As I write this, I'm preparing for the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year (AOY) Championship on Sturgeon Bay out of Door County, Wis. This tournament presents a lot of firsts for me, and it's tough to figure out just how to approach it.
I suppose the most unusual thing about the AOY Championship is that I go into the tournament as the 2015 Angler of the Year. I was fortunate enough to lock up that title at the end of our last regular season Elite Series tournament on Lake St. Clair. I've really been blessed this year, worked extremely hard and have had a lot of success. To win my third AOY title means a lot to me and my family. We're really grateful.
I have a lot of people to thank for this season, and I want to do that soon but with the AOY Championship this week, I thought it would be a good idea to talk about that. I'll have time to tell you all about my year after the season is over. It's been a real rollercoaster — some of the highest highs of my career and some of the lowest lows of my life.
This tournament is unusual for me because for the first time I have nothing at stake. Since I already earned AOY and the prize money that goes with it, I get the same reward whether I finish first at Sturgeon Bay or last. That's definitely different.
Although there's nothing really at stake for me, there's a lot at stake for most of the other guys. They'll be battling for spots in the 2016 GEICO Bassmaster Classic on Grand Lake O' the Cherokees and for a greater share of the AOY money. Some of them are already guaranteed a spot in the Classic, but everyone but me can move up or down in the AOY standings and gain or lose money.
Even though there's no way for me to move up or down or change my payout, I want everyone to know that I'm taking the tournament very seriously. I'm trying to do everything right in my preparation. My gear is as well prepared as for any Elite tournament, and I really want to win, collect another trophy and add another page to what's been a great season.
I've been fun fishing at Sturgeon Bay a couple of times before, so I feel like I know it pretty well. It's an amazing fishery with giant smallmouth bass. As a smallmouth fishery, it's really tough to beat, and I'm really excited to be here.
At last year's AOY Championship at Bay de Noc out of Escanaba, Mich., we ran into some windy weather that kept us off the water for three straight days. Now it looks like conditions could be rough at Sturgeon Bay for part of the practice period. It doesn't take a lot of wind to create 4- and 5-foot waves out there. If things settle down, though, you’re going to see some fantastic catches. I hope I'm one of the guys making them!
But if weather's a big factor and things are rough out on the big water, I might play things safe because of my situation. Like I said, there's not much for me to gain or lose. I want to try to have fun, to fish relaxed and to win if I get the chance. But if things get rough, I probably won’t be out there in the middle of it like the guys fighting for one of the last Classic spots.
It's a weird situation, but I think that's the best way to handle it. Of course, after each day of competition, I'll be reconsidering my situation and coming up with a new plan.
That approach has worked all year. I see no reason to change it now.