A grueling two weeks

The last two weeks have been about as stressful as any period I’ve experienced during my professional fishing career.

The end of the season is like that when there’s a lot on the line. But when you fish back-to-back events in the heat we endured both weeks -- it’s both mentally and physically draining on everyone.

At stake were the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of Year title and the points race for Bassmaster Classic berths. Under the new format, the guys who were mathematically out of the Classic were trying to win the event to get their Classic ticket punched, so that added to the suspense.

And then there’s the Toyota Trucks All-Star Week at the end of July. Only the top eight guys from the Angler of Year standings get in, with another four getting voted in as fan favorites.

That made for a lot of drama and tension for everyone involved. It puts a lot of emphasis on winning, and at the same time that you’re out there trying to win, you’re rooting for your friends to do well and qualify for the postseason events.

Believe me, I was fortunate to win another Angler of Year title. Although I had a good run, there was nothing easy about it, especially these past two weeks.

I didn’t have a good feeling at the Arkansas River tournament in Little Rock because I never got a good feel for what the fish were doing. But I was able to persevere.

I didn’t have a good practice at Wheeler, either, but was able to make some good decisions and fish a clean tournament.

Someone asked me which tournament was the most meaningful this season, and I’d have to say the Toledo Bend (33rd) and Murray (29th). Even though they were my worst finishes, I managed to fish well enough to hang in there. That’s what you have to do to compete at this level. You can’t give in to negative thoughts during a bad event; you’ve got to keep grinding.

This year’s Elite field is the toughest I’ve ever seen. My lowest finish was 33rd and I had three Top 10s yet the race went down to the wire. It’s getting so that you cannot finish out of the money (top 50) in any event and win this title. It didn’t used to be that way, but these guys are that good.

Edwin Evers, who finished second, is one of many. He’s a strong angler and mentally tough enough to handle the grind. I congratulate him and all the others who made the Classic for having a great year.

The season also exemplified the importance of conditioning. You slack off on any given day and these guys will eat your lunch.

On the last day of the Wheeler event, I’m out there chunking and winding a Strike King 6XD crankbait in that heat and thinking about people who say we aren’t athletes. They need to get up every day at 5 a.m., fish under those conditions and try to match us cast for cast, every day of the week.

What we do is as physically demanding as a NASCAR driver. Like us, they become conditioned to handle the challenge, and that’s what being an athlete is about.

Remember, too, that it’s all about the attitude.

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