Everything fell into place

Winning the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at Lake Fork was surprising to me because I’m usually the guy who isn’t on top during a slugfest. I’m usually the guy who grinds for his five bites. It is just how I grew up. The tough tournaments are where I excel. To close it out on one of these lakes where you had to catch 30 pounds or you were going to fall was pretty unbelievable to me. I let the Lord kind of handle it, and I was going to do my part and see where he led me at the end of it. 

I tried to fish for the moment and also think about tomorrow and the next day. Thinking, “Okay I have 28 pounds right now, what can I do to better myself for the next day?” Eventually those areas are going to run out of fish, and I realized that.

Every day I expanded on it, and I kept trying to do more after I got a solid bag. I needed to find something I could catch a big one off of the next day and hopefully catch a big one in the process. More or less, I’m fishing in the moment but thinking about the next day.

Last year in the St. Croix Bassmaster Opens, I had two second-place finishes. Lake Eufaula, Oklahoma was the tournament I should have won. I had the fish and had the bites; I just lost them for some weird reason. It wasn’t my tournament. But I feel like I have taken a big step from where I was last year to where I am now.

I surprised myself by winning my second Elite Series tournament ever. I wanted to be the youngest ever to win, and the second day I felt like I had a chance. I remember thinking, could this be it? I started stressing and getting nervous. But the night before Day 4, I woke up and was like, “If it is meant to be, it will be.” I was surprisingly calm the last day. I was thinking about it that night and all of a sudden my alarm went off and it was the next day. I was ready. 

My favorite part of the week was getting to catch them how I like to catch them the last day. That was pretty special. I woke up, walked outside and knew it was right. I told my mom, “It is going to happen today. I don’t know if I can get them to bite, but they are going to be there.” When I showed up to my first spot, the bass were there. I pulled into the pocket, and they were doing what they were doing. It was pretty unbelievable.

Everything really hit me when I caught that last 7-6 on the final day. Before that, I had a 3-pounder in the box, and I knew I couldn’t go down like that. I couldn’t let that happen. I had a lot going through my mind, and I knew that 3-pounder could cost me.

When I landed that last bass, I knew I had done it. I turned to my camera guys and said, “Win or lose, I have accomplished everything in my power right now. I fished as hard as I possibly could, and it has been an unbelievable week. If someone beats me today, they completely earned it.” 

At that moment, I was feeling really good. Everything I have dreamed of and worked for had happened. It happened in four days, which I’ve dreamed of for 19 years. Every night I went to bed and woke up, that’s what I was building towards. It was an unbelievable moment to see everything come together. 

To realize I was one fish away from Paul Elias’ record, that is even more special. Now I have proven to myself and gained confidence in myself that maybe I can do this. Maybe I did choose the right path and can have a long career in this sport. That is really what I needed to go on as an angler. Confidence is everything. 

It is unbelievable how many people were praying for me and sending me texts saying good luck.

The goal for the rest of the season is to basically survive Florida. Some people love Florida. I am a person who wishes they would just draw a line over the state and never go back. There are great fisheries, but the bass get pounded year-round. It is a different beast, and the bass do different stuff. 

Right now, I have not mastered Florida, and that is a goal of mine. I’m going to be down there fishing as much as I can before the cutoff to get familiar with it and figure these bass out. If I can still be in the top quarter of the points standings when we leave Florida, I’ll be happy.