Looking Back at the Season

The 2008 Elite Series is complete. I had a great year — two wins, a fourth Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title, a 2009 Classic berth, and I passed the $3 million mark in winnings. It was all I could have asked for.

Still, there are lessons to be learned, things I take note of which will help me become a better angler and competitor in the future. Three tournaments in particular stand out. Each taught me a valuable — but different — lesson.

Citrus Slam — Kissimmee Chain — 1st Place

I knew most of the guys would be looking for bedding bass and fishing for big females moving right on the beds. But that's not my strength. I don't like to do that, and I'm not real good at it. I decided to fish my way.

I fished isolated clumps of hydrilla in 7-10 feet of water on Toho with a Redeye Shad, a lure I designed with Strike King. I was targeting pre- and postspawn bass in more open water.

My practice was mediocre, but I resisted the urge to sight fish. True, bedding bass are big. But, like I said, that's not my strength; I'm not comfortable doing that. I knew it wouldn't work for me.

I fished the tournament my way and won.

Battle on the Border — Lake Amistad — 56th Place

This is the event that will haunt me for awhile. It did, however, teach me a valuable lesson — one I won't soon forget.

I've had some success on Amistad in the past and didn't go into the tournament blind. Regardless, I had a horrible practice and didn't know what I was going to do when competition started on Friday. (The first day — Thursday — was cancelled because of high winds.)

Anyway, I ended up not trusting my instincts and fishing a pattern I didn't have confidence in. I was 63rd after the first day and knew I was in trouble. Still, I continued with the same pattern throughout most of Saturday until, after at least an hour of arguing with myself, I switched and started fishing my instincts.

I caught bass — solid keepers — almost immediately. I know in my heart if I'd have trusted myself I would have made the Top 12 cut on Sunday, or at least come close. Instead, I got thumped and finished in 56th place.

It was a hard lesson learned. I won't ignore my instincts again!

Bluegrass Brawl — Kentucky Lake — 1st Place

Previous experience on Kentucky Lake taught me that I would need a lot of spots to fish — dozens of them. The pressure is relentless. There are a ton of boats on the water every day, all day. It's not likely you're going to fish a spot more than once, never more than twice.

Armed with that knowledge, I spent my practice time looking for places to fish. I didn't worry much about what was on them, or even how to catch the ones that were there. I figured I'd do that later, during the tournament. Marking spots was my goal.

I ran all over the lake during practice and again during the tournament. Sometimes I only fished a spot for 5 or 10 minutes. And, I saved my best spots for Sunday — didn't go near them until then. It was tough but I steeled myself to do what I knew I had to do.

I ended up fishing 12-15 spots with a Strike King Series 6 crankbait and a 5 1/2-inch Strike King Sexy Spoon and caught good keepers all four days. My confidence in myself paid off; I won.

The basic lesson in all this is to know yourself. Be brutally honest. Know what you do well and what you don't. Then fish to your strengths and away from your weaknesses. And never ignore your instincts.

When I did those things this year, I was successful. When I didn't, I got my butt kicked.