One of the things that winning a Bassmaster Classic does is change the conversations you have as a professional fisherman. Before I won the Classic, I got a lot of "How do you find bass on a new lake?" or "How do you get sponsors?" or "What's the biggest bass you ever caught?"
Now one of the questions I get a lot is "Are you going to fish differently and swing for the fences more now that you've won the Classic and are already qualified for next year?"
It's an easy question to answer ... at least for me. The answer is no, I'm not going to fish any differently. I'm going to stick with what got me here and what I think works best for me as a person and as a fisherman.
I realize that it may not be an easy question to answer for other anglers. For a lot of guys, knowing that you don't have to accumulate points and fight for a Classic berth is liberating. Instead of playing it safe and fishing for a few extra points that might make a big difference at the end of the season, they can forget points and try to win or at least take a few more chances than they otherwise might.
Last season, Brent Chapman won an early Central Open that gave him an automatic berth into the Classic. He went on to have the best year of his career and won the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year title. I can't say whether the early win and Classic berth changed the way Brent fished or whether he just put everything together, but things certainly went well for him, and he deserved every bit of the success he had. It hasn't always worked out so well for other anglers who were in a similar position.
This year, I'm in that position, and I have no plans to change what I'm doing or how I do it. It's not that I'm stubborn or think I'm doing everything exactly right. It's that I've worked hard to get my fishing where it is, and until I see a reason to change it, I won't.
Maybe a better way to answer that question is to say that my approach to the sport is always changing, but changing slowly and gradually and because I learn something new or figure something out that I think will make me better, not because I won the Bassmaster Classic and suddenly have all the answers.
Winning the Classic has been the highlight of my career, but it didn't happen because a light bulb suddenly came on for me. It happened because I worked hard, found a winning pattern and productive location and managed to outlast 52 other very talented anglers.
I hope I can make it happen again one day. Until then, I'll keep hammering away at it the best I know how.
Dance with the one that brought you. She probably knows the steps.