Putting 2023 in the rearview

Now that some time has passed since the final Bassmaster Elite Series tournament of 2023, I’ve had the opportunity to put things into perspective. I came close to winning Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year, but even though I came up short, this was still the best season of my career.

It’s hard to argue against 2019, when I won two Elite events. Financially, that was a better season. But as far as consistency, this was definitely my best season.

Making all but one of the Top 50 cuts and finishing in the Top 10 four of those times was incredible. The key, I’d say, was trusting myself and the information that practice gave me, regardless of how minuscule it might have been.

Santee Cooper Lakes was a great example of that point, because that was an event where I made the most out of the least. In practice, I didn’t really find anything. So I fell back to what I feel comfortable doing down there, which is pitching cypress trees with a wacky worm.

I hadn’t caught hardly anything for most of my practice, but the last day, I went to my strength and shook off some fish. That kind of got me on a roll that led to a fourth-place finish.

Taking the entire season into consideration, I’m proud of it. Even though I would have loved to win Angler of the Year, I’m not disappointed. I feel like I did everything I could. I don’t feel like I left anything on the table, other than one poor finish at the Sabine River.

Finishing 91st at the Sabine was tough, but it was definitely a learning experience. What it came down to was my inexperience with tidal waters. That’s something we don’t see a lot of on the Elite Series, so I wasn’t prepared for the adjustments I’d need to make.

I had developed a game plan based on low tide, but the conditions that week mostly kept the water high. The way I wanted to fish, I felt confident that I could catch what I needed during the low tide period, but I never got the opportunity.

After the Sabine, I definitely was concerned, to an extent. The thing with AOY is that, up until the last tournament, you really can’t plan for it. So all the Sabine did was add some pressure for the Northern Swing.

I usually struggle up north, but this year, I did better than I ever have. Ultimately, my finish at the Sabine didn’t kill my hopes and dreams, but the pressure it added worked in my favor.

In the big picture, the 2023 season left me with one important takeaway: For the most part, it’s all about fishing your strength. There are definitely cases where you may have to fish outside your wheelhouse — like northern smallmouth bass.

For most of the season, I fished the way I wanted. I caught 3/4 of my fish on a wacky worm, a buzzbait and a Texas rig.

As far as future AOY races, I 100% want to win it. That’s always been one of my season goals, but coming close makes you want it that much more.

I’m a competitive fisherman, so that title would mean the world to me. Even though the experience of coming close will give me even more motivation next year, there’s not much you can do but catch them — and that’s what I intend to do in 2024.