'Back' to it

The Elite season has been on hiatus recently, but things are about to get going again. I've just finished a scouting trip to Lake St. Clair — site of the final tournament of the season — and I'm almost packed and ready to hit the road for the St. Lawrence River, where we compete in less than two weeks.

It's very unusual for me to be prepared so early. Much as I'd like to be that organized and on top of things, I have a tendency to procrastinate a little. The reason I'm so far ahead right now is simple.

I'm very, very excited about the last two tournaments.

As a Texan, and even as an Elite pro, I don't get to visit the smallmouth factories up north very often — at least not as often as I'd like. They're incredibly fun, incredibly productive and absolutely addicting. Big smallmouth bass are seemingly everywhere, and the fishing style is one that I don't get to use that much on other waters, so that's exciting, too.

What's funny to me is that the folks around the St. Lawrence and Lake St. Clair want to talk about the big largemouths on Falcon Lake here in Texas while all I can think about is the 4- and 5-pound smallmouths they have up there. I guess it's true that the grass is always greener....

Preparing for these last two events is a lot more extensive than for any of the previous six tournaments this season. That's because we're changing gears from tournaments that were primarily about catching largemouth bass to ones that will be about catching smallmouth bass — at least for the anglers hoping to win. The stuff we'll need and use for these events is a lot more specialized than what worked in the first six tournaments. I'm packing up stuff for Great Lakes-type fishing that I only get to use every couple of years or so.

I'm also excited about being pain-free for the first time in about five years. On Monday I went to the doctor for a back procedure. For a long time I've had lower back discomfort, and I finally decided to do something about it.

Now, I don't want anyone thinking I was in agony out there or that I can't wait for the season to end so I can have surgery. It's not like that, and I'm very fortunate to be able to say that. I know a lot of people who suffer from truly debilitating back injuries and excruciating pain. Some of them have to give up fishing, fish shorter days or otherwise change the way they participate in the sport. I feel for them.

My situation isn't nearly so severe. I'd call it a distraction more than anything else. Standing on the bow of the boat all day, getting up and down from the console, lifting and dropping the trolling motor — those things were bothering me, but they weren't truly debilitating.

I decided to get help for the first time for a couple of reasons. First, we're heading for some big water that can get pretty rough, and that makes things tougher on me. Second, I'm sitting in fifth place in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race, so there's a lot at stake for me in the last two events.

I have a very outside shot at winning AOY — but a shot's a shot, and at my age (50) those come around less and less frequently — and I want to do all I can to stay in the race in case the anglers ahead of me stumble. Also, I want to stay high in the standings so I can qualify for All-Star Week in September.

I'm hoping that the relief I now have is going to help my focus on the water. Instead of thinking about shifting my weight from one foot to the other or slowing down on a run across the lake to soften the ride, I want to be able to focus on the fishing.

I'm not sure how long the pain will be gone. They told me the relief might last days, weeks or months, but I'm already enjoying the effects. I've had a solid year so far, and I'm looking forward to finishing with some big smallies.

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