Looking back at my experience at last week’s Bassmaster Elite event on the St. Lawrence River, I can say that some facts are more important than others.
First, the fact that I finished two spots and 9 ounces ahead of my dad only matters from the standpoint that both of us are competitors who always want to do our best. However, I try to make it me versus the fish and not me versus Alton Jones or Kevin VanDam or Jordan Lee. If I beat the fish, I’ll beat most of the field.
Last week and all year, my dad and I have helped each other a lot. We may not be on the same school of fish, but pattern wise, we’re helping each other figure it out and get the ball rolling. I think that’s why you saw us finish very close on the St. Lawrence.
Now, the stat that really matters to me is my position in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings. I finished the 2017 season in 69th place; this year, I’m sitting in 18th place going into the AOY Championship, and I’m mathematically locked in for the Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK'S Sporting Goods.
One thing I can point to that has influenced my improvement is my offseason work. This past winter, I really pushed myself to fish as much as possible. A lot of times, in the offseason, it’s easy to go two to three weeks or a month without picking up a rod. But this year, I cut back on the duck hunting and deer hunting and took those days to stay on the lake and stay tuned-in.
This is important because the more time you spend out there, the more natural things become. Every angler, every day has to adjust in one way, shape or form. The guy that does well is the guy that adjusts at 9 a.m. and not 2:30 in the afternoon.
Those adjustments flow more naturally, and you're able to read water faster and build on your own confidence. I don’t know that I cast any better, but I’ve become more fluid with my adjustments and more confident with my adjustments.
Two more important changes I made this year was the commitment to fish new water every day — even during a tournament. I spend a small amount of time every day practicing, building and growing, rather than just fishing where and how I fished in practice. It’s hard to make fish last for a multi-day event, so you have to expand and find new fish on the fly, and I feel like like I was very good at that this year.
Lastly, I tried not to get myself spread out. On the St. Lawrence, I know I went the wrong direction because 12 of the Top 12 went the opposite direction; so I was not fishing in the best part of the river. Nevertheless, I spent all three days in my area, and I tried really hard to learn that area as well as I could. I wanted everything I found to be something I could use.
If I’m practicing 70 miles in one direction and 70 miles in the other, you’re going to have to choose one or the other. If you commit to an area and maximize your time there, this allows you to be much more specific.
These fundamental elements sure paid off for me this season and now, I can’t wait to continue into the AOY Championship. I’m going to do my best to beat the fish in that competition, and I have a pretty good game plan to do so.