Elite surprises

If you follow the Bassmaster Elite Series, you may know that I'm one of the "rookies." It's true that it's my first year in the Elites, but I've been around for a while on other circuits and have considered myself a professional bass fisherman for a few years now. It's why I put "rookie" in quotation marks and why I don't measure my performance only against other "rookies" but against the entire field, which is stacked with the very best the sport has to offer.

But even though I've got some experience in the world of professional bass fishing, I'll admit that my first year in the Elite Series gave me some surprises. If your goal is to qualifying for the Elites one day or even if you just like to follow it closely, you might be surprised by some of these things, too.

My first surprise was just how quickly the Elite anglers can break down and figure out what's happening on a body of water. They seem to find every productive pattern, and they find it quickly. They have to! We only get two and a half days of practice.

One of the humbling things for me is how these guys can unlock an area or pattern that I missed. At virtually every tournament this season, I'd explore an area and write it off —it didn't have the quality or numbers of fish that I felt I needed to be competitive —only to find someone go there during competition and do really well.

It was a lesson to me that there are lots of different ways to approach a body of water and be successful. Just because I couldn't get something going in an area doesn't mean that no one else could do it —and (hopefully) vice versa. Versatility and an open mind go a long way in the Elite Series.

My second surprise had to do with Day 2 of Elite events. If you thought the Elite pros did well on Day 1, just wait for Day 2! Normally, weights stayed about the same from the first day to the second, but quite often they went up! And if they dropped at all, they didn't drop much. Instead of running out of fish, these guys expand their patterns and figure things out as the competition continues. To keep up, you have to get better, too. If you can't adjust and adapt, you can't succeed at this level.

I can't think of another circuit where that's so important.In the Elite Series you need your "A" game on Day 1, but you better have your "A+" game on Day 2.

The third big surprise of my "rookie" year was the fan support associated with Elite events. It's impressive. I had heard that the crowds were good and enthusiastic, but it's one thing to hear about it and another to see them in person.

Everywhere we go, thousands of bass fishing fans come out to greet us, to watch the weigh-ins, to check out the Expo, to say hello at a gas station or ask for an autograph at a tackle shop or maybe just to wish us good luck when we launch in practice. But it's when you take your catch up on the weigh-in stage that you really see the kind of support our sport has and how many people it touches.

There's just nothing like an Elite weigh-in crowd on the weekend. It's electric, and the fans are so freaking awesome!

My "rookie" season is not over just yet. I still have the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship in a couple of weeks, and I'm looking forward to qualifying for my first Bassmaster Classic. It's been quite a ride, and I hope to share more of it with you very soon.