How to win the Classic

I’m looking around the corner and I see the biggest event of the year bearing down on me like a semi truck. The GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by Diet Mountain Dew and GoPro is an event like no other. The sheer magnitude of all that goes on during this event has to be experienced to understand, and that’s why it’s so important that I mentally manage all that’s coming.

After fishing as long as I have, the tackle prep and boat maintenance stuff is just second nature. I take it all very seriously, of course, but I can put myself on autopilot. I’ll have plenty of Smithwick Perfect 10 Rogues, XCalibur XR50 lipless crankbaits and Booyah jigs packed in the right order and I’ll have those Lew’s reels spooled with new Sunline. That organization is so simple I don’t even need to think about it.

What does require a lot of mental preparation is all the other “stuff,” and that means more than just the fishing part. It’s all of the other events and distractions I’ll encounter before that first takeoff that I need to consider and keep in perspective.

First off, one thing many anglers don’t consider is physical in nature. I absolutely must make sure I’m in top physical shape. The long drive to and from the lake each day and the grueling tournament days can tax you physically. You cannot expect to just show up and hope for the best, so even before our practice period I’ll be getting up around 5 a.m. to get my internal clock synchronized for the upcoming schedule.

It may be pretty cold on Lake Guntersville, and I’ve found that a good breakfast and a hot lunch are two of the most important things I can do to stay focused when it’s uncomfortable out. If you joined me in the mornings, we’d be eating ham and cheese omelets or Honey Nut Cheerios. For lunches, I’ll be packing a thermos of stew, which keeps me nourished and warm inside.

One physical consideration I’m becoming less and less concerned about is my left elbow. I mentioned my off-season surgery in my first blog, and I’m really happy to report that my recovery seems to be ahead of schedule. I fished a tournament in early February and was on the water for six days (practice and competition days). I did have a little pain, but I think that was just from lack of use. It was like a squeaky door hinge than just needed some oil. I fished hard and my elbow did just fine. In fact, the more I fished the better it got, and I think I’ll be 100 percent going into the Classic.

Going in at full strength is reassuring and allows me to focus on fishing, and one thing that’s got me excited is Lowrance’s new SpotlightScan Sonar, which allows me to see images of habitat and fish ahead of my boat. With this forward-looking view displayed on the HDS 12 unit on my bow, I’ll be able to find those key points and ditches in the grass lines and make precise casts before the fish even know I’m there.

I’ll also be watching for schools of suspended fish. This time of year, there will be a lot of suspended fish on Guntersville and it just takes one cast to fire up a school of 35 big fish. I’m looking forward to seeing how the SpotlightScan can benefit me in this event.

Now, probably the most challenging part of the entire Bassmaster Classic experience is keeping in mind that it’s first and foremost a fishing tournament. B.A.S.S. does such a great job of creating a big stage for us fishermen, but if you’re not careful all the many enjoyable elements of this event can grab your focus and maybe even pull your mind away from the job at hand.

Almost every angler going is going to have a good support system of family and friends there, and they’re going to want you to spend time with them, but you have to remember why you’re there. In addition to family, there are also a lot of media requests and sponsor commitments, so balancing these important things and keeping focus can be real challenge.

Now, it’s important for me to say that my family, fans, sponsors and media are never distractions — they’re all vital elements of my motivational system. But even with these very important people, I have to manage all the different demands for my attention. I’ve always tried to make sure all the folks who love and support me understand this, and I feel very fortunate to even have this kind of consideration.

I figure it would be pretty lonely if I didn’t have these people in my life, so I’ll be fishing extra hard to honor all that they’ve put into my career. We get to bring in five fish a day, so during the Classic I want to pack my bag with one big fish for my family, one for my fans, one for my sponsor, one for my friends in the media and one for myself. If I can make everybody happy with “their” part of my limit, I’m going to have a good shot at lifting that big, shiny trophy.

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