I’ve had people ask me why I fish Bassmaster Opens since I’ve fished the Bassmaster Elite Series for several years.
One reason is it gives me another shot at making the Bassmaster Classic in case I have a bad year on the Elites. The winner of each Open gets a Classic Berth.
But honestly, the primary reason I do it is because it makes me a better Elite angler.
By fishing the Opens, I’m exposed to a variety of waters. The more time you spend on the water in competition, the better you will get.
There is a perception that the Opens are easier, but making a top 10 is no easy proposition. You’re fishing against more people in a large field that always includes at least a handful of locals.
Having said that, I’ve finished first, fourth and ninth in the last three Open AOY races. I won the Open Division Angler of Year title in 2012 and 2017.
So why is my success better there than it has been in the Elites?
Because I have discovered that I fish differently in the Opens. I fish more relaxed because I feel less pressure. I make different and better decisions. I trust myself in the Opens but tend to fish tighter in the Elites.
It’s taken me awhile to figure that out, and it’s something I’m trying to overcome so I can bridge my more relaxed approach from the Opens into the Elites.
Oftentimes, when my game plan falls apart in the Opens, I move to plan C and even plan D. In the Elites, I keep trying to catch the fish the same way I did in practice. And in a four-day event, that’s probably not going to happen.
Historically, I’m less inclined to take risks in Elites and yet I know I do it often in the Opens. Again, it’s because I fish more freely.
The difference really occurred to me this year in the Elite event at Lake Hartwell when a shoulder injury restricted me to less boat driving and limited my ability to cast. Although I knew I was fishing at a physical disadvantage, I put more thought in everything I did and finished ninth. I fished more relaxed and stayed focused, just as I do in the Opens.
There was less running around, and I spent more time making the right adjustments to catch the fish I found in a given area.
For that reason, I figure that the more Opens I fish, the more natural my thought process will become in the Elites. It’s a work in progress, and I’m seeing improvement. Heading into the St. Lawrence River event, I was 28th in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of Year Standings.
Another reason I fish the Opens is I live in the north, so my fishing season gets broken up. I don’t touch a rod in November and December, but I get to fish in January because that’s when the Opens begin. With a two-month layoff, which I think helps me, I’m energized and driven.
Those four or five days practicing and fishing in an Open season opener gets me be better prepared for the Elite season.
I not only get my rhythm back, but I’m both mentally and physically prepared to take on the Elites and put my trust in my instincts.
And as any veteran angler will tell you, that’s a big part of being successful.