Winning the 2023 St. Croix Bassmaster Open at Watts Bar was super exciting. It hasn’t fully set in yet, but I am already researching for the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota and doing everything I can to get ready.
I am really excited the Classic is on Grand Lake. When I made the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship, it was at the Ouachita River. I can’t tell you I can go there and win on that kind of fishery. But to go somewhere I think I can compete on is really exciting.
I was drooling watching some of the past videos from Grand Lake Classics. I am going to try and keep a level head and try not to get starstruck. I do want to be competitive.
It is really cool to be a champion, but I just really love fishing and I want to be able to do it for a living long term. It isn’t necessarily about being better than everyone else, It is just what I enjoy doing.
Winning it with my friends JT Thompkins and Trey McKinney was more fun than actually winning the tournament. Having us be one, two, three was really cool. That picture of all three of us on Bassmaster.com is one of my favorites ever.
After the St. Lawrence River event went really bad, I was kind of mad and went down to Watts Bar and pre-practiced for a while. I learned the lake really well and it kind of felt like I was fishing a home lake during the tournament, which was really fun.
I had my rotation and I knew my timing. My whole practice was trying to find bonus spots because I already knew where I wanted to fish once I realized the bass were still there. This is a tournament I can say pre-practice really helped.
I actually felt like it was mine to win before the tournament even started, but I felt like that a few times and bombed. But Day 1 of the tournament was probably the biggest mental challenge of my career so far.
My trolling motor batteries went dead early on Day 1 and I went into survival mode. The worst part was, I couldn’t move the foot pedal because it was dead, so I had to keep reaching over the front and turned the head with my hand to attempt to LiveScope.
I had to start running one cast spots like individual stumps or individual brushpiles. That is how I ended up surviving and when I got my fifth fish on Day 1, I knew I could win. I caught a 5-pounder and was like, “Oh my gosh, now that I have 14 pounds, I can really do this.” It calmed me down and then I caught another 3-pounder.
That day is probably why I wasn’t so shaken when I actually won the tournament, I got all my emotions out after that ordeal. As soon as I hit almost 15 pounds on Day 1 I started tearing up and was trying to hide it from my co-angler.
So the rest of the tournament I was pretty calm. I knew I was on fish and knew I was going to get bites and happy I had a trolling motor for the rest of the event. Day 2 rolls around and I am trying to be smart about things. I had a limit of 2 ½’s to almost 3-pounders, and I tried to cull a couple times, but I knew I would need more 2 pounders on the last day.
Day 3 was a lot of fun and I actually got a lot of positive responses to my appearance on Bassmaster LIVE. I was getting compared to John Cox. I was just out there having fun. If I catch a fish, I’m going to be happy. I enjoy getting bites and I think people like to see that.
The only time I got stressed out was at the end of the day. I had about 11 pounds and JT came up to me and asked how I was doing. He said he has 13, which usually means like 15 pounds. I ran around like a chicken with my head cut off and actually caught a 2 ½ to cull a 2-pounder.
I kind of wish I could do the final day over again with some decent weather because I was on something truly special and I didn’t get to show the true potential of it.
With practice for the Lake of the Ozarks event beginning immediately after Watts Bar, the win hasn’t really set in yet. I have already had to forget about it and get ready for the next one. I had to sort of act like it was another tournament so it doesn’t mess me up for this one. Some people can ride momentum, but I struggle with that.
I’ve been checking stuff and fishing around at the Ozarks. I can use the jig as my search bait and read how the bass are acting, as long as there is a population of bass. From there, I can figure out what to do. Lake of the Ozarks is one of those places where I can put the trolling motor down and get enough chances to figure out how to catch them.
Hopefully I can find the same success I found at Watts Bar!