Elite Series: Halftime's over

I have never faced a 98-mile-per-hour fastball, driven a NASCAR or teed up against Tiger Woods. Years ago I dreamed of trying to tackle Jim Brown, but that never happened. But now, as the national anthem plays before we line up to go fishing at Elite Series events, I look out and find myself in the middle of the best in the world. What a privilege. What a rush!

Like the best in every sport, each one of these fishermen started out fishing from the bank as a kid. Just as the progression from tee ball to the big leagues, from back roads to NASCAR, each Elite fisherman has had to prove himself at every level. From the hundreds of thousands of young anglers who started out with the goal of fishing at this level, there are only 99 this year who get the chance. Over the first four Elite events, I have gained greater respect for them even though I have known most of these men for a while and have respected their angling ability. To say they are good just doesn’t tell the story.

There have been highs and lows this season. If you have been following the standings, you will know why. At the Harris Chain, I had a good tournament and was feeling alright. Then the rug got jerked out from underneath me. It has been an emotional roller coaster since then. Thanks to my roommate, Jeff Connella, and a lot of support from family and friends and an electric razor, I haven’t committed suicide yet.

“I just thought this 63-year-old rookie could keep up with the field.”

To add to the stress, there are lots of miles between tournaments. Since I left my Winter Haven, Fla., home at the end of March, I have practiced two days on Lake Murray and West Point, fished tournaments on both Pickwick and Toledo Bend and spent two days on the Arkansas River. I have spent a week with my family, but now it’s time to get back to work. There will be more nights in unknown beds and lots of meals through a window. Or as Tim McGraw would say, “Another supper from a sack, a 99-cent heart attack.”

I have gone through all of my equipment, washed weeks and miles of grime from my boat (and my mind) and put together a new game plan. We will be fishing a little different in the second half. Bed fishing is over — I hope — and now we should start looking for fish in different places, like secondary points, laydowns, buck brush, river ledges and flats. I am now on my way to Wheeler for a couple of days, and by Sunday afternoon I will be ready for West Point.

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