Tharp: I want to beat the best

I’ve made no secret of the fact that one of the reasons I transitioned from the FLW Tour to the Elite Series is because I wanted to compete against the best anglers in the world on a weekly basis.

Of course there are certainly a lot of good sticks at FLW, guys like Andy Morgan, David Dudley and Larry Nixon, but I wanted the opportunity to see if I could beat the likes of KVD, Aaron Martens and Greg Hackney. It’s probably dangerous not to put more pros in that category, because anyone I leave out is going to feel slighted and put a target on my back.

KVD in particular was a motivating factor for me to make the move. Year in, year out, his record shows him to be the best angler who’s ever lived. He also likes to engage in a little bit of smack talk. So do I. It motivates me, and even in just a single year on the Elite Series, I feel like I’ve developed some rivalries of that sort. It’s all based on mutual respect, of course, but it can get pretty heated at times.

I didn’t fish around Kevin much during the course of the 2014 season. In fact I saw him very little, but knowing that he was out there still drove me. I can’t wait for the day that I’m leading a tournament, or he’s leading it, and the other one is right on his heels.

I’m shocked that Kevin didn’t make the Classic, and a little disappointed, too. While our field is incredibly talented and just about any of them could win it, if I am fortunate enough to win I want to know that I beat him, too. Don’t get me wrong – whoever wins will deserve it and there will be no asterisk next to his title. But the harder a title is to earn the more it means when you win it.

One angler who I did fish around quite a bit this year was Aaron Martens. At both Cayuga and Escanaba we’d found the same groups of fish. While we approached them differently, we both ended up with about the same weight.

At Cayuga, he had 48-02 for three days and I had 45-11. What really opened my eyes is that after the second day Aaron was talking about how the fish were biting funny and he had to switch from 8-pound line to 6-pound line in order to get any bites at all. Meanwhile I was whacking them flipping with 65-pound braid, as was Greg Hackney, the eventual winner.

At the Angler of the Year Championship in Escanaba, once again we ended up in the same area doing totally different things. I was throwing a swimbait, and he was – you guessed it – dropshotting. This time I got the better of him, catching 36-06 over two days of competition versus his 32-15. Aaron is an absolute sportsman on the water, a pleasure to fish around.

I have to admit that I’m in awe of Aaron’s talent. Actually, I’m intrigued by all of the anglers from the west and the things that they bring to the sport. It totally fascinates me.

When I sit back and look at the pool of anglers that have earned my respect over the years, the one thing they have in common is that they all do their own thing. It’s not as simple as Kevin cranking everywhere or Aaron catching them with his dropshot at each event. I am talking about the things that define each of them as anglers. Their preparation and practice strategy are a part, as well as the techniques each choose to use. All of the anglers on this list believe 100 percent in themselves and their “unique” styles that each have developed. That is what separates them from everyone else.

There is no way any of us can do it all and each of us is different. I believe there is a right way to go about things and what is right for Aaron is not necessarily what is right for you or me. I don’t think you can beat these guys at their own game.

In order to beat the best consistently, you have to believe 100 percent in “your” game and what you can do. I am leaving today for Lake Hartwell and the Bassmaster Classic. I may not win or even get a bite, but I will promise each of you I will stick to “my” game. I know that will give me the chance to beat the best!