Trash talking: Tharp and Lucas

I feel like I’m a pretty easy person to get along with in general, but when I’m on the water I’ll do anything legal and ethical to get the job done. I don’t care if it takes 5 pounds to win or 150 pounds to win, the bottom line is that I want to take home the trophy.

We talk a lot about the techniques and patterns that we use to succeed in tournaments, but one topic that doesn’t get much exposure is the trash talking that goes on during tournaments, both on the water and back at the dock. It’s never mean-spirited – at least we don’t intend it that way – but if you don’t have a thick skin you’ll get psyched out pretty quickly and your fishing will probably suffer.

One of the anglers I like to talk smack with the most is Justin Lucas. Even though we didn’t get to this point the same way, our history goes back a number of years, to when we were both fishing the FLW Tour. I started off there as a boater, and he started off as a co-angler. When he moved to the front of the boat, a rivalry of sorts began. To put it mildly, neither of us held back when challenging the other. That’s the most family-friendly way I can say it.

We both came over to the Elite Series this year, and while I think that most of the field already knew what I could do on the water (largely as the result of my success in B.A.S.S. Opens and at FLW), not as many of them knew how good Justin could be. He had to earn their respect, and he did it by finishing 11th in the Angler of the Year race. I’m truly happy for him, but I’m not particularly thrilled that he finished two spots ahead of me. I’ll probably never hear the end of it. Unfortunately, I may have had a small role in motivating him to fish that well. Apparently at this past February’s Classic at Lake Guntersville, when I was leading after the first day, Mark Zona interviewed Justin and he let his guard down for a second and revealed that I intimidate him a bit.

I didn’t hear the interview, but enough people told me about it that I know it happened. When I found out, I certainly didn’t let up on the smack talk. If anything, I doubled down. Of course now it’s clear to everyone that Justin is a skilled angler, but I can’t help but think that my unfiltered verbal abuse might’ve been the fuel on the fire that pushed his performance to the next level.

It’s not the first time I’ve been burned by talking a little bit of trash. There have been plenty of side bets over the years that have required me to unhappily open up my wallet and liberate some bills afterward. Now that I think of it, Lucas has been a part of many of them. At Cayuga several anglers threw a little cash in the pot for the biggest day 3 stringer. It came down to Lucas and I and he got me by 1 ounce. He made me sign my $20 bill. I bet he didn’t ask that of the others that were in on the bet. Also at Escanaba we played corn hole in front of 200 people for a $20 pot and he beat me. I had always beaten him before (and done it loudly) so obviously he went home to Alabama and practiced until his game was better, just for a situation like that. It’s irritating but not surprising – that’s the way we all are out here. We’re the most competitive people you’ll ever meet. You wouldn’t make it to the Elite Series unless you had that sort of unrelenting drive and competitive spirit.

I’ve picked on Justin here quite a bit, because I know he can take it, but he’s not the only target of my smack talk. When I get to know someone on tour, I kind of test the waters as I go, and once I learn that it gets to them, that’s when I hit the gas and really bring out the good stuff.

One angler I haven’t tried it on yet is Kevin VanDam. The opportunity hasn’t quite presented itself yet, but we’re both in this for the long haul, so I’m sure that at some point it will. I’m not 100 percent sure, but I think he likes that type of back-and-forth. He’s probably as good at dishing it out as he is at taking it, so when I get the courage to go after him I’m sure he’ll direct it right back at me. He may be the most competitive angler on tour, and after an uncharacteristically tough year, I’m sure he’s ready to get back out there and start handing out the abuse. I’m ready for it. Unlike Justin Lucas, even if I was the slightest bit intimidated I wouldn’t dare admit it.