As I drove from my Bassmaster Opens victory at the James River back to Alabama for the next Elite Series tournament, I thought about the meaning of this one. It’s my sixth B.A.S.S. victory at the professional level, plus a win in the 2010 B.A.S.S. Nation Championship. I can’t say that any single victory is more meaningful than any other – each one is important in different ways.
I’m thrilled with this trophy because I’d nibbled around the edges at the James in prior tournaments. In four past Opens there, I’d finished fifth, 11th, 11th and 38th. When I finished fifth, I had the bites on to win it multiple times during competition, and it just wasn’t my time. It was disappointing. But I got to see my friend Charlie Hartley win, and who doesn’t like it when Charlie does well? The fishing world is a better place because he’s in it.
And that brings me to another point: The guy who finishes second – or fifth or 10th or 40th – didn’t necessarily “lose” to the guy who takes home the trophy. There have been tournaments where I’ve finished second where I felt better about my performance than some events that I won. It’s not just about what the scoreboard says – everybody is in a different situation heading into the tournament and into the final day.
Along those lines, none of my three past Saturday appearances at the James River were “losses” for me. Each time I launched my boat on that river I got more and more comfortable with it, and I felt like I learned more and more. As things are happening you can’t necessarily see how they’ll benefit you in the future, but you can stockpile those hints and clues and lessons until you have a game plan that starts off far ahead of square one. That’s why I felt I could go to the James this week with just a single day of practice and still have a shot to do well. In fact, while I do value extended practice time, one of the advantages of a shortened practice period is that it allows you to open your mind more. At its best, you’re using your limbic brain and seeing what is happening as the conditions develop
On the first day of this recent event at the James, I noticed that the first two bass I landed were postspawn. If I’d been running from spot to spot to spot based on what I’d found in practice, I might’ve ended up fishing locations more than conditions. Instead, I allowed those two catches to clue me into the stage of the fish, and that positioned me to look at the body of water and see where the fish were heading. With that, I could put myself in position so that the fish were coming to me.
Growing up in Idaho, I didn’t have an opportunity to fish tidal water, and while I wouldn’t say that’s one of my strengths, the James has been kind to me because the fish are constantly moving. You can go behind other anglers – or even behind yourself – and catch fish that have replenished popular or obvious areas. It’s all about timing and persistence.
Again, this win is different than my past Elite wins, but not because it was any easier. The Opens just present a different challenge – the field was over twice the size of an Elite field and chock-full of local hammers as well as the next crop of new Elite pros. I want to win at every level the sport offers, and this victory allowed me to check off another box. After coming close so many times, I had no guarantees that it would ever happen, but now that it has I’m hungry to achieve more things that have eluded me.