What’s it like to win the Classic?

Watching the final-day weigh-in of the Bassmaster Classic is always an interesting experience for me. I was extremely happy for my Megabass teammate Edwin Evers on his win, but as I watched Edwin hoist that 80-pound trophy over his head and all that confetti falling on him, I couldn’t help but think back to Feb. 26, 2006, in Kissimmee, Fla.

That was the day I lifted that same trophy over my head after three crazy days on Lake Toho. That day changed my life in so many ways, it’s almost surreal to think about.

I might be a little off in my numbers here, but I believe there are only 38 guys in the world who can claim the title of “Bassmaster Classic Champion,” and I’m fortunate to be one of them. Somebody asked me recently, “What does it feel like in that moment when you know you’ve won the Classic?”

Well, I wish I had a good answer to that, but the honest-to-God truth is that I don’t really remember many details.

It was all surreal, like I was in a dream. I had Kevin Vandam – the 2005 winner, and the greatest of all time – standing next to me, handing me the trophy. I was a 26 1/2-year-old kid who had only been fishing professionally for two-and-a-half years, and I had won the Forrest Wood Cup only 18 months earlier. Not even three years into my professional fishing career, I had already won the two marquee events in the sport.

It just didn’t seem that hard.

Let’s just say that my perspective is a whole lot different now. I was so young in my career back then; I truly didn’t understand how difficult it is to win an event like the Bassmaster Classic, or heck, any three- or four-day event at this level.

I got a reminder, real fast: I went straight from winning the Classic to fishing my next event at Pickwick Lake, with no practice, no sleep and no true understanding of what I’d just accomplished. I got my head handed to me. I caught one fish in two days.

I was so overwhelmed with the Classic that I didn’t care about that Pickwick tournament, and I did absolutely terrible. In hindsight, I could’ve taken a different approach to that event. I felt unstoppable, so it was pretty eye-opening to me that the Classic trophy didn’t make it any easier to catch fish. I was going to have to keep putting in the work to remain competitive with the level of anglers who fish on a tour level.

I really doubt that Edwin will suffer the same “lag.” He’s a lot more mature angler than I was back in 2006, and I can foresee him taking this Classic win and going on a major roll. For a guy like Edwin, who’s already an insanely talented angler, that extra confidence from winning the Classic could put him at a level where he wins two or three events in a year. The Classic trophy motivates you for the whole year, and Edwin is a great example of what having confidence on the water can do for you.

Being a Classic champion is only going to make that stronger.

Looking ahead to the Elite kickoff

A few quick thoughts about the St. Johns River …

I’ve never fished there, and don’t know much about it other than what I’ve read in the tournament reports. I have no pre-conceived notions about how that big river will fish, so maybe I’ll find a place that no other competitors are paying attention to. I don’t know where I’m supposed to be, or how I’m supposed to fish it, so I have the opportunity to either do really good in this tournament, or really screw it up.

I should admit, I really like fishing in Florida, and feel like I’ll do well this week. I have a pretty good knowledge of the way Florida fish react when they get around the spawn, and how their behavior and locations change throughout the day. Florida-strain fish in Florida are just a little different than they are in the rest of the country, but I feel like I understand how they relate to cover, and how they come and go from their beds, so this style of fishery ranks pretty high on my confidence scale.

My biggest concern about the St. Johns is the influence of bed fishing and giant fish. This is a case where one guy can find one or two 8- to 10-pound fish and it really changes the whole scope of the event. You could struggle along in practice and suddenly find one or two of those unicorn-type fish on Day 1 or Day 2 and the whole tournament changes.

I’m ready for it, though! I’m heading into it with confidence and an open mind, and hopefully I make the right decisions and find the right fish to get the season started off right.