Humbled. That’s the best word I can come up with to describe how I feel about winning my second Bassmaster Elite Series tournament on Lake Dardanelle. Sure, there’s a lot of excitement, happiness and even a good amount of pride, but now that the dust has settled, I can say that I’m just humbled.
After many years as a professional fisherman, I’ve been humbled with negative outcomes many times. This time around, I came out on top; but I have to say I do not take that lightly.
For one thing, the caliber of competitors that have not yet won an Elite event is pretty incredible. I can’t even describe the level of respect I have for the guys I fish against.
I won’t ever downplay a victory on the Elite Series — this is a big deal for me, my family and my sponsors. I’m definitely proud of what I was able to accomplish, but I know that there’s an entire field of talented anglers who are always just one key cast away from that trophy.
My friend and fellow Booyah pro staffer Gerald Swindle is a perfect example. He’s one of the best; and it honestly hurt my feelings to see Gerald lose this event. When I knew that I had more weight than he did, I saw it in his eyes.
I understand that feeling.
I’ve been there.
That’s the downside of coming out on top, but I’m a competitor and I come to these tournaments to win. I know Gerald feels the same way, as do all the other Elite anglers.
We’re all friends, but we all want to win. Every one of those guys, I could call them if I had a flat on the Interstate and they’d come to help me. But every one of them will beat me if they can.
What I have learned about the Elites is that these guys don’t let you win. If you’re going to win one of these tournaments, you have to take it. Every single one of these guys can win, so everything from your equipment to your decisions has to be flawless and you have to catch ‘em for four days.
We don’t make a lot of decisions on the water based on science. We make decisions based on instinct. One wrong decision and I could have very easily missed the win.
For example, on the first day, I had two areas I could have fished — an area upriver and the one that produced the win. At takeoff that morning, I was thinking “Do I go left or right?”
I felt more comfortable with the area I chose because I thought it offered a lot more opportunities for how I like to fish so I went that way and it turned out to be the right decision.
You know, when one of these events is over, it’s like a dream. You go back and ask yourself why you made this decision or that decision. I’m glad I didn’t have to question too many of my decisions this time.
I think a big piece of that is confidence. That’s essential for the mental toughness you gotta have to be able to compete at this level.
Last year, I was fortunate to win the Elite Series event on Bull Shoals, along with two other national level events on another circuit. That put a lot fuel in my tank, so to speak. But it all happened so quickly last year, that maybe I didn’t take time to fully appreciate it.
I think that at the beginning of this season I might have lost some of that momentum. I was thinking that maybe I got on a little hot streak and maybe it’s over now. But the win on Dardanelle was a definite confidence boost.
That’s particularly meaningful since I won doing something that I like to do — swimming a jig. That’s a technique I’ve been using for 20 years and, although I love to flip, I enjoy swimming a jig because you get to watch every fish eat the bait.
Now, the other nice part about winning an Elite event is the Bassmaster Classic qualification. This is always my main goal for the year and securing my spot at the 2015 Classic removes that concern and allows me to fish the rest of the season with a more relaxed approach.
I won’t let up, of course. I’ll fish to win each time, but knowing that I don’t have to worry about qualifying through the points, I can fish more aggressively for another win.
Even as I’m saying this, I feel fortunate and blessed just to be fishing the Elites, much less win two Elites. I was just a kid from Oklahoma who wanted to go bass fishing for a living. And to qualify for my third Classic in three years, well, that’s just an incredible feeling.
Looking down the road, I’m looking forward to the Elite event on Cayuga Lake. That was where I qualified for the Elite Series through the Opens in 2012.
For now, I’m going to enjoy the experience I had at Lake Dardanelle. I feel gratified, appreciative and maybe a little relieved.
Most of all, I’m humbled.