You get what you deserve

During the 2020 season, I didn’t fish well enough to make the 2021 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk on Lake Ray Roberts. I wasn’t even close, and I shouldn’t have been. 

Bass fishing at the highest level, like other professional sports, leaves no room for error. The difference between 12th and 72nd place can be one fish. All the men who fish on the Elites are good, real good as a matter of fact. They’re all going to catch them, and they do so every competition day. 

I want it that way. Competing against the best brings out the best in each competitor. Again, it’s that way in every major professional sport. I thrive on that competition. It’s extremely rewarding when you do well, and it’s extremely disappointing when you don’t. I pour my heart and soul into each event through hours of preparation even before showing up and then during practice and during competition. 

My year started off on a great note. I’ve talked about this before. I finished second in the 2020 AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns River, and I followed that with a sixth-place finish in the 2020 Bassmaster Classic. 

After that, I fished the next four events with finishes below the Top 40 cut after the second day. Three of them were real bombs. The rest of the season was decent enough, but not decent enough to recover. 

My first bomb was at the 2020 Bassmaster Elite at the St. Lawrence River. I didn’t even weigh a limit on the first day. My timing was way off as far as when I should have fished certain areas. 

Shallow smallmouth can be finicky, and I knew that. My gamble would have been better if I had a small-fish limit pattern I could have fished, but I didn’t. I simply ran out of time. On the second day I was determined to only fish water I’d never fished. I did that and dialed in a shallow pattern that resulted in a decent 16-pound limit. The problem was that I was so far down that I only moved up a couple places. 

My next disaster was at the 2020 Bassmaster Elite at Lake Champlain.

Champlain is a lake I’ve fished numerous times. Without having a live view with my electronics I made a conscious decision to practice about 80% of the time for largemouth. My practice was okay. I caught about 17 pounds of largemouth each day during practice. I felt like I could run around and do something in that range each day. On the first day I only brought in about 12 pounds. The second day was better with about 15 pounds. But, just like at the St. Lawrence River, I was too far back for it to make any meaningful difference.  

The 2020 Bassmaster Elite at Lake St. Clair was where I really needed a good finish to get my season back on track. Armed with a SPRO Little John Baby DD on that lake I had a decent practice. 

My expectation was that I could catch 16 to 22 pounds of smallmouth a day in the tournament. But again, that didn’t happen. I ended up finishing in 65th place with a two-day total of almost 30 pounds. This was a tournament dominated by live view electronics that I did not have. 

The last bomb skid was on one of my most favorite lakes in the world. It was the 2020 Bassmaster Elite at Lake Guntersville.

Knowing the season was slipping away, I tried to not run around too much and just fish simple. Practice was tough, but I did get a number of bites punching a Missile Baits D Bomb in matted hydrilla in a two-mile section of the lake. Every time I went through that area, I got bit. The rest of the lake was super stingy for me. I decided to camp in that productive section. I wasn’t going to leave. I would make it happen. 

The first day resulted in four bites and one keeper. I was at the bottom again, and very frustrated. My second day resulted in a solid 12-pound limit. I just had fun all day, fished water I hadn’t fished that week, and caught a good number of fish. I was so far down that I only moved up to 70th place. 

This is not an excuse column. It’s true that I didn’t have all the latest sonar options on my boat in 2020, but I did have solid electronics. The bottom line is that I just didn’t get in tune with how to catch the better fish.

The best part about this sport is that it really is you against the fish. I have fished for years and years. I know when I’m in tune with a lake. I know when I am not. During the middle of the 2020 tournament season, I got in a rut where nothing seemed to work the way I thought it should. I wasn’t in tune with the fish or the water.

On the positive side, the last quarter of the year was okay. I had a couple bumps, but I feel like I was getting in tune with the fish much better. That’s the hardest and most rewarding part of this game. I have amazing equipment that was very dependable for me. I did not lose a bunch of fish. My confidence is fine. 

My focus is on 2021 and getting everything ready to make it a great season. That’s how you handle things as a professional, and you don’t cry when you get what you deserve.