Bring on No. 20!

Greg Hackney on the weigh-in stage in 2004.

It’s hard to believe, but I will be starting my 20th season as a Bassmaster pro when we open at the Gamakatsu Bassmaster Elite at Toledo Bend.

It seems like it’s only been six years, not 20.

Prior to joining the Bassmasters, I was fishing professionally for five years with the FLW Tour and fished a few invitationals. So, at age 50, I’ve spent half of my life as a bass pro although I’ve been fishing for 48 years.

I’ll never forget my first year as a Bassmaster pro — 2004. The first Tour event was at the Harris Chain in Florida, and it was the worst finish I have ever had at the Tour level. I did a lot of soul-searching after the weigh-in and was questioning whether I was ready for this.

Fortunately, we left the Harris Chain and went straight to Smith Lake in Alabama. There was no time to build too many negative thoughts because I was back on the water quickly.

I said a little prayer while driving to Smith, asking for a sign as to whether I really should be doing this.

I got my sign.

I led the Smith Lake tournament the first day and finished seventh. I also won Rookie of Year — a goal I set for myself — and came within four points of beating out Gerald Swindle for overall Bassmaster Angler of Year.

Not winning the AOY my first year was a blessing. I have seen a few guys come into a circuit, win titles immediately and then fizzle. Not me; finishing second among the best made me hungrier and motivated me even more.

Those next five years or so were very good to me. I had a lot of success fishing both B.A.S.S. and FLW and won Angler of Year on the FLW circuit.

I was showing up events with no practice and still doing well. It was a game to me.

Sure, there have been a few bumps since then, but that can be expected over long career. One might think that after 25 years of pro angling I might become complacent or jaded. Not so.

In fact, I’ve never been more excited and anxious to get a tournament season started.

The reason, I believe, is because we’re starting a month later. In previous years, I went from the deer stand to rushing to get my boat ready and had to quickly change my mental gears to bass fishing.

But this season, I’ve had time to diligently get my boat and tackle prepped and start thinking solely about fishing.

I took my new boat out the other day to break in the engine and make sure everything was working properly. It was the first time I’d been in a boat since December — when I drove around Grand Lake for Classic practice — and I got really excited.

It’s rewarding to know that 20 years later I still have that same burning love for competitive fishing that I had when I first started.

I know I’m right where I need to be.