You know, I really enjoyed this Bassmaster Classic. I would’ve liked to finish higher than 16th, but I was happy I got the chance to fish on the final day.
Overall, I was a lot more relaxed this time around. There was not as much pressure on me as the hometown guys so I was able to go out, have fun and fish.
In practice, I really didn’t catch that much, but I stumbled on something and I said “Hold on, we might have a chance to win this thing.” But that went away pretty quickly, and I had to find new stuff every day. But overall, I did better than I thought I would.
I caught all of my fish in 5 feet of less on a shallow running, flat-sided crankbait and a jig. I caught fish on bluff walls and the traditional setups like shallow pockets, docks and a lot of wood.
I fished as hard as I could. I just never really got on the right fish.
This time of year, if you get on the right fish, you can get well in a hurry, but if you don’t, it can be quite a gamble.
To tell you the truth, I’m kind of surprised that the lake fished as tough as it did because I know how good it can be and how many fish are there.
The lake went through some dramatic changes over the course of a couple months. It was probably dirtier than anyone has ever seen it, and I think that had a lot to do with it.
Looking back, I wouldn’t change anything I did. I felt confident in what I was doing. I felt like it was the winning pattern — and it was. I just wasn’t in the right area around the right fish.
I also wouldn’t change the memories I made at this Classic. As the reigning Classic champion, I got a lot of exposure, my sponsors got a lot of exposure and I got to meet a lot of media people.
I got to do a Weather Channel interview. That was pretty cool.
As an angler, I enjoyed the opportunity to hang out with all the other competitors. This is the one tournament where we’re all in the same place, so we have time to interact a lot more than we do during the regular season events.
If I had to pick a favorite moment with one of my fellow anglers, it would have to be watching Marty “The Party” Robinson dancing at the weigh-ins.
Marty and I have been travel partners for about 15 years now so he’s like a brother to me. After I weighed my fish I was back in the media room watching the TV and I finally got to see the Party Marty act.
He came out and cut a fool on the boat. He was dancing to his song and we were all back there in the media room just dying laughing.
Coming back to Tulsa was also pretty special for me because that’s where I met my girlfriend McKenzie. She’s from Tulsa, and I met her in 2013, the last time the Classic was on Grand Lake.
Going back to her hometown, we were able to visit with her family. They had been to several tournaments, but they had never really seen what goes on and for them to experience the Classic, they were blown away.
They had no idea it was as big as it is. Things like this really help spread the word about the world of bass fishing.
This was my seventh Classic, and I think I enjoyed everything a lot more because I have a better handle on what to expect. Every one you fish, you get more comfortable with how things go.
In my early years of Classic competition, all the media interviews, sponsor obligations and other stuff brought a lot of stress. It was all new to me, and I was just trying to take it all in.
Now, I know how everything goes and I’m a little more relaxed. The stress doesn’t bother me anymore, so I can just go out and focus on the task ahead.
That’s made the Classic a much more enjoyable event for me. I’m not worried about missing something or being late to something. It’s a lot more laidback.
Now when it comes to experience, this year’s Classic champion Edwin Evers has plenty of it. He’s a good guy, and he won in grand fashion.
But there is one area where I can offer some advice — how to be a Classic champion. Of course, I’d say enjoy the accomplishment, but I think there’s a lot more to it, so I’m going to go back to the advice that four-time Classic champion Kevin Van Dam gave me after I won last year.
Kevin said: Make sure that you do everything that you possibly can to return every phone call from all the media people; it doesn’t matter if their audience is a million people or 5,000 people. It grows your brand as well as the B.A.S.S. brand.
I know Edwin won’t have any problem with that.
He’s going to be a good champion.