My win at Santee Cooper was so unexpected that even a couple of days later it still hasn’t sunk in that I came out on top. I’m grateful for all of the support that I’ve received from friends, fans and sponsors alike before and after I hoisted the blue trophy. It remains humbling to see how many people cheer on my efforts.
As I wrote just a little over two months ago, "Winning blue trophies never gets old."
First of all, it was the first time that I’ve won a shallow water, junk fishing, grind-em-out type tournament. As a competitor, that provides a huge mental boost because it makes me realize that my hard work to become and remain versatile and open-minded is paying off.
Second, this is the first time that I’ve won two Bassmaster tournaments in a single calendar year. I know that Jamie Hartman and Brandon Cobb did it last year, but it’s happened relatively rarely during the 15 years of Bassmster Elite Series competition. I came close in both 2012 and 2013, and had three additional top-five finishes in 2017 when I won at Sam Rayburn, but I never managed to seal the deal.
Perhaps most importantly, I got to share the stage with Carl Jocumsen throughout the tournament and to experience how far his fishing career has come. Carl is both a part of my “fishing family” and a part of my actual family as a cousin-in-law. He is one of my best friends on tour. That made the victory a little bittersweet. It was obvious that for one of us to win at Santee, the other one could not. I was rooting for him and he was rooting for me, but neither of us was letting off the gas.
When Dave Mercer declared me the winner, I probably did not celebrate as exuberantly as I normally do. I wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing so because I know how badly Carl wanted that title, and how diligently he’s worked for it. His mantra is “Fear My Heart,” but he also has one of the most caring hearts of anyone I’ve met. He’s a fierce competitor and even better human being. My hat’s off to him for his performance on and off the water. Cheers mate!
During every practice period and every tournament, Carl and I talk every day. We eat dinner together after we get off the water. We knew exactly where and how the other one was fishing. At dinner during the tournament we discussed the changing conditions and relived every fish catch. This is the first time we’ve duked it out to finish first and second, and if things go according to plan, it could happen again. If he comes out on top next time, he definitely will have earned it.
As I wrote above, I really didn’t expect to win this one. My practice wasn’t all that great, and I didn’t really recognize the potential of my best areas or lock in on a single bait. Several of the anglers in the Top 10 were locked in on one thing – punching – and the fact that I kept an open mind worked in my favor. I got little clues here and there, and when you listen to those hints that’s when things like my magical Day 4 seem to happen.
For each Elite Series tournament this year I’ve produced a limited run of “Tourney Tees” with a theme based on my goals and expectations for that event. The t-shirt for Guntersville read “Stay Hungry,” and the “a” in “Stay” was a Bassmaster Classic trophy. That was the driving force for this week, and I’ll be carrying that forward for the rest of the season.
I expect that Chickamauga and Fork, like Santee, will be junk fishing, grinder events. I have to remember to stay hungry and keep my dreams in front of me. One thing that Carl and I both share is the mindset that when things get tough you have to take pains to push through.