Mark Twain wrote, “There is no surer way to find out whether you like or hate someone than to travel with them.” It’s true, and for the last two years I’ve been very lucky to travel with three guys that I like, and each of them have particular attributes that we all should strive to incorporate into our fishing and our lives.
My first memories of Derek Hudnall were seeing him at the Bassmaster Opens while he and I were both honing our skills and trying to qualify for the Bassmaster Elite Series. I remember seeing this tan guy with a big smile that just oozed positivity. Like me, he was a Missile Baits guy so we’d wave at each other, talk a little, but that was about it.
I’ve heard that with people you meet in passing, you may not remember their names, or what you talked about, or what the they were wearing, but you do remember how they made you feel. With Derek that’s definitely true. He is a dreamer with a positive attitude that permeates him to the core and it’s contagious. You feel it. It’s not an over-the-top, false bravado or delusional positivity. It’s just a solid, quiet belief that good things are going happen ... delivered with a Louisiana drawl and capped with a big ‘ol smile. You just feel things are a little brighter after speaking with him.
In 2019 I watched as his character, resilience and positivity were tested when he accidentally went out on Lake Hartwell a day after our cut-off for practice. Once he realized what he had done, he reported himself to the tournament director. This resulted in what turned out to be a catastrophic disqualification from that event.
Instead of stewing about the mistake at his house in Baton Rouge, he showed up in South Carolina with a smile and ran a camera boat during the tournament ... impressive. He stayed positive all year, worked hard, but missed the 2020 Bassmaster Classic by less than 30 points. Had he fished Hartwell and caught one keeper, he would have made it. It would have been a huge accomplishment for a rookie and a significant impact on his winnings and sponsorship.
Instead of dwelling on his mistake, he simply moved on to 2020. I watched this past year as Derek maintained his ever present positive attitude and stayed focused on his dream of winning a blue trophy, a Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship and the Classic. He knows he can do it and believes he will do it. He always says “dream big” … and lives that mantra. We all need a little more dreamer in each of us.
I’ve known John Crews since he was 15. I sold him his first bass boat in 1996 and was there at the inception of Missile Baits. We both were influenced heavily by our mutual friend and mentor, the OG (Original Grinder) Rick Hawkins. As such, we both ended up like Rick with respect to our workman-like approach to tournament fishing.
My definition of a grinder is someone who relentlessly pursues an objective while ignoring factors that don’t materially affect the situation or one's ability to stay on target and move forward.
While John and I both meet that definition … we do have some minor differences.
Crews and I both are very disciplined and adhere to pretty strict routines off the water. We get up 45 minutes before we leave the house in the morning. While we each eat different food, we eat the same breakfast every day, go to the same gas stations, usually eat the same lunches, dinners, go to sleep at the same time, etc. But on the water during practice, we treat things slightly differently.
While we each get on the water at daybreak, John typically covers a ton of water and stays very late. I, on the other hand, tend to focus on smaller areas and will get off the water as needed ... particularly if the weather is bad or hot or would significantly wear me down. My thought process is that I would rather go into competition days fresh because I will not let up regardless of what happens or what conditions I encounter. I personally believe that’s more helpful to me than an extra half hour of practice on a given day. I’ve seen too many people wear themselves or their equipment out in practice. I want to go into the fight as close to 100% as possible.
John tends to stay out during practice as much as he can, which works for him. As you all probably know, John is in great shape and he is eight years younger than I am, so I understand how he does what he does with regard to being on the water.
The most impressive “grinder-like” thing about John is how he handles the numerous demands on his time … even during tournaments. Each of us have occupations outside of fishing. He owns and runs Missile Baits, and I am an attorney. I often can plan things to where I am generally free of work during tournaments; John is not so lucky.
When we started traveling together, I was shocked. He is constantly fielding business calls, doing interviews, etc. This happens during practice days and after hours on tournament days. He often deals with emails well into the night, posts on social media and even edits video. Additionally, he dedicates time to his family each and every day without fail.
You learn quickly that fishing tournaments for most Elite series guys isn't just about catching fish. As the owner of Missile Baits and all that I have outlined, I really don't know how he does it all. Actually I do. He’s in great physical shape and through order, discipline and sheer force of will he grinds away and achieves success. We all need a little grinder in each of us.
I think of Chris Zaldain as the group magician. In short, with regard to his approach to fishing, he is the most unique angler I have ever met … and I don't just mean bass fisherman. My life on the water has spanned five decades, and in that time I have known hundreds — if not thousands — of bass fisherman, flats anglers, offshore captains and fly fishermen. Chris fishes like no one else.
While magicians usually make things disappear, he makes fish appear out of no where … and big ones at that. He consistently finds fish that others don’t and uses lures that others don’t. I’ve roomed with him for two years and still don't really know how he does it. I’m not impressed by much, but he is impressive, and in my opinion, is the most compelling figure in bass fishing today.
As an example, I think back to 2019 at our event at Guntersville. Chris was doing the best out of our housemates after the first day so I told him about a spot where I had some solid fish late in the day. I told him to fish it in the afternoon if I wasn't competing on the third or final day of competition. In the tournament, I caught a few on that spot but not enough to make the third day. My Neko rigs and crankbaits apparently were not what it took to motivate those fish. On the final day, Chris was out of fish and about out of time so he decided to take a chance and showed up on that spot. He had a small limit and in minutes went to almost a 20-pound bag using a giant spoon. I think it was the most intense 10 minutes of live fishing ever on Bassmaster. He finished second (one of two second-place finishes that year) and narrowly missed winning. Thats the kind stuff he makes happen. To me … it's magic.
As any of you would do, I have tried to learn how he does what he does, and he has tried to help me because he’s a generous person. What have I learned? He is operating on a different planet where he embodies my “four Cs” that you need to be truly successful in fishing — or almost anything for that matter.
On "Planet Z," his attributes of competence, confidence, cunning and creativity blend together and lead to artistry that can’t be replicated and may not even be able to be taught. It’s not that you can’t gain insights into techniques or baits from him that will help you, you absolutely can ... and I have. But don't try to imitate him; its futile. So watch his videos, incorporate what is useful into your fishing and then add what is your own and maybe, just maybe, you can create some magic. We all need a little magician in each of us.
So here's what I have taken away from the last two years traveling the Elite series with these guys.
If you keep a positive attitude, keep grinding and try to do things differently than others, you have a chance to make some magic happen out on the water.