Making the best of the unexpected

As I finally get a chance to catch my breath after the Bassmaster Elite Series fall run and think about my 2020 season, I am thankful for the way it turned out. I experienced a fourth-place finish and some amazing ESPN2 live coverage at the St. Lawrence river. I’m also now headed to the 2021 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Ray Roberts. I’m proud of the way that I fished, but I also know that I got a few breaks along the way. It’s odd how things seem to work out.

The Elite season could not have started worse for me. In practice at the St. Johns I rescued two labradoodles that had fallen in the water, and doing so I injured my shoulder. The pain was excruciating, and it was tough to fish. I struggled my way to a 54th place finish.

If the season had gone along as planned, I’m not sure what I would have done, but then things went a little bit crazy. We were supposed to go to Chickamauga in March, but they got historic flooding. We had to push the tournament back. I don’t know if I would have been able to fish it effectively, but I didn’t have to find out.

I was present at the Classic, even though I wasn’t competing in it, and that’s when everything came crashing down. The COVID virus hit with a vengeance right around the time all of our eyes converged on Guntersville, and the season got put on a four-month holding pattern. We had no idea if we’d get to finish the 2020 season. That gave me time to recuperate. I spent a ton of time on the water around home, not necessarily fishing, but working with my electronics and staying in touch with what the fish were doing. 

B.A.S.S. did a great job of keeping us informed and working to get us going again. In June we went to Eufaula, where I struggled even worse than at the St. Johns, and then we were thrust almost immediately into the Northern Swing. Usually I depend on shallow largemouth to start the year, and this year I didn’t get that. Instead we got used to COVID tests in New York. That wasn’t quite what I expected, however three strong finishes during the Northern Swing put me back into Classic contention. I dug myself out of the hole.

Again, B.A.S.S. deserves a lot of the credit. If they hadn’t been vigilant about testing protocols and social distancing, we could have been shut down at any time, but we got to fish a full season. Moving several events to the fall didn’t look to be in my favor. It’s not a time when I’ve historically excelled. On the other hand, we were headed to grass lakes, which is my favorite way to fish.

I made another Top 10 at Guntersville, then held on in tough tournaments at Santee Cooper and prevented a disaster at Chickamauga. Still, it was going to come down to Fork. I’ve spent some time there in the past, but not really in November, so catching 20 pounds on Day 1 and then holding on for a 27th-place finish was deeply satisfying.

It wasn’t the best year of my career in terms of points or earnings, but all things considered I feel it was more than decent. In many ways, my attitude reminded me of 2014, when I returned to B.A.S.S. after several years away. Each time it was a new year with a lot of variables, and I maintained a positive attitude and a good work-life balance. In 2014 I focused exclusively on the Elites. This year I’d planned to fish a full division of Opens, but COVID really took that away from me. In the end, that turned out to be a blessing.

Looking back on this season, I was able to get stronger as the year progressed not only because our schedule was delayed, but because I adjusted when things changed up.

Now I can look forward to 2021 and try to implement this year's lesson for the rest of my career.