A mind is like a parachute, it only works when it’s open

As I’m loading countless lures and 15 rods into my Nitro Z21 XL for the 2023 Academy Sports + Outdoors Classic presented by Toyota, I’m trying to keep an open mind. It’s my number one goal going into the Super Bowl of Bass Fishing.

I’ve had success at Fort Loudoun and Tellico in previous events there. But I can’t allow those experiences to prevent my brain’s parachute from opening.

On the second day of the 2019 Bassmaster Classic, I caught a 21-pound sack from Fort Loudoun, the heaviest limit of the tournament. I went into Championship Sunday in second place.

I also watched Canadian pro Jeff Gustafson win an Elite Series tournament on these waters in 2021. We found the same bass on Tellico and were fishing within sight of each other. I could not get bites with the techniques I was using. Props to Jeff for catching them with the moping technique.

Those experiences could very well help me. Then again, they might hinder the function of my mind’s parachute. What worked in those tournaments might not play this time around.

It is rare to win any tournament, even weekend derbies, doing exactly the same thing that won on any given place last year. Conditions change from year to year and that determines what the bass are up to.

The weather and time of year will be a major factor at the 2023 Classic. The 2019 Classic took place in mid-March. The 2021 Elite happened in late February. The competition for this Classic kicks off on March 24.

The only thing that matters now is what lures, areas and patterns are going to be productive during the three competition days next week. The only way I see myself having success is by allowing my mind’s parachute to open and prevent a fatal fall.

Sleep depravation

I’ll be getting the least amount of sleep during Classic week than at any other time throughout the whole year. It is actually a 10-day event that puts grueling demands on you.

Despite sleep depravation, I’ll have to give my full attention and effort to many daily commitments. That includes practice time, interviews, media events and more.

My wife, Trait, will be towing the Nitro to the Classic with our Toyota Tundra. I’ll be at the wheel of our RV during the 13-hour trek. I’ll have two of our dogs with me. Our third dog will be in the Tundra with Trait.

We’ll be staying in the RV because it also serves as the studio for our “Bilge” podcasts, which are sponsored by Battle Born Batteries. We already have some guests lined up. The whole fishing industry will be there. We intend to take full advantage of the opportunity to chat with some of the biggest names in our sport.

Due to the enormous demand on your time and energy at the Classic, whoever wins it is fully deserving of our sport’s most prestigious award. You can’t fake the effort it takes to meet all of your obligations and still focus on fishing.

The Classic is a 10-day endurance test. You have to pace yourself, keep a smile on your face and bounce back immediately when something goes sideways, as it always does. You don’t have time to dwell on whatever problems arise.

Competitors who are competing in their first Classic are in for a heck of a ride. They’re going to lose sleep, but it will be the best fishing experience they’ve ever had. My advice to them is: Buckle up, rookie, it’s about to get real.