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Thankful for 2023 success

With Thanksgiving on the way this month, we’re already making plans for our family gathering. I’ll smoke a turkey and a ham, we’ll have all the usual fixings and we’ll spend the day with my family and my wife’s family.

That’s always a nice time, but even before Thanksgiving officially gets here, I’m already thankful for several things that happened this year.

Bassmaster Classic qualification: This is always the goal, and I’m happy I made it, but this was one of those weird years. It felt right, but I never had the shot to win anywhere.

I still had a good season, qualified for the Classic, made the majority of the cuts and made some money. I maintained my points for Bassmaster Angler of the Year and for my career, so it was a good, solid year.

A good comeback: One particular Bassmaster Elite Series event I’m most thankful for was Lake Murray. That one just felt right, and with the blueback herring playing such a big role on that lake, it kind of reminded me of the gizzard shad on Lake Fork. Once I figured it out, it felt like home.

I didn’t start off that great, but once it clicked, I caught a good bag on Day 2 and moved up from 52nd to 20th. I finished right outside the cut in 13th, and even though I felt like I had a really good shot to do better than I did, I’m thankful for how it turned out.

The rough ones: Getting better at this sport sometimes requires you to go through a disappointing event. At Santee Cooper Lakes, I only weighed three fish the first day, and the second day came close to being a total disaster.

I broke down right at takeoff and had to pull back to the dock for repairs. When I finally got out, I only caught two fish and I would have been in the high 90s. On the way back, I stopped on a spot that just felt right and caught a 7-pounder that pulled me up to 71st.

Despite bad decisions and bad luck, I was able to salvage a ton of points and get a little check. This was a good example of how even when everything is going completely wrong, one bite can save your event and keep you in the Classic cut.

Another key fish I was thankful for came at the last event on the St. Lawrence River. On Day 1, I made a bad decision on where to fish. The wind blew really bad, and I broke some equipment.

When I came back into the river with an hour left, I had two little smallmouth. I ended up finishing my limit, and I caught a 3-pound largemouth right in front of the weigh-in site. That one fish gave me 15 pounds, instead of probably 11 pounds.

On Day 2, I caught 23 pounds and finished 65th. Even though I missed the cut, that one fish on Day 1 saved me a lot of points for the Classic and allowed me to make a lot more AOY money.

Sometimes, you can have a really bad event and one little fish that you don’t think is that important can save your year.

New sponsor: I’ll be running an Xpress Boats X21 with a 250 Yamaha SHO next year. I’m pretty excited about that.

The 2024 schedule: With our first two Elites at Toledo Bend Reservoir and Lake Fork, I’m gonna love fishing close to the house and not having to drive 15 hours to start the year.

I’m also looking forward to other events, like Lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence River to end the year. The other factor is Florida in mid-spring. I have no knowledge of Florida that time of year, but I’m interested in seeing how it all plays out.

The support system: Without a doubt, I’m most thankful for my family — my wife, Taren; my stepdaughter, Brooklyn; and my daughter, Lane. That’s what keeps me going.

I’m also thankful for my friends, sponsors and fans. I love connecting with everybody on social media and through my YouTube channel, having them feel like they’re with me on the road.

So, while I’m smoking that turkey and ham, I’ll be thinking about all I have to thankful for. It’s a long list.