mixed bags, with spotted bass being in great numbers, but largemouth offering the opportunity for bigger weights.
I’m sure the spots will be primarily in the deeper, clearer water, with the largemouth up shallow. That’s right in my wheelhouse, but my overall feeling about this event will be one of relaxation. With the pressure of Classic qualification off my shoulders, I’ll be able to fish freely and go for the win.
I think you’ll see a very wide separation in how guys will approach this event. You have a small group of guys who are right there on the Classic bubble, and I think you’ll see them play it safe. Everyone’s goal is to win, but their goal will probably be to get as many points as they can as quickly as they can.
That’s a small segment of the 50-man field. I think everyone else is either so far back in points you have to win, or you’re so far ahead that you don’t need the points, per se. So, while some will play it safe, I think the rest of the field will swing for the fence. You either have everything to win or nothing to lose.
I’m definitely in the nothing to lose group. I can’t fall out of the Classic, and I can’t move up in the sense of making more money at the AOY Championship. So, the only thing I’m looking for is that trophy. That’s why I’m going to this event.