During a Shimano media junket on the scenic waters of the King Fisher Society in mid-April, I was paired with Bassmaster Elite Series veteran Bernie Schultz.
Like many private lakes, the one at King Fisher in Laurel Hill, N.C., is dotted with fish feeders that are set to go off automatically throughout the day. The feeders draw bluegill, which in turn, draw hungry largemouth.
We had been fishing the tannic-colored waters around this one feeder for about 45 minutes — and since we hadn’t had much action, we decided to drop everything and move when we heard a different feeder go off on the opposite side of the lake.
Before we could get half way across, we heard the other feeder — the one we had just left — start spewing food.
“That sums up my whole season,” Schultz said with an ear-to-ear grin as he was making the 180-degree turn back to where he started. “It seems like all year long I’ve been on the wrong spot at the wrong time. I’m either too early or too late.
“But that sums up tournament fishing for a lot of people.”
The standings show that Schultz isn’t over-dramatizing the “he-zigs-when-they-zag” nature of his 2019 Elite Series campaign.
He opened with a 35th-place finish on the St. Johns River in Palatka, Fla. It was a strong showing that produced a $7,500 paycheck, but not exactly what he was hoping for on a fishery that is less than an hour from his home in Gainesville, Fla.
After that, he had three straight finishes of 51st or lower — 67th on Lake Lanier, 51st on Lake Hartwell and 57th on Winyah Bay.
“I’ve been in spots like this before,” Schultz said. “So, I’m not worried about having to save my career or anything like that. But making the Bassmaster Classic means so much to me — and for that to happen, I need to get in gear.
“I just need a Top 10,” Schultz said. “I’ve had plenty of them, it’s just been a while.”
Two weeks after that conversation, during the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest benefiting Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, Schultz righted his ship slightly. He turned in a 35th-place showing on Lake Fork and earned a $13,500 paycheck that ranks as his best of the season.
The nine-time Classic qualifier now sits in 58th place in the AOY standings, roughly 19 spots outside the cut for the Super Bowl of Professional Bass Fishing. With a good finish at this week’s Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Elite at Lake Guntersville, he could position himself for a strong run at a Classic berth when the schedule shifts North for the stretch run.
Of his 85 career Top 30 finishes with B.A.S.S., three have come on Lake Guntersville, including his first-ever Top 10 back in 1991. The last time the Elite Series visited Guntersville (in 2015), he finished a respectable 32nd.
“Lake Guntersville is definitely a lake I feel comfortable on, and we should be hitting it at a good time,” Schultz said. “I think there will be a lot of fish caught throughout the field.”
As he approaches his 65th birthday in September, the still-fresh-faced Schultz chuckles at the notion that he’s now one of the elder statesmen on the Elite Series — and he deflects any mention of the word “retirement.”
But he admits he feels overdue for a reminder of why he’s lasted more than three decades as a professional angler.
“It’s such a fine line in this sport,” he said. “Sometimes one decision causes you to leave a spot just before it heats up — and that can make all the difference.”