Turning up the heat at Wheeler

It’s important to get off to a good start in any tournament, but it’s extremely critical in one like the Dixie Duel here on Wheeler Lake. Especially for me.

I came here in position to win a fourth consecutive Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of Year title. The 15-6 I weighed in yesterday padded my lead and gave me a little breathing room, but this is far from over.

If I continue to have a good tournament, the points will take care of themselves. I have to execute, capitalizing on every bite and every fish I hook.

I know the guys breathing down my neck are thinking the same. They will take advantage of any mistake I make.

But then, I’m not planning on making any mistakes.        Wheeler is a very good fishery, but it has fished tough this week. Maybe not as tough as the Arkansas River, but tough enough that every fish you catch will be important.

I came out of the Arkansas River event in a much better position than I could have had I not executed well there. The bites were few and far between and every fish that went into the livewell was critically important.

Just as it will be here.

We’re facing a lot of variables at Wheeler. It’s extremely hot and there isn’t much flow moving through the dams. The grass is gone and the fish are difficult to pinpoint. To make matters worse, the lake is fishing small and it’s difficult to find an area that isn’t getting pounded by other pros.

I spent a lot of practice time looking for that “magic spot,” such as the one I found here in 2008 when I finished second to Jeremy Starks. I didn’t find it in practice, but that doesn’t mean anything. Sometimes those sweet spots don’t reveal themselves until after the tournament begins.

Of course, this heat takes a lot out of you if you’re not in good condition. You have to eat properly and drink copious amounts of water to stay sharp. As I’ve always said, you’ve got to stay on your game with every cast. You can’t let your mind wander or give into the heat and fatigue, as that could be the moment when the tournament winning bass makes itself available to you.

I’ve got my wife and boys with me this week which will make my life more comfortable. The boys are now out of school and I’m eager to spend some time with them when we get home.

One thing is for sure: I’ll be glad to get back to some cooler weather and I can’t wait to visit northern Michigan and whip on some big smallmouth. I’ve been getting messages from my buddies who are showing off big smallies they’ve been catching this spring.

But first things first. I have an AOY title to defend and there are a handful of Elite pros that are in position – and have the desire – to take it away from me.

But I’m gonna do all I can to make them earn it.

Remember: It’s all about the attitude.

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