Reflecting on my first GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods, I can say it was an experience like no other. There was so much more to take in than a regular event, but I made up my mind that I was going to enjoy every aspect of it and make as many great memories as I could.
I recall during practice it didn’t really set in what was about to happen because there was so much to do during Classic week. But knowing how important it was, there was a greater sense of urgency than I’ve ever had in practicing for an event.
On the final day of practice, in the last hour, I found some really big fish up spawning. I had a media person with me that day and I turned around to him and said: “I haven’t been nervous until right now.”
I knew then that I had found fish that could really shake things up. I had a 30-pound sack sitting there on beds in front of me. That’s when the nerves started setting in.
The night before the Classic — you talk about not being able to sleep. It wasn’t necessarily that I was nervous, but your mind is racing a thousand miles an hour.
You try to anticipate as much as possible, but I had an unexpected moment the first morning while driving to takeoff. I heard my Classic entrance song — “Dream On” by Aerosmith — and I found myself getting emotional there in the truck. It was a pretty cool feeling.
Here are a few more of my Classic memories:
Media Day — I’ve never done that many interviews in my life — combined! I had all different kinds from comedy to serious, but the most memorable question I got was “What’s your favorite recipe for a 5-pound bass?”
My response: The catch-and-release recipe.
Night of Champions dinner — The 2016 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Gerald Swindle gave one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard. He’s known for cutting up, but he was very serious, very to the point and it was raw emotion. I had all the respect in the world for Gerald, but I gained even more for him that night. He’s done an incredible job as an ambassador for our sport.
Day 1 takeoff — As nervous and as excited as I was, I couldn’t have been parked next to a better person. I was next to Charlie Hartley, who’s known as the happiest man in fishing. He told me to just go out there, have fun and remember that no matter what happens, you’re doing what you love.
That was something I really needed to hear. But then, to hear my name called, to idle out with tons of spectator boats and police boats, to hear the fans cheering; it was something you dream of your whole life, but it’s so hard to get there that you never know if that dream will come true.
I hope I get to fish 20 more, but at the same time, I was going out there knowing that you never know how many more you’re going to get to fish. So, I went out there with the intention of enjoying every second of this whole experience.
My first keeper — I started where I had found all those big bed fish but they were all gone, so about an hour in, I went to my secondary area. My first fish was a chunky 4-pounder. I slung him in the boat, gave a thumbs up I think I jokingly said “Haha, I didn’t zero.”
That really got the ball rolling and I caught three more keepers there in the next 30 minutes, but to hear my friends cheer (from spectator boats) and to know that this fish would cross the Bassmaster Classic stage made that catch really special.
The weigh-ins — To drive into Minute Made Park with a crowd like that was absolutely breathtaking. I’ve been to 15-16 Classics, and I could have never dreamed how it would feel to come in and to walk down the runway, high-fiving all the fans.
On a personal note, heading out that first morning, my dad said “No matter what, we’re proud of you, but this is the Classic, so swing for the fences.” He was getting a little emotional, I was getting a little emotional and neither one of us like that stuff, so I said “Thanks, dad.” We hugged each other and kept it short.
I’ll never ever have a first Classic again. I could fish 20 more of these things and win three of them, but this is the one I’d remember most. It’s because of little moments like that.
I would have liked to finish higher than 39th, but when some people say “Don’t be down,” I say, “Why would I be down? I just fished the Bassmaster Classic.” It was a dream come true and nothing’s going to push me harder to get back again.
I would like to close by saying congratulations to Jordan Lee. Everyone has said he’s the next big thing, well I want to say “You’re not the next big thing, you are the big thing.”
Jordan’s less than a year older than I am and to see him fulfill his dream is just incredible. He works hard and he’s a role model to all of us young anglers.